30 YEARS IN THE SAME CHURCH BLOGS
PASTORING THE SAME CHURCH FOR 30 YEARS
(This is part 1 of a 3-part series of blogs written after my 30th anniversary as pastor of Main Street Baptist church in Doylestown, PA)
Thirty years ago, when I started pastoring Main Street Baptist Church as a 35 year old, I thought that those who had 20 or 30 year pastorates must be among the greatest super-saints on the earth. I now know that certainly isn’t true, but there is something special about the privilege of ministering in one place for an extended period of time. The history I have with the people and community brings stability and trust that is necessary in ministry. I’ve watched the community, the church and I myself go through much growth and change in those years.
Unlike most churches, where the church stays basically the same and the pastor changes every several years, here I’m remained while the majority of the people have changed. Main Street Baptist Church has always been, and still is, a small church. Some times in the past years it has gotten even smaller, then it grows a bit. It has never been much larger than when I first came, though. This has challenged me to think through what ‘success’ means in God’s sight.
As the members of the church change so does the personality of the church. It’s always been a very loving, caring and accepting group. We’ve never had fights, gossip or church splits. The church is a close, loving family. This balances my gifts of teaching and counseling quite well. People with hurts and needs come, find the support ant training they need, and grow until God moves them to minister elsewhere. So every several years I find myself pastoring a ‘different’ church but always in the same building.
I have certainly changed and grown through the years here as well. God has ripened my knowledge and wisdom, given me insight and sensitivity I haven’t had before, and developed a confidence and security in me that I’ve always needed. I wish I would have had that when I started, but that’s not how life works. I often think that God has used this church to mature me more than He has used me to mature the church.
Having a group of wonderful, caring people is key to staying long in one place. A very nice community makes it a great place to live. And most of all without a truly super wife this couldn’t have happened.
How do I know God wanted me to stay all these years? That’s simple – He didn’t give me any other places to go. I told Him in the beginning I would move whenever and wherever He wanted, but I only wanted to be contacted by a church He wanted me to go to. I didn’t want to be distracted by ‘nibbles’ from any place that wasn’t His perfect will. As a result I’ve never been contacted by another church or ministry in 30 years.
When I look back I see God’s grace and faithfulness written all over everything that’s been accomplished here. That’s true of every one of us. Look back over the last 30 years in your life. What has God done for you? Where would you be without Him? Whatever He calls us to do, He is with us and uses us for His glory when we seek to follow and obey Him.
BENEFITS OF A LONG PATORATE
(This is part 2 of a 3-part series of blogs written after my 30th anniversary as pastor of Main Street Baptist church in Doylestown, PA)
The tortoise and the hare has always been one of my favorite stories, one on which my life philosophy has been based. I firmly believe in the principle of slow, steady perseverance. But being convinced of that and practicing it in life are two different things! It’s often tempting to want to escape current difficulties and find some greener grass on the other side of the fence. Yet God has used my 30 years here to teach me one of the most important life lessons I have needed to learn – patient perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-2). Self-discipline has come relatively easy for me, but to give my best for so many years in a small church that has always been the same size has stretched me – and that’s been good for me!
Staying in one place, making long-time friends, being known in a community and part of many people’s lives is good. In the New Testament the pastors of house churches stayed with their same family group their whole lives. I think that’s important for pastors and churches. I don’t say it has to be that way for everyone, but for me and my ministry it has been right.
Being around a long time gives me stability in my church as well. I’m not looking over my shoulder or wondering about job security, so I can minister better to my people. I can do what I feel is the best for them individually and as a group without wondering how the power-brokers in the church will react.
Through these years I’ve had time to thoroughly train and teach those who have stayed in the church for a long time. I balance that with training the new attenders so they can mature as well. Speaking to the same congregation for multiple years means working extra hard to stay fresh and to preach new sermons every week. I have recycled some favorite sermon series over the years, but I’ve always totally reworked each message to make it new and fresh to me and the listeners.
