Jennie: 10 Things I Wish I Knew In My First Call…

Jennie Barber —  October 10, 2013


(This is part of the What We Wish We Knew Before Our First Ordained Call series.)

One of the running jokes I have with my good friends from Princeton is: “I’m glad we had a class in___________ .” Insert finances, family dynamics, time management, etc. I learned a lot in seminary, but I didn’t learn much of what it requires to follow God’s call to pastoral ministry. While churning out multiple twenty page papers takes effort, it is nothing compared to walking with people in this journey we call Christian discipleship. I will never go back to seminary and find those fill-in-the-blank classes. So, what I share below reflects just some of what I’ve learned in the beautiful mess of ministry.

1. Step One: getting a first call

I’ll be the first to admit, I was pretty confident I would step out of seminary right into my first call. I pictured myself surrounded by hundreds of excited youth, wearing a snazzy robe as I presided over communion, and never once awkwardly raising my hands for a benediction. But the road to my first call was long and marked by great heartache and great joy. I wish I knew how to release anxiety and impatience and embrace peace and trust.

2. What’s up Bible?

Biblical narratives I so carefully analyzed in seminary classes began to resonate in new ways. Moses- I get it. At times, I question my ability to do what God is calling me to do. John the Baptist- I get it. Sometimes I wonder where Jesus is and what he is doing. Mary- I get it.  How can it be? These words have been in my heart and mind.

3. No one wants to know what you know; they want to know you care.

People want their pastor to be smart; they need their pastor to be loving. During my time at Princeton, we had one, yep, one required pastoral care class and five required church history courses. Don’t get me wrong, church history is important and valuable; we need to know our story. But people care about my ability to listen and to be genuine, not the framed Latin diploma currently under my bed.

4. Stay close to your friends from seminary

The people who snuck coffee into the library with me the minute it opened during finals week. The ones who helped me laugh so I wouldn’t go insane. These are the same people who I called when I screwed up the first (or the 400th) time. These are the people I email when I don’t know how to handle something. These friends are God’s gift to me.

5. You may wonder if you have a sign over your head that says, “Please offer comments about my appearance”

Sorry guys, but this one is especially for us ladies. People like to talk about our shoes, our jewelry, and even the size of our baby bump. Unfortunately, women are still relatively new to this game and some people are still figuring out how to handle us. I wish I knew most of the time these comments are just an attempt to engage someone new and different.

6. Church vs. soccer

There are times when I’ve felt like church or youth group is just one more choice, one more thing on the checklist. When I’m honest, I know part of it is about ego bruising- why isn’t the youth group I’m in charge of more important than band practice? I wish I knew how to engage families in a thoughtful and impactful conversation about this issue.

7. Don’t be an ostrich

I’m great at putting my head in the sand of the never ending to do list. The perfectionist in me struggles to just be. I wish I was better at lifting my head up to see what God is doing while I’m delightedly checking off boxes.

8. Find the people in your corner

There are people obviously in my corner—my husband, parents, siblings, friends and family. But there are also people I waited too long to find who believed in me, encouraged, and supported me 100 percent.

9. Don’t put in a sub

Doing the tasks associated with my call does not equal being a disciple of Jesus. This is something I have to beat into my head like an annoying pop song.

10. Look in the mirror

Serving the church has made me question the deepest parts of who I am. At times, I’ve lost sight of who I believe God created me to be. I would be a better pastor, a better wife, a better mother, a better daughter, and a better friend if I remembered who I am in God’s eyes.

I probably haven’t shared any new revelations, but I hope to encourage at least one person as we serve and love God’s people.

(This is part of the What We Wish We Knew Before Our First Ordained Call series.)

Jennie Barber

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Jennie is currently serving as the Associate Pastor at Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a wife, mother, lover of Asian food, and a pastor seeking to be a faithful disciple of Jesus.