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October 7, 2019

High Calling | Inside Look Into the Lives of Our Pastors

Everyone is busy these days. Retirees, young children — and most in-between — can feel pulled from different directions with all sorts of demands requiring time and energy. Your pastor/ministerial couple is no exception. You may think you know what they’re juggling, but do you truly understand how much many of them travel, break up squabbles, smooth over hurts, counsel marriages, prevent suicides, coordinate events, act as PR reps, conduct human resource duties, manage projects, financially advise, serve as child caregivers, advocate for social justice, recruit, lend funds, respond to mechanical/maintenance calls, and wrestle in prayer over you and your burdens?

Obviously, it can be hard to capture all of this with just a few profiles. It’s not our intent to suggest this group alone deserves acknowledgment. Consider it a snapshot. The following shepherds have been recommended by conference leadership as representing (and often conquering) some unique challenges (perhaps personal, geographic, economic, and/or congregation-wise). We recognize there are many, many others who also would represent ministry well. Our hope is to at least pull back the veil a bit on why pastors and their families, in general, may deserve some special appreciation. So, strap on your seatbelts. We’re about to journey through the wonderfully busy, heart-wrenching, rewarding world of pastoral service.

Profiles

 

7:00 a.m.  Pastor Steven Silva’s alarm goes off.

It’s Sabbath – a day of rest, rejuvenation, and spiritual focus for many, but for this Michigan pastor, his wife and two young daughters, it’s one of the busiest, most hectic days of the week. For the Silvas, it’s also a day of schedule differences and decisions (which activity/service will we attend?  Will we grab lunch together or will an unexpected meeting/crisis come up?). 

9:00 a.m.  Pastor Silva leaves home, about 25 minutes from each of the two churches he serves. He and his wife, Mia, have learned there is less stress if they take separate cars. To be clear, though, this is very much a partnership. “My dream is to have a family ministry  — not a solo practice” says Silva. Mia is onboard with that. The two met 10 years ago while giving Bible studies, preaching and conducting evangelistic meetings together at the Mission College of Evangelism in Oregon.

“Before I had kids, I was super involved,” admits Mia. Today, the realities of corralling Gianna, four, and Natalia, two, in a timely manner is, well, difficult. That said, Mia appears pretty engaged. While the registered nurse juggles parenting and nursing (at least two days a week), she also coordinates a major children’s outreach each year. On the day of my visit, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mom and kids with whom she didn’t greet and coordinate an upcoming play date. 

9:30 a.m.  Pastor Silva begins his “rounds,” checking in on each Sabbath School class.

So many spouses enhance the ministry of their partner, amidst demanding professions and responsibilities of their own. Take Abigail and Pastor Nikolai Greaves. Abigail is a Respiratory and Sleep Lab director in Central Illinois. She’s also a mother of two little ones (Zion, almost four, and Zanwe, one). Within their congregations though, she may be best known as the creator of their dynamic Children’s Church program, or perhaps as the assistant director of Adventurers.

She does it all and admittedly finds her tank empty at times. But then a young girl, who has never read the Bible before, starts to connect the stories and God’s hand in it all . . . “Those moments just re-energize me. I’m ready to go to the next thing! It gives me just the spark I need,” explains Abigail. 

12:10 p.m.  Pastor Silva starts preaching (following young adult testimonies).

Abigail’s husband, Pastor Nikolai, was sure in need of a spark when they first started their full-time ministry two years ago. After it became dramatically clear that God was calling them to serve (that’s a story for another time), the former MBA and financial analyst with an MA in Divinity, jumped in head-first. “When I started,” says Greaves, “I worked every day with no days off. I went to every board gathering, prepped several hours for every sermon, attended every prayer meeting . . . Then I remembered Moses and Jethro. I hadn’t seen my family; I wasn’t sleeping. Now, I use technology. I delegate. I use the people around me. They’re gifted, too!”

