Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my first Sunday as Pastor at Faith Southern Baptist Church. Given the fact that we've served in pastoral ministry for just less than 30 years, and have served a handful of churches and ministries in that time, it doesn't take a math genius to realize that we've been at this church for more than half our ministry lives (and three times as long as anywhere else). Also, given the fact that this fellowship is getting ready to celebrate our 20th Anniversary, it's overwhelming to me to realize that I've been the pastor here for three quarters of the church's existence. Wow!
I jokingly mentioned to someone recently that “you'd think a guy would accomplish something in 15 years.” To which they said, “You have accomplished something; they let you stay for 15 years!” The truth behind that is sad. With the average pastor staying less than five years (even in my own early history), it seems to be a remarkable thing to be in the same church for 15 years.
There is much for me to be thankful for. This church fellowship has been amazingly loving and kind and patient and supportive and generous. Not that we haven't had our bumps along the way. I wish it weren't so. I wish I could take back every mistake, every oversight, every hasty word. I wish that some who have come and gone over the years, would have come and stayed. In hindsight I know that my sermons could have been better, my priorities could have been stronger, my love and care for these people could have been displayed better.
Yet, as my Daddy used to say, “wish in one hand and spit in the other, and see which one fills up the quickest.” May not be the most theologically perfect statement, or the most tactful; but it's true. And to “wish” for things to be different, in the end, denies the goodness of our Sovereign King who ordered it to be so. But I digress.
As I was saying, there is much to be thankful for. We have seen God do some amazing things. We've seen Him provide in situations where only He could have provided. We've seen lives changed that only He could change (which is really all of us, right?). We've experienced the joys of friendship and fellowship. Though some ministries/programs have only lasted a season, we've seen blessings in them all.
One of the joys of a longer ministry tenure is seeing children become adults, get married and start having children of their own. It's mind boggling to me to know that some of these young people have never had a pastor other than me. That's humbling, and quite honestly, frightening in a sense; challenging. (Keep you up at night kind of challenging!)
We've shared joys and sorrows together. The whole “marry 'em and bury 'em” king of thing. We've seen some come to see Christ for the first time, and some go to see Christ face to face. Thankfully, we've seen so many grow in their faith, and are blessed right now to have a group of folks who genuinely hunger for the Word of God. I once told someone that I've always said I'd rather serve 30 people who genuinely love Christ and are seeking to grow in Him, than to serve 300 professlings; and I'm about to whittle it down to those 30!
Sadly, while the truth of the blessing part of that, those growing in faith, is true; the down side of that, the small number, is also truer than I'd like. Of course, we're never satisfied with “numbers.” We'd always like to see more people in our worship services, see more lives changed eternally, more...I don't know, just more. Being an introspective/melancholy kind of person, I could get a little depressed that maybe we haven't seen some more of those outwardly visibly kinds of things. I sometimes wonder if the church would prosper more with someone else as pastor. If maybe I'm “doing it wrong,” or some other self-centered, pity party kind of thought. But God rescues me from those and reminds me of His grace; that it's all about Him, all according to His plans and purposes, all for His glory.
So, I am grateful for all God has done. For all He has taught me. For the little I've been able to teach others. I'm thankful for the blessing of serving this fellowship of believers for the last 15 years; and God willing, I'm am excited about serving for the next 15, or 20, or however long God will allow it. I've said frequently, and mean with all my heart, than I am perfectly content to retire here. Not that I'm looking to do that anytime soon! Just that I have no desire to go elsewhere. No desire to leave this precious family for any other.
I could go on, but I've rambled on too much all ready. So let me just say, “Thank you.”
Thank you to the people of Faith Southern for allowing me to serve you. Please pray for me that God will enable me to do a better job of that serving. Pray that He will continue to draw me to His Word, so that Christ and His glory will remain at the center of all we do.
Thank you to my wife and children. You have given and given up more than many will ever know. Only another pastor's family can appreciate the level of commitment and sacrifice. I pray your love for Christ and His church continues to grow, in spite of me and sometimes in spite of the things you've seen in “church.”
And Thank You, Father God. For the privilege of being Your child, and the sacrifice of Christ which makes that possible. Thank You for the joy of serving You at all. And thank You for the blessing of serving this body of believers. I know I'm imperfect, and I know You know I'm imperfect; and I thank you for the grace that allows me to serve anyway. Give me grace and faith and strength to keep pressing on, to one day here those most long-for words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”