It's a small milestone. It was this month 15 years ago that I joined North Summit Church as their Associate Pastor. In those years as a pastor I've learned much - including that I have much, much, much more to learn. 15 years in a profession, in a job, in a calling lends itself to some observations about people, life, ministry, God, the world and the church. My Dad reminded me a few months ago that I'm still really young and in the beginning of my ministry. I was really relieved to hear his reflections. The learning curve for me has been so high! Knowing that I'm still in the beginning stages helps with perspective and confidence and wisdom.
Serving North Summit Church was a real gift. Tara and I had helped Pastor Brooks Fetters and Ed Souers (and lots of others) start the church in a movie theatre. Fun times for sure! There was risk involved, lots of hard work, and plenty to learn. The finances took a hit though, and after a year there with NSC, I was able to join Emmanuel Community Church as part of an internship. I was in my final year of my Master's at the Huntington College Graduate School of Christian Ministries, so it seemed to work out well to serve at ECC. It was supposed to be a two year internship, but about six months into it, an opportunity to restart a church in downtownish Fort Wayne opened up. Six months after that, Tara and I and about fifty others from ECC started up Anchor Community Church. I owe much to North Summit and Emmanuel Community Church, to Pastor Brooks and to Pastor Dennis Miller.
Reflecting back on that first bunch of years, I wish that I could have spent a few more years as an Associate or Intern. I was too eager to get out there and do ministry my way. It's too late now to go back, but I think I would have benefitted from more training, mentoring and experience from being an associate or with the internship. However, I've learned that I've got to make the best of my decisions, even when I regret those decisions later. With my Dad being a pastor, I was familiar with church, and had lots of my own ideas of how I would run MY church. Well now I had MY church and it was a lot harder then I imagined.
Only in the last few years have I been able to let go of Anchor. It's not MY church. It's OUR church - Jesus and whoever wants to be part of it. I've had to learn that it's more important to grow people then grow a church. My vision for MY church was all about me, sadly enough. God's clever enough to still use MY church for lots of good, but I think more good has happened since I let go. Pastoring people is way more fun then running a church. Helping people know God, learn the Scriptures, live in the way of Jesus, love their neighbor, become good news, listen to the Spirit, serve their community - all of this has been a joy. Difficult, but good.
Most of the pain of ministry has come from within, my expectations, my immaturity, my strategies. Of course others have disappointed me, and learning to handle that well has been a great source of wisdom. I am my biggest obstacle to fruitful ministry. My ego. My fears. My ideas. My pride. I'm surprised how much fear plays into my decisions, my energy, my humility. I'm more fearful then I want to admit or let on. The antidote to this is trust, and it seems that every year of ministry requires me to trust God more and more and more. This makes for more beautiful ministry, more letting go, more fearlessness, and more good news. As I gain wisdom about myself and in serving others, I am able to relax in ministry and enjoy it.
In serving others, I've met and worshipped with and ministered to a wide variety of individuals and families. Some of those relationships I've bungle, some of those I've had to let go of, and others have been a real test. But most of them have been a learning experience to me about how to love, how to respect, how to add dignity, how to see Christ in each person. I try to listen and learn from others more. Instead of having all the ideas, I want to hear what others think. In caring for those in need, I've learned to let them affect me. In meeting people not like me, I've been learning how to empathize. Being part of Anchor all these years has been an unsurpassed education in learning how to trust and love, in gaining wisdom and growing in maturity.
It's easy to feel inferior as a pastor. There's always plenty of bad press out there. Some church somewhere has abused somebody, disappointed somebody, failed somebody, hurt somebody. Most people don't go to church, and half the people who don't go to church used to go to church but got let down by their pastor, so they don't go anymore. There's usually more failure shrouding most pastors than almost any other profession. And if we fail people, we believe people go to hell. Talk about pressure! We preach, but statistics show that those that listened will forget 95% of what we say by the next day. Yet we get evaluated on how good our sermons are! We get evaluated on how many pastoral visits we do, but if we do too much, then we produce lousy sermons. And pastors have to run a church efficiently, be really good at handling conflict, stay up on the finances, keep the programs exciting, and also set a good example for how to be rested and unbusy.
What is success as a pastor? It can't be the numbers. It's not the paycheck. It's not fame or recognition. I've had to learn that love is the greatest measure of success. My willingness to be loved, my willingness to love others, that's what makes pastoring successful. Of course I want to sharpen my skills as a pastor when it comes to leadership and management and counseling and teaching. But without love, it's all nothing. The temptation is to skimp on the love, to exchange it for being nice, or to excuse yourself from it because you're not a "people-person" or don't have the gift of mercy. Love is patience and kindness, and I've found my pastoring has become much more sustainable and fruitful when I focus on those two. There's plenty more to love, but I'd do well to focus on the first two as a pastor. And as a man.
In 15 years of pastoring, I've learned to value of ministering with other churches and pastors. I've benefitted from cultivating relationships with other non-profits that can further improve our church's ministry. I've had to learn how to befriend people despite being a pastor, how to be a neighbor without having an agenda. I've had to learn how to lose my faith and gain a new one while being a pastor. I've had to come to terms with my deep darkness within, to see how we all have addictions that must be healed. I've had to say goodbye to many friends, and start all over again with new ones. I've seen my heart put up walls, and I've had to tear them down. I've let people severely depress me, and I've had to learn to choose joy. I've been humbled many times, and I'm getting better at being okay with it. I've learned more about what drives me, about what controls me, about the ways I want to be free to love and serve and give.
I'm thankful for my wife Tara, who has been with me on this journey of pastoring. It's only been a decade and a half. May the next fifteen be full of adventure and joy! I'm thankful for my best friend Don Gentry, a fellow pastor who inspires me. I'm thankful for my Dad and Mum, who pray for us daily, who serve with us weekly at Anchor, and who pour so much love into my children. And I have more family and more friends to whom I owe much. Anything I accomplish is because of what others have poured into me as a gift. I also owe gratitude to my brothers. Jerm, Matt and I had to say goodbye to Ben way too early. And then Jerm and I said farewell to Matt. I am profoundly shaped by my brothers. They inspire me, they drive me, they are the other parts of me. I always cherish our growing up together. The Happy Hallman Home. It was a good life we had as brothers - and I continue to learn about how it's influenced my first fifteen years of ministry. Thanks, brothers!
What will I have accomplished in the next fifteen years? I'll be 52. Ack! I immediately feel the pressure to perform and strive and measure and go. But I want a sustainable life as well, one where I am able to nurture my marriage, bless my children, care for my family and friends, and become fully human. I don't want my ministry and work to grow a church to hijack my life such that I fail the people closest to me. In the first fifteen years of ministry, I've been learning to absorb the wisdom of Jesus, to trust God, and follow the promptings of the Spirit. I believe that this will be more then enough for the next fifteen years, come what may.