First Presbyterian pastor draws on 100 years of ministry

January 19, 2014
photo - First Presbyterian Church pastor Graham Baird in the sanctuary of the church Thursday, January 16, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
First Presbyterian Church pastor Graham Baird in the sanctuary of the church Thursday, January 16, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

A substantial pile of burdens is placed on the shoulders of clergy every day. And those demands put ministers at an alarming risk for depression.

"The statistics show that something like 90 percent of pastors end up quitting the ministry," said the Rev. Graham Baird, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs. "It's basically just too hard."

As a fourth-generation preacher, Baird has written a book that draws on the years of valuable experience from his own ministry as well as those of his great-grandfather, grandfather and father.

"One Hundred Years of Ministry" is a practical guide for pastors, designed to offer meaningful answers based on relevant stories, anecdotes, insights and inspiration. It is intended to help spiritual leaders with the everyday concerns and issues that today's churches face.

Despite his background, Baird didn't always aspire to join the clergy. "The last thing I wanted to be was a pastor," he said. "I was going to work in a piano bar or the theater or maybe politics."

His father didn't push him to join the ministry, telling Baird, "If there's anything else you want to do, please do it. It's very challenging and if you don't have the calling for it, you should not do it."

When Baird realized that he was specifically called and uniquely skilled to be a pastor, he changed his mind. It helped to know that he still could be "Graham" as a pastor, and not simply another Rev. Baird.

While all four men felt called to stand behind the pulpit, Baird, 42, points out that each brought a unique approach and aptitude for the job.

"My grandfather was the kind of pastor who wore three-piece suits and a pocket watch to church, while my dad enjoyed singing during his services," Baird said. "I am more of an administrator with a knack for business."

Baird and his father talk regularly about the challenges that church leaders must confront. And, while spending time communicating with other pastors, Baird has found plenty of similarities among ministries.

"While they all may have the power of God, which is the most important," he said, "they don't necessarily all have an incredible staff or great financial situations."

A married father of two daughters, ages 5 and 2, Baird became senior pastor just more than a year ago when his predecessor, the Rev. Jim Singleton, left to teach at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass.

About a year before Singleton's departure, First Presbyterian elected to leave its governing body in a historic vote. Triggered by the acceptance of gay ministers by Presbyterian Church USA, First Presbyterian, which is the largest of its denomination in Colorado, opted to join the newer Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

Baird immediately was greeted with his own challenge when he arrived during the Waldo Canyon fire. First Presbyterian was one of the first organizations to establish an outreach and response center for families impacted by the 2012 blaze.

"I like chaos," Baird said. "A pastor who doesn't like chaos is like a firefighter who doesn't like fire."

Unlike the days of his great-grandfather Jesse, Baird notes that today's world is changing quickly in terms of spirituality. While attending church in the 1940s and 1950s was a regular part of life, modern-day congregants are more purposeful and reflective about fellowship.

"Back in the 1960s, when my dad attended seminary, it was standard to put on a suit once a week and go to church," he said. "Now, if someone is taking the opportunity to be present at church, there's a reason for it."

"We are definitely living in a post-modern world," Baird added. "It's a challenging time to be a pastor."

Although he believes some of the changes are good, Baird points out there is more uncertainty and anxiety in the world today.

Before taking over at First Presbyterian, Baird founded the Highlands Church in a rented movie theater in Paso Robles, Calif. The congregation quickly expanded, becoming one of the faster growing churches in the United States.

"One Hundred Years of Ministry" is Baird's only book, although there is potential for a second, he said. "I like writing," Baird said. "I like what writing does. It helps you to think, almost like going to the gym."

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