Reflections on 22 Years With the Same Congregation
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Today I pass my 22nd year pastoring the same congregation. This is really an answer to prayers offered long ago as Gwynne and I walked around our seminary campus. As we were finishing our time of ministry preparation and seeking God’s direction, we asked the Lord to lead us to a place where we could invest our lives with a people and where we could grow together in the obedience of faith. First Baptist Church Gonzales (FBCG) has been an answer to that prayer.
Serving as a pastor of a local congregation has been a rich and fulfilling experience that has brought me great joy and a sense of God’s pleasure. I have never been bored, and the call to rise each morning and get to the task at hand has never been in question for me.
As John Piper quipped, in his work, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, “God loves a cheerful pastor.” Piper’s adaptation of 2 Corinthians 9:7 has been like a well-driven nail into my thoughts and attitudes about local church ministry that has served me well. At this point in my journey, I am more energized than I can ever remember for Christ to receive his rightful glory in his church and among the nations.
However, there have been times in ministry where I have wanted to quit, times that were not joyful, but excruciating. That feeling could be articulated as an impulse to move to Montana and work at McDonalds. Those moments have always been short-lived for me, and I have come to see that the pain in ministry has been God’s sanctifying hand chastening and conforming me into the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-30).
In the dark seasons of ministry, I have come to understand something that is very important, namely, ministry is not about me, and I am not my own, I have been bought with a price and called to glorify God with my all.
I had just turned 28 years old when I started at FBCG in 1993. The church had issued a strong vote of affirmation in the call for me to come as pastor. However, my first month at the church was eventful as 120 people left the church and started a new work in another area of town. This seemed to be the inevitable result of months and months of protracted conflict. I didn’t take their departure personally. The church had been through a very painful season in its history, and I was called by the Lord to try to lead the church forward, and under my fine leadership the membership was shrinking quickly!
Navigating through the rip current of congregational strife coupled with the collateral damage of a tarnished testimony and deep distrust was a daunting task indeed. I guess one of the biggest surprises coming out of seminary was that the lion’s share of my time and energy early on would be spent on internal matters within the church to the neglect of the clear mandate from our Savior to engage the world with the gospel.
Some people told me it couldn’t be done, in essence to assume this responsibility was a lost cause. I had one memorable conversation with an older, prominent pastor in Louisiana. When he learned that I had just been called to FBCG, his countenance fell and he looked at me and spoke to me as if I had just been diagnosed with a melanoma. I said to him, “It’s okay, God has called me here, and this is his church, and I believe he has great plans for this congregation and I want to be a part of it.” He said with hesitancy and an elongated, “Okaaaay.” He was a real Barnabas!
One thing has become absolutely clear to me through these years and that is that Christ is the head of his Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! I could never love the church more than Christ does. That I could be a part of FBCG is one of the greatest blessings of my life. To be loved by this congregation the way they have love me and my family is a speechless wonder.
To the glory of God in these two decades plus two, we have seen:100’s baptized; spiritual growth that cannot be quantified; significant Great Commission giving and sending to the nations and the neighborhoods; a growing reputation in our community of a Church that is committed to the Lord and to the needs of people; no debt in all these years as we have paid for expansion and enlarged mission giving. God’s provision and favor have been so obvious.
When you walk with a people for this long, there is no faking. They have loved me and supported me in spite of my youthful mistakes and obvious weaknesses. For this reason, I thank my God upon every remembrance of First Baptist Church Gonzales for these years together. Thank you, dear Church family!
I would also like to use this post as an introduction to a series of articles that will be forthcoming in the next few months. I will be writing about convictions that have sustained me in pastoral work and hope it would be an encouragement to others.