This past Sunday our church, as they do every year, celebrated Pastor’s Appreciation month by showering Rita and me with gifts, encouraging notes and (yes) even some awkward hugs. While they express appreciation for us, it has also given me an opportunity to reflect on my appreciation for them. An extended pastoral tenure, which is probably the exception rather than the rule these days, is a two way street of mutual trust, humility and encouragement. I think we’ve managed to cultivate that kind of atmosphere here, which makes me incredibly happy.
A few days before our celebration here I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who gave some public acknowledgment to all of his pastors. I thought it was a great idea, and great modeling from a leader about what it looks like to honor those who lead well. So I’m stealing the idea and shamelessly using it to launch my first blog in a couple of months. Or six. But who’s counting?
Pastor Ricci: Pastor (Micchelino) Ricci was my first pastor. He was from the old school of pastoring, so I never called him by his first name – he was always Pastor Ricci. Except for the one time I called him by a family nickname and received a phone call at home that terrified me beyond belief. Pastor Ricci was a passionate evangelist, and I learned from an early age that bringing people into a relationship with Jesus was incredibly important. While I could tell a lot of stories about him, only one sticks out, and it was from well after the time I considered him my pastor. About a year after my father died, I received a phone call from our District Office saying that someone was looking for my contact number to give me a call. When I asked who it was, I was informed that it was Pastor Ricci. I told the woman it would be fine to pass on my number, and a few minutes later he called. He wanted to pass on his condolences to me and my mother for the loss of my dad. He shared a couple of his memories of my father and comforted me in a time of grief. I hung up the phone and my first thought was, “I hope that some day I will be a pastor like that.”
Pastor Wade: Pastor Wade Martin succeed Pastor Ricci in my home church, and was my pastor for my transitional teenage years. The night of his election to serve as our pastor I sat with his son, my best friend Nick, in the nursery praying that he would be elected so that they wouldn’t have to move away. While my prayer may have been somewhat selfish, God knew that Pastor Wade and his wife, Marilyn, would be tremendously important to my life during those teen years. I spent many hours in their home, eating meals, sharing conversation, playing games (and ALWAYS losing at Scrabble), and in general seeing their lives up close. They invited me into their world, and I learned from their influence not to be afraid to do that as a pastor. They modeled Jesus from in close, which was far more important to me than the public, pastoral image. I’m grateful for their influence on my life and my ministry.
Pastor Bruce: I arrived at Bates College ready to connect with a local church. After an eventful journey trying to find First Assembly of God in Lewiston, Maine, I managed to arrive at a Sunday evening service just about 10 minutes before the service closed. As I was on my way out the door, the youth pastor, Bruce Dumond, introduced himself. Eventually he asked me if I wanted to help him out with the youth group, which I thought was a great opportunity. From that point on Bruce and his wife Heather, adopted me into their family. Not only did he adopt me into his family, he put me to work in ministry. He didn’t just teach me about serving Jesus and the church, he showed me what it looked like. And he led that youth group with such passion and vision that it grew well beyond what anyone could have imagined for that area. He was a model for me of what could happen if you were singularly focused on a mission and were willing to work hard to see it come to pass.
Pastor Don: Rita and I were sitting in a chapel service at Zion (separately, of course because men and women couldn’t sit together in chapel) when a young, brash pastor wearing sneakers and a loosened tie spoke to our chapel about serving in his church. We both walked out of that service and decided that we wanted to be a part of his church when we started our next year of school. We spent the next two years as students and another year and a half on staff with Don and his wife Carol at New Hope Chapel. It would be hard to find two people more opposite in personality than Don and I, but he shaped my relationship with God and with the church like no one else has. I saw in him a deep love for people and the conviction that a vibrant church could make an impact on its community. His enthusiasm for Jesus was contagious, and his desire to see others experience life in Jesus was inspiring.
Pastor Nick: Nick Fatato has never officially been my pastor. I’ve never been part of his church, but as a friend he has pastored me and instilled in me a fundamental conviction: you don’t need the title to fill the role. I’ve never called Nick, “Pastor Nick”, but he has been a shepherd to me in some of the more challenging seasons of my life and has done so with grace and humility that has marked me forever. I’ve stolen more ideas from him than he will probably ever know, and see him as my mentor not only as a leader in the church, but as a leader in his family.
I could mention other names of other men and women who have shaped my life and ministry. Professors at Zion, leaders within all of the churches I’ve been a part of, even people here at New Life who have been shepherds to me even while I have held the title of “pastor”.
Most of all I’m grateful to Jesus, the Great Shepherd, whose leadership all of these men and women have modeled in the best way they knew how. It has been my greatest joy to serve Jesus and his church as a pastor for these last 16 years at New Life. I am praying for God’s grace to give me another 25 or so in this role. Regardless of long I hold the title, I hope that Peter’s words will be true of me:
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” – 1 Peter 5:2-4