Every superhero has an origin story. As a kid those were my favorite comics to collect. As I grew up I kept reading comics but as my reading material expanded into novels, history and even into things like theology and philosophy, I have always been intrigued by “the hero’s journey.” Over the years, I’ve also gotten to know a lot of pastors. A lot. I’ve come to discover that many of their lives have followed “the hero’s journey” and that these men and women, somewhere in the midst of their journey, have had to become pastors the same way that Frodo had to go to bear the ring to Mordor or Joe Banks had to jump into the Volcano.
In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson reveals not only did he have a lack of
interest in being a pastor, but it was a lack that seminary – if anything – reinforced: “And pastor as a vocation for me seemed like being put in charge of one of those old-fashioned elevators, spending all day with people in their ups and downs but with no view.” Peterson wanted to learn, to teach and to write. His relationship with Jan, his future wife, was transformational. “Those years of graduate study could have marked the beginning of a slow withdrawal from a relational life into a world of books. She rescued me from that.”
Looking back on the story of his early relationship with Jan, Peterson observes, “What I didn’t know was that when we did marry, something had already been going on in me at some deep level, as yet undetected, that would soon disqualify me from the life of learning that I anticipated.” Unbeknownst to him, maybe even against his will, Peterson was becoming a pastor, shaped by his story and by Jan’s story as their stories converged into one narrative: “In not quite three years, she was what she had always hoped to be – a pastor’s wife.”
Formation by story had been happening for a long time before Peterson recognized where that formation would eventually lead him.
I’m incredibly interested in the story of every pastor that I meet. I want to collect origin stories from pastors the way I used to collect Spider-man, Batman and Green Lantern stories.
Have you ever engaged your sacred imagination to try to picture how your pastor came to be who, what and where she is right now? Have you ever wondered what events have shaped her, some knowing, some unknowingly, to choose the life she is living as a pastor?
No doubt there are some shady origin stories.
At a conference for youth pastors that I attended years ago, a psychologist spoke, the author of a book on “Why Teenagers Act the Way They Do.” But he turned the tables on us and instead of talking about teens and the way they behave and the whys behind them, he explored by we became youth pastors. He talked about the origin story of the youth pastor who had few friends in high school and he became a youth pastor so teens, the popular ones and otherwise, would have to be his friend. Later I came to call this the “Michael Scott.” As he went on to describe other origin stories the auditorium had more and more empty seats. Heroes don’t always care to share their true identities.
But the truth is that there are men and women who have become pastors, in the past and in the present, who were dragged kicking and screaming, or at least reluctantly, to the pulpit. There are men and women who are as surprised as anyone else on earth to find themselves, pastors. There are beautiful, amazing, wise, sacrificial, patient, long-suffering, generous, faithful women and men called “pastor” who wonder every Sunday morning around 8 a.m., “How did this happen to me?”
I want to invest the second half of my life in collecting the origin stories of these heroes. I want to encourage them and be encouraged by them. I want to honor those people who have honored God with a life well-lived pastoring congregations that have been well-loved by listening to and sharing their stories.
Listen, if you’re a pastor, know this – there are no ordinary men and women who engage in this vocation – Paul the apostle was under the impression you have been given as a gift by God to the church. Being a gift, hand-picked and hand-crafted by God is something extra-ordinary. Some of you feel like that Christmas sweater that got stuck in the back of the closet, some of you feel like you’ve been re-gifted so many times that you don’t know where you’d call home and some of you feel like every church that’s unwrapped you has thought you were a piñata. But you are a gift that God has given and that’s never for nothing. You are changing the world by living your story and sharing who you are and loving the people God has dropped you into the midst of.
If you’re a pastor and wouldn’t mind sharing your origin story with me sometime, I’d love to hear it. I think you’re amazing.