12:40 p.m.  Pastor Silva’s sermon ends.

It’s extremely rare, these days, for a pastor to be assigned to just one church. In fact, each pastor highlighted here serves multiple congregations. Pastor Greaves has three churches in his district. Each one has distinctly different personalities and needs, and is at least an hour from each other. “Shepherding everybody may have to look different in a 2019/2020 context,” says Greaves.

Innovation and service are important to the Greaves family. They’ve done everything from changing the times of worship and encouraging kids to draw the sermon, to renting out community centers and building intentional relationships with barbers and others who have a pulse on the community. It’s all for naught, though, if they haven’t held on to one fundamental truth,” admits Pastor Greaves. “I see my role, not just as a shepherd, but an under-shepherd — leading [others] to the actual Good Shepherd.”

Despite degrees, titles, sacrifices and successes, often the most effective pastors highlight all of it with humility and pointing upward.                 

12:55 p.m.  Pastor Silva meets in his church office with someone he’s recruiting for an upcoming program.

Like the Greaves family, the Silvas have a church located in a bustling college town. In fact, their East Lansing University Church is literally in the shadows of Michigan State University, student population: 50,000. There has always been a “Campus House” next door, connected to the church (with students training for outreach and conducting Bible studies), but Pastor Silva wanted to do something on a larger scale in hopes of having a wider net. He soon started “Crave.” He admits the concept is largely borrowed from Billy Graham’s old campus tent meetings. Silva and his team put up a large tent in the middle of campus. They offer free food, live Christian music, a prayer table, solidarity wall (supporting survivors of sexual assault/abuse), free massages, and sermons. The first opening “Cravenight” had 50 students. 

Pastor Silva then connects many of them to small study groups, additional Friday night vespers, and eventually the church itself. He’s adamant about church being a special place for the students — a home for them, away from home.

He proudly declares, on any given day during the typical school year, one would likely find a student or two napping somewhere in the church. They come there to craft and print term papers . . . or simply hang with Pastor Silva and ask for dating advice.

1:02 p.m.  Pastor Silva’s wife pops her head into the office, letting him know she’s heading to lunch with the kids.

 

“Hanging out” for the Tenolds in Indiana is pivotal to the way they serve as well. I meet the couple (who have been in full-time ministry for 21 years) in a booth at a bustling restaurant. I discover that’s their M.O. They regularly eat and socialize with their members, their acquaintances, and perhaps, most importantly, those with whom they are hoping to witness. “I believe in a very Christ-centered approach,” says Pastor David. “It’s all about genuinely caring for people . . . creating community, hearing their story.” Both Pastor David and his wife, Marie, have a reputation (with growth numbers to prove it) of working hard to make that kind of culture contagious. At least one of their churches actually builds a line item into the budget for eating and connecting. “Members take new members out. It’s not always us. Love forms between them. The leaders become very protective. They shepherd them and ask them to share their story. They find out their hobbies,” explains Tenold.

1:34 p.m.  Pastor Silva leaves for his Spanish Church, 5 to 7 minutes away.

Being so invested in people has a particular risk for pastors. The more you get attached, the more things can hurt.

Marie Tenold describes an aspect of ministry where her husband is particularly vulnerable. “Some funerals are very taxing. He’s had to bury young people . . . toddlers. I’m not sure they [the pastors] ever get over it. Like an EMT or a nurse, he lives part of their grief. It becomes his grief. You really bond with people through grief and joy and pain,” confesses Marie.

Then there’s the call to minister elsewhere. She admits she can initially be griefstricken with word they must move, but processing it with her kids in a healthy way often helps turn “bad” news on its head.

“The first thing I love to do is get the kids library cards and go to the local pool so they’re a part of something. I don’t think anyone thinks about that. But all the kids like adventure. That’s why, when we get somewhere new, we soak in the place as soon as possible. You’ve just got to embrace what the Lord gives you,” says Marie.

