Lessons from Longevity

Over the last few days, Facebook has been filled with people doing the "How Hard Did Aging Hit You Challenge." The challenge is simple: "take your first profile pic and your current profile pic and brace yourself." For some, the bracing was easy - we haven't changed that much (but I haven't posted a pic either!). I suppose the biggest changes have been to the now-20-somethings who were teenagers in their first profile pic and now are married with their first kid. Some of my friends have gotten creative with this challenge and posted pics of other people or other things as themselves.

Even if our physical appearance hasn't changed much in a decade or so, a lot of other stuff has. In August I celebrated 10 years as pastor of First Baptist Church Pineville. This milestone made me the second longest tenured pastor in the church's history. That's because ten years as a pastor is an eternity in church life with few pastors staying past year six even though research consistently shows that stronger churches have longer tenured pastors. Interestingly, Thom Rainer has identified five stages of a pastor's ministry. I have to admit, he's spot on. Rainer's fifth season, however, begins at year 11. I'm there. It is a serious crossroads. As for me, I'm heeding the advice I received back in September from a pastoral mentor to prepare for the next leg of the journey.

On Sunday, I shared my tenth State of the Church Address with our people. During this annual message, I share some of what we've accomplished in the past year and what we hope to see happen in the year to come. However, looking back, it's amazing how little you can get done in one year but how much can happen in ten (thanks, Waylon Bailey, Pastor of FBC Covington, for this lesson). That caused me to jot down a number of lessons I've gleaned with some pastoral tenure. I shared these with our church yesterday, but I thought they would be helpful for you. No matter your leadership position, think about how they might apply:
  • Transitions happen. Good people come and good people go. Staff is called and is later called away. Members come and then leave – some due to moving away, a few because they get disgruntled, and many make their final move to heaven (I've buried 130 people in the last 10 years). All of the departures are heartbreaking, but, for me, the angry ones are the worse - especially when they are angry with or disappointed with me.
  • Challenges come. Financial strains, facility repairs, personality and preference issues among people, and more - challenges are part of church life. Disappointments happen because people are not perfect. I disappoint people because I am not perfect.
  • Victories occur. In ten years, a lot of them do. Believe it or not, budgets are met sometimes, and, even if not, the needs always are. Building programs are successful. New members join just when you need them. People step up to lead new ministries that you never thought possible (just show up to our place on a Saturday for Upward and you'll see what I mean). Marriages, parent/child dedications, baptisms, True Love Waits commitments, awards ceremonies,  and graduate recognitions put a smile on everyone’s face and maybe a tear as well.
  • Lives are changed. People are saved. Some answer the call to ministry. Relationships are restored. Forgiveness is granted. Many grow in their faith. People move from being casual to dedicated in their Christianity.
  • There are seasons of visible growth and seasons of preparatory growth. Nothing bears fruit all the time. Like a tree that bears fruit in season, a church goes through seasons where there is visible fruit (that's those buildings, budgets., and baptisms we all like) and when there is not. In those seasons when the visible fruit isn't evident, the church is growing to prepare for a new step. During this time, the roots are going deeper and new branches are preparing to form.
  • God is always at work. This is the best lesson of all. You believe it when you start out, but you know it when you look back. In the transitions, in the challenges, in the victories, in the seasons of visible growth and not-so-visible growth, God is always at work. His plan is never thwarted. The church will be victorious because God is victorious.
No matter where you are in your journey, press on. As we learned here yesterday:
Do not be slothful in your zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
(Romans 12:11, ESV)

Praying for you and your leadership,
Stewart Holloway