Not a Normal Pastor

It’s great to listen to what others tell you about yourself. To a point.

Others can often see things in you that you can’t recognize. Their advice can take limits off you’ve put on yourself.

Or, it can work just the other way around. Their expectations and lack of imagination can cripple you and rob you of your calling. The words they speak into your life can strip you of your destiny, if you let them.

And if you do, it’s no one’s fault but your own. Take it from me…

I speak here from experience. That’s because I spent most of my initial years in the ministry frustrated and confused about who God expected me to be. Friends didn’t understand, because by most estimates I was doing very well in my career as a staff minister. But something wasn’t right, and I could feel it at every new assignment I’d take.

A little backstory might help make sense of it all…

As a teenager, I experienced a keen, piercing call to the ministry. The tipping point was on a youth group mission trip to Michigan as a 16 year old.

During that trip, I sat one day listening to Keith Green’s powerfully prophetic song “Asleep in the Light”. Conviction and passion flooded my soul. I felt the weight of responsibility to share the Gospel that day all believers should embrace, and yet it was something more.

I knew from that moment on, “This is why I was born. This is my calling and destiny.”

Looking back, I should have recognized the pitfalls Keith had faced with his own calling as a truly powerful preacher who just happened to be a gifted songwriter. Anyone attending his concerts experienced something akin to an old-fashioned revivalist when Keith spoke. In fact, he did not just speak…he PREACHED. He boldly proclaimed the Gospel with such power that the audience would often end the evening on their knees in repentance, experiencing personal spiritual renewal.

And yet, most Christians nationwide thought Keith was just a hairy male version of Amy Grant. His musical gifts caused people to categorize him, and thereby minimize his influence in their lives. Oh, what they missed by never hearing him preach!

But the way things were set up in the Baptist church I attended, you were either a musician or a pastor. And the musicians were there to support the pastor, not to preach. So when I expressed my calling, it was naturally assumed it would be as a “music minister”. Keith Green’s mix of praise and preaching was just an anomaly in ministry.

I figured He was the exception, but I should accept the norm.

So after high school, I headed off to college on a piano scholarship. My days were spent cloistered in the practicing rooms of the Music building at my Baptist university, but my heart was yearning to study the Bible. As a music major, I was expected to spend 3 to 4 hours a day practicing classical piano. I loved playing, but I felt like I was dying inside.

When I finally confided my frustration to my piano professor, she instructed me quite emphatically. ”David, of course it’s God’s will you become a classical pianist, since He’s given you the ability! Anyone can do church work!”

I languished a year and half in the school of music, struggling to convince my instructors and myself I had what it takes to be a classical musician. Finally, I walked away from the scholarship and into my new home in the school of religion. I wish I could say that I kept moving in that direction, but my insecurities eventually sent me back into music.

After wandering through a semester at seminary, I found a position as a music and youth minister at a church. This would at least give me a chance to preach to the teenagers every week, while doing music for the adults on Sunday. As I moved on to larger churches, I focused more specifically on youth ministry. My music was still used in leading worship for them, but my love was in preaching.

But as I approached my mid-thirties, I knew a choice was coming. I now had a wife and daughter, and the erratic long hours required in youth ministry were taking a toll.

That’s when I made the leap head-first into worship leading. It seemed like the responsible choice, and the church I served in East Tennessee boomed with growth. God truly was moving as my theological seriousness gave spiritual weight to the worship ministry of a choir and orchestra. It was a glorious, fruitful 5 years.

And yet…I still felt something was missing.

Part of the problem was I couldn’t help but think about the total vision of the church I served. That worried me, because I knew it wasn’t my place to determine that vision. That was the rightful job of the senior pastor. I assumed I was just overly ambitious, too big for my britches. I eventually left, hoping a new church would bring fulfillment.

What happened over the next 11 years was a succession of frustrating experiences. I went from ministry to ministry, each time being frustrated by what I thought was a lack of vision in each church. Either that or I must just be irredeemably rebellious and insubordinate.

Finally, I remember complaining to God once again about my senior pastor’s vision for the church I was then serving. I was alone in the church on a Saturday, making a few last minute adjustments for the Sunday music service. As I walked through the building, I griped to God out loud.

“There’s no evangelism here at all, no leadership of the staff, and the church had been now dying for years. Lord, you and I both know what would turn it all around, but no one’s listening to me. Why can’t they see the vision?”

It was at that moment I heard God speak to me as clearly as I’ve ever heard Him…

“Son, why should I give your vision to another man? That vision is your legacy, for a church you will lead yourself one day!”

That’s when I realized God had circled me back to what had been the plan all along. I had run from it for years, and I would never be fulfilled until I embraced who I was truly called to be.

Well, I finally went back to seminary and finished that masters degree. Though the work was hard, writing my research papers felt like coming home. I was soaking myself in God’s Word, reveling in it, finally basking in its wonder!

And when I eventually got to do a sermon again, I realized something: I’m actually a pretty good preacher!

It’s a pretty unique style, much different from the pastors I grew up listening to. But actually, I’ve found I’m much easier for unchurched people to understand.

In fact, I’m discovering that God in His providence was working through my long detour around the pastorate. Thanks to my time in worship and the creative arts, I now have the ability to speak and relate to unchurched people in unique ways other preachers can’t. My sermons surprise people, and I approach Scripture in more colorful ways regular pastors don’t.

I don’t think like a normal pastor, and that’s a good thing. And after having worked for many of them through the years, I see how God’s made me different for a reason. Many were truly great men, but God doesn’t need me to be like them. He made me to stand out and attract attention…

…you know, like a bad accident by the roadside. If nothing else, you just can’t help but look as you drive by me!

So here’s the moral of my cautionary tale…

If you listen, God will eventually get you back where you were supposed to be. It may take time, and some hard work to be sure. But no matter how hard-headed you are, God will finally find a way to get you back to your true calling.

So if you think you’ve already missed the boat, just jump into the water and start paddling NOW! As long as you’re still breathing, it’s not too late!

Our God is quite able to restore the years eaten away by the locusts (Joel 2:25). He can align things to put you suddenly back where you were supposed to be.

Sometimes, a good father will let His child cut back into line even after he’s run off and lost his place. It’s not exactly fair, but I’m so happy my father doesn’t play fair! Thank God, His heart overrules what I deserve and I get to do what He created me to do after all.

Quite a different path, huh? But I understand you may not think that’s how pastors are made, but that’s OK. The opinions of others don’t have much effect on me anymore.

I guess I’ve learned there’s only one opinion of me that really counts in the end. And His was right all along!

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