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The Kind of Pastor I Want to Be

By August 15, 2022 6 Comments

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow pastor and close friend who’s in the final weeks of her sabbatical. I asked her, “In what ways has God surprised you?”

She thought for a minute and said, “I think I’m surprised by how exposed I feel. These past few months have been good, but also so disorienting. I’m surprised at what’s bubbled up to the surface. I know what kind of pastor I don’t want to be. What I don’t know is what kind of pastor I want to be.”

Her words deeply resonated with me as I reflected on my own sabbatical eight years ago. I, too, recall the disorientation. The feeling of being exposed. The realization of how much of my identity and worth had become attached to my role as pastor and how things were going in the church.

That conversation reminded me of something I wrote in my journal at the end of my sabbatical, while on a retreat, before re-entry into a new season of ministry. This past week I fished it out and spent some time revisiting it. It seemed like the right time to even revise it a bit. I’ve titled it “The Kind of Pastor I Want to Be,” and I’ve been reading it every morning in hope that it might provide a better script, a more empowering story, to live into as I stumble forward in this season. That conversation with my friend turned out be a gift in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

For my post today, I’d like to share my journal entry with you. I guess it’s a way of “speaking it out loud” publicly, knowing that there’s power in giving our word to things that are beyond our current capacity. But I also share it as an invitation for you to wonder about your own life, vocation, and relationships. What kind of teacher, executive, artist or mechanic do you want to be? What kind of spouse, parent, friend, neighbor? What kind of human being do you want to be?

There is so much that remains beyond our control (And we love the illusion of being in control, don’t we?). But one thing, perhaps the only thing, we do have agency over is how we decide to show up for our lives—the kind of people we choose to be and, by the grace of God, the kind of people we hope to become.

Here, then, is my journal entry:


I want to be a pastor who is artfully “working the angles” of gospel ministry—paying attention to God in prayer, Scripture, and community (Eugene Peterson).

I want to be a pastor who brings life and flourishing to others—to staff, lay leaders, and all with whom I come into contact. I want to be a pastor who makes everyone else around me better.

I want to be a pastor who is secure in my identity in Christ and in my calling so that I don’t look to others for validation or become enslaved to people’s opinions of me.

I want to be pastor who lives creatively and playfully, making time and space to nurture my artistic impulse and cultivate my imagination.

I want to be a pastor who has a life outside of my role in the church; I want to increase my capacity to define myself apart from my ministerial role (even as I embrace my calling).

I want to be a pastor who lives every day with a deep sense of gratitude. A pastor who is learning to “live the given life, and not the planned” with joy and contentment (Wendell Berry).

I want to be a pastor who reads well, thinks deeply and makes study and reflection an integral part of my weekly rhythm.

I want to be a pastor who loves maturely—who loves out of a place of fullness in Christ and with no strings attached. A pastor who speaks the truth in love, even when that word of truth is unwelcome or difficult to receive.

I want to be a pastor who stewards myself (and my gifts) faithfully in time—attending to God, self and others in the time given. I want to be an unbusy, unhurried pastor.

I want to be a pastor who is experiencing God’s ongoing work of transformation in Christ by the Spirit. I want to be a pastor who falls more deeply in love with Jesus.

I want to be a pastor who bears the cross well—who doesn’t avoid pain but embraces it with courage and suffers well (with vulnerability and honesty, but not as a victim who casts blame or denies my own responsibility/agency).

I want to be a pastor with healthy boundaries. A pastor who embraces my limits, practices wise self-care, and is healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, etc.

I want to be a pastor who practices Sabbath faithfully—both in terms of outward action and inward disposition (a sabbath heart).

I want to be a pastor who sees my highest priority as loving my wife, my daughters, and my granddaughter well.

I want to be a pastor who lives all of life on mission with God. The heart of this mission is to be a bridge builder, an agent of healing and reconciliation in a fractured and divided world.

I am not my own but belong–body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly ready and willing from now on to live for him (HC 1).

Brian Keepers

Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.


  • Joyce Looman Kiel says:

    Beautiful Brian. As I’ve heard Wes quote (Robert Browning) “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.”

  • Lynn Setsma says:

    As a person who retired about nine months before Covid hit, it’s hard to know my role at times. After our pastor talked about interruptions in his day and how they often were a blessing, I decided to do “interruption ministry” which is whatever comes my way. While it’s been a blessing, I still often wonder what else God wants me to do. So to all pastors out there, be sensitive to the needs of your retirees. We can be very effective in many ways. We too are on a sabbatical of sorts.

  • Tony Vis says:

    Well said, Brian, well said! May God give you the courage and wisdom, strength and grace to go forth and live it! Keep learning. Stay curious. Avoid certainty. Embrace the questions. Put family first (God will be fine with it!). And, remember, “finishing well” isn’t about numbers, achievements, awards, or “souls saved.” No! At the end of the journey, “finishing well,” is about hearing God, family, and those who know you best and love you most, say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s enough. You’re enough.

    That’s this “older” pastor’s best thought, at least for today. Hopefully, I’m still learning, curious, and evolving into the best person I can yet become, in spite of all the stumbles, fumbles, and bumbles along the way. And always with a prayer for God’s help.

    May you and those nearest and dearest to you experience God’s rich blessing today and everyday before you.

  • Joanie says:

    Thank you. The line that struck me where I live is “There is power in giving our word to things that are beyond our current capacity.” May your rest in our God give you strength for today.

  • Duane VandenBrink says:

    Brian, Thanks for sharing! I would just agree whole-heartedly with Tony Vis’s post above….. So I will not rewrite it here…. hugs, Duane

  • jared ayers says:

    Amen and amen. Love all of this; thank you, Brian

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