I love roller coasters. I love big, tall, fast-rolling, twisting behemoths that scare you so badly that you can’t stop laughing. I want to be in the first car. I want to dangle over the top of the highest hill of steel, hesitate just long enough to confirm that this time you’re going to die, and then, dive into a twisting, breath-sucking ride of hilarious terror. I love sliding back into the loading barn with my hair blown back, waving my hands over my head, and trying to catch my breath.
Then, I would look back over my shoulder and check to see how long the line is. I want to ride again. As scary as it was, the ride was too much fun to only go once. I can’t wait to go again. There’s something about being scared and exhilarated all at the same time that makes you feel alive.
But that’s just me.
I guess that’s why I loved being the pastor of a local church so much. I’m getting ready to step down from the role of senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church but if I could, I’d get back in line and ride it all over again. Of course, I’d be wiser and smarter my second time around. I’d be more patient and certainly more kind, but I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d do it all again.
I have never been pulled so high. I have never been pushed so low. I have never been so sure I would die and never laughed with joy as I have while being the pastor of a local church. I’ve been visited by angels and demons. I’ve struggled with the great questions of life and been stumped by the simplest requests. I’ve wept until I ran out of tears and I’ve stood in awe of a Presence I knew, but could never comprehend. I’ve been blessed and I’ve been cursed – sometimes by the same people.
And most of the time, all of this happened on the same day.
Over the years, a lot of people have told me that they wouldn’t want my job. I replied that I wouldn’t have either. They tell me they couldn’t do what I do. I understand. They only see part of the job. They usually see a church member yelling at me because we haven’t sung their favorite song in the worship service. I get yelled at because we don’t have enough for our students to do or we’ve planned too much for the students to do. Who knows? Sometimes I think members decide to yell about something and they’ll choose their topic on the way into the building.
On the other hand, few people get to see what I see. I’ve seen addicts collapse in shame and pain and call out to Jesus. They might not even believe it yet. Why should they? Nothing else has worked. I’ve seen them shake as they cried out their guilt and then, I’ve seen them forgiven and healed in that moment. I’ve seen them stand up as new people in Christ. Amazing stuff.
I’ve seen angry couples, hell-bent on divorce, repent to each other, recommit to their marriage, and change the future of their family in the power of the Risen Christ.
I’ve seen a group of church members identify a need in the community and design a ministry to impact that community need. Our church responded to the needs of the deaf in our community with a process that eventually led to the construction of the only sanctuary in the world designed to support the deaf as they worship.
They did the same thing with special needs. Now, we have the Rowen Glenn Center for Special Needs. I’ve seen parents walk out of that facility in tears after being quarantined for two years with no one to help them and their child. Now, there’s a place filled with trained volunteers who love their children. I’m amazed every week at their dedication and work.
I could go on and on and on and on. Just let me say that I’ve seen things and been part of things I could have never imagined. God has been faithful to me in ways so profound that I struggle to understand His goodness to me.
COVID-19 cost the church. COVID-19 and its remedies broke some of our people. The forced isolation, the confusion of reporting, and the fear of an enemy we couldn’t see broke the spirits of our people. They need the church more than ever. Our world needs the fellowship of believers and they need the hope of the gospel messages.
COVID-19 also cost us pastors. Many pastors resigned during or right after COVID-19. Others, sadly, were fired. Seeing all that, many have decided that the pastorate isn’t for them. Now, we’re short of pastors and there are a lot of churches that can’t find a viable candidate. Our seminaries aren’t turning out graduates who are committed to leading local congregations. I believe in the local church. I believe the local church is God’s agent of redemption in our broken world. We need good pastors more than ever.
So, what would I say to those who are thinking about becoming pastors? Get on the ride. Sit in the front car. You’ll want the best seat to see all that God is going to do.