The calling into the ministry is an awesome thing. It’s uplifting, deeply touching, and convicting. Ministry is a sacred calling. There’s the still small voice you hear, a dream that God is calling you, and significant events or a burning bush experience that contribute to the sense that God is calling you to the Pastoral Ministry. So, like Isaiah, you say, “Here Am I Send Me.” Then you got a call to pastor a certain church or a district. Truly you are excited, grateful, and trusting that God is leading the way. You took the ride and enjoyed it. But soon, things get messy. It’s like you have a lot of steam and dreams about what you plan to do, but in reality, the rubber hits the road, and things do not go the way you expect. There are rough sections with many obstructions, distractions, detours, humps, and bumps along the way.
My Brief Ministry Story:
I have been in the ministry for 48 years, with my wife Dinah (Liwanag) of 45 years and blessed with three children, one died in a car accident at 13 (a crucible experience), and I have seven grandchildren. Without a doubt, these many years in the ministry with my family are the greatest blessings from the Lord.
Through the years, God led me to serve in different areas of the church’s functions, such as a district pastor, Academy Bible teacher, Guidance Counselor, evangelist, Conference, and Union department director, president of a mission, sole pastor, and then a senior pastor.
I love my work. And whatever God has put in my hands, I do it with all my heart, strength, and dedication. My goal is to do it well and succeed.
There are things that I enjoy most in the ministry: the visitation, Bible studies, public evangelism, baptism, mission trips, and helping those in need spiritually and materially. I always feel so blessed after helping others and church members in some ways.
I love mentoring young pastors to develop, grow, and improve their leadership and pastoral skills. By God’s grace, several ministers in the Philippines and the US acknowledged and testified that I had been a mentor to them in one way or another. I recently met some of them at the ministerial convention and other church-sponsored events. Being involved in the preparation of young ministers for their ordination is one of my satisfactions and joys. I rejoice and thank the Lord deeply for such opportunities.
Each church community has been richly blessed with an active prayer ministry. My wife is outstanding support and inspiration to me, in my work, and inspiration to churches that we’ve served. Her prayer ministry initiative is a significant part of the church’s stability, success, and growth.
However, through these years, some aspects of life’s important matters have been neglected and suffered. The realization came later after some family situations arose. After things went south, I realized I needed to pay attention. Unfortunately, I couldn’t reclaim the time lost and opportunities squandered. Feelings of pain and regret would sweep over me. I realized that the cares of the ministry had kept me away from my personal and intentional time with God and my family.
We’ve heard this before, “we are busy in ministry but in doing so made us drift away from the God of the ministry.” Married people understand that a dynamic relationship is vital to the success of a marriage. To achieve this, a couple has to spend intentional and quality time with each other. They put the mundane things as secondary and the time with each other as the primary. When we spend time with someone or something, we develop relationships.
That’s true with those I have spent time with. I developed a relationship that resulted in lasting friendships and closeness. This relationship could be very positive. Yet it could also turn negative if one is not careful in observing boundaries. Once boundaries are crossed, things get worse if not immediately checked and corrected—a true with all relationships.
MY BRIEF MINISTRY STORY:
In retrospect, the high honor associated with being a pastor, and or for having a leadership position, with the high expectations of both leaders and constituents, made me work long hours. There was always a need here and there to fill. Meetings, invitations, and events are numerous. There are programs to promote and follow up. Then there are those critics and non-supportive, which made me work more to find ways to meet their demands. But no matter what I did, they were still unmoved and remained unchanged. It bothered me. Unhealthy moments and sleepless nights occurred.
Consumed, it led me to neglect spending precious time with my family and, above all, with God! I missed many family occasions and important family events because of a tight ministry schedule. We were always reminded not to be away from our district and responsibilities. When my wife gave birth to our first child, I was not there to support her. A family friend took her to the hospital while I was far away in the district doing the ministry--not a good example to follow.
There was also always a need to support at church or a family in need, which affected our finances. Due to this, my wife and I considered leaving the ministry to work elsewhere. But God showed up to meet our needs. We both finished graduate studies which helped in refocusing our priorities. In this, we are reminded that God knows and can supply all our needs. He takes care of us as we devote ourselves to Him. And He did!
In time, God opened the way for us to serve in the NAD territory. It is different, yet the ministry’s expectations, challenges, temptations, and trials to overcome are the same. And when we moved to the US, we had many things to work on, make adjustments, and learn a new culture. I thank God for He gave me another opportunity, a new beginning, in serving Him.
