Someone gave me a book around 20 years ago about a circuit-riding preacher. I no longer have the book, and I can’t remember the name of it, but I do remember that I enjoyed reading it.
There was a time when many small churches and communities didn’t have a pastor who worked in the church full-time, or even one that lived locally, for that matter. A preacher would travel between multiple churches on horseback. He might visit an individual church once every 4-6 weeks.
Imagine that: no internet, no mobile phones, no communication between the pastor and the church for a month and sometimes longer. From a pastoral perspective, I think about what it must have been like travelling by horseback to minister to a different church each week, but I don’t think too much about it.
That’s not the world we live in today. We are connected to everyone, everything, everywhere, 24/7. We are so connected that we often experience anxiety when disconnected. Who hasn’t had a brief feeling of desperation knowing you forgot your phone at home? This has certainly affected us all, and it has also affected those in pastoral ministry.
Over the next few weeks, or maybe longer, I am going to share some of my experiences in ministry in the hope that someone might find them helpful or at least entertaining—maybe another pastor, maybe a churchgoer, maybe someone who happens to read the blog.
I listen to many podcasts and read many blogs. I read a blog by Thom Rainer at churchanswers.com titled “Five Ways to Hurt Your Pastor”, which inspired me to write about my own experience in pastoral ministry.
I must say from the onset that the church I pastor (hinterlandbaptist.com) is an amazing church full of wonderful believers. I have an incredible team of people I work with weekly. We are growing as a church both spiritually and numerically, and I am grateful for the church where I serve as pastor.
My family and I immigrated to Australia almost 15 years ago. We began serving at Hinterland from day 1. Eighteen months prior, we visited the church and filled in for the founding pastor for three months while he was overseas.
The previous pastor wanted to retire, and the church invited me back permanently. We spent the next several months applying for permeant residency in Australia, which was quite a process. We were eventually granted permanent residency and, several years later, became citizens of Australia. Overall it has been a good move for my family. The quality of life in Australia is quite good.
I mentioned that Hinterland is an amazing church today, and I enjoy serving at Hinterland. Things haven’t always been so amazing.
When we first arrived at the church, I was anxious and excited. I was concerned about learning to work in my new culture and was very cautious about trying not to be culturally offensive. Looking back, I was probably too cautious and offended many people anyway. I have made many mistakes but hopefully, I have learned from them and become a better pastor.
When we first arrived at Hinterland, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into which was, in many ways, a blessing. Looking back now, I realise that we had been misled about some things, including the financial position, maturity and health of the church. I don’t believe that was necessarily intentional it just is what it is. There are always some things we tend to view through rose-coloured glasses and, therefore, differently than others.
Memory isn’t something we have been given for the pleasure of nostalgia but so that we might learn from the past. Looking back through the years, I sometimes wonder how accurate my memories are of certain events, but I have definitely learned a lot from the past.
Thinking back to what I believe was our first Sunday with the church, I remember thirteen people were present, including my family of four. We sang a few songs from hymn books that smelled like a basement with no musical accompaniment.
We had no one with the voice and skill to lead the worship service, so this responsibility fell to me, someone without the voice and skill to lead the worship service. I had never led worship in a church before.
An interesting thing about singing into a hymn book is that it acts as a personal monitor reflecting your voice back at you. Many people hearing their own voice tend to get quieter, not louder. Couple that with a music leader who was not a music leader, and well, let’s say it was pretty terrible. It was also my first time preaching as the lead pastor of a church. The sermon may have been worse than the singing.
I wanted to see the church thrive and grow, and I still do. I have heard of many potential pastors visiting churches seeking someone to fill the pastoral office.
The pastor asks the church if they are willing to grow, which is the wrong question, but the answer is inevitably a resounding “Yes!”. I may have asked that question myself at some point. What the church really means is that we want more people in the church who act like us, do things like us, and agree with us; we don’t want growth; we want more people to attend.
I think this is always a danger and struggle for a church. We become comfortable where we are and don’t want things to change. The problem with that is that only dead things don’t change.
I knew inherently from the time I felt called by God to serve Him as an under-shepherd that one of the callings and goals of my ministry was going to be a change agent, casting off unnecessary burdens and legalism, bringing people along with that change, even when they didn’t want to come along.
After that first Sunday, I knew that much change needed to occur, but in my extreme naivety, I thought people would see this as well and be happy to see change happen. I didn’t know then how much people don’t like change and the lengths they might go to prevent it. I thought I did, but I didn’t, not at all.
One of the very first areas I decided to focus on was music. I knew somewhat of what I was getting into music-wise, so I had purchased a guitar before I immigrated to Australia, intending to use it to lead worship, even though I had never done so and couldn’t even play the guitar. I had learned a few chords in the past, but I couldn’t “play”. I most certainly couldn’t play and sing.
I also purchased a set of “iWorship” DVDs on a whim from a Christian bookstore. They were in a key that was too high for most people to sing, but my well-intentioned thought was, “Hey, they have to be better than nothing”. I had no idea they would be such a catalyst for so many things.
We’ll get into that more next week.