Chapter 25–What I Learned From Pastors

In Spiritual Stories by Gary



I have experienced many pastors in my journey of life.  Each has left me with an important bit of knowledge or a lesson.  A few have left me with several.  All of them have helped me improve my spiritual life.

What I Learned From Pastors

Pastor Jerry: 

Pastor Jerry taught me that pastors are regular people.  They fish, they play cards, they drink beer. They struggle with the same daily problems that I do.

Pastor Lori: 

Pastor Lori taught me that marriage is like a three stranded rope. Husband, Wife, and God. The marriage is strongest when all three are intertwined.

She taught me suicide happens.  The act is not the fault of the living.  We need to face it.  Suicide should not be hidden or swept under the rug.  We cannot understand the mind of the person who committed suicide.

Pastor Lori taught me to take small steps when beginning big challenges.  Big challenges like improving your prayer life, learning to be still and hear God, or getting on with life after the death of a family member.  She taught me that being kind and gentle on myself was an important part of getting on with life.

Pastor Steve: 

Pastor Steve left me with many bits of knowledge and lessons.  Pastor Steve gave the hardest hitting sermon on stewardship I ever heard.  In fact, it was only a couple of paragraphs in a typical Sunday sermon.  Our small town church was struggling to pay the bills.  Stewardship was a frequent topic during Sunday worship service.  It was also the ‘80s.  The farm crisis, often called a depression, was upon us.  Nobody knew if they would have a job tomorrow.   Cable TV was new and the infrastructure was being installed.  The time to sign up for cable TV finally arrived.  In his sermon, Pastor Steve reminded the congregation we had not been able to find extra money to support the church.  However, most of the congregation had found extra money for a cable TV subscription.  He told us we needed to examine our priorities.  There was total silence in that church.  The silence was deafening.  There had been many talks on stewardship in recent months but Pastor Steve had driven home the message with a few words.  An examination of our priorities was in order.  For me, that message had a life long positive impact on my stewardship.

Pastor Steve was an immensely popular pastor.  He taught us that we worshiped God. We did not worship the church building and we did not worship the pastor.  Church buildings and pastors are not eternal.  God is eternal.

Pastor Steve believed, and taught us, that our purpose on Earth was to be a servant. That message just stuck with me.  It was one of those messages that you know the pastor is talking directly to you.  You look around at everyone else seated near you but the message just drives straight to your heart and soul.  The Holy Spirit was at work whether or not I recognized it.

Pastor Steve taught me new things can have a big impact although only a few people participate.  During Lent, Pastor Steve started a Compline service.  I didn’t even know an end of the day service existed.  The service was held every evening at 8 PM.  On nights with big participation there were less than a dozen people in the pews.  On other nights, there might be only one of us.  It was the ‘80s, a time of high stress.  The farm economy recession had reached depths not seen since the depression of the ‘30s. Many of us were working long hours or more than one job.  Many were without a job.  In the Compline service you released the day and gave it to God.  God gave you rest at night.  It was a relief many of us needed.  It was a blessing just to be able to have a good sleep at night.  I loved the liturgy.  I also found the prayers went straight to my heart and soul.  Those prayers remain a part of me.  On Sunday mornings I often read the Compline service to myself before the regular service starts.  In particular I read the prayers.  So a young pastor tried something new and different during lent.  A few people participated. The experience continues to impact my life more than 30 years later.

From Pastor Steve I learned about stewardship, to be a servant, our worship is to God and no other, and to give the day to God and receive rest only God can provide. These things helped me shape my adult life.

Pastor Orville: 

Pastor Orville was a pastor when I took catechism.  His wife taught the class during the Sunday school hour.  He announced his retirement a year ahead of time.  He wanted the congregation to have plenty of time to call a new pastor.  He announced too soon. Us kids, and some of our parents, took advantage of that.  Us kids misbehaved knowing the consequences next year would be minimal.  Our parents were plotting how to reshape the church and the next pastor.  I learned it is okay to plan ahead but don’t reveal your plans too far ahead of time.

Pastor Richard: 

Pastor Richard followed Pastor Orville.  I learned if you are going to turn a congregation inside out and correct their behavior, you must be bold, forceful, and full of confidence in yourself.  Pastor Orville had a personality that was meek and mild.  A personality of no conflict.  He was a very easy going person.  Pastor Richard had a deep booming voice. A voice that could easily take command of a room.  Pastor Richard was an autocrat, some said dictator.

I will never forget that Sunday the whole congregation sucked the wind right out of church.  This was the late 50’s and I was in Jr. Hi.  I don’t remember the exact words but I remember what people heard.  In reality there was only small differences.  What the congregation heard was:

This congregation has strayed from the ways of the Lutheran Church.  A lot of that has to do with the last pastor being meek, a group of women trying to run the church as they see fit, and a large percentage of Scandinavian Lutherans.  I am a German Lutheran and I am going to straighten out this church and this congregation, and he did.

