Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I am a pastor. I have been for sixteen years. I can't help it. For the non-pastor-types out there, I am a junkie for the Kingdom of God, for people and I try to be instrumental in helping seekers find their way with the express, written consent of God (you have the same, incidentally). It's just that I've determined to center my life around what to me is a calling.

It's hard to be a pastor when you have no one around to pastor. God has seen fit through these years to surround me with people with whom I'm entrusted to love and serve. In some sense, that has been affirmation enough.

One of the most precious commodities for a pastor is time. This is better translated availability from the perspective of the parishioner. A pastor may want/need more time for one thing or another, but who doesn't want their pastor to be available to them? So that is the one thing, in my estimation, that any pastor must be known for.

There was a time (prior to Veritas) when I received remuneration for my availability as a pastor (among other things pertaining to the "traditional" ministry description). This meant that office hours had to be kept; appointments had to be made and observed. Visits were paramount from home to home and the pastor's house often was seen as an extension of the church because that was where the pastor and his wife lived. For right or wrong, it came with the territory and we accepted it, but we weren't wishy-washy with needed boundaries central to our own health and sanity.

There was a time in one stage of my journey while preparing to come to Oxford when I envisioned a church we would start that would, at some point in its development, financially support my family so I could do that ministry. It wasn't a hard-set goal, like I was wanting to get it big enough to do that- it was just the model and structure I was used to. I hadn't seen anything but that in my experience. I didn't come to Oxford wanting to start house churches, simple churches, organic communities and the like. Those things were not even on my radar. There was no relational frame of reference whereby to posit those values into any meaningful ministry picture of what could be.

There was a time when, as an appointed church planting missionary with the North American Mission Board of the SBC, I shared a funded 2 year position with another planter and his family to come start this church. That was the last time I was paid as a pastor. Even then, on the new field of church planting, I could afford to meet people, to hang out and to offer my availability.

Then came the mix of people into our lives who were instrumental in finally embodying for us what it was God was planting in our hearts insofar as what kind of church we were to be. The choices we were given to make at that juncture called me to fathom the right kind of choices that would be consistent with the values with which we were aligning. They had so much to say about personal financial position and possibility in ways that some people may never know.

The timing of gravitating toward the community we were becoming, compounded with the fact we weren't a self-supporting church at the time, compelled me to creatively weigh my income options in order to maintain this value of availability. My support was ending and I was scrambling to secure my main income outside of the church for the first time in my ministry. And I think God, in due time, opened up the unique opportunity whereby I could be around college students, have a relatively predictable job and have my summers free to devote to ministry. The job also afforded me time during the workweek too. I also have a group of co-workers who often look to me as their minister.

The pitfall has been the pay, of course, due to my schedule coinciding with the school year. Essentially, I'm laid off during the summer and holidays. We aren't where we want to be financially as a family and this hinders us in other ways. We aren't suffering by any means and we make do and we have joy in our place. Could I be a better pastor if I were paid to do so, or is that an illusion?

I truly think that I have the best kind of schedule that a pastor can have in doing this kind of ministry, even though I have to work two other jobs, which are flexible as well. In all of the jobs I looked for, not to mention what was available (and maybe those options that God closed), this set up allows me the most flexibility in terms of the availability I offer to my people. I don't know how else I can do it.

So, my time is what I have to offer you. This is what I can give to you. It is given in joy and service but it is borne from sacrifice and toil. It isn't a luxury I commandeered from laxity or slothfulness. It is my gift on the table. Please do not err in the assumption it is for anything else. This is my choice, and nothing but that. I have half a dozen things I could do outside of the will of God. But WOE is me and WOE unto me if I do not do this thing that I do (in other words, I think I'd be miserable if I weren't doing this).

I do not for any moment regret where I am and what I'm doing. I can't see myself anywhere else but with the people I have around me to pastor. EVERY single day, their faces and their well-being weigh in on my heart. Every day my thoughts and joys are trained on them. I don't do what I do to garner recognition; there's none to be had. I won't be a sought-after conference speaker, touting ideologies and methodologies. The work here may not be glamorous enough. I just want to be known that I loved my people...my family, my fellow Veritasians and my compatriots in ministry and to hopefully see God do such a magnificent work that no one but him could take the glory.

.....and boy, do I have a way to go yet.