Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Pastoral Concern -- Reflecting on 20 years at Good Shepherd

          Today, July 14, 2016, marks the exact date for my 20 year anniversary at Good Shepherd.  After serving for two years as an instructor at West Lutheran High School (now in Plymouth, Minnesota; back then it was in Hopkins), I was reassigned to a parish.  Two years of teaching in high school taught me that I am not a high school teacher, so I chose to do what I was trained to do--be a parish pastor.

          So, we moved on a beastly hot day from suburban Minneapolis to suburban Detroit.  After a week or two to settle in, I was installed as the pastor at Good Shepherd on Sunday, July 14, 1996.  Laura and I had only been married four years at the time.  The move to Novi was our 5th move already.  Laura and I were both eager to not see a moving van anytime soon.  I don't know if either of us expected that our prayers would be answered with 2 decades in one place.

          When we moved here, we had only two children.  Faith was coming up on 2 years old, and Nathanael was only about six months old.  Now we have six children who fill our house (as well as Isaac who was a still birth before Laura went full term)--Faith, Nathanael, Andrew, Caleb, Philip, and Peter.  No matter how often we tell them that we live in a parsonage and that the house is not ours forever, they all tell us that this is "home" and that we are not allowed to move.  It is the only home they know.
All the kids, Faith, Nathanael, Andrew, Caleb, Philip, & Peter
Nathanael's girlfriend, Charli, is included, too.
From May 2016.

          20 years of ministry in one place certainly has its share of blessings.  For one thing, some people who drift away from the church unexpectedly come back from time to time.  It is far more the exception than the rule, but you can't help but rejoice over every exception you experience; and then you pray for more of those.

          20 years of ministry also means watching children grow into adulthood.  I have had the privilege of confirming a good number of children I have baptized, and marrying several people I have confirmed.  I am not too far off being able to marry people I have baptized.  But 20 years also means that I have had to bury people whom I have regarded as dear friends.  This is the cold, hard reality that we are still sinners living in a sinful world, but even that does not erase the hope that all Christians have and which I proclaim at every funeral: "We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." (Nicene Creed)

          Besides the joys of the ministry, I also get to live with my frustrations and regrets.  No pastor is flawless, and we all get to prove that we are not.  There are a number of situations over the past years that I have handled badly, even sinning against people whom I have been called to serve.  For the most part, the love of members has covered over my evils and they have either overlooked my faults or forgiven me for them.  Although I know that I cannot personally save anyone (I preach and teach; the Holy Spirit does the real work), I often fear that I have managed to drive some away either by poor pastoral care, neglect, or a poorly spoken word.  These are the things that haunt most pastors, and I am thankful that there is absolution following confession for my sins in this regard.  This is not a pity party; it is the reality of being a pastor who is still a sinner,

          A few weeks ago, the members here graciously honored me for my 20 years here and presented me with very generous gifts.  I consider this a tremendous act of love from people who delight in Jesus and treasure the ministers he entrusts to them.  After 20 years (and a good number of members have been here that long), the congregation is all too familiar with my mannerisms, quirks, and weaknesses.  Still, they chose to honor me, and they choose to keep coming to be served by me.  Laura and I have always been treated well here, and we are grateful for the congregation that meets here.  We are also hopeful that more will be added to our congregation so that we can rejoice together in God's good gifts.

          The greatest joy and privilege of being a pastor at one place for 20 years is to declare the mercy and grace of God over and over again to people who need it, crave it, and delight in it.  God does not tire of telling his children how great his love is for them, and he has ordained me to be the one who proclaims his promises, to administer his sacraments, and to comfort his people.  I am thankful that the Lord has blessed Good Shepherd through my ministry, and pray that he will continue to do so.  It is Christ's Church.  They are his promises.  And the people are his redeemed.  I do my best to never forget that, and the people of Good Shepherd have been kind enough to thank me for my part in that.

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