1:44 p.m.  Pastor Silva begins meeting with Nominating Committee.

Pastor/Hispanic coordinator/church planter Evelio Miranda can relate. His oldest, a recent college graduate, describes the rollercoaster the entire family can go through when they face a transfer. “It’s so emotional when we leave a church. He actually cries,” admits Madeline Miranda. “He gets so attached, puts so much work into a congregation . . ., so it makes me cry, too.”

Madeline, now in her 20s, grew up primarily in Oregon, where the family served for many years. Then her dad got the call to come to the Wisconsin Conference. She was 13 and devastated to leave her house, school, friends — everything she had known. “I begged my parents to let me stay,” says Madeline. She admits it was two or three years before she was finally able to settle in and consider Milwaukee her home.

Pastor Miranda is originally from Guatemala. He met his wife, Noemi, at the University of Montemorelos, in her native Mexico. Individually, they had already been serving and now prepared for a life of ministry together in Central America. But God had other plans. They had just bought a house and Noemi was pregnant when Pastor Miranda got the call to come to California. “I was a little disappointed,” Noemi confesses, “but I would support him wherever he goes.”

Rolling with the punches and being flexible is a must when it comes to ministry. Pastor Miranda was primarily in publishing work in the States until it was discontinued in the California area. He was given a church to pastor, but it was technically a part-time position. For the next two-and-a-half years, he supported his family by painting houses on the side.    

2:25 p.m.  Pastor Silva reaches church member’s home for lunch.

More than one family member tells me there’s often an expectation that the pastor is a jack/jill-of-all-trades, and many do have various gifts. Pastor Miranda, who currently shepherds three churches of his own, oversees 16 Spanish-speaking churches, and has recently coordinated five church plantings. He also has regularly dug out parishioners who were stuck in the snow. He often councils on immigration matters, working closely with area immigration lawyers. And, more than once, he’s received the dreaded late night call.

“I remember it being 2 a.m. The first thing they said was, ‘My son committed suicide,’” says Miranda.

Having the rejuvenation, strength and discernment of the Holy Spirit is key when it comes to pastoring. Miranda says the support of his family is also critical. “Part of my success is my wife working by my side.” 

2:50 p.m.  Pastor Silva prays over lunch.

 

But pastoral ministry can be lonely work. Pastor Larry Clonch is in his 33rd year of ministry, all of them served within the Illinois Conference. Clonch, perhaps, debunks the myth that things start getting easier toward the end of one’s career. When it’s a calling — well, more may be asked of you. He is currently serving 5-plus churches, the largest district and distance to cover of his entire ministerial career. “[I’m] going here and there — it’s like the circus act with the spinning plates. I see my role more like a coach,” says Clonch. It’s typical for him to be on the road 10 to 12 hours a week, which is just one piece of the puzzle. “I have to factor in preparation and drive time, plus I have to account for the fact I’m by myself.”

Clonch is single. He admits he’s felt on the fringes because of his marital status, but it’s been something else altogether that’s knocked the wind out of him at times. “To me, what wipes a pastor out is in-church fighting — when they can’t get along and I have to referee.” But that’s exactly when his counseling background can shine. “I have a way of often interpersonally relating to them, calming them down, and focusing everyone on what’s more important — what’s best for the Kingdom of God,” says Clonch. That can be simply showing God’s love or some initiative.

Clonch says what feeds him is the Holy Spirit’s fire, a team atmosphere, with everyone working toward the same goal. He’s not naïve to think everyone likes him or his style, but, as with many pastors, he calmly, quietly would rather put self aside. “You don’t need to like [your pastor] to support the ministry, or the church, or get the vision moving forward,” Clonch says earnestly.

Being part of the solution is not only Scripture-driven, but one of the best ways to show appreciation to your pastor.

3:03 p.m.  Pastor Silva talks intently with someone in the hall who needs encouragement/guidance.

