Today marks an important milestone in my life. The Sunday after Easter, 2001, I became a pastor. That’s right. Twenty years ago – the Sunday after Resurrection Sunday (April 22, 2001) – I walked into Friendship Baptist Church in Amite, Louisiana as their pastor. “Bro. Matt.” I was there until 2005. I pastored in Wynne, Arkansas until 2012. El Dorado, Arkansas until 2014. And I’ve been privileged to pastor West Franklin ever since. That April Sunday twenty years ago I had NO IDEA what I was doing. And please don’t tell anyone, but I still don’t. Not a clue.

As I reflect, I feel the need to make a confession and a declaration. Something I am done with and something I hope to authentically integrate into my life and ministry as a pastor.

The Confession

This is not easy to type or admit – but then again, no confessions are. As I think back over the past twenty years of pastoring people, I have to confess that much of it has been spent using people. Not all of it, I trust. And not all of it on purpose. Some of it (most?), of course, is due to my pride-filled and selfish ego. Some of it is due to the desire for “more” poured into me by the denomination I affiliate myself with. Some of it, I pray, happened with me oblivious to it. I have had – and have now – real, genuine, and rich relationships. I have had – and have now – rich pastoral friendships and experiences. For that I am grateful. But there is a big part of me that feels dirty. Like a swindler. Almost like an unintended con artist.

There have been times I have masked genuine passion (or lack thereof) because I wanted others to take notice.

There have been times I have viewed churches as a stepping stone to get somewhere else.

There have been times I have been nice to the “right” people so I could get a good word from them when it was time “move on.”

There have been times I have expressed a “heart for the lost” in the hopes that denominational heads would notice.

There have been times I have agreed to serve on a Southern Baptist committee to pad my resume.

There have been times I have taken a vision or a mission or a strategy and sought to merely plug people in so I could see something I built fulfilled.

There have been times when I haven’t said what I really believed in order to keep the “right” people happy.

There have been times I have catered to the “power people” and ignored the “lesser people.”

To this day, I struggle with remembering names. And I wonder why that is.

Man, that is hard to type. And, my goodness, is that hard to admit. What is really bad is that I could go on. In short, I am very guilty of using people; not loving people. I have seen people as steps to my success, rather than shepherding those God has given me to know, worship, experience, obey, and walk with the living Jesus. For those of you who have seen this in me and are nodding your head right now, I am sorry. I really am. I want to say that I never really meant to, but I am not sure I can type that with integrity.

The Declaration

Having said that, I want to make a commitment. Maybe a better phrase is, “set my life on a richer, deeper trajectory.” I hesitate using words like “commitment” or “promise” because I know myself. Prone to wander. Prone to leave the God I love. But I genuinely desire to pastor people. To love people. To help people better understand and know the God of the Bible. To receive the people God has given me to shepherd and point them to the lover of their souls. To know, not just their names, but their stories. Their struggles. Their fears. Their anxieties. Their loves. Their longings. I want to know these things so I can know them. I want to know so I can genuinely shepherd them – in the Word – to encounter the world and presence of the living God.

You don’t need someone else to plug you into a system. You need someone who knows you and can help you worship God.

You don’t need someone else to use you to get what he needs. You need someone who loves you enough to help you drink from the Fountain of Living Water.

You don’t need another swindler or con artist or abuser of power. You need someone to help open for you the world God has invited you into.

At the end of the day, you need God. And a pastor’s job – in my opinion anyway – is tasked with helping individuals and congregations to that.

As I turn the page on the next twenty years of pastoral ministry, I want this to be the trajectory of my life.

For those of you reading this, some of you will be kind enough to reply or comment or find me on Sunday and say, “Happy Twenty Years!” or something to that affect. Some of you will be tempted to say, “Quit being so hard on yourself, you’re a good pastor!” Others of you would like to say, “You are right, you sorry piece of trash!” Instead of any of that, can I ask you to simply pause, right now, and ask the Father to shape me into a genuine and authentic and biblical and shepherd of real people? Ask Him to reveal anything in me that is unholy and ego-centered, so that I can truly love and lead and speak and write and behave so that those under my pastoral charge can worship the One, True, and Living God. It’s been twenty years. I’m done using people. It’s empty. It’s hollow. God is not in it. But He is with you. And that’s where I want to be.

To the Next Twenty Years.