I went to church sporadically growing up. I remember occasionally going to a small Southern Baptist Church about fifteen minutes from my childhood home when I was in elementary school. While I was in middle school, I remember intermittingly going to a larger Southern Baptist Church in West Mobile. And by the time I entered high school, I was rarely going to church at all . . . I only went to church when I was dating a girl that had a family that was going to church (how pathetic is that)!
Needless to say, I didn’t grow up with a relationship to pastors and deacons. Nor did I have any familiarity with AWANA, VBS, youth summer camps, mission trips, or anything along those lines. Really, regarding church life, I didn’t know much of anything.
Growing Familiarity with the Church
By the time I entered college, God began to graciously call me to Himself. Deep into the fall semester of my freshmen year, He mercifully saved me and freely gave me the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. With a genuine work of God in my heart, I began to become more active in the local church.
This allowed me to get close to pastors and deacons, to become familiar with Vacation Bible Schools, youth summer camps, mission trips, and other church related things. And though I wasn’t knowledgeable of all that was going on in the church that I was attending, I started becoming more familiar with the church.
Much More Familiarity with the Church
After college, my wife and I moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina, in January of 2015. On August 16, 2016, I was hired on full time as the Director of College Ministry at First Baptist Church of Durham (a healthy local church in downtown Durham). This was my first ever ministry position, and I joyfully served in this capacity for three and a half years.
While I was doing college ministry, a friend of mine from Louisiana asked if I would be interested in being his associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Longville. This seemed like a good opportunity to serve the people of God, so in December of 2019, I moved to Longville, Louisiana, to begin serving full time as an associate pastor. I’m still serving in this capacity. This means that, as of August 16, 2021 (today), I’ve been doing full time ministry for five years. And at twenty-nine years old, I’m much more familiar with the church than I was in my childhood and teenage years.
Things I’ve Learned
Though five years isn’t a very long time, I thought it’d be neat to reflect on some things that I’ve learned while serving in full time ministry. Since ministry largely involves ministering to people, most of the things I’ve learned have to do with people. So, here we go:
People Need Christ
Christ is the incarnate Word, the image of the invisible God, the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and the light for the nations. He is the only mediator between God and man, and it’s only in Christ that one can find reconciliation and peace with God. Jesus is a never-ending source of other-worldly satisfaction and joy, and it’s Jesus that people need.
After five years of ministry, I’m even more mindful that one of the most important things that I can do is place Christ before people’s eyes. And no, I’m not merely talking about placing Christ before unbelievers’ eyes. I’m also talking about placing Christ before believers’ eyes. I’ve learned that the children of God desperately need to behold and savor Christ afresh every day.
People Love Handwritten Cards
We live in a day and age where our emails are bombarded with advertisements, and where our cell phones are constantly receiving mostly insignificant messages from friends, family members, and acquaintances. And even though communication is remarkably easy, people are rarely receiving well thought out handwritten cards that are expressly written for the purpose of encouraging others.
This means that when people do receive a handwritten card, it is both encouraging and memorable! In all seriousness, I don’t believe I’ve ever had somebody thank me to my face for an encouraging text (though I’ve sent many). But almost everybody that I’ve written a card to goes out of their way to thank me. It’s evident that people love handwritten cards!
People Need to be Encouraged
There are people in the church that sacrifice their time, energy, and money for the cause of Christ. They give up their weeknights and Sundays for the purpose of sacrificially serving others. They diligently study so that they can properly teach the Word of God. They read books and listen to podcasts so that they can better counsel folks that are hurting and suffering. They open their homes to get to know other members of the church. And these people need to be encouraged. They need to know that I, as their pastor, see their ministry, am grateful for their ministry, and that our church is better off because of their ministry.
People are Hurting
Sure, people put on a socially acceptable smile on Sunday mornings, but deep down inside most people are hurting. And they are hurting because of their own sins, someone else’s sins, or because of all that comes with living on a cursed earth. There’s a family unit that has a rebellious child. There’s a marriage that is on the brink of disaster. There’s a youth that’s beginning to indulge in sexual sin that will have consequences for decades to come. Somebody has gone to the doctor and received a life altering diagnosis. A couple is doubting if they will ever be able to get pregnant. A widow is trying to figure out how to go to sleep by herself every night. All over the church, people are hurting, and they need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help them.
