Christ’s church is comprised of young and old believers. The diversity of our generational perspectives can produce the harmony of loving and learning from each other. But our generational distinctions can also result in the dissonance of misunderstanding, judging, and bickering.
“It’s a generational thing,” I hear people say, and most often spoken out of frustration and confusion. As I have the privilege of visiting many churches while we raise support, I’m looking for ways to learn from old and young alike.
In this post, I recount lessons I learned from a pastor who is younger than I am. I wrote on lessons from an older pastor here.
Today I am in the Catawba Valley somewhere in Virginia. We fellowshipped and worshipped with a wonderful group of God’s people in the morning followed by a good ol’ southern potluck. They had not one, not two, but three different kinds of macaroni and cheese. And fried chicken from the only restaurant in town. And deviled eggs. Seriously, it was a good potluck.
In the afternoon, I venture out on an 8-mile hike to McAfee Knob and back, one of the most popular segments of the Appalachian Trail. I’m back in the pastor’s home resting and eating delicious ham and cheese sliders that his wife just prepared. My knee is hurting (because I’m not as young as I think I am). And my pastor friend, Aaron, and I begin to chat.
Aaron is 27 years old. He’s been at the church for several years, but only about one year as the lead pastor. He’s young, but I quickly realize I have a lot to learn from him.
I begin by commenting on how much his people love him, how much they trust him. What helped him gain the trust of his people as a young pastor, I ask him. “I visit my people.” Given enough time, Aaron says, you can tell if a pastor visits his people.
Okay, sure. We all know we’re supposed to spend time with our people. But what Aaron is talking about is taking it to a whole new level. He’s talking about Richard Baxter level visitation.
“It has to be a priority in your ministry,” he continues, “because if it’s not, it won’t happen.” I take another bite of a slider. I’m listening; I’m taking notes. I’m learning from a younger pastor. “Technology does not replace one-on-one visits,” Aaron insists. “Just the fact that you’re there—not what you say—just your presence is what matters.”
But I think for most of us we view visitation as a chore. Aaron believes people can tell when their pastor views it as something to check off a list.
So are you just doing cold calls, I ask, knocking on random doors like Jehovah’s Witnesses or vacuum cleaner salesmen? Aaron clarifies. These are his church members, church visitors, people he’s had contact with who need counseling, or good prospects for the church. And he is spending time in their homes, caring for them, listening to them, helping them feel loved. He’s a shepherd making his rounds through his flock, seeking the lost and bringing back those who strayed. He spends his time binding up the injured sheep and strengthening the weak ones (see Ezekiel 34:16).
Some have recently written articles outlining fifteen reasons why pastors should not visit as much. Aaron is one younger pastor who would beg to differ. He spends mornings with God in prayer and study. He uses lunch time to connect with people. But on Tuesday afternoons you will find him in people’s homes all through the Catawba Valley. Tuesday nights are blocked out for visiting new families in the church. Pure religion and undefiled happens on Wednesday afternoons because that’s when he visits the shut-ins and widows. Oh, and he also visits people on Thursday afternoons.
It reminds me of what my pastor recently told me. Pastoral ministry can be summed up in three words: prayer, preaching, and people. Aaron is a great example of that, and his weekly schedule proves it.
I can also attest to Aaron’s faithfulness as a pastor. His church is a vibrant, happy place. His people love God and love each other. They’ve baptized nine people this year, and several more last year. Numbers are not the measure of a pastor’s success, but I was encouraged by signs of health in his church.
I’m thankful to Aaron’s wife for the sliders. My knee still hurts because I’m still old. But Aaron, who is younger than I, has reminded me of the importance of loving people. If the next generation of pastors in America are like Aaron, then we are in good shape.
Who is a young pastor or young person that you have learned from?
Aaron and Jessica Mansfield are dear friends of ours. Aaron serves as the lead pastor of Catawba Valley Baptist Church near Roanoke, Virginia.