In my relocation, however, I did not have my perspectives, priorities, and spiritual discipline in proper order. Spiritual disciplines and rhythm were not consistent. I again found myself so busy with the ministry. Most of the time, I missed enough time with God and my family.
THE JOURNEY MADE A DIFFERENCE
Since I joined the JOURNEY things, have changed slowly but growing on target. I am more focused on what Jesus has called me to be. To come to Him and follow Him, and become a disciple of Jesus. Growth developed by abiding in Jesus—having a meaningful relationship with the Lord.
The JOURNEY is the SECC’s initiative to help pastors to grow and bear fruit by spending intentional and meaningful time with God. Here’s an excerpt from Pastor Jonathan Parks, SECC president, an article addressed to SECC pastors to introduce the JOURNEY. He says, “In the midst of God’s creation, we pray together, abide in God’s word together and build community together. We spend time alone with God and with each other in a caring, accountable unhurried environment. In between retreats we seek to live out the principles and rhythms of God’s grace we have learned in our families and church communities. We continue to coach and encourage each other, and share what God is doing in our midst.” (https:// seccministerial.org/the-journey).
The JOURNEY has helped me a lot to realign my priorities in ministry. The most powerful and effective ministry model that I learned is presented in a Pitcher/Cup/Saucer/Plate image. Through this illustration, ministry becomes more relevant, appealing, uplifting, and transforming. It is a powerful reminder to prevent me from going back to my old default in ministry. Here’s how the Pitcher, Cup, and Saucer model works presented in a children’s story at Calimesa SDA Church. Access this link: https://calimesa.adventistfaith.org/uploaded_assets/58454-Pitchercupsaucerplatestory-part2-1.pdf? thumbnail=original&1443093530.
Lesson learned in Ministry: Be intentional, and consistent in spending quality time with God daily. A minister cannot give more than what he or she has. Let your cup be filled and let the grace of God overflow naturally to others.
It’s a process and a lifetime commitment. Being always aware of Apostle Paul’s motto, “Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12.
Michel Aguinaga, often known as Pr. Mitch, serves as the sole pastor at San Bernardino Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist church. He currently lives in the city of Victorville, CA with his wife Angie and his two kids Micah and Chloe. Pastor Mitch was born and raised in Los Angeles and has been working in Southeastern California Conference since 2014. He is passionate about
I saw it with my own eyes, and it broke me down. And after all that I witnessed, my ministry was never the same again.
I was in my first years of ministry, working as a ministry coordinator in two churches. They were difficult years because my life was everywhere: I was working full-time in insurance, I was actively pursuing a degree in theology, I had my preaching, teaching, and administrative responsibilities in the district, and I was tending to a young family – my wife and I learning how to raise a newborn and a toddler. Looking back, I’m unsure how I survived all that: I thank God for the miracle he worked through me. But as tumultuous as my life was, God had placed incredible people around me for support, which made all this manageable.
Among those who helped me get through this was my mentor – my lead pastor – the individual I credit the most for opening doors so that I could minister as I do today. I learned a lot from him. He was a good pastor. He had depths of experience, a resolute personality, and was wholly committed to the church and the flock. I remember the conversations we had in his office. We talked about church, leadership, and preaching; he always gave good advice, gave heartfelt counsel, and would never forget to give tough criticism.
We became good friends. We could spend hours talking about anything. Frequently our conversations turned to sports: We would discuss baseball, soccer, Los Angeles Lakers basketball. We even went to a Clippers game (I couldn’t afford a Lakers game) and an Angels game (the only baseball team mentioned in the Bible) and thought of going to a world cup game (which definitely did not happen). His wife became a mentor to my wife; I learned to appreciate his family. And we developed a close bond that helped me as a person and as a young pastor.
Church administration was always a divisive topic among us. He had his way of doing things, and, naturally, they were different from mine. We also argued a lot. We would have disagreements in board meetings and difficult discussions in elder’s meetings. In our one-on-one sessions, we would say what we needed to, even if it was tough to hear.
But what I appreciated most was his toughness and grit never got in the way of our friendship outside the meeting doors. We knew that church business was church business – and it was tough business – but it did not have to divide us as brothers in Christ. From him, I learned to take criticism; but take nothing personally. Roll with the punches, but never let the bruises define you. He was a good mentor, a good friend, and someone worth looking up to.
The Phone CallAnd then, a phone call changed everything. It was about 8:30 at night. My phone rang, and the caller ID identified my mentor as the caller. I answered as I normally would, expecting a typical phone call – preparation for the weekend, potential meetings we had to attend, things of the like. But as soon as I heard his voice, I knew things were not right. His greeting lacked energy. His voice sounded shaky. Nervous. Sad. I could sense he was fighting back the tears. “I’m calling to give you some bad news,” he said. “I have been diagnosed with cancer. And it doesn’t look good.”
