I do not have quite the same understanding of what it means to have someone be my pastor that most people have. When I spent several years in youth ministry there were senior pastors, but in those relationships they served more as a supervisor or mentor. Before that, there was really one pastor at whatever church I attended and we lived in the same house. I am a pastor’s kid. The person who was my primary pastor for about half my life is also my father. Growing up I never really viewed him as “my pastor”, which is why I really do not have a solid understanding of what it means to relate to someone as pastor. As of the beginning of this month, he will be retiring after over forty years of fruitful ministry. Even though I always understood my dad as my dad and not necessarily my pastor, I’ve taken the moment of his retirement to reflect on just what I learned from him as a pastor.
First, I learned to appreciate creativity in faith expression. One of the things he is fond of doing is mixing hymns up. He will take the words from one hymn and set them to the tune of another one. The Christian faith is steeped in tradition and an attitude of “we’ve always done it that way” is always lurking around the corner. One of the valuable lessons I have learned from my dad as a pastor, is the importance of not getting so comfortable in our traditions that we stop growing. Small actions like mixing up hymns is a simple way to make something familiar feel new. Our faith should be vibrant and ever growing. Intentionally looking at old things in new ways, is a vitally important to keep our faith development from settling.
The second greatest lesson I learned from my dad as a pastor is just how much of ministry is setting up tables and chairs. This is perhaps only a lesson a pastor’s kid could truly get, because a lot of people do not see this aspect of ministry. However, growing up I was often conscripted to help, so I saw it a lot. One of the aspects of living faithfully that my dad modeled for me as a pastor is that ministry is about serving God in the small things. Serving God should not be about us being the star, having authority, or being recognized. Setting up tables and chairs for Sunday school is just as important as presiding over communion. They are both necessary work to help people grow in their discipleship and relationship with God. As a pastor, my dad taught me that setting up tables and chairs is part of ministry. He showed me that small, behind the scenes acts of service are just as important in God’s kingdom as anything else.
Third, as a pastor I got to see him modeling loving all the people. Just because someone is a church-going person does not always mean they are the nicest of people. For the most part, my parents sheltered my siblings and me from the pettiness and sidedness that pastors sometimes endure. Despite their best efforts, some of it was observable over the years. One of the aspects that I observed is how my dad as a pastor treated these difficult people. As far as I could observe, he treated them like everyone else. He still sought to be the pastor to the most difficult and rude people. I truly believe that there are no outsiders to God’s love. As a pastor my dad modeled this by showing love and care to people who tried really hard to be unlovable.
Finally, as a pastor my dad showed me how to be a pastor. Twenty years ago I never, ever would have believed I am where I am today. Vocational ministry was absolutely not in my plans, but I am thankful I listened to God’s plans instead. If there is a single person who has had the greatest impact on me in ministry, it is without a doubt my dad. In seeking to faithfully live into his calling, he modeled for me what a fruitful minister looks like for decades. Thanks Dad, and may you find rest and happiness in retirement.