Our 10th anniversary celebration is just days away. I'm overwhelmed with thankfulness. There are a host of reasons. I'd like to share just a few.
For many years I was terrified to be a pastor, both because of the pain I'd seen pastors endure and because of how difficult I thought it would be to devote enough time to the task of preaching, given the many demands on a pastor’s time. I didn't want the pain, and I would rather not preach than preach poorly simply because I didn't have to time to prepare well. Even though it was clear to me from the time I was a young man that this was the life God chose for me, I ran from it. Eventually, I decided to be a biblical counselor as a way to serve God in lieu of being a pastor.
But at the first Together for the Gospel conference in 2006, God used John Piper's message to change my heart. It was clear to me that I could no longer tell God in what capacities I was willing to serve him. I told the Lord that if He wanted me to be a pastor, I would do it. But I asked him to bring the church to me rather than my going out and looking for a church.
Later that year I started seminary, still open to the idea being a pastor, but not at all looking for a pastorate. I still had the same old fears, but was willing to overlook them if the Lord asked.
Fast-forward a year and a half - my family was having lunch with the Joneses. This cop who I didn’t know very well - and who didn’t know me very well - was pitching to me the idea of planting a church. Those two old fears came to the surface. I only told him about one of them - the concern that with all the responsibilities of being a pastor I wouldn't be able to dedicate sufficient time to preaching. Of course, I wasn't going to tell him I was afraid of getting hurt – he was a cop, a real man's man, and I didn't want to sound like a little girl.
I'll spare you all the details of how the rest of that conversation went. You may hear more of those details this weekend. What I really want to say now is just how amazingly kind God has been to me over last 10 years regarding those two fears.
I was afraid of getting hurt, but it's not what I expected, nor what I feared. First, I’ve never been part of a church that is as loving as PBF. What kind, godly people we have. Certainly, we are sinners and we do hurt one another, but the love and care that I’ve experienced at Providence has far exceeded any pain that I feared. The Lord has allowed me to shepherd the gentlest congregation I’ve ever seen.
Also, the pastors whom I watched suffer as I was growing up did so alone; they did not serve in a plurality of elders. My experience has been very different. Ministry is difficult and can be painful. It is a given that you will be misunderstood and encounter unique trials, but by God's grace, PBF has had a plurality of elders from the first day. The work, the pain, the reward, the joy is shared. I was afraid of getting hurt, but what a gift these shared trials have been as they have forged friendships with my fellow elders that have proven well-worth the pain. We have matching scars - and I’d receive the blows again ten times over rather lose the joys we’ve shared serving the Lord together.
My second fear was that I would be so busy with ministry tasks that I would be unable to devote sufficient time to what I regarded a critical task, preaching. I’d seen this pattern over and over in other churches and the thought of becoming a part of it made me nauseous. But the Lord has been so generous. He has consistently raised up saints who delight to do the work of ministry so that week after week I have all the time I need to study to preach. Initially, the standard for this kind of service was set by Pastor Rick, who purposed to do everything necessary to keep me in the study. He still exemplifies this, demonstrating that he is as devoted to the preaching of the Word as anyone I know. Others have followed that example. The result is that my original fear is a thing of the past and something that I only think about when telling the story of how we decided to plant the church. (On that note, may I ask a favor? If you are ever blessed by a message that I preach, would you go and thank Pastor Rick or Pastor Ken or Pastor Dan or Pastor Jason or Pastor John? Would you go and thank one of our deacons? Every message preached at Providence is a result of many people doing many things so that one person can focus primarily on studying.)
On top of fears unrealized, I am overwhelmed to be part of a church family that I love so dearly. I love the body of Christ at Providence Bible Fellowship. I’m so grateful that he overcame my fears so that I might have the joy of serving Him with you. I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years together. May He give us many more.