Tomorrow is my dad’s last Sunday as Sr. Pastor of Troy United Methodist Church in Troy, IL. I have had the privilege of serving on staff with him for many years.
The lessons I’ve learned working on staff with my dad have been invaluable and incalculable. They don’t have a class in seminary on how to be on staff with a family member, but, I think I’ve taught him everything I know. There are some denominations where father/son pastoral combos are more common. For a while, in the small town of Troy, IL, there were four churches with fathers and sons on the pastoral staff team.
I remember the day the church hired me to serve on part-time staff at the church. My dad stepped out of the meeting (back in the spring of 1998) because he didn’t want there to be any pressure.
There have been numerous occasions when I have answered the church phone and someone has launched into some topic thinking they were speaking to my dad. One highlight of this confusion came when I wound up setting up a lunch appointment with a person, then just sending my dad to the lunch meeting! It backfired when the person had really intended to have lunch with me! You win some and you lose some.
There are times when I refer my dad as Dennis:
“Oh you’re new here – great! Dennis is the Pastor and will be preaching today… let me introduce you to him.”
Other times, when things are going crazy, I just revert back to “dad”:
“I don’t know what my dad meant when he said this or that… It’s hard to say with him!”
I can’t count the number of times various church admin assistants over the years have come into my office wanting me to forge a “Dennis D. Price” signature for a document.
At times, people would ask me in meetings, “What do you think your dad would say?”
My response was always, “I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but here’s what he would say.”
He likes April 1st and March 4th. He likes numbers and puns. He likes dates and trivia.
He’s the self-named Troy UMC fire marshall during large events at church and he likes to say, “we need to do this” when he really means “you need to do this.”
It’s been a blast over these years and though I haven’t really thought about it too much, I guess it is kind of rare to have had this working situation in a church for so long. I wouldn’t trade it.
SAYINGS AND ATTITUDES:
Here are a few things that my dad has been known to say:
“Ministry is a contact sport.” He is focused on people, engages, tries to be there when needed and encourages church staff and leaders to contact people and connect.
“If I know everything going on, there’s not enough going on.” This is how he responds when he doesn’t know what’s going on.
“That’s above my pay-grade.” This is how he responds when he doesn’t know the answer to a question about the building, schedule or tech problems.
“We’re in over our heads.” This is one great way he lets everyone know that it’s not easy, there isn’t enough time or resources or whatever it is, but we need to be faithful to God.
“The church is like a M.A.S.H. unit – never enough money, never enough resources, never enough people, on the front lines of ministry, we must keep going.” I don’t know where he heard this, but it is motivating and most of the time, it’s true.
“Every man for himself.” This is one of my favorites and one of his classic ways to end a staff meeting or other situation. He always says this with a smile. It’s a perfect ending after a crazy decision making meeting or when we’re heading into a major Sunday or season. That one phrase alone makes people smile and puts things at ease.
One day he described himself as a person who “demands little but expects a lot.” I could see that. He works lots of hours, pours a lot in and overall, was flexible with church staff and leaders, but basically expected them to do what he was doing.
“The time to quit was before you started.” He’s big on commitment: It’s a biblical principle. Count the cost before you jump in.
His door is always open – literally open. The church office is set up in such a way that, if he wanted to, he could be the first to greet people as they came in. He takes things in stride and doesn’t take himself too seriously. During preacher meetings, he turns to the Bible while others are just trying to think up ideas.
A PREACHER’S KID VIEW:
Seeing all this from the view of both a preacher’s kid and church staff team member has been formative for me. I think some preacher’s kids see too much of a dichotomy, which may be why they get a bad rap for going astray so easily. For most of my life, however, I have witnessed a strong unity – a harmony between ministry leadership and living life. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been faithful.
It’s been clear to me that this has been more of a calling than a career. I have benefited – have been shaped and formed really – by living with this my whole life.
When I was little – around first grade or so, I looked up on a Sunday morning and saw my dad looking at his Bible, going over his sermon notes while, at the same time, singing all the words to each hymn for Sunday morning. I assumed, in my young mind, if he knew all the words to the songs, I should too. So I basically never picked up the hymnal but tried to sing. It was probably horrendous for those people around me. It was quite a while – maybe even a year or two – before I realized he had a black leather bound hymnal that only looked like a Bible, and he was actually singing all the words because he was, in fact, looking at them.
I attribute this practice of working so hard to know the words during this small season of my life to why I have approximately 2,543 songs easily committed to memory.
Learning guitar, being easy going, rolling with the punches, problem-solving, being helpful to people, and the pen flip are all things I have learned by osmosis. These were never written down. They weren’t formal lessons. I just picked them up. [Below is a video of me flipping a pen during a sermon illustration, please excuse the slightly messed up audio.]
THE RETIREMENT TRANSITION
People have asked me over the last couple of months “will you stay when your dad leaves?”
I think I’ve finally come up with an answer… “I’m too young to retire.”
Truly, the people at Troy UMC have made it an amazing journey so far. With the Harvest world I live in, traveling to different churches and ministry events, I think the Lord has provided this constant thing: Troy UMC. I would’ve never been able to predict it when I moved to Triad half way through my junior year of high school, but the seed was planted and leadership opportunity was given to me, and it still is. I’m grateful and am looking forward to God’s continued faithfulness as He keeps leading me.
The old wise philosopher, Socrates once said, “Give me a place to stand and from there I will move the earth.”
I think this applies to my dad. He got moved to Troy, IL when he was just 37 – and from this little corner, he has moved the needle of kingdom work. He has moved the ball down the field. He has won many little battles that will aid in the greater global church Great Commission. He has been a pastoral influence and gospel witness in the lives of hundreds and thousands of people over the years. He has not been flawless, but he has led faithfully.
He always says this is the best appointment in the conference – it’s another lesson to be learned. When you retire from the best appointment, it remains the best appointment. That’s good news for the next pastor. The lesson I’ve learned from it all is to “be content.” Great days are ahead for Troy UMC!
ONE MORE REFLECTION:
During this retirement transition hoopla, I’ve been reminded again that all pastors are interim. Even after three decades, this day had to come at some point.
But, even more notable than decades of ministry or effective pastoral leadership, or even a strong, vibrant and healthy church, here’s something on which I am gratefully reflecting:
He has remained faithful in marriage. He lives in harmony with friends and family. Family gatherings abound on both sides… including monthly(more/less) dinners with his siblings at various restaurants around central Illinois. As the oldest of four boys, I’m happy to report that myself and each of my three brothers are faithful Christians, involved in church and/or church leadership.
As I’m raising my daughters, I wish I could figure out a way to bottle that faithfulness up and just hand it to them! I want that heritage to stick. I wish there was a formula for guaranteed success to raise kids who are faithful, God fearing disciples of Jesus Christ. And the closest I can come is this: your dad getting up each morning day in and day out and being faithful to the call, leading humbly, serving selflessly, turning to the pages of the bible, trusting that God will do the work.
How do you raise faithful kids and a home? If you ask my dad, he might say, “I’m not really sure – ask your mom.”
But, like Paul said to Timothy, you know the faith that lived in your grandma Agnes, in your grandpa Basil, in your Granny and your aunts and uncles and in your mom, Iris and your dad, Dennis – that faith now lives in you.
Fan it into flame – make it your own – live it out. Because God has called you to continue you sharing that faith.
One of these days, should I ever retire, I hope the same can be said about me.
Here’s one more common phrase my dad is fond of saying… “It was fun.”
So to close this official blog post on this official ending to this season of pastoral ministry and this unique church staff configuration… It’s been fun.
Blessings on the next phase!
June 24, 2017