General CBF

Note to Young Ministers: We are a People of History

Last week was our annual Resident Reunion here at Wilshire, where all of our now 15 former pastoral residents are invited “home” to catch up with each other, meet the new residents, and update the church on where they are and how they are doing.

As a first year resident, this was my first Reunion experience, and it lived up to all of my expectations–which were high (It was difficult to tell which was being hyped more over the past few weeks, the NFL Playoffs or the Wilshire Baptist Resident Reunion. The Playoffs has had some snoozers, the Reunion had no “filler.”)

Over the course two days and change we caught up socially, met for two sessions with a guest speaker (Dr. Bruce Epperly, who has recently published a book on transitioning into a new pastorate), listened to the former residents report back to the congregation at our Wednesday meals, and spoke candidly as a group about the challenges and unexpected gifts of being a young minister. It was a life-giving few days together. But also enlightening.

When I was considering the Lily Pastoral Residency program here at Wilshire, one of the main draws was the opportunity to experience it with three other young ministers. There are four of us here at any given time, entering in pairs of twos. Coming out of the collegiate environment that is so important to seminary life, the opportunity to be a young minister alongside three incredibly talented young ministers was very appealing.

But this weekend I learned of an unexpected but equally edifying strength of the program: that it has a history.

I knew I was beginning two years of rich study, learning, and growth. I didn’t realize I was also gaining a history. A story. A reservoir of experience, perspective, and support that I will be able to draw from for many years to come.

This was a reassuring lesson to learn as a young minister. But it also reminded me that this is a great lesson to learn as a person of faith, and one that I wonder if we overlook at times.

As Christians we are, of course, a people of history–or memory, as some of called it. While we as ministers and leaders may know this intellectually, I wonder if we know it practically? And I wonder even more how often we pass this knowledge on to our congregants in any meaningful way?

It is helpful to be reminded every now and again–and perhaps especially in this post-denominational, post-modern, post-fill in the blank world–that we are not simply “making it up” as we go. Or at least we don’t have to. We are heirs to an unbelievably rich inheritance of tradition. Even us Baptists(!). It is an inheritance so rich that no matter “prodigal” we may be, we could never begin to burn through it.

But we could deny it.

Of course the world is changing and we must change with it. But that doesn’t mean that we need to start from scratch. If anything it means we must make even more of an effort to remember the things we have “learned and received and heard and seen,” both the good and the bad, and ask together what they mean for us today.

I could not be more excited about being a young minister, a feeling the Resident Reunion only amplified. When I look ahead into the future of the church, I see limitless potential. But I have found that this optimistic forward view is only realistic when I remember to turn around and look behind me.

There are times in ministry when I feel like I am the only one who has ever experienced something. We have similar moments as people of faith. The Resident Reunion reminded me that, while tempting, this self-centered view of ministry and faith is ultimately shortsighted. And more importantly, it just isn’t true.

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