Ah yes, we’ve all heard it: “some things you just won’t learn in a classroom.” Those words never rang truer for me than this fall semester. While many of my friends returned to Union College for another semester of lectures and late night cramming, I was able to experience firsthand some of the joys (and woes) in the life of a pastor.
I grew into a greater confidence in God through the course of my ministerial internship. Confidence guided me in the (many) moments that I felt lost and clueless. I believe confidence in the heavenly Father is faith itself. It is the stepping in the dark, relying on His leading instead of my own perception of reality. The Lord drove the point home by routinely placing me in situations where complete trust was indispensable.
My mentor was Michael Shannon, pastor of a five-church district in western Colorado. He made a point of telling me each week that, “we must always be ready for the unexpected, and the only way we can be ready for that is through prayer.” His insistence of relying on the Eternal was especially appreciated in an impromptu Bible study I gave.
Someday is now
Some church members invited me to join their Bible study one evening, and I attended without asking many questions—a mistake I’d soon grow from. My mentor wasn’t joining us that evening, but I was excited to see church members engaging visitors outside of the church foyer on a day other than Sabbath.
We met at the agreed time and place. After some small talk, we sat down around the table. Then it happened. The host gathered everyone’s attention and pronounced what could have been my death sentence, “… and now, Pastor Eli will lead us in our Bible study.” He looked at me expectantly from across the table, and the eyes of the rest of the group followed his. I sat completely still with a smile plastered on my face. My expression spelled SHOCK in capital letters.
I thought, “Lord, now what?” and immediately the Spirit brought the answer: a memory from earlier that day. That morning I’d felt inspired to scratch down questions and Bible verses on some scrap paper, thinking they would make a great Bible study someday. And that someday was the same evening.
With this revelation in mind, I invited everyone to join me in the book of Matthew, and, having prayed for the Spirit’s guidance, we studied the story of Jesus cursing a barren fig tree. I left that night blessed by the way His Spirit led. I hope the other participants felt similarly, but perhaps I was blessed more than the rest. After all, I had completely felt the hand of God.
Necessitation of delegation
The first month and a half were spent preparing for outreach. My mentor’s district was entering its season of evangelistic meetings, and the church to which I was assigned decided to hold its meetings in mid-October. The pastor and I sat down together every Monday morning at the local Subway where we ate sandwiches, discussed the previous week’s events, strategized for the week ahead, and prepared for the campaign.
We focused our efforts on visitation and establishing contact early on. I visited missing members still listed on the books who hadn’t been to church in many years. I gathered much of my intel from the active membership and visited nearly every member in their home and gleaned what I could about who else I should reach out to.
By mid-September, we had put together, by God’s grace, a healthy list of people who hadn’t been contacted by our church in a while. Additionally, I spent my evenings going door to door and praying with residents in the area surrounding the Palisade Seventh-day Adventist Church. This helped raise community awareness about our church as well as the evangelistic series. One member even joined me one of the evenings, for which I was grateful.
Pastors in small churches spend much of their time as a team of one. With four other churches, my mentor couldn’t spend all his time with me at Palisade, and I learned how lonely a pastoral career can be. Naturally introverted, I didn’t think I would mind the solitude. But it was so different from Union where there’s hundreds of opportunities every day to naturally run into friends at class, work, worship, in the halls or in the cafeteria. Working in the “real world” meant social time needed to be planned and scheduled.
Summers of literature evangelism prepared me for door-to-door ministry, and I found the time spent in the community a pleasant change of pace. I also learned the importance of finding friends within my ministry. It made a huge difference to me when members volunteered to help, not just because of their wisdom and connections, but because I needed a team larger than me.
The pre-work was looking strong, all things considered. I was starting to focus more on building the evangelistic series itself. Then one Monday morning as we broke bread at Subway, my mentor asked me, “so … have you found a master of ceremony to help you during the series yet?”
My initial thought was doesn’t the pastor usually takes care of that? That’s when it hit me. I was the pastor of that church, at least for the time being.
“Eliezer? Are you alright? You’ve been staring at that soda machine for a while now.” the pastor waved his hand in front of my glazed over eyes and I snapped out of it. “What? Oh. Yeah. I uh …”
“You haven’t delegated any responsibilities yet have you?” he said laughing. We took care of that right away, but it took a bit of a toll on the congregation with such short notice.
This was a crucial moment in the development of my ministerial internship. The fiasco taught me the importance of realizing that I am not only ministering to the congregation, but alongside it. My job was to engage people in ministry, and to not try to do everything myself. This was fundamental for the rest of the semester.
Ministry is not a solo effort
Confidence in the God of Heaven is more than an intellectual pursuit, it is an attitude of gratefulness for the team of people He assembles in our church communities. Our shared purpose is to work together, advancing His gospel. I learned many times that the members aren’t a liability, they are an asset. At least, they will be so long as I stay in communion with the same Spirit.
These were not isolated events. My semester was deluged in the providence of the all-knowing God. I experienced, for just a few months, what a partnership with Jesus can do, not only in the ministry of a pastor, but in the lives of real people. Working alongside the Fisher of Men has enabled me for full-time ministry in ways a classroom cannot. I won’t claim to know everything about how to minister nor what the future holds for my career. I’ll have to walk remembering the Lord has prevailed, still prevails and will prevail. It’s an experiential confidence that no one can take away.
Our churches don’t need ministerial students who are merely convinced of their calling, but convicted by it. I am more confident now because I have seen God lead.
Editor’s note: immediately following his internship, Eliezer Roque-Cisneros ’17 was hired by the Rocky Mountain Conference and will return to pastor in Colorado after graduation in May.