A year ago today I was installed as associate pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Two Rivers, WI. It’s been a good year, and I’m thankful for all the blessings I’ve been given here. I thought it’d be nice to jot down a few of my thoughts about my ministry and life that this year has made me aware of.
Much is the same. Moving from being pastor at a small church of 150 members to being one of two pastors at a church of about 1000 members certainly brings its differences. I had to adjust to lots of little things and a few big things. But most surprising to me was how many things were the same. Writing sermons and preaching is the same, no matter how many services you have to preach at. The people, while all different, have similar problems, joys, triumphs, and difficulties. There’s just more of them now. The issues that plague a smaller church aren’t really that far off from the issues that plague a larger one. The joys in a smaller church are similar too.
I still have a lot to learn. Like: names! I remember at one of my first weekends at my prior church there was an installation of Christian education leaders and helpers. After they were all installed, I was able to flawlessly name every one of them, much to the surprise of the congregation. Here in Wisconsin, I still don’t feel like I’ve mastered the names after a full year here. It’s possible for people to come to church regularly and still slip out the door without talking to me. Plus, the sheer volume of more people makes actually mastering their names take that much longer. Add that to a list of inactive and nearly inactive members whom I’ve either never met or only seen a handful of times, and I still have to get to know my congregation!
This is besides all I still have to learn as a pastor, of course. I’m far from the perfect associate pastor, preacher, Bible study leader, counselor, and everything else — and I look forward to more time to grow. I’m going to need it.
Beautiful place to live. I’ve really been blessed to see some incredible places both here in Wisconsin and in Western New York. I must say, I’m still in awe of driving by Lake Michigan just about every day. It’s stunning to see this huge body of water so close to home. Having a river right in my back yard has been neat, too. Though, I do miss the hills of Western New York and being able to drive up to Niagara Falls so quickly. I’ll have to get back to visit someday.
Closer to WELSdom. This is one of those peculiarities to my synod, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). At my previous church, the nearest WELS church was about two hours away. Most people where I used to live hadn’t heard of my synod. And forget getting guest preachers when I went away; I needed to have an elder read a written sermon. That’s all changed here in Wisconsin. There’s actually another WELS congregation right here in Two Rivers, between the church and school locations of my church. Add that to easily ten to twenty congregations within a half-hour’s drive of my house. It’s still so strange to me! It’s not good or bad, necessarily, just different. What I do notice is how ordinary that seems to most people here. I can tell you I won’t take it for granted.
Being an associate. Now that I’ve been both the only pastor at a small congregation and one of two pastors at a larger congregation, I can clear up some misconceptions of both. Being an associate pastor does not mean being lazy. True, I normally preach every other week now instead of every week. But the press of other duties and meetings that didn’t exist at my previous church more than makes up for that time. Plus, there are many times more little devotions for different groups that I’m called on to do here that I never was before. My creative skills are tapped even more.
That being said, I can clear up another misconception: being the only pastor in a small church is not somehow some easy ride as opposed to the big, multipastorate congregation. It’d be easy for someone at a big church to look down on a small church and think, “Oh, cute, you think you have work to do there. That’s so sweet.” Well, there is work in a small church! It just shows itself differently. I’m thankful I have the perspective of both. Though, I’m especially thankful to have an associate that I can trust and work together with in God’s work here.
Blessings of a school. It’s been great to have a school associated with my church. While I was thankful for the school my kids attended in New York, knowing that they’re here at St. John’s and are going to school and can just see me in my office at any time is pretty great. Getting to interact with kids in a Lutheran Elementary School is fantastic, and just a completely different kind of ministry than I was able to do before. Mind you, there are challenges, and I’m reminded every day that there’s more I could be or should be or will be doing to make our school even better, but it’s a fun challenge to have.
God is in control. Both calls that I’ve had as a pastor have been different, and they’ve both been blessings from God. My ministry has convinced me by experience in the doctrine of the divine call, as well as God’s promise to be with his people. I am thankful for my time in New York and often miss the people there. I am just as thankful to be here in Wisconsin and to be around so many people that have been a blessing already to me and my family. Whether it’s been working with another pastor and a school faculty, or meeting fellow school parents, or getting help with our kids when we’ve needed it, God has blessed us with the people he’s given us here.
Well, I could easily triple this post’s length with more thoughts, but that’s enough for now. I look forward to the perspective of more time to see what God will teach me next. And who knows, maybe I’ll even write on this blog a bit more once in a while!