A flurry of emotions fell upon me. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. As he explained the symptoms he had been feeling, the doctor’s findings, and the confirmation of the diagnosis, I started feeling angry in my heart. I could hear him battling through the details as I fought my heart on what to say and how to react. As he began to cry, he quickly ended the phone call, perhaps in an attempt to hide his humanity and show the strength I had always observed. Left with my phone in hand, I fell to my knees, and in anger and frustration, I cried, “Why Lord? Why him? Why curse your anointed? How does this make any sense? After a life of service, you repay him with this? How is this fair? Why would this happen? Why…? Why…?”
That day was the beginning of my mentor’s tough battle with cancer. He sought the treatments and followed the doctor’s advice. He went beyond what the doctor recommended, changing his diet, lifestyle, exercise routines, everything. Surgery was not an option, so radiation was the treatment of choice. Time off was taken from the church. There were good days. There were bad days. But slowly, inevitably, his body began to wither. His vigor of life that we had all come to depend on as a church began to slip from his fingers. The body was losing, and there was little we could do.
I saw it with my own eyes. I dreaded every visit. I knew every time I would stop by his house; I would see a weaker version of the man I wanted to be like in ministry. It hurt me to see him losing this battle. It hurt me to hear him respond to my questions without the snappiness and wit I had experienced. I prayed for him. I prayed over him. At his request, I anointed him multiple times – I believe he was seeking the assurance of forgiveness. I would share words of encouragement, not knowing if they were of any help. I prayed tirelessly for healing, knowing deep inside that the inevitable was coming.
And after my last visit, two days later, he passed away. My mentor. My friend. My pastor…
I didn’t realize it back then, but everything I witnessed in his battle against cancer changed me. It changed me as a person, as a father, as a husband, and especially as a pastor. I was changed because I realized that in this life, even our superheroes bleed. We sometimes look up to great individuals – we naturally gravitate towards them – and we forget that they are human and deal with the same struggles and battles as anyone. We lift our heroes up, only to find out that our heroes can be brought down – whether through a mistake, a moment of weakness, lack of health, or even cancer.
What I saw with my own eyes as my friend and mentor battled through this cancer reminded me that we can only depend on Jesus, even as pastors. Through that experience, I had to accept that life is hard – Oh! It can be so difficult at times – and sometimes, the strength we portray as pastors to our church members can be taken away instantly. Human strength can only take us so far; we need divine strength, the courage of the spirit, the peace of God – all of it to face the immeasurable challenges of this world.
I learned how important it is to share with one another our burdens; to help others carry the never-ending weights of life. Sure, we can’t solve each other’s problems, just like I wasn’t able to heal my friend with my prayers. But we can be there for those who are struggling. We can admit that we are battling through life as well. We as pastors and ministers can appear more human to others – which instead of bringing down the efficiency and power of the gospel, becomes an opportunity to highlight the grace of God in our lives.
The greatest biblical leaders have learned this lesson. Paul had this battle himself, also with a debilitating physical illness or defect, the proverbial “thorn in the flesh” that would torment him. But when he pleaded for healing, Jesus responded:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11, NIV)
This is the greatest lesson I learned throughout that experience – and this has been the greatest lesson I have learned in ministry. I am nothing without Jesus. I am weak without Jesus. I am lifeless without Jesus. But with Jesus – WITH JESUS – my life has purpose, meaning, courage, and strength.
As Ellen White once put it: “We do not go forth in mere human strength. Christ has promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (MS 25, 1897)
I miss my friend. I miss the pastor I once knew and worked with. His passing was difficult to process. But even in death, I keep learning from that experience. And I look forward to seeing him on that glorious morning.
And when I see him, I will thank him; because his life changed me in more ways than he knows. And his death reminded me that even my weakness, there is strength, mercy and grace in our loving savior, Jesus Christ.
Christine Pitt is the Lead Pastor at the Costa Mesa Seventh-day Adventist Church in Costa Mesa California. She has the joy of sharing life with her husband, William Pitt, and their blended interracial family of four children: Josiah (7), Hadassah (9), Abigail (14), and Lucas (15). They celebrate life together with every home improvement project, chore chart, homework night and family vacation. After seven years of higher education and eight years in the field of ministry she has come to the life-giving conclusion that our purpose comes from journeying hand in hand with God.
