I am so glad you asked about my first pastorate. Of course it was many years ago. I still have fond memories of those early days in my ministry.
My first pastorate was back in 1950. I had just finished my second year of Bible College and was working in a steel mill in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, over the summer to help pay for my studies. One day, to my great surprise, a man came to see me at the mill. He introduced himself and asked if I would have lunch with him because he had a very important item he wanted to discuss. I was intrigued, so of course, we went to lunch.
“My name is Karl Frick,” he began, “and I am from a small church close to the mill. We are without a pastor. I heard you are a Bible school student and would like to know if you would be interested in helping us this summer?” Mr. Frick was so straightforward and matter of fact that I could hardly believe what he was asking. I stammered because I knew he had never heard me preach. The only sermons I had delivered to that point were to chickens, goats and banana plants in our farm back in Cuba.
I informed Mr. Frick of my lack of experience, but he simply smiled and said it would be a great place for me to learn and begin. He explained there were just 40 members—including adults and children—and it was difficult for them to find a regular pastor because they were mostly poor families and too small to offer a decent salary. He said they couldn’t offer me much, but they would give me a weekly offering. He went on as if I had already accepted his offer, “We meet twice on Sundays and each Wednesday night and you would be expected to bring a message at each service.”
In a moment of wisdom, I suggested that I preach the coming Sunday and then, after hearing me and getting to know me a little better, we could talk more. I was quite certain I would only have to prepare for one service. Even so, I studied and prepared as best I could and excitedly looked forward to my first real preaching assignment.
That first Sunday, all I remember is how gracious and kind the people were. I have no idea what I spoke on or whether it was a good sermon or not (most likely not). What I remember, however, is how well they listened, how eager they were to meet me and get to know me, and how truly welcomed they made me feel. Few experiences I have had since were so genuine and full of love. After that first Sunday, I was so excited about being with them the next Sunday, I was just about ready to pay them to allow me the opportunity to preach.
This small congregation of 40 people became my first church – my first pastorate. Even though I am certain my first sermons were poor at best, they listened with such graciousness and seemed to cling on every word. I quickly saw how much they loved the Lord and delighted in His Word. They called me “Pastor,” and I was thrilled.
I studied hard and did my best to teach them the Word of God, but not even I remember what I said. What I remember is how much they cared for me and how much I cared for them. I’m certain you’ve heard the expression, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” How true that is—especially for us pastors—and genuinely caring for others was the first lesson I learned in that little church. I believe that’s called “love.”
It’s because of that love I can tell you another incident regarding that first church experience. They believed in foot-washing, literally following Christ’s command: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14). As we were approaching the first Sunday of the month, Mr. Frick came and said in his matter-of-fact way, “Next Sunday we will have the ceremony of foot-washing.”
Now, I believe we have only two ordinances: Holy Communion and Baptism, so I wasn’t so sure about this foot washing business. But instead of challenging their doctrine on this, I considered their love for one another, closed my mouth, and prepared to wash feet. Let me assure you, before going to church that Sunday, I washed my feet two or three times and hoped everyone else in the congregation was doing the same! But I have to admit that this act of humility and submission to others touched me profoundly. As never before, I could understand how Jesus, the eternal God and creator of all things, humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples. There are issues central to the Gospel that must be confronted when falsehoods arise, but there is also a time to remain silent and see what God has in store.
I served this church for only five months before heading back to school. It was the best five months of my entire “Bible School” learning experience. I returned enriched by that experience and absolutely certain of my calling to be a pastor.
Carlos, never forget that you are NOT the one being served! Follow the example of Jesus: just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Let me assure you that if you lead your congregation with this kind of heart, you will be able to rescue many.