Monday, June 06, 2005

Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow

Yesterday was the last Sunday for our Senior Pastor. He has served the church where we are members for 15 years, and would, it seems clear, be welcome to serve another 15 if the Lord willed it.

Pastor G is a model for me, as well as an great encouragement to what is to come. Though he is only a few years older than me, his already long and fruitful ministry stands as a monument to everything I hope for and anticipate in the Lord's work through my future.

Pastor G began serving this church as an intern during his last year of seminary. He was only 23 at the time, and newly married. The church had begun preparations to move to a new location several years earlier, and G was interning already with that congregation. When the move was to occur, however, a remnant determined to stay behind; thus, a handful of families (less than 50 people total) remained as the “mother church” while the rest (maybe 150 or more) moved to the new property as a “daughter” church. G was asked by the former pastor-- who went with the larger group to establish the new congregation-- to remain as a pastoral intern and shepherd the remnant while he finished seminary.

At the end of G's seminary studies he was offered the position of Pastor by this remnant flock. Against the counsel of everyone he asked, and through anguished and fervent prayers, G accepted the call and, at age 24, became the 9th pastor of that church.

The church was then, by every definition, a revitalization ministry. Due to the anticipation of a move, the property had not been maintained for years and was literally falling apart. Over the years, relations with neighbors had been all but devastated by unpopular decisions, and the remnant congregation found themselves landlocked in a neighborhood that didn't want them. And a significant part of the reason that the remnant stayed behind was their collective fear of change and desire to preserve tradition over progress. Pastor G became quite possibly the youngest Revitalization Pastor of our generation.

Over the years, Pastor G diligently labored at the task of renewal. He shepherded that small remnant even as he turned to them to help him learn to shepherd. He intentionally moved into the manse-- though it was also deteriorating-- in order to begin first-hand work at restoring the relationships with the church's neighbors. He oversaw the repairs of the property, at times taking up tools in his own hands to do the work. And from the start he took up the slow and patient work of teaching the Gospel to this flock.

Years past. Property repairs gave way to additions, then to expansion. Old grudges among neighbors were forgotten and new friendships were made. Pastor G's family expanded as well, with a son, then daughters. And under his capable teaching of the Gospel, the small remnant flock began to grow-- and grow. Ministerial staff were added, new ministries developed, and new vision caught.

When we arrived here four years ago, the church had grown from those 50 or so to nearly 800 total (including children). Shortly thereafter, another daughter church was established-- this one in a more conventional manner-- for the extension of the church's vision to reach the city. Within a year, the 150 or so that left to assist with that plant were replaced, and more. God is faithful to make prosperous the faithful preaching of His word, and our church is evidence of that.

Pastor G truly loves the Church, and he loves our church. I have never heard him speak harshly to us, nor have I seen or heard any indication of his sensitivity to the remaining unhealthy aspects of this congregation. Though I see them and grumble to myself, he never does-- though surely they are more present and clear to him than they ever will be to me.

And Pastor G is loved at our church; the news of his leaving was met with bucketsful of tears. To the end, he has been warmly and affectionately sent out. There is no doubt that he has completed the work that God gave him to do at our church. Now he is moving on to another church that is hurting, bruised, and needy; his ministry of revitalization continues.

I now sit where he was 16 years ago. There are many differences-- I am not interning at a church that needs a pastor, for example-- but one similarity stands out: just as Pastor G was less than a year from becoming the pastor of a major revitalization ministry, so I (if my sense of calling is in accordance with God's will for my ministry) am less than a year from beginning a revitalization ministry as a pastor. Pastor G's ministry at our church encourages me, and serves as a model of what I want to do and be. My prayer today is that my ministry will be a reflection of this wonderful model; Pastor G can truly say, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

Thank you, Pastor G. I will.

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