|“Pastors assist people in ‘giving birth’ to a new or deepened relationship with God. We are not the center of the action, or even key players in the drama. We perform our role in a variety of ways, for instance, by teaching, leading worship, and visiting the sick. We tell the Christian story, coach and encourage, listen and pray. What unites all of these roles and activities is that each provides an opportunity to encounter God.”|
– Martin Copenhaver, This Odd and Wondrous Calling
This summer marks 10 years since I was ordained an Elder in Full Connection. In the United Methodist Church, you spend your first few years of ministry as a “Provisional Elder” – kind of like being on probation, submitting sermons, Bible Studies, meeting with Mentors, Boards, and Agencies until you are ready to taken on the sacred responsibility, trust, and title of “Reverend.” The above photo was taken the night I was ordained (can you pick me out of the crowd?) I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already! It seems like not so long ago I was kneeling before Bishop Taylor and taking my ordination vows. With all that has changed in our world and our church lately, I have been reflecting upon my time in ministry and the lessons I have learned.
So here it is… 10 things I have learned in 10 years of being a Reverend:
You can’t please everyone: I’m a people pleaser by nature. So it’s been a challenge for me to live into the reality that not everyone will be happy with me all the time. And, for me to be ok with the reality that it’s not my job to please everyone. Instead, my job is to love, come alongside, pray, gently challenge, and allow people to feel what they need to feel.
Collaborate: Ministry is about collaboration. The United Methodist Church has a long standing tradition of being driven by lay people, not the pastor. So when new ministry ideas arise, it is important to collaborate. Sometimes we all feel that if we just took care of something by ourselves, it would be done “right” or it would just get done. Ministry is about playing well with others and listening to all ideas.
Take time away: As a pastor, I wear many hats. If I don’t take time to take them off, my well runs dry. I strive to honor God’s command for Sabbath each week. I take vacation. I take time to learn, pray, grow, and be in fellowship with friends and family. It makes me a better pastor and leader. This is one of the things I am missing most during the Coronavirus season.
Be flexible: “They don’t teach you that in seminary!” is a phrase I say often. I have learned over the years that being a pastor isn’t just one thing and there isn’t a set of “duties” I have to complete each day.
My husband will tell you that as far as personalities go, I used to be an “A+” who needed to have everything in order and know what I was doing and when/why. Now, I find myself more at a B or B- personality. I have learned to be flexible and to expect the unexpected. Being a pastor is many things, and means taking on roles I never thought that I would. As a pastor, I have led worship, meetings, and taught classes. I have prayed over the sick and dying. I have baptized babies and married couples.
I have also plunged toilets, been a part of a liturgical dance group, marched in a parade, vacuumed up glitter from the carpet after youth group, picked up dead mice, changed church signs in 100 degree temperatures, and prayed to rid a home of “evil spirits.” Each day is different. Each day is an opportunity to stretch myself in a new way.
The church is messy but beautiful: Fresh out of seminary, I was ready to take on the world as a pastor and had a view of the church that was perhaps too idealistic. I have learned over the years that church is a MESSY place. It is messy because it is made up of human beings, with our imperfections, our tendencies to gossip, be petty, or be afraid of change. The church is also a BEAUTIFUL place because it is the Body of Christ. At church we come together, experience God in worship, pray, and love one another. In the messiness, there is beauty. After all, that’s why we celebrate the Incarnation.
There is power in the sacraments: Baptism and Communion never get old or lose their meaning for me. And being called to preside over the sacraments of our church is a privilege I do not take lightly. Whenever I have seasons in ministry where I am frustrated or question my call, the sacraments draw me back to why I do what I do. I believe when we are able to once more physically gather around God’s Welcome Table together we will all feel this power so much more fully!
Preaching is a profound privilege not to be taken lightly: a mentor of mine says that “Pastors have the power of the pulpit and of convening people together. Don’t ever underestimate that.” I realize that each week I have the opportunity to listen to what God is saying to me (and to you!) through the scriptures and how that message is relevant to our world and faith today. And then my task is to share that with you. Over the years of ministry, preaching is something that has really taken shape for me and has become a key component of what I do. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly.
The world is my parish: When I walk out the church doors, I am still a pastor. That is why I regularly connect with our neighbors, our community, and the un-churched. Jesus himself taught mostly from the fields and on the road. He met people where they were. The best pastors are those who look beyond their own congregations to meet people where they are. I have learned not to limit myself and my role the religious folks I meet through Bethel.
Love your people: I once heard a Bishop, during the Ordination Service at Annual Conference, who asked the gathered assembly of pastors, say, “Do your people know that you love them? Do they really know?” Well, Bethel, do you??
Pray often: As a pastor, I must pray for the church, for the people, for the hurting places in the world, and for my colleagues who are on this road with me. Without it, I’m not sure where we would be! I must also pray for my family, and myself, that God would remain at the center of our lives, faithfully leading us forward.
There are many things I am still learning, and my goal is to never stop growing faithfully. My hope is that you will continue to learn with me and grow alongside me. Bethel, we are better together!
Reverend Julie Songer Belman