Humility. Have you heard of this ethic? Throughout my life, I have been told that as a Christian, I need to be humble. As a Seventh-day Adventist, I need to be humble. As a woman, I need to be humble. In every use of this one word, there are different meanings. Humility as a woman has been taught to me as being quiet, listening more than speaking, not taking up too much space or too much of the conversation, and never being bold or confident about your abilities. But, make sure you are always pretty and eloquent in speech and try to make everyone else look good. Humility as an Adventist, I learned, meant being a good representative of Christ because how the world sees you will determine how they see God. I was told we cannot be aggressive or political about your beliefs. But still, I was told we have the monopoly on truth, and the world will only be saved if we share this particular version of the truth. And as a Christian, humility meant respecting authority and being a law-abiding citizen that does not question the law or our leaders regardless of how they are destructive and discriminatory.
Humility. In my journey throughout the many seasons of ministry, this word has haunted me. It motivated me to stay in a toxic relationship with a man who ensured I knew he did not love me. I was taught "An Adventist woman doesn't divorce," or "a Christian woman needs to love her husband back to her and overlook all the toxicity," or "if a woman is God-fearing and humble enough, her husband will love her again." I lived in this reality thinking it was love. I believed that loving someone meant enduring every painful moment in order to somehow “make” them happy with your silent tolerance. I remember this pressure from my home life matching the pressure from ministry. I felt the pressure to do bigger programs to attract more people to somehow “make” them happy. Support evangelistic series that taught, “salvation by the spoon” or join in the scorn of a woman fleeing an abusive relationship. Silence as humility is the virtue I was taught. This was the theology I was living in as a family stuck in a fishbowl for all to see and judge everything we did while trying so hard to hide the messy realities of life in hopes our "perfect" family tricked others to believe in the “Adventist Home”.
When this “fishbowl” was broken into pieces and I could no longer hide the mess, humility took on a different meaning. I spent two years trying to figure out if I could put together the pieces of our fishbowl and somehow reverse time to what I thought was "perfection." I had to finally realize my definition of humility, my theology, and my faith could not hold water in the face of the imperfect reality of life. As I sat in many moments of pain and uncontrollable crying I would demand God to give me back what I thought I wanted. I would “claim promises” and talk with God as if He owed me for my “holiness”. When I finally stopped demanding God to give me back the perfection I thought I needed, I discovered true humility.
Humility isn't silence. Humility is speaking out. Humility isn't endurance. Humility is change. Humility isn't protecting perfection. Humility is admitting the mess of life and seeking authenticity. Humility doesn't know it all. Humility is a willingness to learn just how much you do not know. One night, after a healthy and long cry with God, I finally listened to the only One I should have ever listened to, God. I heard the Lord say the words that cut me like a knife and helped me abandon this futile attempt to rebuild the broken fish tank. The Lord asked me, "Am I not enough?" All this time, I was trying to be enough. I was trying to be enough for my husband, enough for my kids, or enough for my church. All the while, I was saying to God that my Lord was not enough for me. In my attempt to reclaim what I felt I had lost, I was ignoring the growth and depth with God that the Lord had for me. Friends, let me tell you, if I had not allowed myself to change in my understanding of the Bible, the church, my relationships, and God, I would not be a Pastor today. I found a faith that holds water, a belief that said I didn't have to have all the answers, the world wasn't dependent on me to save it, and God is truly enough.
We are called to be bold in the faith but humble in our assumptions about God's work. We must live in the humble reality that we are sometimes very wrong and must be willing to grow and change as God grows and changes us. This is the confidence of transformation in Christ. In this journey with God I was able to leave an unhealthy relationship and humbly receive counseling and long hard moments of transparency with God and myself. I have been humbled enough to love myself and be honest about my flaws and toxic attractions. I have engaged in more authentic faith practice and ministry, giving permission for my congregation to be transparent as well. And by God’s grace I was humbled enough to start dating and be ready for the man my heart longed for in the right time and right season. We have four beautiful children and all the beautiful mess that comes with blended families and co-parenting. This journey is the one I know I can walk in, because I am finally being honest and journeying with my Savior who is enough.
Aren Rennacker serves as Youth Director for the Southeastern California Conference. Previously he served as youth and young adult pastor at SECC churches in Oceanside and Calimesa. His passion is to empower both youth and youth leaders to experience the Gospel in new and relevant ways. Aside from ministry, Aren also enjoys basketball, a good story, and a fresh bowl of oatmeal. He married his lovely wife Paige in 2020.
