Yesterday was my last official day as Senior Pastor at our church, Providence Church Midland.
After six years as Midland pastor and two previous years working with Providence’s city congregation, we made the change at our general meeting last night.
Jill and I planted in our lounge room six years ago. Now after a year of leadership work, and then keeping the congregation informed, we’ve appointed our extremely able associate Mark into the senior role, while I stay on staff part-time in a preaching role, along with an external evangelistic role in another organisation next year.
And with a policy of staffing from within and training people into part-time paid and unpaid leadership, it feels like we’re not a church plant anymore. Not that we ever want to feel anything other than completely dependent on the Holy Spirit, but it feels we’re not a little kid anymore.
So that’s enough of the formal stuff. Looking back over the six (and eight) years, what have been the take-homes for me? Here’s eight in random order:
I. Jesus Saves People: For all of our missional ideals and zeal as a church plant, the most astonishing thing is the regularity with which people with no church background just front up and say something like “I need something and I reckon Jesus is what I need.” It’s like going out in a fishing boat with all the latest gear, and then a huge tuna jumps on board. You know you can only take a photo holding it, shaking your head and saying “I didn’t catch this.” Jesus does all the hard work by the Holy Spirit and we’re just there to hold up the catch for the photo!
II. Jesus Keeps People: As a church pastor, especially in a church plant, there are two worries that seem to transcend my orthodox theology. Will Jesus save people? Yep, tick that box.
But then, secondly, will Jesus keep the people he saves? He sure will! To see the transforming – the ongoing transforming – of those who were saved among us has been so encouraging.
But more than that, stay at a church long enough and difficult pastoral and spiritual issues will inevitably come to the surface. It’s standard. And when you bring Jesus to the situation, lo and behold, he keeps people, even those people for whom things looked pretty dicey. A key verse for us this past couple of years has been “The Lord kills and brings to life”, from 1 Sam2. We’ve seen toxic things in peoples’ lives die, be killed, and something sweet and good come to life. Once again you can see Jesus’ fingerprints all over it.
III. Be a Broken Leader Not a Brittle Leader: This has been absolutely crucial. God does not make leaders, he breaks leaders, and in the run up to me joining Providence God broke me – and us as a family – in two huge ways.
First, we experienced a painful broken relationship with a church planting group we had been involved with. It felt like death. And then at the same time, in God’s sovereignty, I got extremely sick and ended up having major surgery and being out of action for nearly a year. Totally sidelined. Totally broken. And totally confused. Is that how it was supposed to be?
Yes. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Because the opposite of a broken leader is not a whole leader, but a brittle leader. Broken leaders are broken down by God and built back up again, first in order to be humbled from their pride, but second, to make them safe people for the flock of Christ to be around. A brittle leader is a nightmare. Having never been broken, a brittle leader works the angles, avoids the self-examination, gets chippy with opposition, either fears what other think, or steamrollers over the top of what others think. Why? Because they fear being broken. Hence they remain brittle.
Yet the joy on the other side of being broken by God is realising that He builds you back up never to be brittle again. It’s the most liberating thing in the world. You are a danger to those around you if you are brittle and constantly avoid brokenness.
IV. Surround Yourself with No Men: Not “no men”, but No Men” – men who say “no” to your vanities, self-delusions and bad choices. And if you are a woman in pastoral ministry perhaps some “No Women”.
I have made a point of that in the past 20-odd years of marriage and ministry and that’s been a safety check for me. Thank you to all of you, you know who you are, primarily because I’ve had a fight about something with you over the past few decades!
V. Commit Yourself to one No Lady: (or if you are a woman pastor who is married, then a No Man!) Lots of people see your blindspots and don’t point them out. Jill sees them, points them out, and goes right on loving and supporting me. That’s been huge.
Jill is a clinical psychologist and reads people like few others can. I could have saved myself from some heartaches if I’d listened to her earlier on some stuff. And I HAVE saved myself from some heartaches by learning to listen to her earlier. Mostly after getting it wrong a few times.
VI. Love Jesus: The danger of exhorting people to love Jesus is that you can outsource loving Jesus to them and avoid doing it yourself. Love Jesus first! Don’t fool yourself that telling people to love Jesus is the same as loving Jesus. And if, and when, you end up leading teams of people or leadership teams, then don’t fool yourself into thinking that telling people to tell people to love Jesus is the same as loving Jesus.
In paid ministry you could find yourself three steps removed from actually loving Jesus; from drinking deeply from Him in Scripture; from having Him as your Intercessor to the Father through prayer; from asking for His Holy Spirit to empower you. Yet because you’re telling others to do so, you don’t notice the distance that’s grown between you and Jesus.
Until something happens. Or someone happens. And you car-wreck yourself and others. Or until, by God’s grace, you run a red light, but just avoid a collision.
VII. Jesus Loves You: Jesus loves you not because you’re special, but because he is. Jesus loves you not because you’re a pastor who gives up his or her weekends for church, but because he’s the great Shepherd of the sheep for whom he gave His life. Jesus loves you not because you decided to love him, but because in the will of the Godhead before time, he decided to love you.
And when it feels like no one else loves you (a rarity), or when it feels like no one else loves you enough (a more common occurrence), this wondrous fact will keep you going – Jesus loves you more than enough! More than enough to get you to the day when he says “Well done good and faithful servant”, not from someone who could use your talents, or from someone who is impressed by you, but from Someone who loves you!
VIII: Your Glory Years Are Ahead of You: Way ahead of you in the age to come. And since that’s true then don’t waste the final couple of decades trying to hoover up glory for yourself.
I am conscious at fifty-one that this is not the time in the Christian life – personally or professionally – to coast. To glide into some sort of landing and seek my own glory. Turn that space and time you have towards a bigger goal: His glory!
Men in their fifties can often be disparaged as “pale, male and stale”. Sometimes we’re guilty of that for sure. But here’s what I’ve noticed; letting Jesus shape you into your middle years and beyond, keeps you “pale, male and fresh!” Though our outer body is wasting away (still a few 10km PBs in me yet, but the window is closing!) we are being renewed inwardly!
There’s something great about an older bloke who hasn’t “settled in” yet; who is still seeking God to change his life and enable him to be an agent of change for others. In terms of work, the years from 45-60 are often termed “the glory years” when you are at your most productive and most influential.
It’s just a thought, but for followers of Jesus, it’s a chance to make the years when the kids are growing up, and the finances not so tight as “His glory years”. Don’t waste them garnering a shadow of glory for yourself here and now for your last few decades. He’s already promised you a share in His completed glory for eternity.