When I became a solo pastor four years ago I knew that I was in for quite a learning experience. As a rookie I knew the learning curve was quite high and that I’d have to quickly discover how to moderate a session, do administrative work, interpret the scripture each week, care for the hurting, discern a vision as to where God was calling us and everything else that goes into being a solo pastor. To describe it would take pretty much every adjective Webster could come up with: exhilarating, exciting, discouraging, frustrating, fun, boring. You get the point. But amongst all these descriptors what is perhaps the most applicable of all is the word exhausting.
I didn’t realize just how tiring it would be to try and help a congregation become more missional. I still feel a bit like a wimp admitting to it. I mean, I’m not out pouring concrete or working on a roof or traveling from one city to the next. Heck, I don’t even stand very much. That said, I have frequently thought that it’s a good thing I’m still somewhat young because otherwise I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do this. (I keep waiting for the new Gatorade geared toward solo pastors. Any ideas for the name?)
As I’ve wrestled with this weariness, there have been a couple things that have really helped to restore my energy. One of these is the glimpses I receive from time to time of how the congregation is really beginning to see God at work in their lives, the community and in our church. To look into people’s eyes and see them light up as they describe how the Spirit surprised them at work or how God revealed himself while reaching out to our neighbors is enough to keep me going for weeks. Those moments are nothing less than miracles to me, fortifying my faith in God and my calling to this place.
The second thing that has rejuvenated me is the conversations that I have with other solo pastors. The truth, of course, is while there are many similarities between solos, associates, and seniors, there is something unique to being “the staff.” I am reminded of a conversation I had where, after telling an associate pastor that I worked in a small church he asked, “So if it’s small, how many pastors are on staff?” Not a bad question I suppose, it simply reveals just how different of questions we’re asking.
But perhaps equally as important as my conversations with solo pastors are my conversations with young solo pastors. While I knew that this particular calling would have lonely times, I didn’t fully appreciate how much I would miss conversing with colleagues my age. It isn’t that we don’t have much to learn from our seniors or that I don’t enjoy older colleagues it’s simply that, as all generations will attest, we simply see the world (and the church) differently. And when you’re tired and needing a pick-me-up it’s nice to not have to interpret what I’m saying to another generation.
As a fellow young solo pastor said to me the other day, it’s nice to be able to talk about being missional in a small church without having to convince the other person of the legitimacy of what we’re doing. These conversations I’ve had have encouraged me, restored my spirit, and helped me to see what a unique opportunity we young solo pastors have. I have become more and more convinced that rather than waiting for larger churches to come our way, or daydreaming about how much better things would be if we had an associate, that we as energetic small church pastors are actually standing (or sitting!) in the middle of where so much of the missional action is. But, this understanding has come mostly through those pivotal conversations I’ve had, allowing me to engage with colleagues coming from the same place and dealing with the same things.
It doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t need to talk to all kinds of pastors of all ages. It does, however, mean that if we are to truly understand the unique opportunities we have that we must talk with and listen to other young solo pastors. In this way we will not be so tired or caught up in the busyness of our particular vocation that we miss out on this beautiful work of God to which we have been called.