The Pastor’s Pastor

By Ross Engel

Another successful “Bell Ringer” fund collection has come to a close. It was with great joy that I was able to send off $350 to 4th Year Seminarian, Michael Daniels. If he sends us any pictures of he and his classmates enjoying a round on your generosity, we’ll be sure to post them in a future post or on our Facebook page. What a great group of readers we have who are willing to support such a worthy cause! Thanks!

I truly love the opportunity that the Bell Ringer fund affords me to get to know the variety of guys who are busy studying and preparing for the ministry. Their excitement to serve the Lord and their starry-eyed hopes are often a refreshing change from the stressed out, over-worked, cynicism that so often accompanies the gray-haired pastors I often find myself in conversation with.

I recall my own hopeful vigor and excitement when I headed off to seminary. I was going to conquer the world, and I was going to be a pastor that did amazing things. The conversation I had in my head as I drove from Chicago to St. Louis to start my preparations for ministry probably sounded like a Trump speech. (“I’m gonna be a great pastor! Your last pastor was terrible, but I’m gonna be so great! I’m gonna make the church great again!”)

Truth be told, I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that it was bound to be different from my experience at the University of Illinois. In my mind, I had visions of monastery-like living, constant studying, and a bunch of super religious guys that would make me feel like a theological idiot. What I ended up finding instead, was a brotherhood of men whom I call my friends, caring and brilliant professors, and a campus life that was significantly more interesting and exciting than I imagine a monastery might be.

luther arch

Those four years of seminary were terrific. They weren’t easy, but they were terrific!

After graduation, I said goodbye to campus, the professors and my classmates, and left for my first Call. I expected to find a similar brotherhood in the Office of the Pastoral Ministry. I departed seminary with the same starry-eyed hopes of most fresh pastors. I wanted to be paired with a senior pastor who would challenge me, help me grow to be a faithful pastor, be a brother to me in ministry, and help uplift and support me to fulfill my ordination vows, that I might stay faithful to the Word of God and the Confessions of the church.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. Much was lacking as far as my expectations were concerned. The brotherhood of the ministry wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. It was filled with competition. Bean-counting. One-up-man-ship. There was fear. Distrust. Resentment. It wasn’t anything like seminary. The pastoral brotherhood was not the same as the seminarian brotherhood that I treasured so dearly.

I recall sitting in pastor’s conferences listening to guys who I know had sat at the feet of the same professors I had, who read the same books, took the same tests, swore the same vows in ordination and yet somehow, no longer were confessing the same things or valuing the same things in the life of the church. It just didn’t make sense to me. If we were trained the same, why weren’t we walking together anymore? We made the same vows, why weren’t we preaching and teaching the same rich Lutheran theology? Instead of walking together we were each other’s competition. Our monthly meetings didn’t discuss theology, and we didn’t challenge each other to be better preachers. Instead, it was a time to brag about Sunday church attendance, to promote programs that promised to grow some aspect of the church, and hours upon hours of discussing that bureaucratic nonsense that we do so enjoy criticizing here at The Jagged Word.

During those years of ministry, I often found myself lamenting the gray-haired clergymen around me. I should have been valuing them. I should have been learning from them and growing to be a better pastor and preacher.. it made me sad because I truly wanted to. I often found myself needing to repent of my quick and sinful condemnation of these men whom I yearned to learn from. I really did want to learn! I truly wanted to have that caring older Pastor who would help continue molding me and shaping me. I guess you might say that I was looking for the pastoral version of LeRoy Jethro Gibbs (from CBS’s NCIS), complete with the head slap if necessary!

gibbs slap

Thankfully, I can say that I’ve found a tremendous brotherhood in ministry. It has taken some searching, but it is there, and I am grateful for it. I have outstanding brothers in ministry (pastors and professors alike) who challenge me, who expect more of me, and who occasionally call me to task when needed. Ministry is not so lonely a place as it was when I first started.

I have found the brotherhood, but the search continues for the older, wiser, “LeRoy Jethro Gibbs” type of mentor and father figure. And while my own search goes on, my mission is to one day be the kind of Pastor that would serve in a capacity to mentor, mold, shape, and support the generation of pastors that comes after me.

The Bell Ringers of the Jagged Word are a great start; each Ringer is a great opportunity for me to be a caring and trustworthy older pastor to a fresh new pastor. And while I may not be a gray-haired pastor with decades of experience yet, my prayer is that one day when I am, my brothers will know me as the “Pastor’s pastor.”