Because I know the people so well I can do preventive preaching and counseling when I see the possibility of a problem instead of just trying to correct it when situations arise. Because of the history I have with the people and church I have developed a trust base that is deep and strong. I don’t take advantage of it often, but when I need to make a sudden or surprise move in something I have the confidence of the people to be able to do so. That is very important to a pastor.
Pastoring the same church for an extended time forces me to turn to God for fulfillment and satisfaction, to faithfully serve the same people with the same situations year after year (as He serves me!) and to make sure I am making my life count for Him where He has put me. I’ve had to learn to pace myself, to persevere, to not slow down and coast. It’s given me an opportunity to encourage and mentor other pastors, and that’s something I find very fulfilling.
So after 30 years what do I do? I take what god has been teaching me and apply them to the next 30 years! The next 30 probably won’t be the same, but they should be better in many ways. At least I’m a better person thanks to God’s grace. What will they hold? I’ll let you know in 30 more years so stay tuned!
CHALLENGES OF A LONG PASTORATE
(This is part 3 of a 3-part series of blogs written after my 30th anniversary as pastor of Main Street Baptist church in Doylestown, PA)
While the benefits of a long-term pastorate FAR outweigh the difficulties, there are some challenges that need to be faced. One is the temptation to start seeing the church as ‘my’ church. I’ve been here longer than anyone and know everything about the church and the building that needs to be known. But that doesn’t make it my church – it’s always been and always will be Jesus’ church and only He can build it (Matthew 16:18).
I can’t take credit for what God does for that would be stealing His glory – and everything good that happens is His doing! I know I’m not to blame when someone makes a decision to turn from God’s perfect will, and neither can I take credit when someone commits to following Him and growing in Him. I know God blesses faithfulness, not results, for the results are up to Him. Jeremiah, for example, ministered 50 years without one convert, but he was blessed by God for his faithfulness. God has accomplished many great things through Main Street Baptist Church in the past 30 years, but He gets the credit. I thank Him for the privilege of being used here, of having a front row set to see all the wonderful things God is doing. So what can I take credit for? I guess just for being willing to let Him use me – yet even there I have been very imperfect in that area, and when I do submit it is because His Spirit in me leads me to do so. It is very clear why, in heaven, we will lay before Jesus’ feet any crowns He gives us for faithful service (Revelation 4:10) for it is all due to Him.
A difficulty all long-term pastors face is getting into a rut. It’s easy to just do the same thing year after year, long after programs have lost their effectiveness. It can be hard to find energy to start one more new means of outreach or way to help mature believers. As I age and my energy level decreases it can be easy to coast. My job security is stable and no one will criticize me (they may not even know I’m coasting a bit, no one will know but God and me). I can back off a bit on my involvement with the people, cut corners in message preparation, and cover it all with a veneer or being the busy, important pastor! Worst of all, that can start to happen without me really being aware of it.
When I did start noticing it, though, I wanted to do something. I only have one life to life in all eternity and I want it to count to the fullest. I can coast for eternity, but now is my only opportunity to serve, to make a difference for God’s Kingdom. I should be doing more, quality wise anyway, as I age, not less. I make an effort to do my very best with preparing and delivering sermons and messages, even if I know only a few people will be in attendance. A few years ago I returned to school to get a DMin degree so I would be stretched and motivated as well as exposed to current trends and ideas. What has helped more than anything is a fresh appreciation for the privilege of pastoring and serving God ‘full time.’ I don’t deserve His salvation; much less the privilege of speaking for Him, so being able to serve in any capacity at any place has become a greater privilege as time goes on.
That’s not just true of me, though. That’s true of each and every one of us. We all have different assignments and places of service, but none of us deserve any of it. Serving the King of kings and Lord of lords is the greatest privilege and honor we could have. Have you thanked Him for that yet today? Keep persevering in your assigned responsibility be it in home, work, neighborhood or church. God will take care of the results; He just wants us to be faithful.