This is the post I’ve wanted to write for months. There is so much I want to tell you, but it could not fit in this small space. Instead, I’m going to share only a small bit of what’s on my heart. I want you to know what a privilege it is to be part of a healthy and biblical body, and how grateful we are for our precious church. But what I really want you to know is that longevity matters.
Doing life together, over the long haul, gives a lifetime of opportunities to practice the gospel together.
When LeRoy and I were young and new to ministry, we were surprised at how often we’d hear other pastors, or their wives, tell us how difficult their church was, or express the desire to leave their church, or ask if we knew of a good church that needed a pastor. After almost forty years of pastoral ministry, we’ve seen many tragic church situations and because of that, we do understand why longevity in a single church is rare.
Pastoring is hard, problems abound, people are selfish, carnal, and sometimes just mean. And the devil is alive and active. According to Thom Rainer (CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources), the average tenure of a Southern Baptist pastor at a church is between three and four years.
But think about it, four years is a relatively short time to get acquainted with a body of people, it is a brief period to build relationships, and it is a short time to disciple a church. In order to truly shepherd and help a body to thrive, you need to really know them—and they need to know you. And that takes time.
If your desire is for your church body to follow Christ and live out the Word, commit to building a long history with them.
When we were first married, LeRoy was already in his third pastorate. The first two had been sweet little country churches that he served bi-vocationally while in college. The people were precious, and those who are still living have great respect for him and still hold fond memories of the short time they were under his care. But that third pastorate was hard, as was the next few. No matter how much he invested, how carefully and prayerfully he delivered the Word, problems and conflicts always simmered right below the surface and at times boiled over into a mess. And sadly, we didn’t stay long enough at those churches to really weather the storm long-term and gain a long history with those people.
There is no perfect church. There is no perfect pastor. But, thankfully, we have a perfect risen Savior who has given us His inerrant Word to guide us. And if a pastor can stay the course, equipping the church, so that the believers in that body are reaching for God’s grace to line up their lives with His Word, that is how a long-term relationship between a pastor and his church can begin to form. Through grace, living out the Word in our relationships with one another, sharing the gospel and freely living the gospel, will produce a healthy church.
There have been few pastors that we’ve met that could say they would never want to leave the church they are currently pastoring, but we reached that point with our precious body several years ago. Our church is not perfect, and messy people lead to messes in church, but our church body strives to live out the Word in their daily lives—and what more can you ask for as a pastor?
We’ve walked with many of these precious friends for more than two decades now. For many in our church, LeRoy is the only pastor they’ve ever had. We’ve been privileged to develop deep and lasting friendships with this body, who we consider our family. We’ve been at their births, sorrowed with them at gravesides, held late night vigils in hospital rooms, wept with them over prodigal children, and agonized through marital breakdowns. We’ve seen God bring beauty from ashes and restoration in “hopeless” cases. We’ve rejoiced with them in victories, and laughed with them at parties and celebrations. We’ve prayed with them, and trusted God with them. We’ve been with many of them when God, by His grace, birthed them into His kingdom.
There is no greater joy for a pastor than to watch God bring lasting fruit from his ministry to his flock. But that takes time.
It takes long years of investment to build bonds of friendship and loyal devotion that hold through tough times.
In this difficult season, we are experiencing the reward of those years of investment. Our church body has lovingly cared for us through this very tough time. They haven’t deserted us. They haven’t turned their backs on us or abandoned us. They’ve patiently loved us and prayed for us. They’ve continued to support us—even though LeRoy can no longer care for them as their pastor. They believe it is their responsibility for them to now take care of their pastor—even though he isn’t able to do much more than pray for them from a distance.
Their love and support has been a tangible gift from the Father during this difficult season. We know we are not alone, the presence of Christ and His Word testifies to the fact that He will not abandon us, but we are also not alone because our church family continues to surround us with love and concern, with faithful intercession, and with practical help and support.
We believe, of all pastors and wives, we are most blessed.
In Hebrews 13, the chapter opens with an exhortation to: “Let brotherly love continue” and it goes on to describe several ways a church body can demonstrate that love. Some of those instructions involve how a church body is to respond to their pastoral leadership:
[box]“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (v. 7).[/box]
[box]“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (v. 17).[/box]
LeRoy and I have served a few churches with groaning and grief, but our time with the Dayspring family has been a sweet joy. They’ve honored us with their love, their faith, their obedience to the Word. We count it a privilege to have a long history with these believers, and to be loved and cared for by them.
But, for those of you who are struggling in a difficult church situation, I want to encourage you—although no church is perfect (ours still has much need for improvement in certain areas)—if you belong to a church body that seeks to obey the Word, and above all else glorify God, stay the course with that body. Don’t look for greener grass or an easier path. Committing yourself to a long life with a church family that submits to the authority of God’s Word will be a sweet and rewarding life.