Last spring I graduated from seminary with my Master of Divinity. Among the many congratulatory remarks I heard from family and friends was the question, “So, does this mean you can be a ‘real’ pastor now?
Almost everyone thought that upon graduation I would quickly pursue a different role in ministry, now that I had the experience and knowledge necessary to be a “real pastor”.
To back up, let me give you a quick snapshot of my ministry. I felt called into ministry towards the end of high school and decided to go to a Christian school. I knew I wanted to do youth ministry and so got involved at a local church during my freshman year. I graduated from a Christian liberal arts college with a double major in Biblical Studies and Theology and Youth Ministry (but to be very honest, my experience and internships at the church taught me much more than my classes).
Upon graduation I moved out to NY to start my journey as the church’s first full-time youth pastor. With a year I was licensed by my denomination as as official “pastor”, which pretty much meant I could marry and bury people. Sadly, I did my first funeral before my first wedding and it was a student who tragically died in a car accident. I am happy to say that I have done more weddings than funerals now.
Each year as I served at my church, various opportunities arose that stretched my ministerial horizons. I lead an adult mission trip, did some counseling with parents, intervened in some family crisis situations, baptized people, etc… A few years into the ministry, I realized that I was asked (and called) to do far more than organize youth group games, plan skits, and teach 15 minute lessons. I began the process of being ordained in my denomination as a “Reverend” and also enlisted full time in seminary. I remained committed to the youth ministry while growing in my knowledge and experience. Clearly I was being trained and prepared to be a “Pastor”.
Now here is where the story gets interesting!
What I realized about half way through this process was that God was not preparing me for some future reality/role in ministry. Rather, God wanted me to grow and be stretched in this way for my current ministry. I was getting ordained and receiving theologically education for my youth ministry and to help me be the best youth “pastor” I could be.
While I rarely break out the Greek in my youth lessons, the last few years has benefited me in tremendous ways in my personal and professional life. The youth ministry has become much deeper and healthier. I see myself much more than just a director of events or guy who likes to hang out with students and tell them about Jesus.
I realize now what I should have realized when I first arrived years ago.
I am a Pastor.
I used to envision the day where I would have the opportunity to lead my own church, i.e. oversee and train a staff, lead the church in spiritual formation, counsel, preach, teach, cast vision and strategically plan for growth (numeric and spiritual), do church-wide fasting, expose the members to deeper worship and meaningful service, and so on.
But I can be, and should be doing these things right now. If we are truly called to be Pastors then our responsibilities and roles should be the same as if we were pastoring a church. We should take our calling just as seriously and with as much zeal, commitment, and passion.
The only difference is that we are leading students and not adults (primarily).
Friends, this view has revolutionized my ministry; from my philosophy to my daily approach.
As youth pastors, we are called to lead our congregation (youth group) into relationships with Jesus and deeper spiritual formation. We teach, preach, counsel, recruit, cast vision, implement strategy, study, read, fast, and much more. Truthfully, any kind of theological education or broader ministry experience we can receive will only benefit us as youth pastors.
Whether you are a volunteer, part-time, call yourself a youth “worker” or “director”, we must be their pastors. That is what our students need; that is what they are longing for. They need guidance and spiritual direction that a pastor can give. And you do not need to have the word “pastor” in your title or job description to serve as their pastor.
Now if that particular word has bad connotation, then so be it.
We can change the word to anything we want, but we must not change the definition and responsibility that goes with it.
My title is Pastor of Student Ministries. I did not pick that title, it was given to me when I was hired. But the sad truth is that I did not fully embrace or step into that title until a few years ago. It really was upon my ordination as “Reverend Dan Haugh” that my eyes were opened to the reality and implications of my calling.
I am a pastor.
I am not a pastor of ministries however.
I am a pastor of students.
My MDiv. did not prepare me better for some long-term “real” position as pastor somewhere else and sometime down the road.
On the contrary, it prepared and equipped me to do what I should have been doing all along.
Whether you decide to pursue another degree or not, don’t let the pressure to be a “real pastor” tempt you away from what you can be doing right now….being a very real pastor to very real students.
They are much more than tomorrow’s church. They are today’s church and you and I have the privilege of being their pastors.
So, step into your calling. Embrace the pastor in you.