It has become a rather common feature of men who have been in the Ministry for several years to be very apologetic for their first years in the Ministry. On blogs, Facebook, and in personal conversation, when the topic of pastoral approach and practice comes up, I frequently hear and read great public apologies being made, or deep regret and remorse being expressed regarding the decisions that were made, or the sermons that were preached, or the attitude that one had in that “first call.” I understand. I made mistakes too. I still do. And it is good to repent for the true mistakes that we made. It is good to repent of those things that truly were sinful. If we willfully neglected our work, if we preached false doctrine, if we despised our members in our hearts (or openly), these are sins that need to be confessed, and forgiven. And God, in the cross, says: “Apology accepted. I forgive you.”
It is not good, however, to be remorseful or regretful of the good things that were done, but were not perceived that way. Nor is it good, in my opinion, to continue to wallow in that guilt. We dare not insult the Lord by apologizing for being faithful. We’re all imperfect people. We all are wiser with experience. But that goes with the territory. Learning how properly to distinguish the law from the gospel is taught by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.
Hindsight is always 20/20. That’s the problem with hindsight. It’s brutal in its accusation. “If only someone would have told me this 20 years ago when I first started as a pastor, then…” Well, duh. We all have situations that we would have handled differently given more experience. So, again, repent, and move on. Get over it. Get to work. Try to tackle it differently next time. You had rough edges. We all did and do! And I’m not so sure that is a bad thing. John the Baptist did too. He would have been characterized by our modern “polite” society as being “rough around the edges,” one of those “guys right out of the seminary.” “He’s a good pastor, but just needs to have his edges smoothed a little bit.” “Maybe it would help if he got married and had some children. Then he wouldn’t seem so out of the ordinary.”
Maybe it’s my rebellious nature, but it makes me think of that one Spongebob episode with “Normal” Spongebob. His edges become smooth, and he becomes “normal.” I resist this “normalizing” process in the Church and as a pastor. Not everything we did in our first years of Ministry was wrong. We preached. We fed. We baptized. We confronted people in their sins. We did what we could to get our people to appreciate the liturgy and the Sacraments as we had been taught. I will not be apologetic for that. I will not insult the Lord, who was all that time working through my lack of wisdom and experience, by acting as if my first eight or so years in the Ministry was something of which to be ashamed.
We have a Call as pastors, and we do the best we can at the time, given the circumstances and resources available to us. If we sin and make mistakes, then let us repent, and rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ. But let’s not wallow in false guilt. The Lord is with us, as he promised (Matthew 28), and He will not fail us. For those going out into the Ministry for your first Call, go out there and do the work you’ve been given to do. Go make your mistakes. Repent. And live under the grace of God. My advice: don’t be unnecessarily severe on yourselves. You’re only human. Don’t second-guess yourself. If you have guilt to confess, then confess it to your father confessor. But do not, and I repeat, do not be apologetic for being faithful, or for preaching God’s Holy Word. Beware of false guilt. And contrary to popular opinion, hind-sight is overrated. Cheers!