After being on the road for some time, our family caravan arrived at my aunt’s summer camp up in Monticello, NY. I was a little chubby Brooklyn boy who had never seen a herd of deer. The air was crisp and sweet- for the first time in my asthmatic life I was not inhaling the polluted air of the NYC skyline.
Whenever my parents took me outside at night, my curious eyes would pierce through the grayish skies, where only the brightest of stars would shine through. But that night was special. When we arrived at the summer camp and the caravan’s headlights were turned off, I could not believe what I was seeing above me.
For the first time in my 8 years of earthly existence, I was enraptured by the star-filled canopy that was above us. The star-filled heavens twinkled in such a way that they seemed to almost fall upon us. Such a majestic contrast between the darkness of space and the infinite lights above us! I was mesmerized by the vision- and ever since I have been in love with the stars.
Throughout my early teenage years in Puerto Rico, I would sit outside with my guitar and stare at the stars while singing and dreaming about becoming a great man of God. Every story I had learned in Sunday School was seared in my heart in such a way that I wanted to be just like the Patriarchs, Prophets and Apostles of old. I oftentimes dreamt about having faith like Abraham, smarts like Joseph, power like Moses, courage like Joshua, and wisdom like Solomon. I sang and played an instrument like David and Ezekiel. I had a fiery heart like Jeremiah and the willingness to die preaching like John the Baptist. I dreamt of having the endurance of St. Paul and the apocalyptic visions of John the Elder.
At the age of 13 I would pray under the stars to be sent behind the Soviet Union’s “Iron Curtain” in order to deliver Bibles like Brother Andrew. I would pray that I could have the courage of Corrie Ten Boom’s father who hid Jews in “The Hiding Place” during the Nazi era. Under the stars I would dream of hearing God’s voice sending me to risk my life- and eventually die like Jesus Christ himself- for God’s people.
This fervor for the Faith “once delivered to the saints” opened ministerial doors for me. I was involved in radio ministry and was sought after by many small Puerto Rican churches in order to sing and preach. One day after school, I was surprised to find my mother sitting in our living room with 4 persons representing 4 different churches who were trying to book me for their revival meetings. As I prayed under the stars I knew that God had called me for something special.
In my later teenage years when hormones take their course and people around you notice, I quickly learned how dangerous married older women can be and how well they can hide their adulterating natures. Some enraptured me with their cunning- but even still, I would sit under the stars and ask God to forgive me.
The years took their course- eventually leading me to ministerial preparation and ordination. My beautiful young wife would follow me to the ends of the earth, and did she prove it! God called and sent us to plant churches from scratch- which is one of the hardest types of ministry and the least appreciated by the masses. God always supplied for our needs as we learned the fact that most church-planters are thrown into the arena with hardly any denominational support- of any kind. But still I prayed under the stars- willing to die for the Faith if needed.
We took our family on the road- three children raised under the pressure of constant, high-octane performance without actual rest. As the kids got bigger and my ministry evolved from church-planting to parish pastor- I still carried with me the idealism of my youth, willing to go and do what other pastors were not willing.
The pressures of ministry sucked me in like an infinite vacuum that devoured my personhood. As the years flew by- I became less of a husband and dad as I pursued the ideal image and life of a Pastor. Yes, I still played ball with my boys, attended their sports activities and spent meaningful sweet times with my daughter… but my mind was always preoccupied with the pressures of ministry and the ambitions of a man who wanted to be the ideal Patriarch.
This prophetic idealism of my youth led me to become a fiery prophet, a defender of the poor, a fearless leader who oftentimes held his superiors accountable for their acts of unrighteousness- as they deserved. I was the ideal embodiment of a novelistic pastor who’s passion for ministry led him to forget about his primary vocation- his family. In my passion for being the pastor who can transcend any obstacle, I was oftentimes angry and impatient at home. I wholeheartedly regret this.
I should’ve been more concerned with my marriage and my children- but the world was devoid of Christian heroes, and I felt the idealistic duty to become like the ones I had read about in my youth. My wife says that I am too hard on myself when I admit to having failed miserably as a husband and father by giving preeminence to the scores of false Christians that surrounded us. My idealistic, and frankly, naive love for God’s people harmed my family’s connection to Jesus by unnecessarily exposing them to the hypocrisy, politics, idolatry, maliciousness and greed that so many “Christians” adhere to.
After almost 20 years of pastoral ministry, the greatest lesson that I have learned is that the Pastor should guard his heart from becoming calloused due to the many disappointments that accompany the joys of serving our Lord.
Dear young Pastor– keep your responsibilities in their proper order of importance- your family comes first! When you’re an idealistic Pastor, the many soul-sick goats in church will use you and your family, chew you up like cud, and then spit you out like a flavorless gum when you’re no longer able to satisfy their fleshly passions and fantasies.
If you’re thinking about entering ministry- do not trust anyone (John 2:24) and do not let anyone pierce through your familial circle of intimacy. Never open your heart or be transparent concerning your personal challenges. Ask any sincere older pastor about transparency… and he will tell you that when folks discover that you’re just as human as they are, most will turn you from “hero to zero” in less than 24 hours.
Most churches view their pastors as “employees.” A Pastor is a slave of Jesus Christ- and he is God’s chief steward in the congregation… but most people do not see Pastors in this manner. To them, a Pastor is an employee of the church, and as such, he must do what their employers ask of him- even if it leads them to eternal perdition. Perform your duties according to your conscience, but if your current church is stubbornly moving towards perdition, then patiently look for another church where you can serve YOUR MASTER, faithfully.
Guard your heart, guard your family…and do well what you get paid to do, until God decides to call you to go to Pharaoh and demand to “let my people go!”
I still pray under the stars… but I no longer dream of being God’s “hero.” Now I only want to be a good husband and father to my precious children. Perhaps my legacy is to have decided to love my family before the ministry. I hope it is not too late.