1 Timothy 1:12 - And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
Twenty years ago today Michele and I crawled off the floor in the apartment we had lived in for the last two years, woke up four children (we had two more children after we moved to Freeport) between the ages of 7 and six weeks. Three of the children were placed in a Ford station wagon whose rear compartment was full to the brim. My oldest son (now 25, today in fact) and I climbed aboard the biggest U-haul they made packed to the back door with all of our earthly possession, which were not worth much, but it was all we had. My wife followed the big U-haul down I-45 through Houston all the way to the Texas coast, to the very town in which I was reared.
Just a month earlier the church where I had spent my adolescent years had called me to be their Pastor. I accepted the call on the spot. I had already determined that I would accept the call if they extended it. I believed it was the will of God. It was, strangely enough the very church where I had been called to preach at the age of 14 under the ministry of Bro. Eugene Blankenship. I have since concluded that when God called me at the age of 14 he also intended for me to return and pastor this little church at the age of 26 (a month shy of 27). As you might well guess by now, I am a month shy of 47. I truly stand amazed at all that happened leading up to that day and all that has happened since.
Today I have been Pastoring the Faith Baptist Church here in Freeport for twenty years. This is my first and only pastorate. I believe that will continue to be the case. I did not come here to leave. I came here to stay. I did not come here till something better came along. I did not come to pastor as long as things were going well. I came to pastor through the good times and bad times. There have been both.
I left Faith Baptist Church at the ripe age old age of 18, and like most thought I knew everything that was important to know. Need I say that I have subsequently found that premise to be quite untrue! I moved to Dallas. It was in Dallas that I attended Bible College for one year. I didn’t return the second year. I didn’t quit, I simply didn’t return. Quitting means you are giving up on an endeavor. I wasn’t giving up on anything. My call was more real than it had ever been. I was simply pursing the same objective from a different perspective. I spent the next 7 ½ years preparing for ministry under the tutelage of Bro. P. D. Taylor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. I will not go into all the details of that experience, but I will say I would not trade it for anything. I know, for me, it was the right decision.
I suppose that 20 years ago today I believed I was ready to Pastor and that the Lord would be faithful to do in me what he had called me to do. Today, I’m not sure I will ever be ready to Pastor, but still believe that the Lord will be faithful to do in me what he has called me to do. I feel quite certain this transformation is a good thing.
Twenty years Pastoring the same church is certainly enlightening in many ways. It has taught me much about myself and people. It has provided a context in which I must cultivate the ability to stay fresh and passionate in my preaching and teaching. I suppose one of my fears at the beginning was having material for preaching and teaching four to five times a week. That fear as I have subsequently discovered was unfounded. To this day when I take my place behind the pulpit I feel as though my message is relevant, important, and needed. I can probably count on one hand the times I have actually went back through my notes and preached a message I had previously preached. I have them all, twenty years of messages, and Bible lessons. That is not to say I have not preached the same passages many times, covered the same topics, expounded the same doctrines, issued the same challenges and exhorted with the same truths, but it has always been the result of fresh study that ignites the fires of passion for truth. I love to preach and that love has not diminished over the 20 years.
A person changes in 20 years. I have changed. I have had people disagree with some things I have preached. Well, I disagree with some things I have preached! As my knowledge of the Word of God has expanded I have certainly tweaked, sharpened, and in some cases become more convinced of things that I have believed. There have been very few if any (none come to mind) major shifts. It is largely the process of seeking consistency amidst a wide array of Bible truth. When studying in my office and something makes sense like it never has before I still shout, cry, laugh, and offer thanksgiving! And…..I can’t wait to get to the pulpit to share my new insights.
One of the things that I have so enjoyed about my ministry is the increased opportunity it has given me to be a student of the word. Even though I have always been bi-vocational (delivered pizza for Dominos for 17 years and now driving a school bus) I have been blessed with time I would not otherwise have had to study God’s precious truth. If no one else has benefitted from it (I hope and believe they have) I know I have!
I have been privileged to see God’s provision over these 20 years. The woman who attended another church over an hour away who slipped me a check for $500.00 as she was leaving, those who God has impressed to give a love offering at just the right time, paid for us to take a trip, or do something special, given us food, paid to have my vehicles repaired and done the repairs, given us work to do to make some extra income, bought me books and so many other things that memory fails me.
Twenty years at the same church is filled with blessings and disappointments. I can honestly say I appreciate both! Some of it may have been difficult at the time, but the lessons learned have been more than worth it. To not know what God was going to do and then see him do something, I have never been disappointed. It is important to note my disappointment has never been in God, he has always been better to me than I could ever deserve in a thousand life times. My disappointments have been with myself and with others. I remember a time, years ago, when things were not going so well and I had been disappointed in a big way and I was slipping into bitterness. My dear wife brought it to my attention and I will be forever grateful. God taught me that you too can become bitter. Consequently I have stood guard over my heart in that regard in the subsequent disappointments. If I am capable then I must compensate! This is a lesson that has stood the test of time.
In twenty years some people love you and some people end up despising you?? I have my share of both. That is really OK though. I despise myself sometimes! It would be easy to become cynical, but I refuse to do so and the Lord has given grace to deliver me from it. Some who have loved me now despise me. Others who have despised me, now love me??? Some with whom I have demanded the most and said the hardest of things to love me, others with whom I have exercised the greatest patience and spent the most time despise me?? I quit trying to figure all that out a long time ago. It has helped the few times I had to spend with some older preachers and listen to their stories and experiences. I think of the prophets and men of God in the Scripture and they certainly were not loved by everyone. In fact a good number of them met an untimely death. So I just realize that it goes with the territory and keep on keeping on.
I tend to be optimistic, maybe sometimes to a fault; but I can’t stand the alternative. I’ve known a few people who see the bad in everything good. I too can see this at times but I prefer to see the good in everything that is bad. Admittedly it sometimes takes a few days, weeks, months, or even years to begin to see the good in some things, but it never hurts to look for it.
There has been more than one confrontation that was unpleasant, sometimes initiated by me sometimes initiated by others. I don’t like those times and certainly do not seek them out, but they have and I suppose will happen. There have been people who have left a service upset and people who have left the church upset. There are also people who have left the service with tears in their eyes and people who have left the church with tears in their eyes. I have learned to not judge my effectiveness by either one. On the one hand I would become proud on the other depressed? At the end of every day I simply have to take stock by asking myself the question is God pleased? Sometimes the answer has been no, sometimes yes. I strive for the yes. It has helped me to realize early on it was counterproductive to put too much stock in either the favor or frown of men.
Fortunately I have many good memories. Helping salvage families, seeing people saved in their homes, teaching bible studies, seeing people respond positively to the preached word, watching people who know nothing become stalwarts of the faith and having a part in developing that in them, seeing people I taught become teachers, trips to the mission field, bible conferences, preaching a few revivals, having great men of God in my home and just being used by God in small ways. It has afforded me the opportunity to have friends from South Africa to Japan to Alaska to South America.
I don’t know that I will pastor another twenty years, but I do know that when the time comes to leave the work to another I will have been a blessed man. I will have the joy of knowing that I have managed to do a few things that will last for eternity and there is nothing greater than that!
I am thankful to all the people past and present who have afforded me the opportunity to have a part in their lives.