I found out on Sunday that October is Pastor Appreciation Month, so I thought I would tell you all how much to appreciate me. Just kidding of course.
Actually, I want to write about some of the pastors in my life that I appreciate. Doing what I do, I have come to know a few pastors. So here is a list of pastors that have shaped me in some way over the years.
Steve Arters and Heather Hasto. Steve was my first youth pastor and was a major factor in introducing me to Jesus Christ. While I wonder if we may now be on different sides of some theological issues, I know that we still share more in common than our love of the Phillies. He shaped me in an important way, and he loved me for me. He will forever keep me grounded in the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Heather was an associate pastor of the church I grew up in, and the first woman I recall being a preacher. I was completely oblivious at the time that anyone would have a problem with a woman as a pastor, and am still largely baffled by the obstacles that women clergy face. She was someone that just made people feel loved.
Keith Zimmerman. My current district superintendent. In many ways, he is my pastor. He has helped me through some difficult times, and has been a strong leader. He’s the best DS I’ve ever known, but I’ve only known two, and the other was pretty great too.
Josh Williams, Will Deuel, Nicole Cox, Jeremiah Thompson, Eric Swanson, Jay Reginetter, Megan Thompson, and Grant Armstrong. This is a group of new pastors that I have gotten to know through the Residence in Ministry and other conference relationships. RIM had very little practical value, except for the relationships that have formed with other clergy in the conference. Every time I get depressed after watching the Daily Show or see a best seller list with Bill O’Reilly or Glen Beck on the top, I think of these people, and I have hope. They are smart, energetic, young, and talented. Our conference, and more importantly the Kingdom of God, is better for having these people as pastors.
Phil Icenogle and Jason Woolever. These two pastors were my mentors during the candidacy process. Jason was a great person to sit down and share some ideas. Sometimes we would even get to the Wesley sermon we had read for our meeting. Phil is retired now, but helped me tremendously when I was overwhelmed with conference paper work.
Dave Estep, Charlie MacDonald, Shelly Forrest, Jon Hauck, Ron Marsh, Ken Sloan-Couch. A group that meets for breakfast every Tuesday morning. They have supported and encouraged me since my earliest days as a pastor. It is great to be able to get together with a group of pastors that are free of pretension and BS, and just care for one another.
Brady Abel, Sue Artt, Rick Oberle and Stacy Tate. This group started as few first-year seminarians that were terrified of oral exams, so we gathered in the library every week to study. We helped each articulate our faith. We challenged each other. We encouraged each other. After we all passed our orals, we kept meeting at a local restaurant. When we graduated we knew that the group had become an essential part of our life. So now we gather at least once a year and we help each other articulate our faith. We challenge each other. We encourage each other. We love each other.
Deana White, Eric Fistler, Diane Windler, Jack Michael, Josh Longbottom, Craig Jan-McMahon, Clint McCann, Michael Kinnamon, Peggy Way, Christopher Grundy, Deb Krause, John Bracke, Karen Tye, Jesse Williams, Nelson Pierce, Joe and Jessica Rowley, Sharon Kichline, Pam Ekey, Dee Pennington. I was reluctant to start this list because it could keep going and going, and there is no way I could include them all. These were the people that shaped my seminary experience. They are professors and students that changed my life and shaped my faith. Eric became my best friend. Deanna became my co-coach and friend. I couldn’t possibly list them all, or the reasons I included them on this list.
Dr. Williams baffled me when he said, “seminary is not about finding the answers. It is about learning to ask the right questions.” Dr. Kinnamon reminded me that “every theological statement you make, you need to be able to make to a burning child in Auschwitz, or a dying AIDS orhpan in Africa, or a mourning mother after a drunk driver killed her child.” Dr. McCann reminded me that, “If I have to make a choice between God’s grace and God’s wrath, I’m going to err on the side of grace.”
Michael Smith, Dan Powers, Jeff Long, Duane Larson. Michael Smith was the pastor at the first church I ever attended without my parents. He helped me through the earliest stages of my call to ministry. Dan was the pastor that helped hire me as a youth director. Although I had no experience or qualifications other than a willing heart, he nurtured me and let me grow. He allowed me to preach and teach and guided me to seminary. Jeff and Duane were the pastors of the church I served in seminary. Jeff is a leader full of charisma and a preacher not afraid to take some chances. He cast a vision for that church that is still developing. Duane took the vision that Jeff had helped create and his turned it into a reality. He is a khakis and flannel kind of guy that allows others to shine. I learned so much from them about leadership, preaching, and the pastoral office. Both were confident enough in their own position to allow me to grow.
Christian Ricker, Ed Hudelson, Dan Patterson, Steve Estes and Jerry Koch. These are the other pastors in Chenoa. We have a great working relationship. When we gather at a table we represent a wide spectrum of theological and political diversity, yet we can work together for the best interest of Chenoa. I think it helps that we honestly like each other.
Mark Harris and Mollie Ward. Mark went through CPE with me and Mollie was our director. While the other three gentlemen in our group helped me a lot, it is with Mollie and Mark whom I have continued to be in relationship. Mark inspired me as a United Methodist and as a dynamic personality. He and I are very different, and I learned so much from him. Mollie was a quiet, intelligent, pushing and yet encouraging voice through a difficult and rewarding experience. She held a group of five men together and allowed herself to be vulnerable with us. She helped me push myself to be a better pastor, father, brother, son and husband.
When I look back at this list, and what has turned into one of the longest blogs I have ever written, I feel so blessed. I have been shaped, nurtured, loved, pushed, and cared for by so many that are called Pastor. This list continues to grow. If I bought a gift card to Target for all of these people that have been there for me, I would be broke, but I also know that is not why they were there.
If you have read this list and have gotten to this point, I hope you take a few more minutes and reflect on pastors in your life. I know that bad pastors can inflict terrible harm, and I have experienced the damage they can do. If you have been harmed by pastors, try to find a place for forgiveness, because we are, after all, sinful humans.
If you have a pastor that has shaped your life, that has loved you unconditionally, that has challenged you to be a better person, that has introduced you to the love and grace of Jesus Christ, take another moment and thank them. Give them a call, write them a note, send them an email, or post something on their facebook wall.
I’m not going to lie, if I get a gift card to Chili’s in the mail, I am going to like it. But if I get a note from someone that says, “you changed my life,” I will cherish that forever.
To all the pastors that have been there for me, I say thank you. You have changed my life.
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