As I mentioned in the previous post, this past weekend marks ten years since I assumed the role as pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church. Below is a copy of the corresponding letter I wrote our congregation ...
Dear PRBC family,
Thank you so much for the surprise gift, cake, and chorus of thanksgivings last Sunday. No one let the cat out of the bag, and Tobey and I really were surprised! Of course, when I saw Jason Skidmore at prayer meeting, I wondered if maybe something was up. When Allen and Heather came for Sunday School, I was pretty sure. And when Andrew and Kimberly were in the pews at 11:00, the game was up! But before 9am Sunday, I had no idea. So thank you … to those of you who gave, those who spoke, those who planned, and those who have quietly prayed for us these last ten years. Each of you is a blessing to our family in ways that are hard to calculate.
Upon anniversaries such as ten years as pastor, one gets to thinking, reminiscing, and taking stock. I’ve been doing some of that in recent days and weeks. I don’t have space, in this little column, to say everything that comes to mind … nor would you want to take the time to read it all! But here are a few thoughts that come readily …
1. Being a pastor is harder than I thought. I don't want you to hear any violins to play plaintively in the background while you read this, but I must say that I had no idea what I was getting into ten years ago! More than anything else, the task of preaching Christ as He truly ought to be preached is a more daunting a responsibility than I ever realized. No preacher, no matter how seasoned, is ever sufficient for such a calling. Beyond that, no seminary training can prepare a young man for the death of a church member; for recovering himself when he makes really foolish mistakes; for all the struggles that come with shepherding real, live people who are sinners just like their pastor. So yes, there have been times when I have said to myself: ‘What on earth did I sign up for?’ And, because I often had no idea what I was really getting into, I have made a good many blunders along the way. Some of them laughable. Some of them truly hurtful. Many who read these lines are the very ones I’ve hurt. Thank you for sticking with a twenty-five year-old who was – and often still is – in over his head.
2. Being a pastor is better than I thought. Again I start with the preaching task. Who can fully describe what a privilege and joy it is to spend the week studying the love of God in Christ, and then getting to herald such a message week by week to God's people? I feel most at home standing behind 'the sacred desk', boasting in Jesus! And that task is far more satisfying than I ever knew it would be! I can say the same about the relational side of pastoral ministry. Just as no seminary can adequately prepare a future pastor for all the various twists, turns, sins, and surprises that take place in a local church … neither can the classroom give him any idea how much his people will become an inseparable part of his life. You all have become our family in every real and possible way (sometimes including sharing living space together!). And Tobey and I wouldn’t have it any other way! This is much more than a job for us. You are our family … and you have worn that mantle well. How many other professions are there where a man is so appreciated by those alongside of whom he works? How many other churches, to take it a step father, have been as good to their pastor as you all have been to us? From all the meals you’ve given, to watching our kids, to mowing our grass, to repairing our home, to giving us clothes, to providing needed accountability, to supporting my mission travels, to umpteen other things … you have been a true family to us. Thank you!
3. Pastors need prayer. I am much more vulnerable to temptation, to discouragement, to fear, and to laziness than I ever thought possible ten years ago. Twenty-five year olds arriving at a new charge often think they have the world by the tail. They don’t. Neither do 35 year-olds with twelve years experience. All that to say that I desperately need your prayers. Tobey does too. None of us can be who God wants us to be without His strong support. And He loves to give that support in answer to His people’s prayers! So, “brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5.25). Let us also remember that, wonderful as it is for us to be a family … we are more than a family. We are God’s family – the only church in Pleasant Ridge proclaiming the message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone. O, how serious a responsibility we have – as pastor and people! So let us pray that God’s kingdom would come in this place, and more and more people be brought into His family!