Some (hopefully) helpful thoughts.
It's the end of summer 2009 and I am three days away from driving across the country to start seminary when my phone rings. On the other end of the line is a guy named Dan Wooldridge, pastor at Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas. We had spoken a few times over the course of the summer about their open youth minister position. He asked me if I wanted to come down that Friday to Georgetown to interview for the position, because the guy they were planning on hiring had backed out. I told him that I was heading to North Carolina on Saturday for seminary, but sure, why not? I ended up taking the job and for most of the past 10 years I have been in vocational ministry. On the 10th anniversary of that first job, here are some reflections.
1. God is gracious to us--always
Truth be told, that was one risky hire Crestview made. I had a degree in Practical Theology, yes, but I had next to no experience. I was 23 years old, single, and a bit of a shoot-from-the-hip communicator. (If you think I'm a shoot-from-the-hip communicator now, you have no idea!) But God was gracious to me. He knew the plan he had for me. And Crestview was the exact place I needed to be, and I had 7 wonderful years there. Never doubt God's grace to you. He is always working on behalf of those he loves.
2. You Probably Aren't the Next Spurgeon
Yes, I know your grandmother and her friends think you are, but you just aren't. Most of us will labor in ministry and never be known by people outside of the congregations we serve. And that is okay. God has called you to serve where you are. He's called you to be you. Trust me, I know the pull to mimic the latest and greatest podcast preacher, but you are not him, and the effort to imitate him is making you look silly. Be faithful where God has you, shepherd the flock that is among you, and for the sake of those you shepherd, be you.
3. The People of God are Great
I cannot even begin to describe all of the ways that my family has been blessed by the people of God. Sure, there are always some who profess to be God's children who are mean-spirited and have left you with scars. That is to be expected when people don't really know the Jesus they say they do. By and large, though, the people of God have been--and continue to be--a great encouragement to me. In many times, they have been a family to me when my biological family was far away. I am forever grateful for the people of God.
4. Jesus Will Build His Church
What a promise. What a relief. I don't have to build it myself. I know I can't, but that has not kept me from trying in various ways these past 10 years. I am stricken with that same desire to disbelieve God that Adam and Eve had back in the garden. I am hobbled by the same mistrust the people of God displayed in the wilderness. That is why I am constantly grateful that when Jesus had the opportunity to disobey God in the wilderness, he refused; and when he had the opportunity to do his own will in the garden, he chose to obey and to take the cup of God's wrath instead. Jesus' obedience covers my disobedience. His obedience to the will of his Father ensures that he and he alone can and will build his church.
5. Your Plan is Cute
I have lost count of the plans I have had for ministry in the past 10 years. But I have not lost count of the number of times my plans and the plans of God have lined up. That number is easy to remember--it's zero. God is gracious so he hasn't beaten me over the head with my bad plans. But I can't help but wonder if he hasn't chuckled a few times at my half-baked ideas. I have come to the point where I rarely verbalize what I think my future will look like. I am learning to trust God with the future. He has called me to be faithful to him, that is success. He will handle the rest.
AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE
In the Fall of 2016 I visited churches for the first time in nearly a decade. It wasn't that I had been out of church for that long and was just now making my way back. No, I had been on staff at a church for nearly a decade and therefore never had to visit any other churches. But in the Fall of 2016 my family moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina in order for me to finish my Masters degree at Southeastern Seminary, so naturally, we needed to find a church.
After a month of visiting around, Katelyn and I were discussing one big takeaway that we had noticed in the church search process: It is really easy to get comfortable at church and forget that every Sunday is someone's first Sunday at your church. You see, for seven years I didn't have to think about where to park or where the kids go or how to find a Sunday School class; I effortlessly did all of this, because I had become used to my church. Sadly, this is the case in many churches today.
At one church we wandered around aimlessly for five minutes (a long time) searching for the nursery, because there were no signs, and everyone we passed just kept on walking as if we were invisible. At another church, we had already decided we wouldn't be coming back before the worship service had even started. Why? Because the nursery drop-off process was chaotic and felt unsafe from the start. Teachers didn't rise from their seats to greet us, and it seemed like our children were more of a nuisance to them than a joy. At some churches, the signage is so bad and the halls so twisty and narrow that you start to worry that you accidentally walked into a corn maze and not a church. Still other churches have more entrances than church members, and you have to simply cross your fingers and hope you choose the right door, because the only sign you can find is one that says "NO TRESPASSING".
CHURCH ISN'T ABOUT YOU
Oftentimes when someone voices a concern about something in the church not jiving well with them they are scolded. They are usually scolded by someone feigning spirituality, and the scolding goes something like this: "Church isn't about you. Don't worry about stuff like that." I get it. And I agree wholeheartedly. We gather weekly as the church to make much of God, not ourselves. But a parent being scolded because they worry if their kid is safe down in the nursery can't be what God had in mind. And for someone suggesting we get better signage in the church to be scolded as "majoring on the minors" doesn't seem to line up with the heart or nature of God.
THE MOST HOSPITABLE BEING IN THE UNIVERSE
The issue here is hospitality. As Christians, we should follow the lead of our God who is the most hospitable Being in the history of the universe. After all, have you checked out the world around you lately? The mountains, the ocean, beautiful lakes, the trees currently changing colors. God is serious when it comes to hospitality. And he expects us to be as well. As a church, we are called to be hospitable to those guests that God brings our way. This means making places such as nursery, Sunday School classes, and the sanctuary easy to find. This means having on smiling faces each and every Sunday. It means having the courage to ask someone you don't recognize and who looks a little lost if they need some help. It means making our children's area safe and orderly. We don't have to be Disney World, but we do need for people to feel safe and loved here.
So this next Sunday will you commit to not just showing up, but to being a greeter no matter where you find yourself? Will you commit to look for someone you don't know and go introduce yourself to them? Will you commit to pray that God would continue to bring guests to our church?
Remember, every Sunday is someone's first Sunday.