1. I’m not perfect.
But anyone who knows me already knows that. It’s those who only see me from a distance or hold me on some type of preacher pedestal that will panic when I make a mistake or a decision they don’t agree with. It’s those who know me best that can see my imperfections and trust my leadership at the same time because they see my character. Can pastors mess up? Uh, yeah. I mean, we are human. Before I was Pastor Stephen, I was just plain-old Stephen (and I still think of myself as plain-old Stephen). I wear contacts to read scripture that I don’t instantly have a three point sermon for, eat more than unleavened-bread and communion juice, and even drift occasionally for a second to thinking about football when worshipping (OK, too transparent? It might not be football for you, but what is it?).
I’ve never walked on water and most of the time when I preach feel like the Apostle Paul when he preached and that guy fell asleep, fell out the window, and died. True story! The microscope on the minister will bring out the imperfections because they are there. Living under the scrutiny of high-definition can at times be painful, especially when it’s done negatively towards my wife or kids. You will find my inadequacies if that’s all you look for. I have, but don’t intend to, make bad decisions. I will at times make decisions that not everybody likes. That’s the burden of leadership. That’s also the good thing about the plurality of elders. Big decisions aren’t done alone in a vacuum, but shared together in much discussion, prayer, and unity.
Sometimes, people don’t get to know me as a person, they just see me as a pastor. I get it as I’m a pastor wherever I go, not just inside the church walls. But give me some grace to be a regular guy as well. There’s one person in my church who never talks to me, it seems, until I do something they don’t like. Well, I might not do it personally, but it all comes back to the guy in charge. And then they are quick to let me know. I’m not talking about little things like misquoting or misinterpreting Scripture. It’s the important things of the Kingdom, like the service order, sermon length, song style, the staleness of communion elements, and rearrangement of foyer furniture that must be brought to my attention right before I preach – you know, life and death stuff (do you sense my sarcasm).
I’m not perfect for sure, but I think that’s the kind of pastor people want. Hear me out. I didn’t say sinful or wicked. I’m not talking about a “who cares” attitude or an unwillingness to grow or be teachable. I’m just regular Stephen – a simple man with a great wife, awesome kids, fantastic church, a sure calling in the ministry, and a desire to win souls and make disciples. I desire to be a godly example as a man, husband, dad, and friend. I want to be a lead repenter and confessor. On my tombstone, I hope it reads, “At least he tried!” I don’t always know the answer or next step and I sometimes get overwhelmed and fearful. But I’m faithful, long-term, dependable, genuine, eager to learn, and hopefully I come across as humble and caring. I truly desire to be a pastor like Jesus.
2. I’m passionate, but not in the way that fits everyone.
A guy recently told me I made a better teacher than a preacher, but I don’t think it was a complement. He said I needed more “fire” in my sermons and more catchy points. Don’t hold back, tell me what you really think next time. I’ve tried to imitate other pastors before (popular ones as nobody wants to imitate the perceived unpopular ones). That left me feeling phony. I have this weird idea that people don’t like to be preached at, but loved to be preached to. That doesn’t mean compromise or water down Scripture. You can faithfully preach the toughest scriptures and be loving at the same time. I also feel like people want someone talking to them in a sermon how they would talk to them in a regular conversation. I’m not a yeller, or a catchy phrase preacher. I don’t have a “preacher voice”. I’m just me. And that sometimes lends to a raised voice and a passion that brings about tears in my sermons, but normally it’s just methodically working through God’s word as I preach. After all, I’m not an entertainer for consumers but a pastor for disciples.
I work hard to say what I say in a sermon so that everyone in the room gets it – young, old, seasoned Christian, new convert, first-timer, or faithful member. Deep shouldn’t mean confusing. I rehearse my words (a lot in the car when I drive), but sometimes they don’t come out like I want them to. Sometimes, I wish I would have said it differently as I rewind my sermons constantly in my head. I realize I’ll never measure up to everyone ideal expectations. So, I gotta be me in the pulpit, and you’ll find that same person at the grocery store – a genuine, passionate, lover of Jesus, the Word, and people. My passions are rooted in Scripture and expressed how God wired me. I can’t apologize for leading out of my spiritual gifts and personality. I don’t always raise my hands in worship, but you’ll always see me raising them when the words are about forgiveness, salvation, redemption, and grace because I’m so undeserving but He’s so merciful! I believe the weekend service is just a small piece of the larger every-day times of worship, praise, prayer, and bible study needed by every believer in Christ. We’re not trying to fit in a whole week’s worth in an hour and a half! I’ll never pray or preach long (or short) enough, loud (or quiet) enough, or thorough (or simple) enough for some who carry the minister’s microscope.
I can be awkward at conversation. My conversations are filled with things that consume my thoughts and time: family, ministry, scripture, and church stuff. I don’t know any sports statistics and admire the guys who do. I work hard at finding hobbies outside of ministry but struggle in that area. I just love being a pastor! That’s not just a preacher, but someone who genuinely cares for people in all times of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly seasons. I spent 30 minutes talking on the phone tonight with a shut-in disabled lady from my church just to tell her I missed her and valued her as part of the church. I recently met with a couple on my off day because it was when they needed their pastor the most. I lingered in the hospital room of a dear lady in my church last week who is often overlooked and misunderstood because I truly care. She said, “I know you can’t stay long and didn’t just come to Little Rock to see me”. I said, “Yes, just you, because you’re that important.” I took a call on Christmas morning to pray with someone who was struggling with the first Christmas without their spouse who died. I serve at the food pantry, shopping and stocking not because it is my job but my joy! I’ll serve orphans in my community because I once was one.
I may not be as “fired up” as another pastor you have known because I’m not them. I may never be as tweeted as the cool pastor on social media, but I’ll be faithful to the Word and the duties of a shepherd. I’ll be passionate about the gospel, making disciples, serving the orphan, widow, and the poor. You’ll find me in the church foyer (not isolated in my office or a silly green room) before most people arrive and almost the last to leave because I love hanging out with my church people. I’m not flashy in my dress and I don’t expect special treatment because I’m the pastor. We are not celebrities and should stop acting like them! We are servants! Hype, I don’t think so. Larger than life, that’s tiring. Stephen, who often is overwhelmed God would use him and who gets to be an under shepherd of the Chief Shepherd Jesus…that’s what I hope to do passionately and for a lifetime until I hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”