Byron is my best friend. He would label himself a “Hopeful Cynic” based on his past experiences in ministry. That’s him on the right. Yes, that is a face he regularly makes, especially when his older brother is attempting to assault him. That’s his other older brother on the left. I grew up with these guys and they did the same things to me…
The first memory I have of Byron involves violence which is why this picture resonates with me. In fifth grade, I was the small weak prey and he was the big and strong predator. Long story short, I felt threatened and I kicked him in his more sensitive bits… you know… between the legs and such… he fell… I ran… and we have been BFFs ever since.
I asked Byron to share a little about his journey as of late. Take a look at our discussion (I’m in bold, Byron’s responses are indented):
Byron, you and I went to school together and we both got the same exact degree. What did you do after graduation?
After graduating I moved to Hilo, Hawaii to intern at a Nazarene church. I worked there for the summer and after the summer they offered me a youth and young adult associate pastor position. It was basically an unpaid position so I also worked at a high school in the Special Education department with a student one-on-one, and I worked at a Christian elementary after-school program. I did, fortunately, have a place to live for free from one of the church members.
Did you feel like you were fully prepared to be doing the job you were hired for? Was there a learning curve?
I feel there is always some learning curve with a new job mostly because of the people you work with. That is a hard part of ministry though because that doesn’t just mean your boss and coworkers. It means the whole church. That being said, I feel strongly that my education lacked a lot of important information about leading, budgeting, and managing people (volunteers and those you are pastoring). I also was living in an area ravaged by meth addiction. So that made it much more difficult. Most of the kids I interacted with regularly had at least one family member with a history of meth. So the counseling I did with them was something I wasn’t quite ready for. I guess in general I wasn’t completely prepared for how messy life can get.
You and I have had a lot of similar experiences in church, but as of late, our paths have split in one significant way; you are no longer in ministry. I know it’s not something that’s easy to talk about since it is still raw, but If you would permit me to, I would like to ask this about your current relationship with the church: Do you think churches of today are able to help new pastors, millennial pastors, succeed in ministry?
I think one of the biggest issues I have seen in the church is a lack of mentorship. I have worked at three churches and I don’t feel like the pastors I have worked for have mentored me really at all. Two of them I have no relationship with anymore. The first pastor I worked for is a great man and I respect him a great deal but we both had issues communicating and it hurt our relationship. I have actually gotten mentored better by church members who took an interest in me and wanted me to succeed. I think part of the problem is most of the pastors I know are stressed and tired. I think we have a hard time seeing the little things and realizing we are missing the point of ministry sometimes. The main issue is I don’t know a good solution to this besides being very intentional in our relationships and that is never one-sided.
What do you think it means to be successful in ministry?
I honestly think success in ministry means you have changed lives. I believe God puts us in places to show love. That is really hard to do if we are too focused on growing our church, or money problems, or anything else. I love when churches find new ways to get into their communities. Doing things that are unexpected but continuing to show people they care about them.
Would you say you have a love-hate relationship with church? Also, what do you define as being the “Church?”
I absolutely love and hate the church. In your book you talk a bit about the church we grew up in, which did a lot to make me dislike the church. The funny thing is that there were people there that encouraged me as well. I am and have been a very cynical person since high school. It got worse in college and even worse throughout my time in ministry. The inability for the church to love people because we are called to it is why I hate the church.
I define being the church as taking Jesus seriously. Actually doing some of the crazy things Jesus said and not writing it off as extreme examples just to make us think. The church will continue to die if we don’t find ways to get the body of Christ out into the world. The church is not a building, it is the broken people who God has saved and changed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. People are not just going to church anymore. The church has to find new ways to bring the love of God to people who need it most. I have always told my youth groups the easiest way to love someone is to hold a door for them, or to have a conversation with them. The church in America is so afraid of “the other” right now that we easily forget that “the other” was also created by God and is loved more by God than we could ever know! Being the church is changing our perspective so we can see the world as Christ sees the world.
We share certain sentiments about the church, having grown up going to the same one. We both have concerns and frustrations about the church, but I think I can say we still share the same hope for what church could be. Let’s pretend for a moment you haven’t had the rocky relationship with the church that you have had. Had you continued in ministry full-time, at what point or age would you have considered looking for a position as a lead pastor? Or maybe the question should be have you ever considered it to begin with?
I have never actually thought about that honestly. If I had remained in ministry I think I would be considering it now depending on my situation. I am not currently in ministry but I am not ruling it out for my future, however, I don’t know if I will pursue it again. I honestly try to pray that God will put me where I am supposed to be. None of my pastoral positions have gone well, but I believe I was called there for a reason. Every failure I have had in ministry has informed me and made me who I am, so as hard as it has been, I feel like something good has come of it.
Did you have opportunities to have on the job training, to experience what various aspects of lead pastoring is all about?
I think every pastoral job teaches you how to lead in some way. I also have been involved in the running of every church I have worked in. I got to see “behind the curtain” I guess. So if I were ever a lead pastor I have some idea what it is like. I have had to step up at times and lead when my pastor took a short sabbatical at two of my churches. We prepared for it both times but what was expected of me changed. I do wish there was more training though. Most first time lead pastors I have talked to have a rough first year, but it tends to get better.
In my book I regularly share how unprepared I felt after taking the position of lead pastor. This caused me to second-guess myself and made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. What do you think of my current church’s decision to take the risk they did on hiring someone like me?
I honestly think churches like yours have to make the risky choice. They didn’t have money to get someone with more experience. I think more churches need to adapt or die. To me, that means taking risks they wouldn’t normally take and be willing to be flexible with their staff. If you can’t pay full-time money you have to realize people need to survive and take care of their families. Your perspective is also very different and churches need to find ways to impact the lives of the young or there will no longer be a church. Really, churches need to stop thinking about themselves and find ways to take care of people.
Far too often I hear of stories where the church doesn’t get it right, but in your opinion does that mean we give up on the church?
Like I said, I love and hate the church. It has been the cause of a lot of pain in my life. I truly believe the church is broken, but something that is broken can be fixed. The main problem is the church is full of broken people. We are both the solution and the problem. The reason I have hope is because I truly believe God will not give up on us the way we give up on God. If we are willing to invest time and trust, God will use us to do amazing things in this world. I do understand the want to quit on the church. I have tried many times, but something keeps bringing me back and it isn’t because I love being hurt. I have to have hope for the future of the church. I feel like God created me to be in ministry. It may not look like it once did, but I have to serve in some way.
What is one thing, one part of your perspective as a millennial and pastor that you think the church of today needs to hear about?
I just think the church needs to practice grace. The gospels tell us that Jesus would see someone and he was moved with compassion. That is missing from the American church. We need to start caring for people who are different from us. We have to be able to communicate and build relationships with others. If we can’t figure that out we are not true disciples of Christ nor will we survive.
Stay tuned to hear more from Byron in upcoming posts. Next week we will be hearing from another millennial who is currently a lead pastor in the Midwest.
Thanks for reading. Until next time!