Since I was in the tenth grade I have been reasonably certain God was calling me to gospel ministry in one form or another. I went to Moody to learn the bible and Covenant Seminary to learn how to pastor. If I had it to do over again, I would go to both of these places again- in a heartbeat.
During my middle year of seminary, I was invited to serve as the ministerial intern at Redeemer. When I arrived in May of 1997 I found Redeemer to be an exciting, relatively new church plant. It was different than other church plants I was familiar with because it was committed to a church/school (parochial) model and possessed a traditional, somewhat liturgical philosophy of worship. I was amazed by God's providence as it was exactly what Shari and I prayed for and previously thought didn't exist. Sure, there are lots of "traditional" churches, but few as young and committed to Christian Education as Redeemer. I learned much under Pastor Mark Merritt's ministry at Redeemer and will be forever grateful for the vast exposure to pastoral ministry he provided. While I didn't expect we would be at Redeemer long-term, I knew what I was learning would be valuable for planting a church like Redeemer or helping an existing church embrace a similar vision.
Providentially, after Mark's departure in 2001, I was chosen as the new pastor. It was a complex and difficult time when the transition took place. I really didn't have a "honeymoon" period and very honestly, although we were eight years old as a church, we were not yet established. I was the third pastor in those eight years, not atypical for a church plant started from a small core group, but nevertheless trying for the congregation and eldership. Looking back, I'm still amazed the congregation chose me- being 29 years old and not all that experienced. Maybe I was too young...heck, maybe I still am? At any rate, when I took my vows to become the senior pastor, in my heart, I was taking them for the long term. I have never viewed Redeemer as some kind of step to something "bigger", instead, I have a driving belief that God has His hand upon our Church, and I am to do all I can to stay out of God's way while being faithful to tend flock. We, the eldership of Redeemer, have made plenty of mistakes over the years. We are under no allusions that Redeemer's spiritual growth is because of anything we have concocted. At the same time, I have observed a genuine, selfless concern for the flock on the part of the elders that I believe God is blessing. Each of us has learned a thousand lessons about shepherding over these past ten years, for some, longer than that. I think my confidence in the future is grounded in the faithfulness of God to bring up such men to co-lead this flock.
This brings me to the point of my rambling, grateful post- ministry at Redeemer is exciting because there is so much left to do! We are about the never-ending task (earthly speaking) of worshiping our God (well, this is for eternity!), studying His Word, and proclaiming His gospel to the World...all the while growing as a community! I can't think of a ministry that has more potential than Redeemer. I will admit I tend to bore easily. Before becoming the pastor at Redeemer I confess to being a bit anxious about contentment. I wondered if I could ever be at one place for very long. This past May we quietly celebrated ten years of ministry at Redeemer, our first pastorate out of seminary. These ten years absolutely ripped by. Where did they go? There were trials, joys, heartaches, milestones, and all sorts of other experiences that made time progress at warp speed. My wife is opposite of me, she doesn't like change and is very comfortable with a steady routine. Redeemer is a rare blend of the traditional and the progressive. It's a perfect place for Shari and I to minister. I don't tell my church enough- I'm the most blessed pastor alive to be here- I'm sure of it! Sometimes I get too busy and too driven about all that's going on and has to take place for the next transition (we're always in some kind of transition) to stop and smell the roses...I mean the tulips (of course)... with our church family. We're in this together Redeemer, and I couldn't be happier about that!
As far as numeric growth goes, I honestly haven't given it more thought than I have to. Certainly I pay attention to numbers because pastoral approach varies depending on flock size. Still, I have never once felt pressure from our elders to be bringing more people in. I confess, sometimes I feel like I might be holding Redeemer back in this department- if I were a better preacher, a better administrator, a better this or that, maybe Redeemer would be growing more? There are many churches close to us that are growing at a much greater numeric rate than Redeemer, no doubt. Then I have this overwhelming sense of peace about what God is doing here. Further, I am convinced-beyond a shadow of a doubt and in light of His turning the world upside down with 13 Apostles- that God could use our "little" church in a greater way than all the mega churches combined, if He wills. God is growing us deep as He widens us. I can see this, slowly but surely. I really have come to the place where I believe my job is to keep the main purpose of my ministry simple (preach God's sovereign grace [the bible], equip, exhort, encourage, pray, and administer the sacraments) and never forget this is God's Church. I am really not that important to this whole equation. This reality is incredibly freeing to me. It really is.
Humanly speaking, I hope I stay at Redeemer my whole life, but I know that might not be God's Will. In fact, my regular prayer is to never be a hindrance to this ministry. If and when this happens, I will step away. It's not my ministry.
I yearn passionately to see Redeemer become a veritable citadel for Reformation and multi-generational gospel light in Overland Park, the Mid-west, the U.S., and the world. He definitely doesn't need me for that...and that's more than cool with me, it's empowering!
With all the theological incorrectness I can muster and speaking emotionally more than techinically- my job...our job...is to stay out of God's way and do nothing to rob His glory. Just you wait and see what He will do!
I'm telling you, these are exciting times. Let us keep in mind the Psalm depicted in the cartoon above. It is the same verse that appears inside my wedding band and the verse that now appears on Redeemer's sanctuary cornerstone.