I looked it up: the average tenure of a pastor in America is five to seven years. That sounds about right. When we moved to Titusville, I thought we'd be here for about five years to get the church going, then move on to something else.
Here we are twenty-five years later with a church family that has weathered all kinds of ups and downs. I've seen God do much more than I ever imagined possible. We've also been through some difficult struggles. New people have moved to town and joined with us for a while only to move on because of job changes. We've lived through major changes in the town with the close of the Space Shuttle program, the economic slowdown, and the collapse of the housing market. There has been a lot of change in Titusville and at Christ Community in these twenty-five years! There have also been things that remained consistent: a group of people who have loved, supported and encouraged me and my family, gifted musicians who make worship enjoyable week after week, elders and deacons who have helped keep things running, friendships with people who know me pretty well, and much more.
Honestly, there have been times when I wanted to quit and move away. When I took a three-month sabbatical seven years ago, many people in the church family thought we wouldn't be back. I was at a point where I probably would have resigned if I had not taken that break. There have been times when I thought the church would be better off with a different pastor and have told the elders I was willing to move on if they thought it best. But God has kept us here, and I'm glad He has!
When I think of the personal benefits of this long-term ministry, these things come to mind:
First, my family has had a steady church home. My children have grown up here and at this point, they all love the local church and want to be involved in a church family in the places where they are now living. That is a testament to the positive experience they had with a congregation of people who loved them and helped nurture them in the gospel.
Second, I've enjoyed the consistent weekly time in God's Word that goes along with preaching. In the old musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye sings: "If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray...And I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day. That would be the sweetest thing of all." I agree! Time spent in the study of God's Word in preparation for preaching and teaching year after year has been a rich, sweet blessing! To be able to explain it to others, I've had to work to understand it for myself. God has kept the truths of Scripture from being theoretical ideas by letting me be involved in the real lives of people with struggles, doubts, questions and suffering. To comfort those who were hurting, to encourage those who were struggling, and to offer wisdom to those seeking answers, I've had to grow in my understanding of Scripture.
Third, I've grown to understand better how God works to deepen my understanding of the gospel through relationships. I have learned a lot through friendships, through small group discussions and through discipleship relationships as people's questions force me to think more clearly and apply the truth of Scripture more deeply to my own life. And sometimes relationships with people God has put in my life have been hard! Like most people, I'd rather run away from difficulties than face them. Staying in one place for a long time has forced me to work through things I would have preferred to avoid. When people have disagreed with me, I've had to rethink my views. Conflict has forced me to face sin issues in my own heart. Disappointments have forced me to evaluate my expectations. In the process, the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ has grown more precious as I've seen how much God has loved and forgiven me!
Thank you, Christ Community Church, for letting me serve as your pastor for twenty-five years! Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for loving my family. Thank you for asking hard questions. Thank you for challenging me to think. And thank you for showing me the love of Christ in the way you have loved me.