5 Lessons Learned From A 19-Year Old Senior Pastor

They were desperate and I was available.  That sums up the situation I found myself in when I was 19-years old and the Senior Pastor of Sandy Level Baptist Church in Goodview, Virginia.  They took a risk on a young man who just started shaving to shepherd their souls.  I will be forever thankful for them for 1) putting up with my lousy sermons and 2) giving me a shot to learn on the fly.

Sandy Level Baptist Church
Sandy Level Baptist Church

When I went to Liberty University on a baseball scholarship, I had no idea that I would eventually relinquish my scholarship to become a pastor.  Youth pastor, maybe.  Senior pastor, no way.  But God had other plans.  I’ll never forget the day when they offered me the job.  I still smile thinking about it.

My buddy, John Welborn, and I drove over the mountain and through woods (literally) for an hour to Sandy Level.  I was pretty convinced that if the rapture took place, Jesus would have to go and FIND us.  It was in the middle of nowhere.

I was fully decked out in my suit and tie, Bible under my arm, shoes shined and ready to bring the Word!  Well, after I preached and ate a pot luck (moment of silence for a good ‘ol pot luck) they took John and me into the makeshift conference room / nursery / youth room / storage closet for our “meeting.”  It wasn’t much of a meeting at all really.  It consisted of a few questions about college football, food and the Bible (I think in that order and importance) and then they asked this question, “Well, you wanna be our preacher?”

My inner dialogue went something like this:

“Um, I thought they needed a youth pastor!”

“Think…quick…Are you ready?  You’re not old enough for this.”

“You’ve been a Christian for two and a half years!”

“Run.  Now!”

“Wait.  Maybe this is an answer to prayer.”

“You can’t change the world staying in your comfort zone!”

They probably could hear the conversation going around in my skull so Roger Stevens, a larger than life (figuratively and literally) deacon grinned and said again, “So, you wanna be our preacher?”

“Sure!  Let’s do it!”

Then Roger reached behind him, grabbed a stack of mail that said “Pastor” on it and said, “Well, here you go!  You’ve got some catching up to do!”

And that was that.  Welcome kid.

I remember driving back to campus that afternoon, calling my mom and telling her, “Momma, you’re not gonna believe this, but I’m a senior pastor!”

“You mean a youth pastor?”

And thus began my journey of 1) explaining to everyone how I got this job and 2) figuring out what in the world I was going to do now!

I look back at those 3 years at Sandy Level from time to time and shake my head in amazement.  I could write a whole book on the stories and lessons learned.  Here are just 5:

1.  If you wait until you’re “ready” you’ll always be waiting. 

Step out.  Do something for God.  Who cares if you are not “ready!”  Last time I checked, God equips the called and doesn’t call the equipped.

2.  Grow where you are planted.  

Determine to be faithful in the small things.  We had 30 people on a GOOD day.  Now, I preach 5 services on the weekends.  If I would have waited to have multiple services until I started preaching my heart out.  I preached to those 30 like they were 30,000.  Honestly.

3.  Continually ask questions. 

When you are in over your head (which I often find myself in these situations) you don’t have to be the leader who has all the answers.  That would be foolish to think that you would.  However, instead of having all the answers, you need to be the best question asker in the room.  Great questions, asked to the right people, can create breakthroughs that otherwise would have been dormant.

4.  Have fun.  

Life’s too short to go around looking like you swallowed a pickle. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  No one else does!  Experiment with practical jokes.  Get good at them.  Tell jokes.  Tickle.  Eat Oreos for dinner and desert.  Scare someone today.  It won’t hurt them or give them a heart attack (which actually almost happened to someone I scared, but thankfully we’re on speaking terms now after all these years!).

5.  Reflect and be grateful. 

Since serving at Sandy Level as their 19-year old Senior Pastor, I have often looked back with gratitude.  I am so thankful for giants in the faith like Skip Grace who is still one of the BEST Bible teachers I’ve ever sat under.  I’m thankful for Herb and Bernice (the wife) Creasy, whose faithful service to the Lord is something to be emulated.  When I grow up, I want to be like Brother Herb!  I’m thankful for guys like Roger Stevens, who is teaching Jesus to play bluegrass music right now in glory!  I’m thankful for the Carr family who let us into their home and SHOWED us the love of Jesus - and let a handful of college students “feel” home even when home was so far away.  The list is too long, but you get the idea.


So, here’s my challenge.  List YOUR life lessons from your previous experiences.  What does God want you to remember from those years?  Do you need to thank someone?  Do you need to ask for forgiveness?  Do you need to write your own list?


Imagine if you lived everyday with an appreciation for where you have BEEN, so you can be grateful for where you ARE, and have clear direction for where you are GOING!