Editor’s Note: This week, we have asked Joe Wright, a 2015 graduate from the M.Div. program, to write about his experience transitioning from student to a solo-pastor role at a small church. In his first post, Joe shares what the transition was like, and in today’s post, he shares honestly about the challenges and opportunities he sees in his role—wise and encouraging words for future pastors.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
In my previous post, I focused on some of my expectations of pastoral ministry as I graduated seminary and some of the realities I’ve encountered in my first eight months as a solo pastor. In this post, I will focus on some of the challenges of solo pastoring, specifically in revitalizing a struggling church and in everyday life.
CHALLENGES OF REVITALIZING A STRUGGLING CHURCH
Stepping into a solo pastor position, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I asked the interview questions we were encouraged to ask in seminary, but there’s a difference between the hypotheticals of a classroom and the reality of a local church. I entered into a church that has been hurting for 15-16 years. Despite asking lots of questions, I think it took me four to five months just to learn about this history. Near the turn of the century my church was averaging close to 200 people and now it hovers around 40. The question I wrestled with for months was, “God, where and how do I even start?”
I was 26 when I was appointed pastor, and my church leadership experience was minimal. Now, everyone is looking to me for ideas, creativity, knowledge, etc. My church is full of incredible, gracious, loving individuals, but they are also tired and hurting. The challenge that faces us is how to revitalize our church’s image and impact in our community. Over the last eight months, I’ve come to realize that revitalization is a process of learning how to balance respect for where the church has been with wisely moving where we want to go.
Through our revitalization efforts, God has reminded me of two important things. First, He’s reminded me that my priority is to remain faithful to my calling, to do my job with excellence every day and to leave the results up to him. The church is his. Whether we thrive or struggle does not necessarily reflect on me personally. I can’t fix everything, and I shouldn’t expect myself to. Yet, I think for many pastors, we take our churches’ struggles as a direct reflection of ourselves when they probably aren’t. Second, God has reminded me of what it means to trust and rely on him for everything. Revitalization in this church won’t come because of what I do; it will come because as a church we are coming to God in prayer, listening to him and responding to the movement of the Spirit.
CHALLENGES OF EVERYDAY LIFE
One of the greatest everyday life challenges that Maria and I have faced since moving to Bellaire has been developing friendships. The people in our church are friendly and supportive, but finding and developing friendships takes time and has been difficult. Part of this is because our second child was born about six weeks after I started, so most of our winter months were spent inside. We’re seeing how intentional we have to be to develop close friendships in our new home.
Another challenge has been learning to balance time as a solo pastor. In addition to pastoral duties, I also lead the youth group, coach track and cross country and have a couple classes to finish for ordination. Maria is an incredible wife and mother, but if I’m careless, I can easily invest myself in these activities and neglect her and our daughters. We don’t have it perfected yet, but we try to keep open communication on how we’re doing and if our schedules need to be adjusted.
A third challenge we’ve encountered is finding time to invest in our relationship. As parents, it’s naturally easy to put your kids before your relationship. When you’re leading a church, it can be easy to allow that to come before your relationship as well. We live over three hours from our family and over two and a half hours from our closest friends. So finding a sitter is a challenge. We’ve recognized that to invest in each other means finding times during the day where we can pray for each other, ordering take out some nights and at times sacrificing sleep to talk. A great resource we plan to read again is “Night Light” by James Dobson. A short devotional with discussion questions and prayer items is a great way to end our day.
THE OPPORTUNITY OF SOLO-PASTORING
I’ve included 1 Timothy 4:12 at the beginning of each of my posts this week intentionally. Paul’s words of wisdom to Timothy have been a prayer of mine since day one—it’s a struggle any young seminary graduate has in a solo pastorate. But I believe they speak encouragement to the next generation of pastors who are being equipped in seminaries across the land. God is calling us to step into the unknown and messy without fear and to care for the forgotten and downtrodden (many of whom need help with social media!).
Many churches love and need the youthfulness, energy and creativity that you can bring. Don’t be afraid to lead!