I love working with young people. There was a time this may have been commendable, but in reality, it’s now purely self-interested. I love working with young people simply because young people teach me so many things—especially about God.
Like the time I was a youth pastor in San Diego and charged with coaching our middle school basketball team. I was ecstatic—what better way to connect with the kids than over our mutual love for my favorite sport? Only I had forgotten one thing: These kids grew up with the ocean in their backyard. They spent their summers, weekends, and lunch breaks sunbathing and boogey boarding.
They weren’t ballers, they were beach bums.
It showed. And yet, we had a season coming up, and it was my order as God’s missionary to teach them a proper zone defense.
During one practice I whistled them in for a huddle. They put their arms around each other, eager to hear what revelation I’d been given.
“Our team identity must be defense,” I said intensely. “And we must finish every defensive possession with a…?” I waited for the answer.
One kid enthusiastically answered. “Hug?” “No,” I sighed. “That would be a foul. Does anyone want to try again?”
Please understand, this is not a hard question. In basketball terms, it would be considered a lay-up. That should have told me it was too much for them.
A second child spoke up. “I know! A smile?”
I took a moment to compose myself. The rest of the team watched me, waiting to see if they’d gotten it right.
“The answer is a rebound,” I said.
“Ohhhh,” they replied.
We didn’t win a single game that year. However, I did learn something I’ve never forgotten: Sometimes the game is more fun when we see our opponents as worthy of a hug too.
There was also the time I was driving home a pair of brothers and I asked them that age-old question:
“So, what do you guys want to be when you grow up?”
“To be honest,” the older brother began, “we want to become famous rock stars.”
Immediately the protective alarm sounded in my head: Ask about their back up plan! Ask about their back up plan!
Yet, for some reason, very different words came out of my mouth: “I’ve seen how talented you guys are. I believe you can do it!”
Before I could course-correct, the other brother responded from the backseat. “Wow, Pastor Aren. Nobody’s responded that way before. They always just ask about our backup plan. Thanks for believing in us.”
Lesson learned: Sometimes we just want to know somebody believes in us.
By the way, do you know what those brothers are doing now? Have you heard of the musical group The Jonas Brothers? Well, that’s not them. I don’t think they became rock stars. But at least they knew their youth pastor was cheering them on.
One more story: I was preparing my ministry calendar one year when my youth asked if we could plan a combined vespers with the other Adventist church in town. I was dumbstruck by the request. You see, when I was in youth group, we thought of other churches as our rivals. They had their room, their songs, their pastor…and we had ours. Let’s keep it that way.
Then I became a youth pastor to Gen Z students, the welcoming generation who think everyone should belong. It turned out, where I saw rivals, they saw new friends. Against my better judgment, I agreed to their plan. The vespers was a beautiful success.
Lesson learned: The Spirit of God still thrives on bringing people together.
There’s this theme running through Scripture we might miss if we don’t look closely. In times of uncertainty, God often chooses young people to help lead the rest of the group forward.
We see it in Miriam, crafter of the genius plan to save her brother Moses. (Exodus 2)
We see it in David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, slayer of Goliath and King of Israel. (1 Samuel 16)
We see it in Josiah, King of Judah at age eight, he eventually helped rediscover the Scriptures and bring spiritual revival. (2 Kings 22)
We see it in Naaman’s young maid, taken against her will, and yet the voice who brings her master to not only be healed, but saved. (2 Kings 5)
We see it in Joseph, rescuing the people after he was given vision to not only see what had passed, but also what was still to come. (Genesis 47)
And we see it in Jesus’ hand-picked group of disciples. They were young, unkempt, and unqualified. All they had to offer Jesus were a few fish and willing hearts—and Jesus anoints them to build the Christian Church.
Of course, they didn’t call it the “Christian Church” back then. They called it “The Way.” God quite literally entrusted a group of young people to be the voice that would show the rest of the world The Way.
The longer I work with young people, the more I’m convinced that God still does.
There will always be a chorus of “Kids these days” critics, ready to point out every perceived flaw in our youth. I’ve come to believe much more in the power of seeing the best each generation has to offer. For our young people, that means letting them know that they bring something new and needed into our world. They may still have plenty to learn, but so do we.
My hope is for us to reserve generational judgment and instead focus on spending time with our youth, getting to know them for who they are, and offering our support. Let’s be who we needed the elder generations to be for us when we were growing up. Of course, I do have to warn you: You may find yourself getting more out of it than you put in. In fact, I’d be on the lookout for new lessons learned, surprising things said, and maybe even an unexpected hug.
Author - Jon Ciccarelli
January 28, 2021