You Want Me To Do What? – How The Established Church Responded to a Millennial Pastor

Since writing the book The Millennial Pastor a lot has happened in my life. I shared it with the world a year ago, and it has been an education. I have learned and grown so much from this experience. I have also received quite a response to my story. Not all of it has been good. In fact, the label “blasphemer” may have been used at one point, but the good has outweighed the bad. This, the good, is something I would like to share; it’s the good I see in how the established church has responded to me, a millennial pastor.

First, a recap of my story for those who have not heard who this “Millennial Pastor” is:

I’m on the phone with a man who said he was the District Superintendent of the Washington Pacific district. Whether he really was who he said he was remained to be seen. Things weren’t adding up. Perhaps this was all an elaborate joke and at any moment I would hear the voice of my friend on the other line saying something smart about how he had me fooled.

Truly though… was this real life?

I had spent the last month on the Nazarene job board. My mother, who I decided to move back home for, had just received a surprisingly clean bill of health. She had no more traces of cancer in her body, and she told me and my wife it was time to leave Arizona, to go back to full-time ministry. This was a huge statement for her to be making as she would not only be saying goodbye to her son and daughter-in-law, but also grandchildren who loved her desperately. Despite the emotional toll this would take, she was right, like normal. She wanted only what was best for me and my family, and grinding out an existence back home was not it.  After prayerful consideration, my wife and I decided it was best for our family to move into the next chapter of our lives, wherever it may take us.

Back to the job board…

My resume had gone out across the country, to all sorts of associate positions spanning from worship leader to college pastor. Daily I wondered where God may call me, what direction He would lead my family. Then I got a call from a DS in Washington, and he said the words “lead pastor.”

“You want me to do what?”

I was completely taken off guard at the prospect of leading a congregation. Didn’t they know I was one of those Millennial types who didn’t much like church, but for one reason or another had decided to stick around? Had he read my extensive questionnaire where I had aired my grievances explaining all the things I would want to change about the church culture of America?

Asking me to lead was like asking my grandmother to set up my new iPhone… it seemed… out of sorts…

This DS… if he really was one…

He cray…

Or… maybe I was? I took the job, accepted the calling, and transitioned into my new vocation. My family and I made the move from the Southwest to the Pacific Northwest. For the record, there could not be more different climates. My first year was a roller coaster of success and failure, and the constant reminder that God uses unlikely people to do even more unlikely things for His glory. Somehow, my church did not close its doors. It was even open to my ideas, and was willing to take risks to try new things.

It would seem that my DS knew what he was doing all along… That God does in fact work in mysterious ways, using the unlikely for redemptive work within creation.

Looking Back 

So much has changed, but much remains the same. I spoke my peace, shared my story, and life continued. I have been the lead pastor of the Shelton Church of the Nazarene for three years now. I have never felt more challenged nor more content with where God has placed me and my family.

I have been disillusioned with being a pastor, with denominationalism and with polity in general, but God has graced me with knowing those who have been ever faithful, and they, in turn, have once again redeemed “church” for me. I have had the benefit of being mentored and formed by some of the most Christ-like individuals I have had the honor of knowing. The church of the Nazarene is not sitting idly by, ignoring the plight of the next generation. It is seeking new ways to engage, to shape and mold and bring up a new generation of leaders. I am blessed to be part of new initiatives to explore new ways to foster adaptive leadership in not only my own life but the lives of others just like my own.

So much is made of the old way versus the new. A lot of attention is given to the divide between generations. Labels are thrown around often, and stereotypes are given more power than they should, but the church remains. What’s more, some of those I could have written off for being stuck in the past (older persons in the church) have been some of the biggest advocates for positive change the church needs. Despite what my critiques may be, or the complaints and frustrations about the “church” my generation may have, these saints have invited me to engage, to speak to these concerns and have taken up the task of mentoring an unruly millennial pastor like myself. The Center for Pastoral Leadership at Nazarene Theological Seminary has been at the forefront of this endeavor. They have invited me into circles where I have been fortunate enough to meet others like me, which I must say is an uncommon experience. I can count the times on one hand that I have been able to walk in a room and spend time with a dozen other individuals who are like me. Stats would show there are very few lead pastors under 40, so when we gather in number, it is time I cherish deeply. This, my brothers and sisters, continues to be a means of grace for me, redeeming this thing we call church, reminding me of exactly what it is I was called to be part of once upon a time.

As a Millennial, I still have hang-ups. I don’t like plenty of things the church does. I struggle to not be cynical, to see where God is working instead of despairing where His presence is lacking. As a young pastor, I most certainly do things differently than those who have come before me, and this not out of protest, but from a place of trying to be authentic to the calling God has placed on my life.

Something beautiful happens when we are of one body and one mind, when through our diversity we are united to do that which God has called us to do. When we gather, and life is shared, when young and old, rich and poor, male and female gather together in the name of God, we no longer go to church… we are the church, and with Christ as our head, there is always hope.

I have hope, not because of what I see today, not because of what happened yesterday, but because of what is possible with God tomorrow. When the church anchors its hope in who God is and who He made us to be, tomorrow is something to be excited about. So today, I do the work for tomorrow, knowing that I’m not there yet, but that with God, it is possible.

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. I am proud to say that my church, the Church of the Nazarene is investing in me and others like me. 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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