We all have a testimony. Have you ever asked your pastor about hers/his? What about their spouse? Chances are there are several riveting sermons woven through those stories. Here’s Pastor Silva’s opening line: “Some find God at the lowest points of life. I found him at my highest point.”

Silva had obtained his RN, BSN, and even an MBA, specializing in healthcare administration, well on his way to becoming an oral surgeon, but “I was unhappy and unfulfilled,” admits Silva. His father encouraged him to clear his head and get back to his spiritual roots. So, he headed north from California and not only found God and his calling, but also met his soon-to-be wife. He and Mia married in 2011. 

3:10 p.m.  Pastor Silva takes a call in private.

The Silvas have been in the Michigan Conference for three-and-a-half years. Prior to that, they served in Guam, giving them nearly a decade of pastoral experience. “For me,” says Silva, “I’m in ministry ’cause I love people. When they cry, we cry.  When they’re doing bad, spiritually, that impacts us deeply. Ultimately, it’s not about sermon prep or planning events — it’s the people,” confesses Silva, passionately. 

3:17 p.m.  Pastor Silva finally begins eating.

Ironic as it may sound, in order for most pastors and their families to stay so other-focused, there must be a focus on self, as well. “It’s so important to keep our personal faith, so when you’re sharing with others it’s genuine. Faking it has you missing out on the Holy Spirit’s power that can change others,” says Mia. And true transformation is what keeps so many pastoral teams going. “What re-energizes me most in ministry is when I see lives change. That makes me feel like I’ve slept, worked out, and had awesome personal devotions for a solid week!” exclaims Silva. 

4:36 p.m.  Pastor Silva leaves lunch location to return to Spanish Church and finish Nominating Committee meeting.

It was difficult/nearly impossible to get any of the pastors we spoke with to complain. They recognized challenges, certainly, but, as with a good parent or engaged teacher, the rewards seem to overshadow it all. When Pastor Silva was asked what the biggest personal sacrifice was, he said, “It’s such a privilege. I don’t even like that term for ministry. It feels like we’ve been given a privilege to serve. If I wasn’t a pastor, I would be just as engaged in church,” he insists. But he did give a warning to fellow service leaders. “If you feel you have to be the extrovert, the studious scholar, the marriage counselor, and lead all youth to Jesus, if your philosophy is “It’s all on you,” it will be daunting, suffocating. If you understand it’s a calling and everyone in the church has a role . . . well, . . .” He trailed off, leaving the impression that if everyone in ministry got that, it would be a place of bliss, of contentment, of true peace and balance. 

For those who may still be looking for reasons to appreciate their pastor, your family should consider these parting, personal words from the Silva family. “They may not understand how much we care. We marry, do funerals, home blessings, we’re at the hospitals, help them through relationship and health problems . . . we’re there for graduations. They’re our family!” Just as with God toward us, the time and energy invested by pastors can be constant, but for most it’s not a burden. It’s a privilege and a fulfilling purpose, and we can actually bring pleasure and joy to a ministering servant by embracing the Lord as they do.           

7:35 p.m.  Pastor Silva returns home to family.

We’ve run out of space to tell you the “little” things — how pastors never get to sit with their families during church; how the spouse can feel like a single parent at times; how humbling it is not to have all the answers; how much pastoral couples struggle to squeeze in a date night; how kids and spouses can lose their identity and simply become “the pastor’s family”; how very few are pastoring the pastor; how spouse’s careers can be stunted because of the constant moving; how difficult it can be to motivate others to serve; and how full days off are hard to come by. Perhaps keep these revelations in the back of your mind — not because pastors are better or even busier than the rest of us, but simply as a reminder that they’re human, too.


On a personal note, I’d also like to publicly appreciate my husband, best friend and committed pastor – John Lewis. Thank you for passionately teaching about “ridiculous” Love that goes after the one lost sheep.                                                                                                                                           –Cheri Daniels Lewis

 

Cheri Daniels Lewis is a freelance writer from the Quad Cities area