Pastor Kevin Dodge
I looked around the room that morning at the (mostly) men who had answered the call to serve as pastors. I imagined most of them served as full-time pastors solely and wholeheartedly dedicated to ministry. I imagined the others who, like me, were bi-vocational pastors who were, unlike me, fully devoted to their pastoral work with their secular occupations secondary to their call to serve our God as shepherds of their churches. Either way, I imagined these leaders were full-service pastors to the congregation.
Then there was me, a “pastor” in name only, I thought. By comparison, I didn’t match up to the expectations the title “pastor” connotes. I’m a full-time college professor who has given himself wholeheartedly and beyond full-time to serving his students for the last thirty-two years. I love my job! My role as pastor, in the traditional sense, is largely restricted to preaching several Sunday mornings each month, attending church Leadership Team meetings, and checking in on church members as needed.
By contrast, my partner in ministry at Glade Mennonite Church, lead pastor Johnny Martin, works a full-time job, immerses himself in his STEP classes, and does all the pastoral “heavy lifting,” all while being the best husband possible to his wife and the best father possible to his two daughters and newborn son. I don’t know how he does it all, but he does a great job!
I didn’t, and I don’t, feel worthy of the title “pastor.” And yet, when I’m doing what I feel I’m called to do – giving myself fully to the task of instructing and mentoring my students, seeking to be Jesus to those with whom I come in contact (my students, coworkers, professional colleagues, and others – few of them followers of Jesus), and serving my congregation through preaching and encouragement. I feel like I’m right where I belong. Whether or not what I do merits the title “pastor,” I know – I know in my spirit – I’m doing just what God wants me to do. When I quit analyzing, stop comparing, and trust that my church family understands my unique calling, I relax.
I’ve had too many experiences over the past three years since I was licensed for ministry by LMC to think otherwise – too many inspirations from the Holy Spirit, too many conversations, too many “coincidences.” God has given me more opportunities than ever before to interact with people, especially with those who don’t follow Jesus – some tentatively seeking faith, some adamantly opposed to faith. Here are a few examples:
Not long ago, a friend and professional colleague invited me to have coffee with her. She is not a follower of Jesus. She wanted to know why many Christians don’t appear to view environmental stewardship as an important priority. As we talked, it became apparent that her questions and concerns were much deeper. She marveled at the inexplicable faith of Jesus followers, but she also questioned the hypocrisy of some Christians. Her questions were colored by how she viewed and interacted with the world, given her background and family. She teared up as she talked with me. Whether or not she knows it, she’s seeking. She shared her heart with me. I shared my faith with her. I prayed with her. She knew she could talk to me. She trusted me to hear and understand her with love because she knows I love her and do so without judgment.
Last summer, I was contacted by a young lady whom I’d met a time or two over the previous several months. She grew up in the church, but she has drifted away due to her frustration with what she sees as the hateful, judgmental, greedy, racist, and sexist behaviors and viewpoints of Christians. She knew me from college, but she was especially interested in talking with me because she heard I was a pastor. I did my best to listen to her and to help her understand that Christians are, all too often, very imperfect followers of a perfect Savior. I asked her not to judge our faith by our behavior, but by the example that Jesus lived. I asked her to recognize that all of us desperately need the mercy, grace, and forgiveness that is only available through Jesus. I’m not sure she left our conversation satisfied, but I believe she left knowing I value her, I care about her, and that I will always be there to humbly answer her questions. I will trust God to gently and lovingly turn her heart back to Him.
Last fall, I received an email from a student who grew up in a Mennonite church. She wanted to talk with me about getting involved in our fall owl migration study, but she also said she’d found out I’m a pastor and that she was “impressed and intrigued” by my “apparent commitment” to my college, which she “found to be an incredibly spiritually barren place.” I was eager to talk with her and explain why “incredibly spiritually barren places” are just the kinds of places where followers of Jesus most need to be.
God has also used me to provide comfort, support, and encouragement to many people, especially to current and former students and their families. For instance, I have a recent graduate who is a recovering alcoholic. He started college just days into his sobriety, and he ended up knocking the ball out of the park as a student. His father was diagnosed at the beginning of 2018 with liver cancer. Concerned that his father might not live until his son’s graduation in May, I drove a couple of hours east to meet him and tell him how proud he should be of his son. I had a wonderful conversation that day with his wife and him, and I prayed with them before I left. He lived to see his son graduate, but he succumbed to his illness two months later. I continue to keep in close touch with this former student, and also with his family. I hope I will always be his mentor, supporter, and friend.
The frequency of these experiences has increased dramatically in the three years since I was credentialed by LMC and “officially” became a pastor. And somehow, like never before, God has given me things to say, from the pulpit and to those outside the church, at seemingly just the right time. It’s been an exhilarating and humbling experience. I’ve rarely felt worthy to be a pastor, but I’ve always felt equipped. It’s not what I do; it’s what God does through me when I get out of my head and out of the way and just trust the leading of his Spirit.
To be honest, I feel like I do way more work for Jesus outside the church walls than inside. I feel like Glade Mennonite Church rents me out to the world. As best as I can determine, my congregation understands, accepts, and supports who I am and what I do. If they’re good with it, then who am I to argue?
When I stop over-thinking things and just act and live as faithfully as I can, I’m comfortable. As I see it, it is up to LMC to decide whether or not the title “pastor” is appropriate for my role in my church and in the community. I appreciate the trust that LMC, my church, and my mentor Earl Yoder have put in me. I pray that I will continue to merit that trust.
Kevin Dodge is a professor at Garrett College, in McHenry, MD, where he is the Director of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Technology program. He serves as Associate Pastor at Glade Mennonite Church.