As the pastor of Howard Memorial I’m the new guy in Tarboro, NC; with that comes a constant refrain folks share with me: I’m young. Two statements, spoken often, encapsulate this reality: “I heard you were young, but I didn’t realize you were a baby!” or “You look like you are still a teenager.” As I sit here writing I’m realizing they are both wrong; I’m actually a toddler. Let me explain.
My wife and I are rearing a two-year old and we spend time reading about childhood development. The stages of childhood are infant, toddler, school age, and teenager; every parent (or person who’s been around young people) doesn’t need a website to explain to them that each stage represents distinct emotional, physical, social and behavioral nuances. As my wife and I wake up each day to the ever-changing-ness of a two-year old while I continue to experience life as a new pastor in a new context I’m realizing that pastors live through similar stages to those of childhood development. Thus why I’d call myself a toddler.
Like my daughter I’m searching and trying and groping for routines, sermon styles, and my pastoral identity. One week I use Tom Long as my guide for crafting a sermon and the next week Barbara Brown Taylor and the following week I’m leaning upon William Sloane Coffin. At the same time I call colleagues and ask them about elder training and how they do pastoral care. I’m also engaging social media for recommendations on the best new books on a variety of subjects. And as a husband with a daughter, I’m keenly aware of how my professional and personal life intersect—both positively and negatively. In a sense, I’m all over the place. And I’m okay with that (for the most part!).
Where I’m challenged is that as a toddler I want so desperately to be an adult. I want my sermon’s arms to craft mesmerizing words; I want my pastoral care legs to glide along the floors of the nursing home; and I want the classes I teach to rouse listeners with the same effect as Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (I would love it if someone got on a table and said, “O Captain, my Captain!”). But like my daughter, development takes time. I trip over things; I become frustrated because I can’t fully understand something (thankfully I don’t engage in tantrums, but I’ve thought about it!). But I also smile at the simple things that are new to me; and I laugh at myself because I find myself funny no matter whether or not others do; I’m also fiercely attached to my family and love a good snuggle.
As a toddler, I’m reminded often that I’m no longer an infant, which provides reassurance that I do know some of what I’m doing within ministry. And I’m also able to see the school aged and teenage pastors around me. Again, like my daughter, I’m often in awe of the ‘older kids’ who seem to have everything figured out and know how to be a pastor. I want to be like them; or, if nothing else, I want to be around them. They are cool; they are smart; and they usually are okay with me tagging along.
All this is to say that as one of the writers of this blog I’m reminded that we have a voice that allows us to speak truth to the reality of ministry. The truth is that pastors need time to develop. Building upon that truth, I wonder if we could do more to share those words of grace with ourselves and the congregations we serve? Not using it as an excuse, but as a truth about ministry (and all other professions!). So here’s to proclaiming that we take time to develop! And here’s to me proclaiming that I’m a toddler (who really, really hopes to be a school aged kid soon!).
What do you think about my theory connecting ministry to childhood development? Do you agree? If so, what stage are you in? If not, how do understand the development of ministers (or other professionals)?