People Need Parlor Preachers
We don’t really hear the term “parlor” anymore, but most churches in the old days had them. It was a room in the church that was especially constructed for receiving guests. And a parlor preacher is a Christian that can speak about heavenly things in social settings (not just from the pulpit). Charles Bridges defines it as “the ability to introduce the subject of religion seasonably and acceptably into social discourse.”
It’s important to be able to do this as a pastor, and it’s important to have fellow church members that can do this as well. Reflecting on the importance of this Spurgeon says, “To be a holy talker for Jesus might be almost as fruitful an office as to be a faithful preacher.” In five years, I’ve learned that we vastly overestimate what people learn from their pastor in the pulpit, and that we vastly underestimate what people learn from a spiritual conversation in the parlor.
People Need Church History
The Catholic Church teaches that both Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative. While the Baptist Church has rightly rejected this, most Baptist Churches have made an equally deadly error by flat out rejecting church history and tradition. There are so many people that are ignorant of the early church and its creeds, the Reformation and its confessions, the historical development of Baptist ecclesiology and doctrine, the Great Awakening, and so much more.
This means that, within many Baptist Churches, most people’s concept of church is built around the church that they grew up in rather than the historic church that has existed for thousands of years. This isn’t healthy at all, and it leads to a multitude of problems. People really need church history.
People Need Sound Doctrine
This should not surprise anyone because one cursory reading through the Bible reveals that sound doctrine is important. Nevertheless, when I ministered to college students in North Carolina, and as I’ve ministered to people in Louisiana, it has become clear that many people grow up in Baptist Churches that are indifferent to doctrine. And it seems like most churches promote doctrinal indifferentism for the sake of maintaining unity. It’s as though pastors think to themselves: “If I don’t preach meaty doctrine, then my people won’t divide over anything.”
What these pastors are failing to realize is that keeping people ignorant of doctrine cultivates what J.I. Packer calls “a deceptive appearance of unity.” Just because a church seems to have inter-party peace doesn’t mean they’re unified. Instead, it means that division is right around the corner. . . .as soon as people start talking about doctrine! So, people need sound doctrine, and Baptists Churches would be better off if they made every effort to cultivate doctrinal unity within their congregations rather than a deceptive appearance of unity.
Church Family IS Family
Kahlie and I both have awesome families. As a matter of fact, almost every vacation we take involves going to see our families because we enjoy being around them so much! With that said, one of the things that God has really taught us since we have moved away from our families for the sake of the church is that church family IS family! We knew this mentally before we moved away from home. We understood that other Christians were our brothers and sisters in Christ. We knew that older Christians could become spiritual fathers and mothers to us. We could mentally assent to these truths.
But once we moved away from home, we quickly came to understand this experientially. While we were in North Carolina, Kahlie and I immediately had our hearts joined together with other Christians. We were eating at each other’s houses, celebrating holidays together, serving together, serving each other, praying for one another, learning from one another, taking vacations together, helping each other bear up under trials, and so on and so forth! Older Christians invested in us, discipled us, cooked for us, and counseled us. And sure enough, when we moved eighteen hours from North Carolina to Louisiana, we immediately had our hearts knitted together with other Christians here. As we have moved across the Southeast, it’s become clear that church family is family. Thank God for the church!
Church Friendly Families are Awesome
Most families are looking for family friendly churches. This is completely understandable. It’s good to look for a church that’s going to strategically strive to serve each member of your family in a manner that’s worthy of the Lord. But as a pastor, one of the greatest blessings to the church is a church friendly family—a family that prioritizes healthy involvement in the church over athletics, hobbies, and other extracurriculars. In both churches that I’ve served in, I’m always blessed and encouraged by healthy family units that make healthy involvement in the church a main priority.
Godly Deacons are a Blessing
I’ve had the pleasure of getting close to godly deacons at both churches that I’ve served at. The deacons I’m talking about account their lives of little value, have hearts that go out to the hurting, and see it as their God given role to glorify Christ by fulfilling both menial and significant tasks for the church and the community. About these men, I echo Spurgeon’s words:
“The church owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in times of trouble as well as prosperity remain faithfully at their posts…Deprive the church of her deacons and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house and would cause desolation on every side.”
I could keep going. I’ve learned a great deal about people and ministry over the past five years. But, like I said early, I’m not so naïve to think that five years is a long time. It’s very brief in the grand scheme of things. With this in mind, I’m still learning, and I’m greatly anticipating God to continue educating me.