Twenty years ago, January 1, 1999, was a bright day of possibilities and dreams. That was the day I became a full-time pastor for the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. I am not the same person I was then. Here are seven things I learned along the way.
1) Every place teaches. Every placement taught me both what to do and what not to do. I moved from a conservative church with two pastors, to a district with two church families and three church buildings, to the excitement of a 3,000 plus member university church, to a three-church district where I needed a ferry for the commute, to my current location as a solo pastor. Each has been an opportunity where I continue to learn through the teaching of others and my own mistakes.
2) Persist, do not give up. A deep, abiding sense of the calling that comes only from God is what keeps me in the pastoral vocation. God’s calling doesn’t need to be recognized by any organization or word; it comes from God’s gifting.
3) Finding a voice is hard. I am learning to speak up for issues, point out injustice, and call for action. With this experience comes the understanding that taking a stand will make enemies as well as friends. But when God brings conviction, the price paid to speak is worth it. No matter how the next chapter of Seventh-day Adventist church history looks, I can help shape it by using my voice.
4) Find your joy. For me, one season of work was a duty continued from a sense of obligation and commitment. Another season was fueled by a sense of joy and excitement. The joy of my calling energized me to work harder and more creatively than did duty.
5) Never sacrifice family time. I went from a single pastor with an all-consuming focus on a church that doubled as my family to a married pastor and mother of two. Balance is hard won; it begins with scheduling family things first, not just fitting them in around the edges.
6) Life requires change. My theology is not as conservative as it was when I started, nor is my lifestyle; yet I now feel a greater sense of commitment and identity as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. My choices come from a more personally rooted faith than when I expressed traditions.
7) Grace is fathomless. My understanding of grace deepens as I see my failings and understand that, despite them, I am still called to this vocation. My identity is first as a sinner in need of grace, then as a called pastor.
Having learned this much, I can only image what God will teach me in the next 20 years. I look forward, with great expectation, to continued learning as I follow His calling.
Heather Crews is the pastor for the Courthouse Road Church in Richmond, Virginia