True Story: I’m A Pastor

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to
people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things.
This is the story of Chris and his work as a Lutheran pastor.  I realize
that many readers come from different religious (or non-religious)
backgrounds.  Comments that respectfully, articulately disagree are
fine, disrespectful or inflammatory comments will be deleted.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m 33 years old, originally from Palisade, Minnesota. I currently serve as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bigfork, Montana. I am married to Rebecca, and we have a 4-year-old (in September) daughter, Grace, with another one on the way. I like to run, chat, and find silly stuff on the Internet.Why did you decide to enter the ministry?
It was almost as if I couldn’t do anything else. I entered college as a business major, but through my time there, God kept working on me. He got me involved in campus ministry, and kept sending people into my life talking about seminary. I heard God’s call with one test left in college, and I started classes a month after graduation. I feel that this work is of vital importance, sharing the saving work of Christ with all people, and equipping others to proclaim him in their daily lives.

What sort of training and education does a minister go through?

For Lutherans, it usually involves four years of post-graduate work: two years of classes, a year of internship (working in a congregation), and then one more year of class. Classes cover Bible, theology, pastoral care, leadership, and other pastoral issues. There are other requirements, such as Clinical Pastoral Education (a chaplaincy program), and a “candidacy” process set up by the denomination you wish to serve. Each denomination is different, but those processes seek to determine if a candidate is fit for ministry.

Can you tell us about the process of finding a church?
It varies by denomination. In my current denomination (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ), congregations seeking a pastor post their description on a website, and any pastor approved by LCMC can apply for that call. The congregation has the final say in who they call. Some denominations take much more control over who ends up in a congregation. As for mobility, in LCMC, it is up to the pastor. Sometimes, it is necessary to move on because of a difficult situation. Sometimes, it is for a new challenge. Sometimes, it’s been long enough. I know pastors who have served congregations for as little as 2 years, or as many as 25 years.

Tell us about your average work week.
Monday is my day off. The only “regular” part of what I do is sermon preparation. I usually examine the Scriptures and do some research on Tuesday, and let it simmer in my brain throughout the week, usually having a finished sermon by Friday. The rest of the week will usually focus on classes I am teaching, such as Confirmation for junior high students, making visits to homebound, shut-in, or hospitalized members, or planning for future worship services, such as a sermon series. There are also more infrequent regular events, such as council meetings or other ministry opportunities.

What are the biggest challenges that come with your line of work? The biggest rewards?
It hurts when you realize that the church is just as full of sinners as
the rest of the world. There is pushback, anger, resentment, and
frustration that you as the pastor become the target of. It can be big things, like the direction of the congregation, or the small, like who runs the kitchen. What’s helped me is knowing that Jesus died for this sin just as much as any other, so those folks are in the right place. The biggest reward of ministry is when you get to see someone freed by the Gospel. I have seen people bound by serious sin freed just by proclaiming to them, “You are forgiven on account of Christ.” I have seen those freed by Christ work to free others by taking on their needs and supporting them. It’s wonderful to see the body of Christ in motion.

Have you ever questioned your faith?
The most difficult time for God and me was after my father passed away. I was only 20, and I didn’t understand why. I remember asking God, “How can I love you and hate you at the same time?” Some of those thoughts and worries have lingered over the years, but I have come to realize that God can handle my emotions. The Psalms are littered with people angry at God for one reason or another, and yet ending with “I will trust in you.”

The other difficult times have been when I have encountered arguments from atheists/agnostics that demand proof. I like having proof too. However, I think “proof” sets up an axiom I can’t agree with. We can receive truth by both reason and revelation. Christ is God’s revelation to the world. I have questioned, but I’ve always come back.

Have you ever questioned your career path? Do you think you’ll do this till you retire?

I’m still fairly new at this (been ordained for 5 years), so I haven’t questioned much yet. It is difficult when you run headlong into sinners on a regular basis, but it’s amazing when those sinners become saints because of Christ. I have discovered that many pastors seemingly can’t retire. I have worked with three different pastors, way past retirement age, who are still working half-time as “visitation pastors.” In preaching Christ, there’s never really an end. I hope that’s the same for me.

What advice would you give to someone interested in going into the ministry?
If you can do anything else, do it. That may seem harsh, but that is what it takes. God wants committed followers to head out into his harvest. If you are not fully committed to the work, and called by God to do it, there is probably something else God wants you to do with your life. But if you can do nothing else, give your whole heart to the work and the church, and God will support you, care for you, and place you where he wants you.

Thanks for sharing, Chris!  Do you guys have any (respectful!) questions?  Have any of you ever worked in the clergy?

original photo (without text on top) by sue’s photographs, for sale here

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  1. Kate

    I'm not one for lutheran/christian/church-in-general, but I am deeply inspired by your commitment to your faith, Chris! Though hardly comparable, I do have a role in my current job that harbors a lot of resentment, and I admire your ability to hold on to your faith and know that there is strength in your words and your purpose. Really great interview Sarah, thanks for sharing!!

  2. Abbey

    Thanks for sharing, Chris and Sarah!

  3. Sarah Bishop

    I'm a 32 year old Pagan woman that was ordained through an inter-faith church.

    It's been an interesting journey and one thing I learned is if you wait until "you're ready" to start something, you'll never start. I was completely unprepared when I started our minister's training program. And even now I have moments of wondering whether I'm ready, but since people seem to find me when they need me I'll assume I was ready in the eyss of the Gods.

    I'd agree in my own way with your challenges/rewards answer. It's still strange to think that people see me as a leader and as such to be aware of what I'm saying/doing to be sure that I'm true to myself and my Gods.

    Definetely not the path for everyone, several in my class dropped out and each of us struggled in our own way. But once you find your own path and find joys in helping others find theirs it's truly amazing.

  4. Paola

    Hi there, I must thank you for sharing this, because here in Italy as Catholics, things are quite different and most of the time I feel that church doesn't *fit* my faith very well.

    Here, we can't decide who will be our minister and I quit going to certain church because of the people who attend there – both the priest and the believers! I hope that one day politics will be out of my church…

  5. Grampy and Grammie

    I have been a pastor's wife at the same church we help to start 32 years ago. My impression of the readers of your blog, is that they are mainly younger people (at least younger than me! 61). I want to say that I am encouraged to read about Chris and his desire to tell others about the good news that Christ makes a difference in your life. The Lord has helped me so much through the years of raising our 5 children and helping people in our church. He never leaves me nor forsakes me. I wanted my children and now my grandchildren to know the Lord too. I think what I am trying to say is that as someone "older" I want to encourage the "younger" to seek the Lord and He will be found. I have no regrets that I did so.

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