It’s been 20 years since my wife and I, and two couples from our mother church launched Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville, Illinois. As we recently celebrated the church’s anniversary, I’ve been thinking about the lessons I’ve learned simply from sticking around. Here are three.
1. Focus on “how often and how well” rather than “how many.”
All four Gospels offer a version of the Great Commission. In each telling, Jesus emphasized actions rather than results. Taken with the promise in Matthew 16:18, “upon this rock I will build my church,” it is reasonable to conclude that our responsibility is to faithfully proclaim the gospel and disciple those whom we baptize; the Lord’s responsibility is to grow his church (Acts 2:47).
With this understanding, God’s word compels me to ensure we continuously press toward our mission, to reach people and help them to grow. This means encouraging every member to pray for and respond to gospel opportunities as they go about their daily rhythms of life. It also means making sure that we are consistently involved in outreach initiatives that create spaces for members to share their faith with unsaved and unchurched people.
What is most important, however, is not the number of people that join our church as a result. That metric belongs to God. Our focus is gospel engagement. Did we serve well? Did we meet new people? Did we start conversations? Did we have a plan for intentional follow-up? These are areas we can control.
2. Don’t go it alone. Have friends.
Pastors need friends of various sorts. Pastors need people in their church they can trust to be honest with them in their leadership, people who will offer support and hear their heart when it comes to ministry and family concerns.
Pastors need pastor friends outside of their church, men who are also running the race and can relate firsthand to the pressures and challenges of pastoral ministry. These men can pray with you with a unique sense of empathy. They can talk you out of quitting too soon and hold you accountable when you are wrong.
Pastors need mentor friends, men who have already finished the race or are ahead in the journey so they can offer wisdom that only comes with experience. Mentor friends can make you aware of potential pitfalls—ministry and moral—and help you navigate mistakes.
My pastor, William M. Rorer, planted Alpha Missionary Baptist Church in Bolingbrook in 1977. He pastored there for over 37 years, until his retirement. If you desire longevity, it may be important to have mentors who model longevity.
Pastors need friends who are not pastors. A friend I met in college over 30 years ago lives in another state, but we are intentional about spending a few days on the lake fishing a couple of times a year, just being friends. To him I am not Pastor Price or Dr. Price, I am Bryan; no pressure, no expectations other than seeing who can catch the most fish. Each relationship mentioned has been critical for my longevity.
3. Trust the Lord and remain faithful to the call.
Early in my pastorate, experienced pastors would stress to me that the church belongs to God. It sounded cliché. However, as I have seen the Lord work despite my shortcomings, I have become more certain of this truth.
When I tell new church planters that I still pastor the same church I planted twenty years ago, they seem surprised. When they ask for advice, I say, “Trust the Lord.” Make plans and develop strategies, but trust the Lord. Paul’s words are trustworthy: God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).
Love Fellowship has had its high seasons, but our church is small. Yet, if all the people who have made professions of faith and those who we have baptized over the years were still with us—had they not moved away, passed away, or walked away—our numbers would look more impressive.
I could sulk over it, and sometimes I do. A few times I wanted to quit. But the Lord always reminds me, “I can move people as I see fit, they are mine. I called you to plant and pastor where you are, and until I call you somewhere else stay put and trust me!”
Being certain of God’s call has kept me during the dark nights and cold winters of pastoral ministry. That same calling, mixed with fresh vision from God has been my source of renewed strength—for 20 years.