“Thank God for growing pains!” was not something I ever thought when growing up. Growing pains meant a deep and dull ache in my bones that neither a cold compress nor ibuprofen could help.
But today I say, “Thank God for growing pains!” As I enter my fourth full year of ministry at Lynnwood Reformed Church, I look back over the growth chart of spiritual and pastoral maturation—both my own and the congregation’s—only to see the painful aches of failures as points of powerful transformation.
Signs of growth
Some of those growing pains began even before I arrived in 2015. A few years earlier, Lynnwood had hired Jason White part time to lead a second service on Friday nights geared toward a different audience than the Sunday crowd. Unfortunately, the additional worship service did not gain traction. While having to let go of that service was disappointing, it nonetheless gave birth to hiring Jason part time as the director of Christian education and providing him space to complete the distance learning program at Western Theological Seminary. He’s now the associate pastor at Scotia Reformed Church.
About his time at Lynnwood, Jason says, “Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, maybe it’s just a community made up of a certain kind of people, but for whatever reason, the folks there are so well equipped with grace. I had no clue what I was doing. They just loved me and supported me and because of that I was able to learn and grow without fear of too much judgment and ridicule.”
Through their experience with Jason, the people of Lynnwood were falling in love with the work of graciously caring for young pastors, helping them find their way, and allowing them to experience risks or failure in a nurturing environment. Growing pains cause true maturation when risks and failure are held in the loving embrace of a gracious community.
My part in the story
That’s when I entered the story—in January of 2015. I was a young minister fresh out of seminary with all the ideas that would change the church and the world! But congregations are living, breathing things that need tender care alongside change. I learned this the hard way. Idea after idea seemed not to gain traction. I look back on those early months with love for Lynnwood, so willing to be open to trying new things, even things that weren’t well suited here.
I learned then that ibuprofen and cold packs might not be able to cut the pain, but a congregation’s gentle encouragement and strong words of affirmation after pastoral failure can and do.
Other young pastors
In years since, we have brought on two other young people. First was Mark Mares, a summer intern from Western Theological Seminary. It was during Mark’s internship that I began to see how the congregation was also experiencing the growing pains. I was most impressed by how both Mark and the people of Lynnwood opened their hearts in loving care for one another. It is a great risk to open and offer your heart to another. I was so overwhelmed with joy to see how Lynnwood understood the opportunity we had to care for a young and budding minister. Mark now serves the Shared Ministry Churches in Montgomery Classis as a pastoral fellow.
More recently, Stacey Duensing has joined our team as pastoral resident of discipleship, focusing on cultivating a sense of belonging in our community, a connection with Christ, and a wider sense of outreach.
Stacey is a wise and strong pastor whose gifts are too numerous to count. We quickly recognized that her gifts as a minister are more diverse than the job description outlined. What do you do when someone’s gifts are larger than the role? Lynnwood found avenues for Stacey to work cooperatively in ministry with me, the consistory, and the congregation. One of the responsibilities of any community of faith is to name the gifts in its midst. I am so grateful that the congregation and consistory recognized Stacey’s unique gifting.
The gift of growing pains
At the end of the day, growing pains are not fun. But through them, Lynnwood has experienced beauty and goodness and life. I see the beauty of people who are willing to take risks and fail. I see people who resemble our God of abundant love in the way they are willing to hold out their hearts in love to interns. I see people who are willing to remain flexible and open to the ever-changing dynamics of ministry.
I love my people and see them as people who are willing to set aside agendas in order to humbly see a larger picture at work, even if that means risk, vulnerability, or change. Thank God for growing pains!
Garret Szantner is pastor of Lynnwood Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York.