What do you want to be when you grow up?
A question that is posed to us at such a young age; I have dreamt of many possible answers. First it was Batman, then a police officer, than an actor, rock star, music composer, creative writer, journalist, teacher and counselor. But as you get older, you begin to realize the costs that come with each career (intense physicality, sacrifice, rejection, flexibility, and dead parents if you want to be Batman). So in the end, I ultimately chose a mentally exhausting and spiritually demanding career that comes with great cost: a pastor.
The thought of becoming a pastor never crossed my mind. Don’t get me wrong, even at a young age I had a reverence for the title. But it wasn’t until I met the pastor of my high school youth group that I had any interest in the position.
Throughout 2014, I went on a journey of sorts, questioning at times my very purpose in life. I had gone to ministry school and acquired a Bachelor’s Degree, but began doubting myself, and even God. Is a man who still struggles with sin and wrestles with God the kind of man God wants to lead His people in worship? In my mind I was disqualified from the race.
A few weeks ago, I borrowed a book from a friend entitled, The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. Why have I never been introduced to this wonderful man of God! As I diligently read this work of art, God is using him as a voice of relief and assurance that I am receiving grace and guidance to pursue ministry. Here are a couple things I have learned that are inspiring me to pursue my desired vocation joyfully:
1. My identity is Derrick Hatch: Child of God
One lesson I have learned this year is that I am not defined by how much ministry I do, but by who I am in Christ. Without knowing it, I was evaluating my relationship with God based on how much I was doing for Him, instead of by how much He has already done for me. He lived for me, died for me, rose for me. He advocates for me, forgives me, and loves me. In some mystical way, Jesus is interceding for me to the Father. And it is by His grace and Spirit that I am able to struggle and doubt, confident that He will use it all to strengthen me for the work ahead. He is my Shepherd, my Pastor, and I am His sheep.
2. A Pastor is Prayerful, Poetic, and Patient
Peterson uses the example of St. John (whose writings I most gleam from in the New Testament) as a model pastor for us.
First, a pastor is prayerful. I can write endless entries about how annoyed I am when pastors are too busy for their people. But I’ll keep it brief: what Peterson has helped me digest is that a pastor is not in the business of running a church, but in caring for souls. Everything in the church is done to this end for the glory of God. This means making time for people and not pushing them into programs. God has revealed to me that I am severely lacking in this area; I am guilty of being too busy to pray for people. And I refuse to enter into the ministry this way. Therefore I am beginning to take this art more seriously as I learn how to pray for myself, my wife, my church, and my world. As Jesus intercedes on our behalf to the Father, so do pastors for their flock, bringing them into the presence of God. This is a lofty call, and one I labor to live up to.
Second, a pastor is poetic. Words are immensely valuable; whether we are adapting God’s Word to preaching or counseling, it is important to use language carefully and constructively. That’s why I started a blog, to learn how to better use my words and work with language. I’ve always had a great interest in this (English was always my favorite school subject). I take great joy in tweaking my writings and choosing my words carefully, there is an art in it. I always try to study those who have mastered it. Whether it’s St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Lennon/McCartney or contemporaries like Donald Miller, Tom Delonge, Michael Gungor, or Levi the Poet, I try to surround myself with people who put a lot of work into their words.
And finally, a pastor is patient. I like praying because it brings me into the presence of God, and I enjoy poetry because it’s beautiful, but I don’t like or enjoy being patient. As a pastor, I will be in the business of dealing with the mysteries of God and the messiness of people, both of which require much patience. Therefore, God is at work in me making me more patient as I wait for what comes next. He knows I won’t ask for it, so He does it anyway. I love that about God, even though I may not always like it.
Perhaps St. Paul summarized the job description of pastor best when he said:
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.” Acts 20:28
I’ve read this verse dozens of times over the years, and it has become one of my so-called “Life Verses.” But there is one major word I always skimmed over until now:
“Keep watch over yourselves.”
I cannot demand to be in the business of watching over others if I can’t keep watch over my own life. This is what God is helping me see, this is why His focus is not on what He’s doing through me, but in me. I am very humble and grateful that He is taking the time to do this before sending me off to do His work.
This book has increased my desire to not just become a pastor, but a contemplative one. I seek to participate in the art of spiritual direction, first for myself, then for my wife, and then for others.
As I reflect on my life, it seems that God has cultivated in me a passion for words, a gift of teaching, and a desire to counsel. I have no doubt that God has called me to serve Him in ministry of some sort. What that looks like and where it’ll take me, I don’t know. But I’m here Lord, use me as You will. Amen.