Shouldering the Weight: Reflections from a New Senior Pastor

After my first year as a senior pastor, I have found myself repeating a few sentences: “I have the best job in the world. I can’t believe I get to do what I get to do. It has been more challenging than I expected.” I mean every word, every time I say it. Let me unpack this statement by describing my route and experience of my first year as the senior pastor of Parkway Baptist Church in Clinton, MS. It has been better and more challenging than I thought.

My Path to Senior Pastor

My route to becoming a senior pastor has been unique. God saved me shortly before I turned 25. I began serving on staff part-time at Parkway within three years of conversion. After two years, I started serving full-time at the church. I filled different roles for ten years—minister to college students and young adults and associate pastor—under a long-tenured senior pastor of over three decades. I grew as a Christian, became a father, and completed a theological degree while serving here.

Paul tells Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). I trust the saints have seen growth in me as a disciple and pastor. I resonate with John Newton. He said, “I am not what I ought to be…I am not what I want to be…I am not what I hope to be in another world, but still, I am not what I once used to be…and by the grace of God, I am what I am.” Take a moment to pray that you and those around you will grow in Christ. Be thankful for His grace in your life and the lives of others.

While seminary gave me crucial exegetical and theological tools, I learned how to pastor by studying our senior pastor. I also discovered how to care for people from other staff members who led by example without focusing on the spotlight. Seminaries are a blessing, but they don’t make pastors. Local churches do. Younger men would be blessed, if possible, to spend a season growing and learning from an experienced pastor who is intentional about mentoring.

When our pastor retired in April 2022, the church went through the process of looking for their next senior pastor. I had the privilege and challenge of leading as the interim pastor while they searched for the next guy. It was exciting to preach weekly and lead the staff. It was also daunting to preach in view of a call each Lord’s Day. After going through the search process, on August 28, 2022, Parkway voted 98% in the affirmative to call me as their next senior pastor, the sixth pastor since we began in 1927. Since then, it has been a mixture of highs and lows, joys and pains. 

My Experience as Senior Pastor

The Apostle Paul used athletic metaphors to describe the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24–27; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7). I will follow his lead to explain my transition from a staff position to senior pastor. In training, athletes use squats to develop leg strength. Over time, coaches will increase athletes’ repetitions, variation, and weight. Likewise, I felt an increase in three areas in my new role.

First, I have experienced increased repetitions and sets in my new role. I have noticed an increased load in activity as a senior pastor. In many ways, there is more to do. My new role needs a different type of endurance. I am doing more of what I was doing as an associate pastor. Two years before our senior pastor retired, I preached most Wednesday nights and half of the Lord’s Days each year. I helped with some counseling and some pastoral visits. Now, I am doing the majority of preaching, visiting, and counseling. For many days this last year, I have felt like there was too much to do in too little time. After assessing my first year, I need to grow in my ability to delegate and empower others to assist with these tasks as my predecessor did. He always says, “You’ll have to learn to pace yourself.” He is right.

Second, there has been more variation in my new role. To use the squat metaphor, front and overhead squats are helpful to add to a training regimen. As a senior pastor, I now find myself doing different things than I was doing before. In my new role, there are specific tasks I must devote my attention to that formerly I didn’t have to consider. So, now I am helping to plan worship services with our worship pastor. I am shepherding our staff to empower them to do all God has called them to do. I must think intently about identifying, equipping, and sending the next generation of leaders. I’m responsible for overseeing staff and providing input on the church budget. Now, I lead elder and staff meetings rather than sitting in and providing input when asked. My pastoral and leadership muscles have been stretched in various ways, showing areas of weakness where I must grow.

Third, I have experienced an increased weightiness in my new role. As an athlete adds more weight to his bar, it takes a while to get under it and adjust to the increased load. Becoming a senior pastor has been like that. There is an extra gravity to the role that is difficult to put into words. I consider our former senior pastor a mentor and friend. I jokingly tell him I used to call him when something went wrong, but now the phone calls come to me! There is never a time when I’m not leading, and people are always watching. The decisions I am now responsible for making with our elders impact more people than when I was in a staff role. It has taken some time to get acclimated to the new weight. We cannot shoulder the weight alone. I have needed some spotters in the form of seasoned mentors to help me deal with the extra weight.

Over the last year, I have appreciated Paul’s question in 2 Corinthians 2:16: “Who is sufficient for these things?” Being a senior pastor is a weighty task. I have messed up at times this last year. A few times, the weight has slammed on the floor. I have had to apologize to our staff and church members several times. While it has been more challenging than I initially expected, it is still the best job in the world. I’m amazed I get to do what I do. Why should God allow a weak, broken man to serve His blood-bought people by laboring to present them mature in Christ (Acts 20:28; Col. 1:28–29)? After a year, I can think of no better answer than the sweet-sounding words of John Newton—Amazing Grace.

Written by Scott Lucky – Senior Pastor, Parkway Baptist Church, Clinton, MS