Phyllis and I became the pastors of a small country church in Arkansas the week I turned 22. I still had a semester of college left and we made the 180-mile round trip each weekend. Then we served as assistant pastor at my home church in Nashville, Arkansas.
By the time I was 25 we were pastoring in Texas and I was ready for ordination, which is the third and final step for pastoral recognition in our movement.
I’ll never forget the night of the ordination service. At the end, one of my leaders placed his hands on my head as I knelt praying. I hadn’t expected anything special, but I got it anyway.
You see, I showed up for that meeting pretty beat up. Pastoring a church looks easy to those who have never done it. I’ll agree. It’s as easy as piloting a Boeing 767 in a thunderstorm. I like people to like me and be happy with me, and even in small churches there are always a few people who wouldn’t be happy, even if the Lord Jesus was the pastor of their church.
I’ve remarked to my wife more than once, “I’m glad I only have to deal with that person at church. Their spouse has to deal with them all the time, and I don’t imagine that’s a picnic.” And there are some husbands who are mad at their wives, but they are afraid to take it out on them so they take it out on the pastor.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Some of the best people I ever met were in those churches. If you’re reading this, you were one of them. The Texas church is still one of the highlights of our ministry.
But, the night I knelt in that ordination service, I must confess, I figured God was getting a bargain when He got me. “Gave up what I was planning for the ministry. Put up with being a punching bag for unhappy individuals. Willing to live on a minimal salary. Yes, sir Lord. You’re really lucky to have me.”
Now, I didn’t say that out loud because I was afraid God would give me a “Gibbs slap” on the back of my head. But, I felt that way.
Until the old brother prayed for me.
God showed up. I felt His wonderful, healing presence and His powerful love. Then, He spoke to me. Know what He said?
“You’re lucky I let you preach, David!”
And since I was pretty sure it was God, I didn’t dispute Him. He was right, you know. He’s God.
Lucky Old Paul
At times old Paul was pretty beat up because of this preaching thing. Yet, here is what He had to say about it, “By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ.” (Eph. 3:7, 8, NLT)
“Privilege?” “Grace?” What are you on about, Paul? Don’t you remember what you said?
“Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
“Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (2 Corinthians 11:25-29, NLT)
How do you add that up and make it equal “grace” and “privilege”? You must have been dropped on your head as a kid if you think that.
Hang on. You know what? I agree with Paul. Sure, it’s hard at times but when you see one person whose life changes and you’ve had a part of that, that’s worth millions and millions. It’s a privilege. God was good to us to let us serve Him. Not just preachers, but each one of us in the area God puts us.
And God’s presence! Paul noted that he had lost everything that counted to him in his life before Christ. But, knowing Jesus was so incredible that all the rest of that stuff seemed like garbage in comparison (Philippians 3). We know the power of His resurrection but also the fellowship of His sufferings.
He is so close in hard times.
It’s Worth It
Once, in Luxembourg, we had people from our pioneer church over to celebrate Aunt Finney’s 80th birthday. After we ate, I sat on the front porch step and watched one of our men play with his two little daughters.
And I remembered when a couple of young ladies who worked with us had invited him to our Christian Coffee Bar. He had been heavily into psychedelic drugs and he looked it. Three years of rehab, off and on, hadn’t set him free.
But, Jesus did.
Now, he had a beautiful family and God was using him to help others. I wanted to cry as I watched them.
It really is a privilege to be a part of God’s plan, even if it costs everything.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson