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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

A Letter to My Future-Pastor Self

By now, I am sure you have settled into your pastoral rhythms and grown somewhat comfortable in your parish setting. Hopefully, regular preaching/teaching and writing/leading liturgy is what you expected it to be. Those strange people you did not know and who caused you anxiety are now among your friends, or are at least no longer “people you don’t know”. And perhaps you have even learned how to find your way around a counseling session. But I hope you have not grown too comfortable. I hope you have not let the expectations of your congregation pull you away from the reflective side of pastoring which first drew you to it. I hope you are not comfortable fielding complaints or being a shopkeeper. And most of all, I hope you are not so comfortable you believe you can do this on your own. Just in case you have become one of the pastors you were afraid of becoming, or are in danger of becoming one, I want to remind you of when you were a scared student fumbling through seminary, wrestling with God, and looking at your calling with trepidation.

Remember the words of Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens: “Remember, God has called you to the priesthood because he does not trust you to be a layman”. [1] You weren’t called because you were good enough or somehow more spiritual than any other Christian. In a way, you were called to the same mission as your congregants. God just needed to call you a little harder. At least that is how you saw it as you came to grips with your call in college and as you began your seminary education. You looked at your calling as something you did not deserve, but then turned back to the pew and you knew you were not good enough for that either. At least your call chained you to the cross in a way the pew couldn’t.

Nor are you less broken than your congregants. Another quote from M. Craig Barnes struck you while in seminary: "The old seminary professors used to speak about a necessary trait for pastoral ministry called gravitas. It refers to a soul that has developed enough spiritual mass to be attractive, like gravity. It makes the soul appear old, but gravitas has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with wounds that have healed well, failures that have been redeemed, sins that have been forgiven, and thorns that have settled into the flesh." [2] You are not less broken than your congregants. You are someone who has wrestled with God in many ways during your short life and have encountered His grace in a unique way. As a pastor, your calling is to lead people into that same grace you have experienced through Word and Sacrament.

You have always been a task oriented person and so I am sure you have managed by now to turn your pastoral calling into a list of events, programs, and meetings, but your task is to bring people into the love of Christ and to do that, you must yourself spend time in his presence. Your pastorate is formed in the prayer closet, being bathed in Scripture so that when you come out of it, you can bathe your congregation in Scripture and bring them to the table where you have met Christ countless times. The danger of falling prey to growing task oriented once again is great in the pastorate:" Instead of grace/work we make it work/grace. Instead of working in a world in which God calls everything into being with his word and redeems his people with an outstretched arm, we rearrange it as a world in which we preach the mighty Word of God and in afterthought ask him to bless our speaking; a world in which we stretch out our mighty arms to help the oppressed and open our hands to assist the needy and desperately petition God to take care of those we miss." [3]

As you read these words, I do not ask that you become that scared kid again. I am glad you have grown comfortable in your calling. What I hope you do not forget, though, is what it is like to wrestle in a prayer closet, before the words of Scripture, at the table. Do not stop bathing yourself in the riches of God’s grace. Only then will you be able to be the pastor you were called to be.

~Scott Carr, Jr.

[1] Quoted by M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet, p. 48

[2] Ibid. p. 49

[3] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles, p. 72

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