Our alumni are those who embody and extend text, soul, and culture far beyond the walls of 2501 Elliott Avenue. Our hope is that The Seattle School will be led by our alumni and their stories—how they labor to live out their calling among the people and communities they serve. David William Rice (MDiv ‘10) and his wife, Wendy, are parents to two young boys. They live, work and play in Northern Michigan where they enjoy exploring the natural beauty of the lakefront landscape and centering their family around good food and good books. An avid cook, David can often be found growing things in his backyard or cooking up something delicious in the kitchen. David has been serving as Lead Pastor of Markey Church since 2014.
How would you describe your vocation?
I’m a Husband to Wendy and Father to Josiah and Jonah. Since 2014 I’ve served as Lead Pastor of Markey Church in Northern Michigan. I express my vocation primarily through inviting people in my community to wake up to what God is inviting them to do next with their lives, moment by moment, day by day. Practically, that means I oversee a ministry, comprised of weekly worship gatherings, programs, and lay leaders, that helps people from all walks of life in our community develop a connection to God and others by intentionally pursuing both a deeper intimacy with God and healthy relationships with others. I lead, I teach, I train, I communicate, I write, I administrate, and I model, to the best of my ability, the pursuit of health in my connection to God and others. I love what I get to do with my time.
How has your story led to your vocation?
Since I was 17-years-old I knew I wanted to be a pastor. Through my college years, I pursued schooling and experience in youth ministry, and then after college, sensed that I needed to become better equipped to lead and love people pastorally. My wife and I moved to Seattle in 2006 so that I could enroll at Mars Hill Graduate School in pursuit of my M.Div. Having spent my entire life in the Church, serving on several church staffs, and being a part of both large and small churches, I’ve come to see so many things that the local church does that get in the way of people waking up to the movement of God in their lives. I do all that I can vocationally to help people know that God is for them, that Jesus loves them, and that being part of a local church, one that invites them into transformation, can make sense with their lives.
How has your work been informed by your training at The Seattle School?
I rely on my training from The Seattle School every single day. Knowing that I can only take people as far as I’ve been willing to go in my own journey has been the framework I’ve used over and over as I lead, pastor, teach, mentor, and counsel. I don’t have a clue how pastors lead churches faithfully without knowing themselves, their story, how they relate to and impact others, and being fluent in the dark places of their lives. It’s a huge reason why I see so many younger pastors crash and burn after only a few years. They know “how” to be a pastor, but they were never invited to consider how to “be” a pastor.
What breaks your heart and how is your work informed by that kind of shattering?
When people over and over don’t say “yes” to what God is inviting them into next. It’s the most gut wrenching thing for me to witness. I can often see how an acknowledgement of pain, or an embrace of loss could be utterly transformative for someone, and yet they continue on in their life believing that if they simply ignore the pain or stuff the loss, then they won’t have to deal with it ever again. And then all hell breaks loose, for them and those around them. I’ve had to learn to practice setting people into the hands of God, trusting that the journey they are on will continue to intersect with the invitation of the Spirit in their lives.
What are you doing when you feel most alive?
I love watching people take ideas of about faith, and begin to put them into practice in their own lives. Ideas are neat, but practices are sustaining. For instance, there’s a HUGE difference between reading the text that says, “rejoice in the Lord always”, and then taking the time to write out “100 things that you are thankful for.” That’s the difference between knowing we should “rejoice” and practicing the rejoicing. The practice itself can revolutionize how you see the world. Gratitude as a practice is a fear and cynicism killer. I feel most alive when I can help people put their faith into practice, when I’m playing on the trampoline with my boys, or when I’m eating really good food.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “Resilience”?
My work is so often done in public, and I’ve learned over the past several years, being the pastor up front most weekends, that when I work in public there’s no shortage of opinions that folks have of me and my work. To be a pastor is to endure constant criticism. To be a pastor leading change in a local church is to endure sabotage. Resilience to me is the key attribute of a faithful pastor, an attribute that is often overlooked in pastoral training. When I’ve received hate mail, anonymous letters, snide remarks, or been the recipient of sever politicking or sabotage, over and over I’ve come back to the point where I realize that the behavior of others hurts me. Words hurt, actions hurt. When people walk away from my church, it hurts. To be a pastor leading change in a sustainable way has meant that I’ve needed to learn to acknowledge my pain, feel my pain, let it wash over me, work with it and through it, grieve it properly, and then rinse and repeat. Pastoral work is painful, and developing deep muscles of resiliency is the only way I’ve been able to stay in it.
What sustains you vocationally?
A few things: 1) Regular time off with my family, which includes lots of play time with my boys. 2) Regular time to connect with Wendy, just the two of us. 3) Being a part of a couple groups of pastors that meet regularly. One is a monthly group of 6-8 through my denomination (American Baptist), and the other is a cohort I’m part of through the Transforming Center, where I meet quarterly for spiritual retreats with a group of 70 ministry leaders. 4) Regularly getting out of town — I live in a very rural area, so I tend to work off site one day a week on sermon prep and other projects. This typically takes me about an hour away, to the closest Starbucks in my area. 5) Seeing my therapist regularly, seeing a spiritual director pretty regularly, connecting with good friends who live elsewhere every couple months, going on long walks several times a week, and overall self-care. Also, really good food.
What are your hopes, dreams, desires as they relate to your vocational path?
I’m a dreamer, so there’s always so much I’d like to be doing that I’m not yet ready to do. I see some significant need among younger pastors (under 40 years old) serving their first church as the Lead or Senior Pastor, and the rate of turnover and burnout. Frankly, it’s really troubling to me. Established churches that need to change eat young pastors for breakfast. Seriously. I want to help younger pastors create a life where the ministry they are engaged in is sustainable over the long haul. Faithfulness, values-based living, rhythms and practices — all of these are SO IMPORTANT for people like me to establish early on in ministry, and I don’t see many folks helping young pastoral leaders do this well. Because of my own story, and my own struggle, I’d like to help through writing, podcasting, coaching, and relationships. It’s a HUGE need in the church right now.
Want to hear more from David Rice? Be sure to attend Symposia on October 7, 2017 to hear his presentation, The Resilient Pastor: Leading Change in the Traditional Church by Embracing Pain & Loss.