I write a column for Evangelicals Today magazine. My assigned topic this month is "Pastor Appreciation." Here's what I submitted to my editor.
Even though lots of people call me "Pastor Steve" I don't think I'm really a pastor. I do not have the title "pastor" on my business card, and every time I take one of those spiritual gift surveys I score almost zero on the pastor part. So, I guess it is only natural that none of the "pastors" who have been major contributors to my spiritual development are real pastors either. They are actually evangelists, teachers and prophets - not pastors.
Whatever I have become as a Christian, a missionary, a church planter, and a leader, I owe a debt of gratitude to three "pastors" who helped shape my life and ministry. I'm scared to think what I would be doing today if these men had not stepped into my life when they did.
In the fall of 1975, I was a sixteen-year-old high school kid running from God. By the end of that year, I was no longer running from God; I was following Him. What happened? Ron Musselman, youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi happened! For some reason unknown to me, Ron adopted my high school as his mission field, and he picked me as his evangelism project. After mocking Ron and his disciples from a distance for a few months, he finally cornered me and I heard the gospel for the first time in my life. I did not want to repent and surrender my life to Jesus, but Ron continued to pray for me and engage me in God conversations. After a few months, I gave my life to Jesus and the discipleship process shifted into high gear. For the next 18 months, Ron met with me and a few classmates weekly for Bible study and prayer. He established strong biblical foundations in our lives. For the past thirty-six years, I have built my spiritual life on the foundation laid by Ron Musselman. I am forever grateful that Ron picked my high school, that he boldly preached the gospel, and that he faithfully established foundations in my life.
In the fall of 1977, I was a freshman business student at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. One of the first people I met on campus was Walter Walker. I came to Starkville get a degree. Walter came to Starkville to plant a church that would reach students. For the next four years Walter equipped and empowered me and other MSU students to do ministry. In 1981, when I was one semester from graduation, Walter moved to Nebraska to plant a new church and left me—a twenty-year-old student—in charge of our little church. I constantly thank God for a campus pastor who believed that God could use young people for his purpose. And I thank Walter for not waiting until I graduated to give me an opportunity to minister.
In January of 1990, I was an accidental missionary, a reluctant leader, and a clueless church planter in Manila, Philippines. Emanuele Cannistraci (aka "Pastor C") was a traveling minister who made an annual trip to the Philippines. The mission organization that sent us to the Philippines in 1984 had recently disbanded. Seeing we were clueless and alone, Pastor C took us under his wing, treated us like family, and helped us every way he could. He mentored us—teaching us by word and example how to do ministry with integrity, how to do life with joy, and how to do family with no regrets. He often visited us in the Philippines, and we stayed in his home in California. It would take a book for me to write all I learned from Pastor C. Today he is 79 years old and still circles the globe preaching the gospel and mentoring next generation leaders.
I am thankful for the three "pastors" who helped me at important stages in my life, even though they were probably not really pastors. Ron was an evangelist, Walter was a teacher, and Pastor C was a prophet. But to me they were my pastors.
This Christian life was not designed to be a solo journey. That's why we need "pastors" even if they are really evangelists, teachers or businessmen. I have been fortunate to have three great ones in my life at just the right time. How about you?