By Matt Gugel
“Hello, my name is Matt and I’m a resident pastor.”
Maybe you read “resident pastor” and think, What in the world is a “resident pastor?” Good question! I actually live under the stage in the worship center!
Obviously—at least, I hope it was obvious—that is not where I live. To help clarify what I mean by resident pastor, think of a person who wants to be a doctor. He spends his time going to school and finally comes to a place where he starts to put what he’s learned into practice. After graduation, that person must become a “resident,” usually for three years or more, before he is an independent physician. During this time, he is a doctor, but is also under others who are continuing to teach him how to hone his skills as a doctor before he ventures out on his own.
This is the nature of the Reveal Residency at Pantano Christian Church. As a resident minister at Pantano, I am a pastor. But all the pastors on staff here at Pantano are looking out for me and my growth as a leader while I start practicing my vocation.
As a resident minister, I have spent time with children’s, middle school, high school, and college/young adult ministry areas, along with production and even a couple of Pantano’s church plants. I’ve also spent a lot of time in leadership meetings. I’ve helped critique sermons and weekend services, and have had access to all of the pastors on staff, including Glen Elliott, our lead pastor.
Let me tell you about my experience. I am a 24-year-old native of Arizona. I went to Biola University, La Mirada, California, where I earned a degree in biblical and theological studies, and then did a year of MDiv work in Boston at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. After a year at Gordon-Conwell, I decided I needed some time in an actual church setting. When I called up Roger Blumenthal, the executive pastor at Pantano, he told me about an exciting opportunity. In the fall the church was starting the Reveal Residency program, and he invited me into it. I decided to move back to Arizona for this opportunity.
Why was I stepping away from my MDiv program after only one year? I decided to move because Pantano promised to give me the opportunity I craved. You see, in all of my years serving in churches, I’d always wanted the opportunity to work alongside leaders in a way that wasn’t made possible in those settings.
Finally, in Pantano, I found a place to gain some experience. Finally I wasn’t going to be left alone in my journey toward pastoral leadership. At least, this is what Pantano was promising. And, turns out, they weren’t lying.
Since coming to Pantano, I have had many opportunities to take part in a church staff that is healthy and life-
giving. This isn’t to say the church is without problems, but communication channels remain open to work on these problem areas. There is no satisfaction with complacency; the church—the entire staff—wants to grow and look more like Jesus. This, in my opinion, is a giant mark of a healthy church.
Healthy Church, Good Experience
This health comes from the top. Both Glen and Roger have given me plenty of opportunities to speak into issues and opportunities, and they did it from day one. I was not expected to “pay dues” or clean up the messes; I had a seat at the table. At Pantano, leaders are expected to be open to criticism—and willing to change, grow, and invest in others who want to do the same. I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for this opportunity, or how rare it is.
I wish more churches were like this. It’s invaluable to have experienced staffs that are willing to serve with and help nurture their young leaders. From the beginning, everyone was told I should be treated as a full staff member. I’m not just some lackey who does all the stuff no one else wants to do. At the same time, you will see Glen walk around and wipe up bathroom sinks to help maintain a welcoming environment. This is simply the church’s mentality.
I was seriously hurt in other church environments, and I’m sure others have been, as well. At one church, I had served as an intern for six months when I expressed my desire to preach some weekend.
I was told, “How arrogant of you to even ask for something like that. We are called to be people who are faithful, so if we tell you to vacuum the carpets, you do that faithfully until God gives you the opportunity. The fact that you’re asking tells me you shouldn’t be considered to do this. I would rather ask George, who has been setting up chairs faithfully every Sunday, to preach because he’s simply been faithful to that ministry and hasn’t asked for anything else.”
After coming from that place, I have experienced so much healing at Pantano. There is recognition of potential and a desire to help develop that potential.
Pantano has been a place of opportunity, it’s been a place of healing, and it’s been a place where I feel loved and invested in. I had never imagined coming to Tucson, but now I realize the Lord brought me here specifically for those reasons. This place has been everything I hoped it would be.
Pantano has been a place for me to learn and grow and heal, and I will celebrate my time here.
Matt Gugel is resident pastor at Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona.