Pastoring is pressure.
In other news, water is wet and the Detroit Lions are disappointing.
There are a number of “pressure” statements that we as pastors hear. There are very few bigger pressure statements than this one:
“You have big shoes to fill.”
In almost 20 years of ministry, I’ve held 3 positions and I heard it in all of them (as I have followed some legendary youth pastors and lead pastors). In any interviews we’ve had, we were told that we could be ourselves. But through each ministry journey, we discovered the pressure of expectations that were connected to very loved pastors that preceded us. Even after 7 years of Lead Pastoring at Kfirst, people still refer to any one of the previous 3 Lead Pastors and say to me, “You have big shoes to fill.” Part of me doesn’t mind. I’m glad people appreciate my them. But early in ministry (and I’ll admit, early in this position) the added burden was stifling.
It was a previous associate pastor from our church who gave me a word that, to this day, am convinced was a direct word from the Lord. It took me a few years to comprehend it, but it was Brooks McElhenny, the brother of the pastor I followed, said to me,
Two words that I’ve been hanging onto now for 7 years. They are two words I’ve wept over in my prayer closet after getting a nasty email or a cowardly unsigned note in my mailbox (side note: don’t EVER read unsigned notes…if someone don’t have the respect to sign the letter, the letter doesn’t get the respect of being read). They are two words that I have clung to when I am told that I’m not what people expected. Those two words have been the liberation I needed when I want to resort to imitating someone who seems to have more ministry “success” than I am having.
People connect so much success and moments to the monumental ministers in their lives. I believe we should honor them. We shouldn’t disregard their memories or their contribution to the Kingdom. But far too many present pastors are wearing the shoes of the previous pastor. Trying to live up to people’s legacies will cause you to live and die by people’s memories.
You feel you have to continue their story instead of the narrative God want’s to write.
You’ll live out their identity instead of allowing the Holy Spirit shape yours.
You’ll lose out on vision because you can’t get your eyes forward. You and the congregation keep looking back.
You can’t anticipate what God is doing next because you are trying to regain what He already did.
My word to you today: Wear your own shoes. When the previous pastor left, he wore his shoes.
Being yourself doesn’t throw away what God has done. Put previous pastors in a place of honor not worship. Honor doesn’t mean shrines are built or displays are made. It doesn’t mean you must have them back at the church (though it’s not a bad idea, I’ve had Pastor Dalaba come back). It’s how you speak of them. It is in the way you refer to them. We honor those we follow; We don’t worship them. All the glory and honor belongs to Christ and Him alone.
Being yourself is a statement of stewardship not an excuse to never change. Be teachable and don’t stop growing. I love learning from both older and younger pastors. I want my life and ministry to continue to take shape.
Being yourself is a protection from trying to imitate others. Use other’s examples to sharpen you not so that you reflect them. God breathed into His Spirit into you to be an ambassador for Him not the preacher you idolize.
Being yourself is a guard against competition. Why? It makes you value the work of the Kingdom. And when you value the work of the Kingdom, it releases you to celebrate the work of the Kingdom in other churches. You’ll celebrate with other pastors instead of competing with them.
I am not Pastor Pace. I am not Pastor Dalaba. I am not Pastor McElhenny. They left and so did their shoes. The shoes I wear, the role I play, and the pastor I am is who God made me and who God continuing to shape.
Wear your own shoes. Be bold in being the minister God sent to your specific place. And when you are gone, take your shoes with you so that the next person can be themselves.
I believe in you. I’m praying for you.
Thanks for letting me ramble…