October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Not sure how I feel about that really. October is also Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, Apple Jack Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Popcorn Popping Month, and Sarcastic Month. I suppose we are all so busy that if we don’t have something to remind us, we’ll forget to appreciate most things.
But all that aside, could I say a word about the first Baptist pastor I ever had. His name is Dr. Gary Fenton. He wasn’t yet Dr. Fenton when he was my pastor. He was fresh out of seminary and in his mid-20s then. He was nine years my elder. And he made an impact in my life. He is the pastor who baptized me, counseled me in regard to my call to ministry, gave me the opportunity to preach my first sermon, and preached my ordination sermon a couple of years later. Dayna and I would have liked for him to officiate our wedding too, but First Baptist, Branson, had a new pastor then, Gilbert Spencer, and we wanted to affirm Gil's ministry too.
Gary was a pastoral mentor to me. He’s one of the few pastors I’ve known in my life who is the complete package. The man can preach, provide shepherd care for his people, and lead the church toward its mission. I worked for him for him during my first college summer at First Baptist in Branson. He took time to talk with me about Bible texts and commentaries. I watched how he related to people with compassion and love—all kinds of people too, not just the power people and the largest donors. He was accessible. And Gary was the hardest working pastor I ever knew.
From the moment of my call to ministry, I knew God wanted me to be a pastor. I served in staff roles about five years before God gave me my first pastorate, but I knew the pastorate is where God was leading me all the time. And here’s one thing I distinctly remember from the year or two Gary was my pastor: I wanted to pastor like Gary. He set a high bar I strived to reach. I’ve never reached his bar just yet but striving for it—striving to be a good preacher, a good shepherd for the people, and a good leader—has made me a better pastor than I would have been without Gary’s influence.
Last week, we were able to have Gary preach revival services in the church. He’s recently retired. It was great to spend some time with him. Dayna and I treasure the moments we shared together with Gary during those few days in Hot Springs. And even though I turned 62 during that revival, Gary is still teaching me and mentoring me in ministry.
So in this Pastor Appreciation Month, I want to say, “Thank you, God, for Gary Fenton, a man after your heart, the man who helped me begin my journey toward pastoral ministry, and a man whose fingerprints are on every good thing you’ve ever done in my nearly four decades of pastoring! And thank you, Gary, for investing in a nobody from nowhere who had nothing to offer you in return except an eagerness to serve Jesus and to learn.”
Peter concludes a brief word to pastors in his 1st letter in the New Testament by writing, "And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." There's a crown waiting for Gary. And he's going to look really good in it.