|First Sunday at PHBC, Nov. 2009|
On Sunday, November 4th, I became the longest tenure Pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church’s 169-year history. The church’s average stay for a pastor was two and a half years. As you can imagine, this left the church in some pretty difficult situations. Anytime a church has an influx of pastors who rarely stay more than a couple of years it normally leads to an unhealthy church.
Therefore, when my family and I were called to PHBC, I resolved to stay until the Lord moved me. Not difficult situations or mean-spirited members, but the Lord would have to move me if I was to leave. During one of my meetings with the pulpit committee in the summer of 2009, one of the members said, “We need a Pastor who will lead us.” There was no doubt in my mind that by God’s grace I could do exactly that, although it would not be easy. These past nine years have not come without their bumps, bruises, and tears.
Therefore, I’d like to share 9 realities I’ve learned while pastoring the same church for the last 9 years:
1. Not everyone who is for you, in the beginning, will remain for you. As a Pastor, there were those who loved (at least act) me and my family upon arrival. They were the ones who would go out of their way to bring us food, desserts, and vegetables when we first arrived. But when I crossed their traditions and ideas how church should be done I was written off. They were some of the first ones who wanted my head on the chopping block. I’m thankful there are those who loved us when we arrived and still love us today.
2. Not everyone who says, “I believe the Bible” really believes the Bible.
This was a shocker to me. I thought everyone wanted the Bible preached and taught. There were those who wanted the Bible taught, but according to the way, they’ve always been taught the Bible. Yet, when the Bible is faithfully preached in its immediate context, rather than what one wants it to say, all of the sudden things change. I found out people liked emotionalism and sentimentalism more than they did God's truth.
3. People will let you preach whatever you want; just don’t expect them to apply it. I have learned preaching doctrine is one thing, but it is another thing when you expect people to adhere to the Bible. For example, people will listen to a sermon on church discipline and even "Amen" you, but when you begin to practice what you preach then you’ve crossed the line. You can teach on evangelism but don't expect people to actually do evangelism. By the way, isn't that what we pay the preacher to do.
4. There are valleys and mountain tops in the life of the local church. All churches, like families, go through seasons. There are good seasons. And there are difficult seasons. There are times of plenty. There are times when it is lean. However, this does not determine what God defines as success. I have witnessed both plenty and little at PHBC. God determines success based on faithfulness (1 Cor.4:7), not nickels and noses.
5. When you honor God by preaching the truth of Scriptures you will not be popular. Jesus was popular as long as he gave the people what they wanted, but the moment he began to preach truth there was a falling away. People want to be coddled and told what they want to hear. Most people today have a god that they handle, which is nothing but an idol. When you preach the God of the Bible, you will not be popular among the crowds. Matter of fact, people will hate you, persecute and say all kinds of evil against you. Jesus said, "Rejoice! When you are persecuted for his namesake." That’s alright because I was not called to be popular. I was called to be faithful.
6. Seminary doesn’t teach you how to shepherd a church through every situation. Seminary trains you for a lot of different things as it relates to doctrine and theology. Seminary teaches you how to study. However, it did not train me for when half the people did not like my leadership and decided to leave. It didn’t prepare me how to stand before my congregation and tell them their deacon had taking his own life that Sunday morning. There was no class or book that could prepare me on how to shepherd the church through those difficult times. That is where I rely on God the Holy Spirit to guide and speak through me. He is our greatest Teacher.
7. You may have to work a secular job while you pastor. When we lost half of our congregation, we lost close to half of our finances too. The church was gracious enough to support me for two years on the same salary. I saw the writing on the wall and knew we could not keep going in the same direction. So, I encouraged the church to cut my benefits and salary. This allowed me to take on other work to help support my family. This has been a blessing in many ways to the church and me.
8. Leading a church to biblical health is hard work but Christ is worthy. In some ways, the past 9 years have been extremely difficult, yet extremely rewarding. We have seen the Lord truly regenerate and add souls to the church. PHBC has installed two new elders, rewrote new by-laws and constitution. PHBC has written a more biblical and thorough church Covenant, established a new members class and handbook. The church has helped establish a Bible school and 2 new church plants in the Philippines. PHBC is active in local evangelism and outreach in our own community each May, October, and monthly door-to-door outreaches. It has not been easy and we still have a ways to go, but God's is worth it all.
9. PHBC is a very gracious church in allowing me to make mistakes and learn as their pastor. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve made my shares of mistakes over the last 9 years. The church has allowed me to make mistakes while learning from them. I am a sinner saved by God’s grace and don’t profess to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. God’s people have been patient, loving and supportive of their Pastor and elders as we try to lead the church to glorify God in all things. I love the flock at PHBC. I love the fact they love the Christ of the Bible and long to honor and glorify Him. I look forward to what the Lord has these next 9 years. There is no plan B.
In conclusion, we have not arrived and there is so much to do. We have not obtained the goal prize yet. By God's grace, we are still pressing toward the prize that lies before us. As I consider the last 9 years, it has been difficult in some ways. Yet, I have seen spiritual growth and fruit I would have never witnessed had I left the first two or three years. Not to mention, I have grown in my own personal walk with Christ through the adversities I have faced. There is no way I would have made it these 9 years without the support and love of my faithful wife, Samantha. She has seen me in some of my worst and darkest moments. She has been a constant source of encouragement and grace in me pressing forward.
I will close with a quote I heard from a sermon recently on suffering. "Suffering is the prelude to glory" Phil Johnson. And I long for glory; therefore, I endure all things for the sake of His elect. SDG.