“I can’t believe it!” How many of us have uttered these words in the past when we are amazed at how fast time flies by. It seems the older we get the faster it goes – or does it? Anyway, here I sit in the church office in a sense of deep reflection on the past eleven years of ministry (actually it is really fourteen years when I count my time as a commissioned lay pastor). Yes, Sunday, August 26 is the eleventh anniversary of my called ministry. It seems like only a short time ago that I was ordained and installed to the shared ministry of two small rural churches in south central Pennsylvania and looking forward to beginning my new life as a Presbyterian minister. Humbled as I was, I was still glad and excited that God had called me to minister to the two beautiful churches in the gorgeous Valley of the Tuscarora.
I think back to the many people who assisted me on my faith journey and I look back on my professors at seminary and what they taught me, not only about God and His Church, but about my faith. They caused me to discern my call with serious questions about God and about myself (referred to as “peeling my faith onion”). I think they knew I was only kidding myself when I boldly stated that my goal was to “shed the green uniform of the Army and wrap myself in the robe of a minister.” I can only imagine how they smiled, or laughed, at my attempt to transform the hard corps soldier to become more pastoral. It wasn’t long after graduation and ordination that I realized that God did not intend for me to completely change. After all, I have always been “Buddy” and would always be “Buddy”. Yes, over time I have tempered my demeanor and deportment, but there are times when I feel the “old soldier” just below the surface. I once got a big laugh when an old friend from the military commented after seeing my ordination picture with long hair and robes – “Wow! I guess ‘Colonel Buddy’ is gone – you look great for your advanced age – BUT can you preach?” Well, I won’t go into that – the flock can determine that.
Amongst all my reminiscing and reflection my thoughts went to the question of just how effective I have been as a minister for God to His church. I am not sure I can answer that. If I consider growth of a congregation an indication of a successful ministry, then I have failed because all three congregations maintained their strength, plus or minus. If I consider success through the people I have helped, influenced spiritually, and brought to God then I will never know how that makes my ministry successful. I do know that I have pleased some people and a few have not been pleased with me. I only know that I have seriously tried to be a good servant pastor, always seeking God’s will in dealing with his people and church. Also, I do know that I am still happy participating in the ministry of my present Call to serve the flock here at The Presbyterian Church of Gatesville.
On another thought, I am concerned about the decline of the greater church and how that impacts on our church, youth and the future of both. Most all surveys taken of church attendance and participation indicate a serious and continual decline in numbers and influence. Why?
Maybe it is because we are fearful of looking like a “John the Baptist lunatic”. Maybe we are uncomfortable with sharing our faith with others because we yet to understand it. Maybe we are concerned because we do not have the gift of sharing our beliefs. Maybe we are satisfied with our personal relationship with God and not concerned with others establishing theirs. Maybe we are too busy to witness to others how God impacts our loves. For sure, our list of priorities does not have God at the number one position. This has occurred because we have allowed social and cultural distractions to come first over God and His church. Whatever the reason, as Christians, we are disobeying God because we are not fulfilling our commission.
Having said all this, the obvious questions are there to ask: “Why aren’t we growing instead of losing church members and whole churches? Where are all the people? Why aren’t we, as a denomination, out there doing what we were instructed by Jesus Christ to do, namely, “…Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-19)?
Not sure how to answer these questions and not sure how to convince the Church membership that we are all “ordained” at the moment of our baptism to do God’s will and work within Church ministry. We all have that responsibility to do God’s will and take His Message into the community by our own word and deed.
I really like the little saying (and I have used it a great deal in my sermons), “Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God will come to know God because they know you.” That is great but it doesn’t mean just being a stoic living example of a Godly, Jesus-like person. It also means that you should witness to people when the opportunity arises and it also means to invite your non-church friends and neighbors to come to church and/or our church activities. Granted you cannot make them come but at least you can make the effort through an invitation to join us for worship or some activity. We have now in our midst people who were invited to attend a church service or activity and they are now active members. We even have more than and one family who saw our website and never looked back and are now members.
With all this said, I encourage everyone to get out there and do what Jesus did in the Galilee over 2,000 years ago. He “rounded up” the first disciples who in turn rounded up people who became the first Christians. I know many of you are doing just that through your diligent efforts in initiating your own “round ups” and I applaud your efforts. I encourage others to replicate that effort. After all, we are all in this together and with God’s help we can divorce ourselves from distractions and get on with doing God’s will. Let’s round ‘em up!
Well…. this is what happens when your pastor starts reminiscing and reflecting. Just know that I am still so thankful for God calling me to the ministry and to this church – I am so grateful. I do pray that we all stand up to our responsibilities as God’s Children.
God bless you, your families, and our church, always!
Until the Nets Are Full, I Remain Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant,