I remember my 21st birthday- just having celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary, beginning my fourth year of college, beginning a new ministry assignment as associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Burlington WA, and feeling as though the world was mine for the taking. That was a long time ago.
I recently acknowledged another 21st anniversary-(not my wedding anniversary- Cindy and I have been married 36 years now (you can do the math and figure my age!), but finishing my 21st year of ministry as the pastor of Community Baptist Church, Winston OR.
When my family moved to Winston our son had just turned 9 and our daughter was 5 (again, you can do the math!). Now my son is married, serving as a sergeant in the United States Air Force and my daughter (still single) is the Scheduler for Rep. Greg Walden (R, OR) in Washington DC.
My wife is the Office Manager at Winston Middle School and is one of the longest tenured office staff persons in the school district.
I can’t even begin to describe the multiple changes our church has experienced over the past 21 years. Our building has changed- some extensive remodeling of the kitchen and auditorium (we have what might best be described as a multi-purpose building- our auditorium is our worship space for Sunday’s, AWANA’s space for Wednesday’s during the school year, banquet facilities for our two annual church wide dinners (one at Thanksgiving and one in the spring), and a general meeting room for community events). As our external structure has changed so has our internal structure. Just this last year we were able to call an associate pastor (bi-vocational). The role of our deacons and their wives have changed over the years as well. They have transitioned from a church business oriented group to focusing more on pastoral and spiritual concerns. Our Bible Study ministry has changed as well. The people whom God has called us to minister have changed as well. Families in our community are more fractured than ever. Unemployment in our county remains around 12% or higher. Jobs are scarce and opportunities to reach the American dream seem distant and unreachable for many of the people in our community. We are struggling with how to structure our Bible study ministry to help people who feel disenfranchised and in serious personal distress.
But as I ponder my 21st birthday (of sorts) I face several challenges. First, my body tells me I am no longer 21! I no longer have the stamina of youth or the energy to press on without significant spiritual and physical rest. Second, I am learning to think more strategically and focus on the long term implications of our ministry decisions. I made a lot a foolish choices over the last 21 years and have learned some hard lessons. Third, I am more invested in the community than ever. I am trying to earn the right to be heard as I take multiple opportunities to engage with the community (Winston-Dillard Chamber of Commerce; Winston Area Community Partnership: Douglas County Commission on Children and Families: Douglas County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council; Winston Education Community Network; Douglas County Coordinated Care Organization Advisory Council….). I am also deeply involved in our regional denomination (serving as President for 2012) and an ex-officio member of a committee searching for a new Executive Director for the NWBC. This role has deepened my appreciation for my denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) and opened my eyes to the challenges we who share a common heritage of faith must confront.
So, as I celebrate another 21 I am curious. How can my church more significantly engage the culture around us? How can I communicate the gospel in such a way that Jesus is magnified and He is free to change lives? How can we as the people of God make an impact that truly allows the Holy Spirit to transform lives? Is my preaching and teaching genuinely being used by God to transform lives? What direction will my future ministry take? In another 21 years I will be, well, let’s just say older- and only God knows my place in His future.