No matter the amount of water under the bridge, your previous churches still hold a significant place in your heart. I learned that lesson again as I returned to my previous church for their annual Christmas musical.
I served at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church in Lexington (technically Athens), Kentucky from 2003-2011. I was one month shy of 32 years old, pastoring a church that was founded before the Commonwealth of Kentucky entered the Union (1785). Eight years is a good amount of time, but sadly it only seemed a blip on the radar in hindsight. We had our challenges and our joys, all part of being a family of faith.
The only time I had returned to Boone’s Creek was in June of 2014 at the passing of a deacon’s wife. We’ve been back to Kentucky a number of times, but we never joined them for a Sunday morning worship gathering because we wanted to give the current pastor time to settle in and not have to deal with the guy he replaced.
I came back at the request of the current minister of music who was putting together a musical that involved all the community churches. My job was to arrive as a surprise and start playing some Christmas tunes–a plan hatched in his mind about two months ago. I flew in on Friday, preached at a friend’s church in Shelbyville on Sunday morning, then went to Lexington (Athens) Sunday afternoon. As the surprise worked, I began to realize some things. Let me share a few:
You leave a piece of your heart at every church in which you minister. Again, eight years is a good amount of time (twice as long as the average pastor lasts at a given church). When you spend time caring, marrying, burying, counseling, discipling, preaching, and loving a group of people, how could that not happen?
I learned more from them than they ever learned from me. When I arrived, I was months away from finishing an MDiv at Southern Seminary. A few years in, they gave the blessing for me to pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree from that same seminary. Seminary has a way of giving you lots and lots of ideas about how to do church. But nothing, and I mean nothing, teaches you like actually pastoring. The fact is, many seminary professors have never pastored churches, leaving them in the realm of the theoretical. God allowed my theological chops to develop at seminary, but using those chops to minister to actual people made me learn one thing: seminary professors aren’t the only people to teach you about pastoring.
The lessons I learned from my deacons and other pastors in the area proved necessary. I didn’t find my stride at Boone’s Creek until my 3rd-4th year. And how patient they were with me. Did I make mistakes? You bet I did–still do. But no matter what I’ve done, in the past or present, I’ve always sought to do for the good of the congregant, the good of the staff, and for the good of the church in general. We won’t always get it right, but if folks understand your motive, they will love you through it. They taught me that!
The people at your former church gave a piece of their heart to you as well. So many were so glad to see me that, frankly, I was overwhelmed! I believe that we could all still be talking if the hours hadn’t gotten so late. We rejoiced at the new building that God provided for a 1/3 of the estimate we received when I was pastor. We caught up with joys and sorrows that life had dealt over the past four years. I was there when the church pianist of 21 years announced her retirement at the end of the year (what is it about church pianists retiring, Diane?). I could go on, but just seeing dear people connect again made me realize that, yes, the heart-piece-giving thing was most mutual.
Now, before my current church reads this wrongly: No, I’m not heading back to Kentucky. I don’t sense that’s God will for me. Yes, I love you all and am grateful daily that God brought he here to Colorado to help every heart in Denver believe that Jesus is enough! I have fallen in love with this body of believers known as Arapahoe Road Baptist Church.
But also know that I came from a church where the mutuality of love existed as well. Time will tell what our legacies are, and for the moment, that does not interest me in the least. What interests me is that, by God’s grace and for His glory, He brings sick and sinful and imperfect people (pastors included) to bring glory to Him and to strengthen the saints. And to that, I am grateful to God for all of the blessings He’s given–even as the challenges come our way. He uses all things to get us in a position of submission and surrender to Him.
So, thank you, Boone’s Creek Baptist, for such a glorious reunion.
And thank you, Arapahoe Road Baptist, for such a glorious union for the sake of Christ. May all of Denver believe that Jesus is enough!