In the first 14 years or so of our married life/ministry, Cheryl and I were much more nomadic that we really wanted to be. Between school and ministry we were in three states; moved about 9 times (several were local moves, not ministry "changes"); served with homeless ministries, youth ministries, church planting, a mission church on a Sioux reservation, and pastored three Missouri churches. Sadly, we never seemed to stay anywhere that long. Three years here, four years there. I always dreamed of what it would be like to put down roots, stay somewhere for at least ten years, and enjoy the "benefits" of ministry.
This Sunday will be the tenth anniversary of my first Sunday as pastor of Faith Southern Baptist. Ten years. We only had three children when we came, the oldest of which was only 11. Now there is a fourth little blessing, the oldest is about to enter her senior year of college, the next one just graduated high school, and the third will graduate next spring. Lots of things have changed, lots of "life" has passed by. But what about all those ministry "blessings" I was looking forward to?
Well, I will say that in general I consider having served this congregation for ten years has been an enormous blessing. There are days when I'm just thankful they let me come back and preach the next Sunday, but then other days when I almost feel like this should be my last Sunday. I'm learning that many, if not most, pastors have that yo-yo feeling. However, my "vision" for what would happen in ten years hasn't quite worked the way I thought it would.
I'm not really sure what I was thinking, what I was hoping for. I think I believed that after ten years in one place, everything would be a bed of roses, everyone would always love me, the church would become exactly what I thought it should be, etc. I realize now that there was a lot of "me" in those expectations: people would love me, what I think the church should be. I'm learning the lesson I've been trying to teach our church for ten years now: It's not about me, it's about God. It's His church, and it's His plans and purposes that reign.
Proverbs 16:9 says that "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." I'm beginning to realize that this means my plans aren't always going to work the way I want them, but that's ok. It's so much better to let the Lord's plans take center stage. It may not work the way I want, or look like I want, or have the "success" I want. But if God is working, His plans are moving forward, then I am enormously grateful and exceedingly blessed.
I wish our church had grown more in ten years. I wish we had seen our baptistry filled more often. I wish we had become a more passionate church, with a greater desire for worship. I wish there had been more spiritual growth and maturity in our membership. I wish we had raised up more pastors and missionaries in our midst. I wish we had become more missions minded. I wish we had more fully captured a family-centered mindset. I wish...
Then I realize. God probably wishes the pastor had grown more, had become more committed to His Word, had spent more time in prayer, had developed a greater heart for His people. And the church probably wishes their pastor had loved them more, prayed for and with them more, been more involved in their needs, listened more to their hearts. So I guess we all have room for improvement, right?
But again, the Lord establishes our steps. Regardless of how I think things ought to be, I know that when God brought me here ten years ago, it was His plan for me to be right here today. I don't think we should ever be satisfied as a church, ever feel like we've done enough, grown enough, or "arrived." But we should take great comfort in knowing that God is at work, He is in the process of molding and shaping us into the people He wants us to be, and we need simply to be faithful in continuing to seek Him, to seek His will, to seek His glory in all things. And in that we'll find our blessings. In that, I'll find my blessings.
I honestly pray that ten years from now, I'll be looking back at 20 years at Faith. I know that if I do, I will look back and think "I wish we had done more..., been more..., grown more..." And the church will probably look back and think "we wish the pastor had done more..., been more..., grown more..." But I hope I also look back and realize what a great blessing it is to serve the Lord for ten minutes, let alone ten years, or twenty years. I hope I realize that the "blessings" I'm looking for in ministry are staring me right in the face each and every day. And I pray that I, and that we, will still be seeking Him, His will, and His glory in all things. And as He orders our steps, we will be content to walk with Him wherever He leads.