Reflections on 40 Years of Pastoring-Part 1
On October 26, 1980, Garnett Henson extended an invitation to me on behalf of Claysville Christian Church to be their preacher. I was 17 years old at the time. The next Sunday, November 2, 1980, my first Sunday as an official pastor of a church, I looked out at all 30 of my congregants and said, “I realize some of you may be a little concerned about my age. I just want you to know that I turn 18 tomorrow.” Eyes rolled, some people chuckled, and the rest shook their head.
I learned early and quickly that many of the things I would say over the next 40 years would produce such a response.
I have pastored five churches in the past 40 years, and I loved each one of them. Each of them taught me different things about people, myself, and the unpredictable, mysterious nature of local church ministry. I thought today I would share just a brief timeline of those ministries and the primary thing God helped me learn from each of those special churches.
Claysville Christian Church, Cynthiana, KY, November 1980-November 1984
You never forget the first time you do something. Though I was a Bible College Student throughout most of my time at this little country church in Kentucky, this was where my pastoring journey started. This is where I did my first funerals, officiated at my first weddings, baptized the first people to respond to one of my messages, sat through my first Elders’ Meetings, and led my first building campaign.
What God taught me at Claysville was to love where you live. There were about 50 total residents in this tiny village, including pets. And I knew them all: the ones who came to church, the ones who had left the church, and the ones who never went to church. I saw people won to Jesus that no one thought would come to Jesus simply because I was there with them and eventually, they realized Jesus was for them.
Southwest Christian Church, Jackson, MS, December 1984-August 1988
This was where a Kentucky country boy got his first taste of living and ministering in the suburbs. And not just any suburbs, but one that was rapidly changing and racially charged. I was so naïve and uninformed about all of that. Southwest had Elders who were successful business leaders. I had only worked with farmers. Southwest had people who had gone to college and had incomes that far exceeded anything I knew in my family or in the people I had been raised around. I hired the first youth minister and first music minister that I’d ever worked with. We even had a secretary! We could have staff meetings in our car…and often did!
What God taught me at Southwest was the discipline of preparation. I preached a message on Sunday morning, a different message on Sunday night and often led a Wednesday night Bible study. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did all that. I’m sure much of what I said wasn’t worth saying–because no 22-year-old knows that much, in spite of what they think! And yet, God somehow used what I shared to shape people’s lives and stir their imagination about the Kingdom of God.
Northern Heights Christian Church, Lexington, KY, September 1988-July 1997
Melinda and I returned to Kentucky with our two-year-old daughter, Anna Maria. Northern Heights felt like we had returned home but was different because now we lived in the second-largest city in the state, not in rural Kentucky. I loved living so close to the University of Kentucky and my passion for UK sports grew to unhealthy levels of interest, but I was surrounded by so many Wildcat fanatics that no one cared! Northern Heights was the first place I realized I had an ability to remember a lot of people’s names. The churches I served up to that point had been smaller and everyone knew everybody else’s name. But as the Northern Heights church grew from 200, to 300, to 500 and beyond, I still knew everybody’s name: the regular attenders, the irregular attenders, the regular guests, the infrequent guests. I knew them all and called them all by name…and some of them called me names!
What God taught me at Northern Heights was the power of pastoring people. I was heart deep in the lives of the people of this congregation. I regularly visited in their homes. I went to the hospital for their surgeries and illnesses. I did the funerals of their loved ones. I officiated at their weddings…I even sang at one wedding! I wept with those who wept and rejoiced with those who rejoiced. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that many of the people who are still around from this church still think of me as their pastor even though I’ve been gone for over 23 years. As Paul said to the Thessalonican church, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
People truly don’t care how much you know until they know how much you really care.
I had intended to write this summary in one column, but it’s already too long. So join me next week here and I’ll tell you what God taught me in my last two ministries and why Journey is so special to me and is the place where I intend to finish my local church ministry journey.
Loving the Journey,
P.S. Baptism Day is this Sunday! Check out our Baptism Preparation webpage for more information!