“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist”


– George Carlin



I’ve been asked to share my perspective as a first-time lead pastor. That’s a little difficult for me to do, though. For one thing, I don’t trust other people with hearing my genuine thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It’s just part of my personality. But then there’s also the reality that I’m not just the lead pastor of my church—I’m the only pastor (though my pastorally-minded wife is working towards her local license). This dynamic, along with a few others that I’ll touch on, has contributed the most in shaping whatever perspectives I may have.

First, though, here’s a little about me. I’m a baby-faced white male in his later twenties. [I look like Eric Matthews, but with Cory Matthews’ anxiety and lack of coolness.] I’ve lived my entire life in the urban and suburban areas of northeast Kansas. I love to laugh, to play, and to learn. But, I tend to be private, cautious, noncommittal, indecisive, and cynical. I plan for the worst and expect the best. The late comedian, George Carlin—who was absolutely not a fan of what I do for a living—once quipped, “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” Perhaps he was on to something.

I’ve spent my entire life in the church and I’ve been disappointed by it many times. I know what it’s like to be loved by a church community—and also to be rejected by one when they find out stuff about you they don’t like. I know what it’s like to see the church change. When I was 9 years old, 9/11 happened. The warmth of my local church soon departed, replaced by a reactive sort of patriotism, xenophobia, and spiritual violence. I even know what it’s like to have doubt along the journey of faith—and to be condescended to because of it. Thankfully, God has abundantly blessed me with people who’ve sat with me when I came to those places. [I’m especially grateful for my mentors and peers in the Mentoring for Ministry cohort out of the Center for Pastoral Leadership at Nazarene Theological Seminary!]

I’m a disappointed idealist. That’s part of the reason why I had no desire to go into ministry. When I was called, I was living in a fraternity house and studying to be a historian (or a lawyer, depending on the state of my bank account). Quickly, I realized that my idealistic passions for ministry were more focused in the areas of compassionate ministry and social justice. Since I wasn’t sure what to do with all of that, I decided to attend seminary after finishing my undergraduate—because why not! A masters degree should help no matter what, right? Well, that’s where God called me to pastoral ministry.

Initially, I was anxious and disappointed, but God pointed something out to me. There’s a need for bridges. People are so easily separated from one another in our communities by economic, political, ethnic, social, cultural, and religious barriers. When it comes to how the local church relates to its neighbors, there’s little difference. Like many pastors and church leaders, I’m convinced that the waning presence of the church in our communities stems from our detachment from the people who live in them. The two most common things I hear from people who aren’t a part of a local church in my area is that they don’t feel welcomed and that they don’t matter unless they are willing to make a faith commitment. In other words, all we need to do now is make a rule that nobody is allowed to use the restroom until they’ve put money in the offering plate, and our spiritual transformation into a for-profit business will be complete!

But, I believe that God cares about our communities. So, I committed to the pastoral call. My church, the Leavenworth Church of the Nazarene, called my wife and I in the fall of 2017. They were enamored with our youth and our desire to see this local, neighborhood church actually become a beacon of love and community in the neighborhood. It didn’t take long, though, for the tension to develop. Part of it was due to not communicating well enough when I began. The other part, however, was due simply to the fact that I was decades younger than many of my people. For many months it was awful being a pastor, let alone the pastor. I don’t need to go into details, but one of the reoccurring narratives that my people would tell themselves and each other sounded like this: “He’s just young and learning. We need to give him time.” And while I appreciated the backhanded grace of that sentiment, many times I just wanted to scream in response, “Maybe you need to learn!” I felt like I was drinking a concentrated dose of everything that has ever disappointed me about the Church—except now I was responsible for pastorally loving the people and finding hope amidst the disappointment.

These days are more hopeful, though the cynic in me is always vigilant! While we’ve lost some folks along the way, my people and I are learning together how to be the kind of bridge-building people our community needs. And I’ve learned a lot, too. I’ve had to learn to love and shepherd my people who don’t always treat me like a God-called shepherd. I’ve had to learn how to listen even more intently than I thought possible, with the hope that my people will follow this example as we engage our community. I’ve had to learn to lean even harder on mercy and grace for my people, though I’ve also had to learn how to say gently, “No, we can’t afford to treat/talk about each other that way.” Most of all, I’ve learned how to lead them as a hopeful young person—for now, at least!

The story continues. Perhaps you have heard it by listening to our podcast, or maybe you have read some of the stories shared on this blog. We are proud to say that our denomination, the Church of the Nazarene is investing in pastors like us. They are spending time, energy and money on assuring we are equipped to not only lead the church of today, but also the church of tomorrow. You can help too! Share our stories, and celebrate with us, or even consider donating to the Mentoring for Ministry initiative by clicking the Nazarene Theological Seminary logo. Invest in the future of the church and help its leaders get the training and mentoring they need to take on the task at hand!

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