19 Years: Ministry Reflection
It was on this day, 19 years ago, that I started pastoring at the West Oakland Church of Christ. It is beyond my comprehension as to why God selected me for the role and vocation. From birth to age 30, I was raised and groomed at the Uptown Church of Christ (San Francisco), where my father also served as an elder.
It was in the year 2000, and I was 29 years of age when the late Dorris Pitts and Minister of the congregation at that time asked me when I wanted to start officially. I was hesitant, but I could only think of Jesus. Jesus began His ministry at the age of 30, so I told Bro. Pitts, I would start the first Sunday after my 30th birthday.
Age 30, January 28, 2001, my ministry began, and West Oakland is the only congregation I have served in an official capacity. I have no idea what it is like to pastor at multiple congregations. I know the sheep and dynamics at West Oakland, and that is it. I do not view myself as a career preacher; for whatever reason, I believe God placed me at 12th & Linden/West Oakland Church of Christ to fulfill a role and purpose.
The occupation of preacher, pastor, minister (whatever term you prefer), is daunting. It is shocking to look back and realize that 19 of my 20 years of marriage has been under preaching conditions, and my oldest daughter will be 19 in less than two weeks. The grind is taxing and isolating. There are rewards, but being honest, most preachers spend more time massaging the pains and trials of the profession than they do basking in momentary success. In this capacity, I rarely feel successful; it is the nature of the role. Painful and a psychological head trip. Ministry is a tightly-laced ball of frustration, but you know the Godhead is aboard so you ride it out, despite the waves, taxation, and uncertainty.
All while being a preacher I have experienced (along with my wife), the death of our son, my wife’s brother, and both of our mothers. As a preacher, each one of those deaths taught me more about God than any sermon or Bible study.
1) The death of my son Seven Enoch and exhortation of my wife during that time taught me that I existed in a rules relationship with God that lacked intimacy. That has changed, and now I understand God intimately and relationally.
2) The death of my brother-in-law shocked me into the reality that we serve a God who is not just about love, mercy, and forgiveness, but also Justice. Yes, the Bible is filled with encounters of Justice and God despises anyone, especially His people remaining silent in the face the marginalized being oppressed, abused, or mistreated. At this point, church silence toward injustice became an annoyance to my spirit and soul. It is a fight I will continue until my last breath.
3) The death of my mother taught me that I could not serve or meet the needs of everyone. During the sudden death of my mother, I felt like a stranger in my congregation and realized there was no one to minister to me because everyone thought I was strong. My mother died on the evening of Easter Sunday 2015. Earlier that day, I felt guilty because I was contemplating if I had time to visit the sick mother of someone else before me, my wife, and family got on the road for a mini-vacation. I ended up not going but wrestled with guilt. What I did not know was that while I was contemplating ministering to the next persons’ mom, my mother was literally in the process of taking her last breaths. While preaching her eulogy and touching her arm while she was in the casket, a jolt shot through me that said, “You cannot do it all, so stop trying and stop feeling guilty.” My mother ministered to me in her death and added an extra layer of ministry liberation.
4) The death of my mother-in-law taught me about cancer and what families need and do not need while caring for a gravely ill family member. There is so much more I could say about the deaths of both of our mothers and how it impacted life, ministry, and relationships, but I will leave it there for now.
The preaching profession has been tough on my marriage, my children, and my psyche. It is the grace, mercy, and love of God that has carried us through for the 19 years. The preaching aspect is the delight and joy of the 19 years, but that is a fraction of what it means to be a preacher/pastor of a church. While others are sleep, I am probably up wondering how I can be better or make things better for those who are suffering, grieving, and stressed.
Some of it is growth, some grit, grind, and a taste of jadedness, but I am not the same preacher, person, or even Christian of 19 years ago. I am also not the same theologically, and I am thankful for a congregation that has embraced the risky ride of exploring rugged truth over tradition, while still understanding the role and practice of wisdom. Being in one place for 19 years allows you to see multiple phases and waves. I have seen people come and go without saying a word. I have witnessed unwavering loyalty, and I have seen deceit. In the end, it gives you the necessary shell for leadership. Pastoral leadership by way of being the preacher is the toughest kind of leadership I have ever experienced.
Through it all, I am thankful for the love, support, and patience of God, my family, and for the WOCOC membership for tolerating me for 19 ministerial years. Some of you have been there from the very beginning. Special thanks to our WOCOC Leadership Team; true men of God.
Only God knows what is next and I will remain faithfully in His Grace and Mercy!
True condolences to the Bryant family and each family impacted by the deaths today in the tragic helicopter crash. Condolences Laker Nation… Kobe, we are left speechless.