This story is the fourth installment of my series to tell the tale of what God has done and what God is doing to call me to serve in a new place, in a new role, in a new way. This tale is one of my favorites to tell, and in many ways its impact spans the gulf between then and now. It contains a beginning of sorts in my ministry, and simultaneously it is the beginning of the final move toward where I am today.
It was my first day as a pastor.
It wasn’t my first day in youth ministry. That came four years earlier, as the deacon of youth ministry, when we started with a group of seven. Seven kids in a church plant in Columbus. People we still cherish. People we still miss dearly.
It wasn’t our first day at New Life either. We’d landed here in 2005, as volunteer counselors interested in helping out. That day we met lots of people. People we would come to call friends. Two sets of twins, one that would take years to be able to tell apart, and another you simply could never get mixed up. All sorts of people young and old who would shape my heart and my life from then on.
No, this was the first day I was ever called “pastor,” and that has always meant something to me. I always thought that in that moment something changed.
So it was my first day as a pastor…
And there I was on the phone with a parent working out the details of meeting at a hospital. The dreaded “one more spin” led to a broken collar bone, just as the ice skating was coming to a close. I had to work out getting her to the hospital with another pastor and once that was set up, I had to calm down the people who had come with her, people who felt it was their duty to accompany her. It wasn’t. So they left with us.
As we headed back for the Super Bowl that evening I worked to defuse the drama, and at halftime she came back, arm in a sling, and joined the party.
Halftime…halftime…I had wanted to introduce the group to the 30 Hour Famine but I had left the materials back at the church! What a first day, I thought, as I jumped into the church van, fired it up and headed backward.
Head down, I remembered. One of our students had come late to the party. I hadn’t seen his massive SUV parked just off-center behind the van. Thankful that I hadn’t caused any damage I sped off to get the Famine packets. Frustrated by the day.
It was my first day as a pastor, and I learned a lot.
I learned that you should always leave that one last spin, unspun.
I learned that things won’t go as planned, and oftentimes because someone gets hurt.
I learned that people can create all sorts of reasons to be angry when they don’t get what they want, and that sometimes you just have to ignore them for their sake, and the sake of the group.
I learned to look before you back up.
I learned that even when things are crazy, even when people get hurt, or when chaos seems to reign, at the end of the day it’s possible to persevere.
I learned that being a pastor is hard, hard work.
More than five years later, I’m learning that you never can tell the importance of any one day, or that it might be the one thing you don’t remember that makes all the difference in the world.
Because you remember a broken collar bone. Calls to moms. Angry boyfriends. Dramatic friends, those you remember.
You remember the frantic race to the van to go back and get the box of forgotten paperwork, only to back into a giant SUV on your very first day as a pastor.
Those are things you remember. But the seventh grader who comes for the very first time with a friend, that’s something you can tend to forget.
But how could you possible know? How could you possibly suspect that this seventh grader would become the final piece to be put in place five years later. That this seventh grader would be the student with whom five years later you would find yourself fighting your way back from the depths of the pit, inching away from the edge step, by step, by step as the wind howls around you. How could anyone possibly have known, that God would use this seventh grader to once and for all get my attention and say, “This is what I have for you. This is what the world is longing for. I’m on a mission, and it’s this important. Are you on board? Will you join me? For the sake of the whole church?”
How could I have known? I mean, it was my first day as a pastor.