Monday, June 8, 2015

Twenty Years in the Same Church

It’s hard to believe, but I have served as pastor of First Baptist Church for 20 years.  Some of that time crept along, but mostly the time flew by.  You just keep showing up for work every day and before you know it, you’ve been there 20 years.  They threw an over-the-top celebration to mark the occasion.  This is the response I shared at the end of the celebration service.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
          a time to be born, and a time to die;
          a time to break down, and a time to build;
          a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
          a time to mourn and a time to dance;
          a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
That covers a lot of time and a lot of seasons—the kinds of times and seasons we’ve shared in our 20 years together.  So to say that we’re honored and touched and blessed and bit embarrassed that you would mark this occasion in such a big way just confirms what I’ve thought about you people for years: you are insane—insanely loving, insanely kind, and insanely generous to my family and to me.  
But you outdid yourselves this time.  Other than the fact that Kristen was singing, Nathan was speaking, and Rex was preaching, the staff did a very good job of keeping me in the dark on this thing.  (Of course, some of them have had a lot of practice at that over the years J)  So we are surprised and thankful.   
I’m rather amazed that something that got off to such a shaky start would last as long as it has.  My family came in view of a call to be your pastor in February of 1995.  You called us 400-something to 1.  (I think that 1 is still among us.)  So you called us, and after agonizing for a couple of days, I said “No.”  But God did some things to get my mind right in the next month, and when I called John Wayne Smith and told him I think I might have been hasty in saying “No” and was the door even cracked for me to reconsider, he said he’d check on it.  He did.  The church voted on me a second time, the opposition doubled but it was still a strong call.  This time I said “Yes”—though I wondered why a church would want to call a pastor who either can’t discern God’s voice or won’t obey God’s will or both.  But you must have been getting pretty desperate and called us anyway.  We came.  And here we are 20 years later.
Leonard Sweet writes about "causal time" (the time when one is making a difference) and "pausal time" (the time when one reflects on what kind of difference one is making).  In many ways, these last 20 years have been a blur.  So very much has happened in the life of the church and in the life our family: changes and capital campaigns and buildings and changes and mission trips and additional services and an additional Sunday School and changes in staff and a bunch of funerals and a lot of weddings and grandchildren and more changes.  I have to admit that I’ve spent a lot more of these 20 years in causal time than pausal time.
So the last month or so, I’ve tried to take some pausal time on these last twenty years.  On our way to Texas to see Kristen’s family in early May, Dayna and I tried to think of some significant event for each year of the 20.  We didn’t do so well.  It’s the blur I was talking about.  This week, I decided to look back at Messengers from 1995 and 1996 and see what I wrote to you in those early days.  And just as I suspected, I found nothing either profound or worth repeating.  I think I spent the first eighteen months in a daze.  We did a lot of stuff in those eighteen months, but I did it in a fog of grief and second-guessing myself and trying to learn names and figure out how to get this First Baptist ship out of the harbor and into the open sea.  Well, together—with trust in Captain Jesus—we cut the ropes, fired up the engines, and launched into the depths.  What a ride it’s been!  And though for all of us it’s involved challenge and risk and sacrifice and a storm or two along the way, it sure beats the heck out of being anchored in the harbor.
I guess it’s natural to give the pastor a lot of credit on days like this, but I know the real story of why this journey has gone so well: a gifted, hard-working church staff who love God, love this church, and are good at what they do; a church family that’s willing to embrace a vision in unity and put their time and treasure into it; and most of all a great God who decided, for reasons known only to Him, to just put His hand of blessing on this church.  Actually, I’ve always considered myself overrated.  Many pastors could have enjoyed here what’s been mine to enjoy these last twenty years.  That’s why I’ve often prayed, “Lord, please don’t let me mess this up.”  I can imagine Judgment Day.  I stand before the Lord and He says, “McCallum, I gave you a pretty good gig there in Hot Springs, and you didn’t louse it up.  Well done.”  And that’s when I’ll say, “If it hadn’t have been for you, Lord—for your mercy, your presence, your wisdom, your strength, your love for your church—I would have destroyed that thing long ago.  Thank you, Jesus.”
And thank you, church family.  You have done more for us than we have ever done for you.  You have allowed us to be ourselves rather than forcing us into any mold of what you think a pastor and a pastor’s wife should be.  You have loved us well.  You have been with us in good times and hard times.  You have pastored us more times than I can count.  You have tried to look out for my family and me far better than I do.  And in my ministry among you, you have listened to me, followed me, forgiven me, invited me into your lives, paid me more than I deserve, enabled me to do gospel-work in many places in the world, and best of all you have prayed for me faithfully.  We should be throwing you a celebration rather than the other way around.  You should at least get an endurance medal, if nothing else, because I don’t see how you listen to the same voice Sunday after Sunday for all these years.
And it’s been a lot of years.  I’m not the 38-year-old I was when I came.  I’ve grown a little older.  My red hair is getting blonder.  The little bit of hair I’ve lost from the crown of my head has moved to my ears and my nose.  The two things I was called when I came here—our “young” pastor and our “new” pastor—no one can call me anymore.  My 15 and 13 year olds are in their 30’s with children of their own.  But Dayna still looks like the 36-year-old she was when we came—which is pretty amazing because twenty years is a long time—just a fraction longer than a third of my whole life. 
Anyway, in reflecting on all of that, my mind was drawn to music as it so often is.  I was reminded of some lines from songs that express some of what I feel on this day as I think back and look forward.
·         There’s Neil Young’s “Old man, take a look at my life / I’m a lot like you.”
·         And Tevye’s “When did she grow to be a beauty? / When did he get to be so tall? / Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”
·         There’s Waylon Jennings’ “I may be used, but I ain’t used up.”
·         And Toby Keith’s “I’m not as good as I once was / but I’m as good once as I ever was.”
·         As I ponder the future, there’s John Denver’s “Though my life’s been good to me / There’s still so much to do.”
·         And The Beatles’  “Will you still need me? / Will you still feed me / when I’m sixty-four?”
·         And lest I ever let long tenure make me think this church belongs to me, there’s Steven Curtis Chapman’s “It’s all yours, God, yours, God / Everything is yours / You’re the Maker and Keeper, Father and Ruler of everything / It’s all yours.”
·         And Fanny Crosby’s “To God be the glory / great things He has done.”
·         And then one song more to sum it all up: Steven Sondheim’s Broadway song: “Good times and bum times / I’ve seen them all, my dear / I’m still here.”
And Lord willing and church willing, we’ll all be here together and continue to chase God’s dreams and God’s glory for this church for at least a few more years to come.