And our music did not include George Beverly Shea. Confused as I was it became clear the comparisons, maybe innocently, provided an excuse to move on. Not me. Them.
It All Started . . .
Long-term pastoral ministry is both rewarding and difficult. It is rewarding in the sense that you really get to know people. It is difficult in the sense that you really get to know people.
In fairness it could go something like this: It is rewarding in the sense that people really get to know you and it is difficult in the sense people really get to know you.
Listening to expectations reveals a level of comfort with who you are at the start. Should you continue to grow, it may become a problem. The current Election Cycle is a case in point. I once felt a level of comfort with Voters Guides. Nots so much anymore. Don’t read too much into that. It simply reveals my discontentment with the system, with the powers.
My pastor growing up served our church for 23 years. The pastor before me served a total of 25 years. I would love to have talked to Bro, Justice about long-term pastors. Emery and I have had several conversations over the years.
When I began to serve as pastor I suspected I would become a statistic. My first pastorate confirmed that suspicion. A number of factors contributed to my short tenure. None of them included being pushed out.
All those years ago the average tenure in our State was less than 3 years. Turnover rates were high. Some of it could be attributed to the wrong hand in the glove. Some of it would be attributed to moving up.
Sitting in a living room I was once told my preaching was not Billy Graham and our music was not George Beverly Shea. I agreed. And, Billy Graham is not a pastor. George Beverly Shea did not lead music in a medium sized Baptist Church. Those details did not matter. That I had never been nor pretended to be Billy Graham seemed lost in the moment.
Dating back to my days in college I have held on to a line I read in my first preaching book by Phillip’s Brooks, “Preaching is truth conveyed through personality.” I read that as be who you are not your best impersonation of someone else.
This is a parable of sorts.
Would You Write . . .
Quite a few years ago I was asked to write for the Tuttle Times. They have been through a number of owners and editors since that time. When the new owners took over I was asked by the Editor if I would continue and write on religion/spirituality.
Early on I wrote under the tag line, “Could It Be?” I may have those columns saved on a hard drive somewhere.
More recently I took up writing in a way that attempted to take a current issue or theme and ask different questions. Sometimes I would invite readers to re-consider the way we read the Jesus Story as a means to undermine the status quo, things as they are in favor of what life with God might mean.
I received more positive feedback than at any other time writing for the local paper. Even those who sometimes did not get what I was aiming for, largely because I did not do a good job at pointing correctly, commended me. Those encouragements would come in chance encounters, deliberate emails, even phone calls.
Not one time did anyone ask why I did not write a Billy Graham styled column. It would have been met with the same response I had in that living room all those years ago. Tuttle is not a stadium. There are no buses waiting.
Last Column . . .
My writing with the Tuttle Times has come to an end. I never received payment by the word or by the piece. Believe it or not, I have been published before. And, I have been paid. Not so with the Times. I did not mind. I enjoyed it.
In a move that resembles the end of religion reporting in major newspapers, the owners decided that should I wish to continue to write rather than be paid for what I was asked to provide, I would need to pay to be included in the paper. I reached out to a friend who writes for publication, several in fact. He had never heard of such a requirement.
I declined. In one sense I no longer have that weekly deadline. I think I will pick up writing a bit more here in addition to the podcasts. I may in fact write something short, 300 words or so, that those who found my columns worth reading might enjoy.
Yes, there will be a provocative piece or two. One wondered, at least I do, if my last column might have helped make the decision.
If it did, I happily take a knee.
After all these years, I still have not been mistaken for Billy Graham. Mom named me Todd. I am glad. There is an Old Testament proverb that comes to mind, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”
I am in it for the long haul.
I need to rethink how I started. This long-term pastorate is rewarding for all the people we have come to love and who have helped us grow be the medium encouragement or challenge.
Happily Not Billy Graham