Becoming an Authentic Pastor

by Ben Walter, Ripple

I grew up attending a Church of the Nazarene congregation every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, well into my teenage years. Our family was at church whenever the doors were open.  My parents often sang up front, Dad playing the guitar and Mom banging the tambourine against her leg.  They asked me to join, but I was too shy and self-conscious.

I can’t tell you when I became a Christian, or when I was “born again,” because as far as I can remember, I have always looked to Jesus as Lord, savior, teacher, and friend.  Despite my semi-forced dedication to the church, becoming a pastor was not on my to-do list; standing up front, talking, and inviting people to kneel at the altar to get saved for the tenth time wasn’t my idea of a fulfilling job.

As I entered my late teens and early twenties, I drifted away from the church.  I thought about God often, and prayed occasionally, but my faith wasn’t guiding my decisions. 

After spending 3 years in the military, I prepared to start college.  I was thinking about becoming a pastor, but I felt like, if that’s what God wanted for my life, I couldn’t be obedient to that call.  A nagging feeling of guilt began following me around.  So I went to talk to my pastor.

I remember my pastor said, “You will know.”

I didn’t really “know” at the time, so I ran.  I guess I assumed God would get the message to me if I needed to hear it.

During my final year of college, like the prodigal son, I returned.  I started attending church and met some good Christians friends who helped me stay on track.  The youth pastor at my home church asked me to help with the youth.  This turned into seven years of teaching, chaperoning, and mentoring.

Over time, particularly after the start of the Iraq War, I began thinking more deeply about Jesus’ teachings on peace, justice, oppression, and solidarity.  I didn’t have a label for it, but I was on my way to becoming an Anabaptist.

In 2008, I decided to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. I wasn’t interested in pastoring, but wanted to dedicate a few years to serious study of scripture to help in the ministry I was already doing.  

During my studies, I learned about the Anabaptists and was told by one of my close friends that I was one.  This was news to me, but I embraced the label.  I also had the opportunity to be taught by a Mennonite adjunct professor, Steve Kriss. 

Steve was the teacher for my final class at Biblical Seminary.  As I walked out the door of my last session of that class, marking the end of my seminary education, Steve stopped me to ask a few questions.  He told me that there was a church in Allentown that might interest me and wondered if I’d like to meet Tom Albright, the pastor of Ripple.  I decided I would check it out.

Ben spending time with Ayanna and Angel in Ripple’s Community Garden. Photo credit: Angela Moyer

When I got to Ripple, I saw a church that was dedicated to being a safe, welcoming place of worship for people who have been pushed to the margins of society, those with whom Jesus calls us to solidarity.  A few weeks later, Ripple called me to be one of the pastors, and I “knew.”

I initially thought I couldn’t be obedient to God’s call to be a pastor because the pastors I had known seemed to be straight-laced and uptight.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not me.  At times I still feel pressured to fit a certain pastoral mold, but for the most part, Ripple has allowed me to pastor from a place of authenticity and vulnerability.  I have learned that being a good pastor is simply about being the person God has created me to be.  I don’t have to pretend.

Thank God!