In 2020, Dr. Clark interviewed me about my unconventional route to becoming a Presbyterian pastor and how I ended up receiving a call to the congregation I serve. It is strange to consider how much change can take place in only a few years. I still remember sitting in a coffee shop over ten years ago asking Clint, the first Presbyterian pastor I’d ever met, questions about polity, baptism, and covenant theology. Though, in hindsight, I wish it hadn’t taken so long, this eventually led to our joining a local PCA congregation four years ago as a member and having our children baptized, which to this day remains the highlight of all parts of this process. And now here I am, pastoring a PCA congregation.
I remember, on one of the last Sundays before we headed out of town to begin our new call, hearing a sermon preached by my good friend Daniel at the congregation where we had joined. As he was preaching, my heart was anxious about moving my family away from everything we knew to pastor a congregation of people I didn’t know, in a presbytery and denomination with men well beyond my gifting and wisdom, and in a denomination with a polity structure and Book of Church Order (BCO) that seemed the size of a congressional budget bill to this former Baptist pastor. Admittedly, I don’t remember the text of his sermon, but I remember his calling us to see that Christ has called us to Himself, and our tasks in the kingdom are for His sake, and that He equips us with the Holy Spirit, and we are to fear not. While the sermon certainly wasn’t given that day to me personally, it was a unique kindness from the Lord to help me in these last few days before heading to Woodstock, Georgia.
As of this writing, we have lived in Woodstock for nearly three years, and are very happy the Lord called us to this congregation, presbytery, and denomination. I can say now that in the beginning, things didn’t go as I would have thought, but at the beginning of January 2020 we never could have known the changes our country was about to face. However, our time here has been fruitful as I’ve had the privilege of baptizing a handful of covenant children, as well as two adults, and God opened an opportunity to secure a permanent facility for our church in July, 2020. We have seen our membership and regular attendance increase, and the congregation has graciously tolerated and welcomed me as their pastor. I’ve been able to give my time to pastoral care, preaching, teaching and praying, which in God’s kindness has developed a loving relationship between my family and the congregation. One unique aspect has been helping a number of new members find a home in a presbyterian church in the same way I did. How gracious of God to provide this in a time in our country—it would be easy to assume it would be the opposite.
In this kindness, the Lord has afforded me the ability to understand and mature in my beginning days of being a Presbyterian pastor. Though I had pastored for many years before and learned many things during that time, the particularities of being Presbyterian are new. I had never even been a member of a session, much less the moderator of one. I’m sure the other members have laughed thinking of the times when I clearly had no idea what I was doing. We would talk and reach a conclusion, and I would not realize we needed a formal motion, or that things had to be recorded a certain way. I can say now how important it is to have a patient and understanding session. This new relationship is just as strange to them as it is to me, but they never had me tied to a rope and have graciously given me their feedback and assessments. Our session is an example that the heartbeat of Presbyterian polity is the local session.
This is not to say the wider church is insignificant. I genuinely enjoy attending presbytery and General Assembly. Some may think that in time I will lose that joy, and though I guess that’s possible, for now I do enjoy them; not only because of the time with new friends, meals and the like, but because they have been a crash course on the details of church work, and what it takes to maintain doctrinal fidelity, provide pastoral care, and see the church focused on its mission. Before being presbyterian, one might have thought these were nothing but long talks about esoteric theology, mixed with the work of a law firm and its manual. While some stereotypes have a level of truth, getting in the mix here shows that’s not the case. When discussing a variety of issues and referencing chapter and paragraph numbers of the BCO, or going over points in the Confession and Catechisms, you understand that this is work to ensure that God’s Word is upheld, that His worship is according to His Word, that His people are being fed as He has called us to feed them, and that they are led and protected by their elders. I’ve learned that being involved in the higher courts is often about the individual Christian, the congregation, and the wider church’s obedience to God’s Word, its growth in sanctification, and its provision of protection for both officers and members.
I sense this is why I’ve noticed something else both outside of being Presbyterian and now from within: Presbyterians have a genuine kinship and sense of belonging to one another that is tangibly different from congregational/independent churches. It seems this happens among officers because you work together in a variety of ways, which can forge tighter bonds. It’s also common to visit other churches and have friends across the presbytery and denomination, which grows fellowship, because we are members of one church, the Presbyterian Church in America. When I attended my first presbytery and first General Assembly, I realized that despite any problems we have, this is the church I belong to, the church I’ve taken vows to serve. Connected polity has matured my perception of the wider church and problems that can be observed there. In presbyterian polity, you can take tangible action to correct things in the wider church, and give more than pious advice. There is a process for course correction, but also a process to guard what is already in place. There is no guarantee of outcome, but there is a way to answer the question “how do we go about dealing with this issue or problem?” More, being in this connected church shows that not every problem in the evangelical world is the problem of your church. Often in an independent setting, we can talk of the wider church like it’s all on our shoulders. In a connected church, I don’t sense the urgency to address everything that happens in the evangelical world.
What I can do, and what I’m grateful to understand better now about what I’m called to do, is those things clearly laid before me. I’m called to preach and teach, give pastoral care, lead in worship, administer the sacraments, pray, moderate the session meetings, participate at presbytery and General Assembly, and help the wider church in any way I can. I’ve learned that the Presbyterian and Reformed way at its core isn’t flashy, and maybe that’s why I enjoy it so much. I don’t aspire to be flashy, or take up every issue that I’m pressured towards. But even if I did, I couldn’t. I’m not equipped with those skills. Nor should I assume I should be, and in that way, being a presbyterian pastor has been freeing. I give my time to the ordinary means and the people God has placed under our care. But saying it’s been freeing doesn’t mean it’s been made easier. Quite honestly, it’s more demanding than ever because I understand what these things are. The true biblical understanding of the fear of God takes greater space in my heart when I consider preaching, sacraments, and care of the people of God. But knowing the calling is clear and freeing; I know whom I belong to, and what that requires of me, in a light that before I only knew through observation and not personally.
If the Lord wills, I hope to give many years to Christ Covenant Church, Northwest Georgia Presbytery, and the PCA. They have helped me more than I thought possible four years ago. This is never how I thought things would go when sitting in that coffee shop, but God always leads us towards what is best.
© Job Dalomba. All Rights Reserved.
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