Sunday, July 3, 1988…thirty years ago today – for the first time in my young life, people in a local church began to call me pastor. From that Sunday until today, church people call me “Pastor Mike.”
As I celebrate thirty years of pastoral ministry, I reminisce on thirty gifts from God to me because he put me in pastoral ministry, gifts I would not have received had he not made me a pastor.
God gave me…
- Three local churches I’ve served in some pastoral capacity. These churches were not merely places I worked, but were and are my Christian community. To this day, I love Faith Baptist Church in Godfrey, Illinois; Calvary Baptist Church in Midland, Michigan; and First Calvary Baptist Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.
- Two senior pastors who, though my bosses, were always first my pastor. Pastor Tom Olney and Pastor Dan Dickerson gave me opportunities to serve in the churches they led. Any hire in any setting is a risk. They chose to hire me to join their well-established ministries bringing a potential disruption to an otherwise harmonious environment. I love both of them like Timothy loved Paul and would not be where I am as a pastor or a man without both of them.
- Two youth groups that, more often that you might think, draw me back and make me wish I could be a youth pastor again. Today, these once Christian kids are faithful spouses and parents, teachers and nurses, skilled laborers and entrepreneurs. Many serve the Lord as pastors, missionaries, or in some Christian vocation. A few are already with the Lord. W any one of them comes to mind, posts on social media, or drops me an email, text, or phone call, I smile and giggle and remember happily to an extent you would not believe possible. Man, I love them.
- Fellow pastors who were my co-workers on multiple staffs. How many people get to go to work every day with a pastor? I have for nearly all of the last thirty years. They remain some of my closest friends. I love Chris, Dave, John, Mark, Matt, Mike, Sam, and Steve.
- At least twenty guys whom I have had the privilege to mentor in pastoral ministry. I’d try to name them, but I am certain I would miss more than one or two. If you have been an intern with me or if I have been a pastoral mentor to you, know this: you were and are a gift from God to me.
- One brother by a different mother. God didn’t give me a brother in my home growing up; instead, he gave me a brother when I was 23-years-old. Jeff was a kid in our first youth group needing a place to stay. Brenda and I were newly married and had two bedrooms we didn’t need. It was a match made in heaven. Jeff got a soft pillow and late night pizza rolls. I got a new sibling.
- So many friends in and because of the churches I’ve served.I want to tell you their stories and sing their praises, but space won’t allow. Worse, my memory will not bring to mind everyone it should. Suffice it to say I have friends I would not have had had I not been a pastor.
- The primo spot for weddings. Helping a bride and groom begin their new life together has been and is one of the best things I do as pastor. During the ceremony, I often get to hear the quiet exchanges and witness the heartfelt moments as her eyes meet his. If I officiated your marriage ceremony, please know that event in your life was one of the greatest events in my life.
- Some suffering – not on the level of martyrs but the fellowship of Christ’s suffering as Paul described it.
- Hours many days in the week to study the Bible, read Christian literature, and prepare Bible lessons.
- A platform to preach and teach the Bible. There have been only handfuls of weeks over the last three decades where I have not preached God’s Word to some group. That’s a gift.
- Ready hearers of God’s Word. On the whole those who listen to me preach the Bible are not hostile, but rather, are receptive and eager to receive. Ask Jeremiah if he would have welcomed that gift.
- Funeral sermons to preach. At these somber events, I have had occasion to preach the gospel to more who do not know God through Christ than in any other venue. To God’s glory many have professed faith at a funeral.
- Intimate contact with people to watch them change as they receive the Word of God and grow by it.
- The joy of baptizing so many believers. From huge offensive linemen that nearly pulled me under to one nearly ninety-year-old woman eager to declare her allegiance to Jesus Christ.
- Time to observe generational Christianity. Parents become grandparents and those children professed faith and are now the next generation of faithful Jesus followers.
- A vantage point to watch worshippers at every progression through a worship service. Pastors see from their positions on a platform the tears of those who sing a hymn of the cross, the smiles of those who relish a promise of God, the distress of those carrying a heavy load, and the relief of those forgiven by God’s grace.
- Many occasions to lead the assembled Christians as we remember Jesus’s death until he comes when we gather around the Lord’s Table.
- Sweet conversations with senior saints. I have no scientific evidence, but pastors may talk to older people more than the average person. They offer their wisdom freely and are thankful for moments brief and long spent with them.
- Children in the church who call me pastor. I love our church kids. I love hearing them sing. I love seeing their Sunday morning smiles and Sunday morning frowns. I love when they wave at me from their seat in the auditorium just before I stand to preach. I love when they say, “Hi, pastor.”
- A place in the chain. There will be pastors after me if the Lord wills as there were before me. I get to be one of the many links who have handled the Word of God from the prophets and apostles until now.
- Sensitivity to people’s pain. Pastors may see the variety of pain experienced by people as much as anyone else sees it. Their hurts become ours and tenderize us to the brokenness in people’s lives.
- Many good meals in people’s homes. Some of God’s people can really cook.
- Special trips to be with our missions partners across the globe. I’ve visited missionaries in Mexico, the Philippines, Cleveland, and India. I can attest the church of Jesus Christ is bigger and more diverse than I ever knew.
- A reason to go to worship every Sunday. I’m not immune to the Sunday morning blues. There have been many times over the years I haven’t wanted to go to worship. Because I am a pastor, I can’t miss, and that’s a good thing for me.
- Belief in the ministry of the local church. Our Lord uses many kinds of ministries, but the church is what endures as all those ministries come and go.
- A place to check my pride. Because pride goes before destruction, I don’t want it. Still, I am easily deceived by it. A pastor’s pride cannot be hid for long before it’s uncovered. Uncovering provides occasion for its removal.
- A ministry family consisting of the greatest kids. Sure, I didn’t have to become a pastor to become a dad, but I did have to become a pastor to become my kids’ pastor. All four of our children love the local church despite growing up PK’s. That is evidence of God’s grace.
- A ministry partner suited perfectly for me. Brenda’s not a piano playing, special music singing pastor’s wife. Those are great gifts but not her gifts. What she brings to my life, our ministry family, and each of the three churches we’ve served is a sweetness and a level of character enviable in many. She wears well on people. These thirty years are not mine alone and would not have happened without the help, prompts, patience, faithfulness, and love Brenda has delivered to me each day of the last thirty years.
- Grace to do what I cannot do in my own strength, mercy to do what I am not qualified to do apart from his working in me, and his faithfulness to stand by me unto the end of the age.
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.