There were lots of changes and therefore complaining.  The congregation returned to strictly following traditional liturgy.  No shortcuts or omissions were permitted and there were no excuses.  Complaining became futile.  The congregation was able to maintain membership.  With time, Pastor Richard became well respected in the congregation and the community.

Pastor Myron: 

Pastor Myron taught me two things.  It is okay for conservative Lutheran’s to show emotions of joy in church.  Humor is a good thing.  It is okay to laugh at jokes.  It is okay to applaud for kids performing special events and even at special times for adults.

He also taught me it was more important to be a Christian than to be a Lutheran.  I really learned that from my kids.  Pastor Myron taught that to the kids and the kids taught the parents.  He knew better than to try to teach that directly to the adults. Conservative adults who were struggling with laughing out loud in the sanctuary wouldn’t be receptive to that teaching.  However, as the adults thought about it, they came to understand he was correct.

Pastor Fred: 

Pastor Fred and his wife became pastors as a mid-life career change.  His personality was shaped by events prior to being a pastor.  He had a much different personality than young pastors shaped by events immediately after divinity school.  Pastor Fred had a dictatorial personality.  Discussion and compromise were not part of his people skills. That style of leadership disappeared in the ‘70s.  His congregation was young and didn’t respond well.  Older members were put off at the return of that style of leadership. Pastor Fred gained a reputation for “always” being on vacation.  He took more vacation than any previous pastor.  He had lot more vacation than many members of his congregation.

I learned you must change and adapt.  Personality and leadership styles that served you well in your youth might not be acceptable today or in a new vocation.  Also, you can’t have perks that are much better than those you serve.  Doing so causes bad feelings.

Pastor Victoria: 

Pastor Victoria had a career change later in life.  I met her when she served her internship.  She was in her fifties.  She was embarking on her new career with a great deal of zeal and ambition.  During her internship, her husband decided he wanted a divorce.  She was devastated.  I was a member of the intern committee and she told the committee of her situation.  We told her that her private life was just that, private.  We supported her and she became an outstanding intern.  Before her internship ended, our pastor decided to leave and go into private business.  The immediate response was to ask Pastor Victoria to become our pastor.  She had a passion for Christ and a compassion for people.

However, the antiquated rules of the ELCA would not permit her to become our pastor. She accepted a call in Wisconsin.  A few years later she returned to Iowa to accept a call in the local area.

From Pastor Victoria I learned to have faith in a person’s Christian character, even when the rules of current society might otherwise object.  Although devastated by a divorce, she kept her sights on the journey to become a pastor.  She kept her faith.  She knew she had a calling to be a pastor and she steadfastly followed that call.  Later in life when I received a call to write stories, I recalled Pastor Victoria and her ability to focus on her call through a time of great trial.

Pastor Diane: 

From Pastor Diane I learned to grab the moment.  I usually approached things in a logical, methodical, and detailed manner.  Grabbing the moment was not a typical experience for me. With her encouragement I learned I could survive chances to grab the moment.

Pastor Diane was the interim pastor when I first met her.  I knew the ELCA would not let an interim pastor become pastor in the church being served.  I knew we would part company in a short time.  Pastor Diane had a sincerity that came across naturally.  A rare attribute.  She also delivered her sermons with no notes.  I admired her for that and I would like to be able to do that.  She would tell me some of that skill was natural ability and some was hard work to develop that ability.

I visited her office for a 15 minute talk about the technicalities of transferring membership.  I left an hour and a half later a changed person with a call to write my stories.  I learned God and the Holy Spirit had guided me to a female pastor with her roots in Wisconsin.  He guided me there to receive my calling to write stories.  God knew I would listen to a female pastor with Wisconsin roots.  After Maxine died I had been asking God to send me signs about what I should do with the rest of my life.  On that day the sign was given.

Pastor Diane asked me to share a story as the message on a Sunday when she had to be gone.  I hesitated but I went ahead and did it.  I shared the story of all the good things God did the night my daughter was killed by a drunk driver.  The message had more impact on people than I ever imagined.  I had survived a “grab the moment” experience.  Later I would “grab the moment” to deliver a second message during worship.  Pastor Diane’s encouragement and the guiding of the Holy Spirit just cemented my calling to write and share stories.

I knew Pastor Diane and I would part company in a few months.  God brings people into your life. Sometimes just for a short time.  It is important to love, share, and support each other in the time you do have.  Pastor Diane and I did that.  I will forever be grateful that God selected her to deliver my calling to me.