Warning: This post is of a personal nature; and, while I do not like to write about myself, I do want to glorify God by sharing with you and any interested readers something of His goodness to me and my family in allowing me to pastor fifty years.
A friend recently asked, “How could you pastor in one place for forty years?” My immediate answer was, “I really don’t know, but I do know it was wholly of God and not me.” I could take no credit if any credit were due. l went on to explain to my friend that if I were ever tempted to move to another field of service, after having gotten moved I would surely discover that the same people with the same people problems were in the new place as were in the previous—just with different faces! So, those thoughts which very seldom crossed my mind, soon faded; I have always felt honored and privileged to be a God-called under shepherd to flesh and blood folk who were subject to the same fears and frailties that I am and the more I have “hung” around them, the more I have learned to genuinely love them.
Years ago, during a particularly “dry” season of blessings in our church ministries, a leader of the church came to visit me in my office and said, “Pastor, don’t you think it’s time to move on,” then added a couple other hurtful remarks before waiting my response. I replied, “Well, I haven’t gotten any indication from the Lord that He wants me to move on, but if He makes it plain to me that it’s time to move, then I will not hesitate to do so. Thanks.” That ended our conversation and we both, the “coach” and myself, stayed on for many years after that and in the course of time became the best of friends and served together until the Lord called my dear friend into His presence. I learned from that, and from many similar incidents, to just “ride out” the storm until it passes, waiting for the sun to shine again as it most surely will. Oh, yes, in 40 years you’ll have a book full of disappointing and discouraging experiences, but love covers a multitude of sins (both mine and theirs!) and love that survives tests, trials and tribulations becomes a shield of love that is impregnable to Satan’s darts of defeat.
Now, as a retired senior pastor, and currently serving as an interim pastor while living where we have lived for most of 40 years, I drive from place to place while on local errands, passing neighborhoods and houses where former flock members have lived but who are now ahead of me in glory. It is such a blessing to see, in my memory bank, their godly, smiling faces, remembering conversations we had in their living room, sharing their burdens and blessings, praying and sometimes weeping together. Those kinds of relationships are not built in a few years, so I am deeply grateful to God for allowing me to be a member of the family of so many families.
I am using the first-person pronoun, but I hope you know that any pastor who does anything that will count for eternity has done so because of a loving, loyal helpmeet that God brought into his life usually before he began his ministry. Ellen has been by my side, sharing the weight of every spiritual load and basking in the blessings with me of every spiritual victory, these past 50 years in pastoral ministry. We have prayed, pulled, plodded and persevered by His grace due to His goodness this past half-century and though we have never experienced a ministry that was glamorous, we have ever enjoyed a ministry that has been glorious. When my final Lord’s day arrived at Thompson Road Baptist Church, 40 years to the day that I preached my first sermon there as their pastor (just months before Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as he was sworn into his first term as President—for some historical perspective) I shared this poem that God had given me for the occasion:
“Farewell, dear friends, it’s hard to say, ‘Good-bye.’
At times we want to laugh, at times to cry.
We’ve walked, we’ve talked, we’ve worked along life’s way.
Our love has grown, His grace He’s shown, From our first meeting 40 years ago today.
You’ve been a flock supreme,
A shepherd’s fondest dream;
You’ve heard and heeded truths and grown in grace;
You’ve made your goal in life to seek His face.
We part now, yet our sorrow it is sweet,
We’ll soon all cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet.
We know by then the victory will be won,
Our soul’s desire: to hear Him say, ‘Well done.’
‘Come, enter child, enjoy eternal rest;
You are at home now, with His children blessed.
Your work on earth is done forever more,
Come, child, come boldly through the door.’
Oh! Happy thought when time no more shall rush,
When sirens, guns and wailing will be hushed;
And with for eons in His precious love,
We’ll talk and laugh and share with all above.
The world that now is drear will then be past.
No more will weakness wear us down at last.
We shall be there, with Christ in Heav’n so fair,
Oh, blessed thought, His joy for e’er to share!”