Now that I’m a veteran pastor (5 + years), I have been thinking about the stages that I have gone through in this short time as a pastor. I came up with three so far.
(1) Zealous stage: This is the stage where I thought that everyone would love the theology that I was spouting, and when I thought that I would conquer the world for confessional Lutheranism. This stage is also called “naivety.” This stage lasted about 1 1/2 years. I got a lot accomplished in that time actually.
(2) Disillusionment: This is the stage where I realized that only a handful of people actually cared about what I had to say, and for some reason this was shocking to me. No one can prepare seminary students for the degree of unbelief they will encounter in the Church. This has lasted about 2 1/2 years (could be longer). It is marked by feelings of utter futility and anger; also with the thinking that there is no point in doing what I am doing, since it seems not to make any difference.
(3) Acceptance: This is the stage that I am currently in. This is the stage where I accept the fact that few people are interested in the Gospel, but that doesn’t give me the right not to preach it. It is still discouraging to see so few people in the pews on Sundays and midweeks, especially when some of them were very faithful at the beginning of my time here, but it doesn’t put me in as bad of a mood as it used to. I don’t feel as much anger at the people as I did during my “disillusionment” stage.
Who knows what stage I will be in next year or in three years. Perhaps they just keep cycling through now. I should also add that it would probably behoove all faithful pastors to pray for the zeal that they had when they first entered the ministry. That zeal moves us to accomplish things and do things that our “veteran wisdom” causes us to think the better of. The good that we do in that first year far outweighs, in my opinion, the mistakes that we make in doing it. How’s that for sanctified wisdom. I think it is better to be a bull in a China shop than to tiptoe through the tulips. The people need to be stirred up. Isn’t that what Advent is all about? “Stir up your power;” “Stir up our hearts…”
Okay, now I expect to hear from all the 10 + year pastors how such ideas are folly. Well, this is what I say: experience has shown me that I was a better pastor my first year out of the sem than I am now. How’s that for wisdom?