Three years after that big storm, Sharon and I moved with excitement and some trepidation from that mobile home park located in the flat northern Indiana farmland to a small town church parsonage nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of southeast Ohio.
We were a young married couple whose backgrounds did not include growing up in a Christian home. Neither of us came from families with ministry experience. And now we found ourselves living in a remote location, away from our families, friends, and anything else familiar. It seemed that everything was new and the learning curve at times was challenging. God graciously added to that learning curve when He blessed us on February 18, 1984, with a new baby girl. That certainly added an extra dimension of joy and unfamiliarity to our lives!
I can still envision many of the faces who looked back at me on that hot June Sunday morning, my first as their new pastor. I remember the intimidating thoughts I imagined as I faced big challenges in a small place, such as: “How can I minister here when most of the people here have been saved longer than I have been alive, and, where many of the Christian teens have been saved longer than I have?”
Those early days of ministry challenged, chiseled, and changed me as a young pastor. I saw potential in the church that had extended to me its call and had big goals and dreams for its future. I prayed fervently, worked hard, and invested much. But much of the time, I was learning the hard way.
I often felt isolated because of our remote location. I usually had to drive several miles to attend meetings of our regional and state Regular Baptist association from which I could gain ministry encouragement and practical help. Making this commitment to attend meant that I would have to sacrifice most of a day of ministry.
Some church members didn’t understand this since they felt that everything you needed could be found in their little hamlet. Their misunderstandings were heaped on top of an already growing mound of the self-inflicted guilt I felt as a result of my own over-exaggerated expectations and what was perceived by many in the church as an underachieving ministry.
During those challenging times, God graciously brought His special ambassadors into our lives to share as ministry partners. These men and women from other local churches in our state association would serve as encouragers and godly role models for me and Sharon. They personally invested in us so that we could mature in our faith and grow in our ministry competency. They told us that it was alright to have spiritual vision, to try, and even to fail.
They shared their own personal stories of frustration and discouragement, as well as the victories and high moments. Their willingness to extend themselves to us helped to keep us afloat and gave us insight in navigating the sometimes rough ministry waters. Many of the greatest lessons we have learned in ministry came during those early days, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Sharon and I have learned that most of the couples we meet have the same desire that we first felt as we walked down the marital aisle and its corresponding path towards pastoral ministry many years ago. Indeed all Christian couples have similar desires. We all desire to glorify God in our lives and ministries. We prayerfully desire that our churches grow spiritually. It seems that more than anything, all of us want to know that we are not alone in sensing these challenges, these needs, and these opportunities. We desire ministry partners who will come alongside us.
Partnership in ministry is a wonderful thing. It was the vital connection in Christ that prompted the apostle Paul to exclaim to the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5 ESV). Paul and the believers at Philippi were effective partners in ministry because they were truly committed to one another’s growth, maturity, fruitfulness and success. Their relationship was spiritually significant because it was Christ-centered, faith-driven and love-empowered.
Looking back on our experience as a couple, Sharon and I can trace our growth and maturity as Christ’s followers to the individuals and churches He has strategically interwoven into the path of our spiritual journey. Our lives and ministry have richly benefited from the partnering that has been offered to us by God’s special servants.
We can testify to the fact that this partnership has come from many unexpected places. It has included churches of varying sizes and levels of ministry sophistication. It has also involved people of varying backgrounds and abilities, from trained theologians and capable pastors to humble Christian servants in local churches.
When God’s people partner together according to His biblical blueprint, they experience more and achieve more than they ever could apart in isolation. We suggest that you to reach out to a brother and sister in ministry and encourage them as they seek to serve their Lord and Savior. Such a partnership will not only reap great fruit in their lives, but yours as well.
You are invited to take advantage of the many resources that are available to you through a rich ministry partnership such as the MARBC and GARBC. You will discover that you have much in common with other ministry servants, regardless of your age, background, and ministry context. Sharon and I have been greatly challenged and edified over the years by the solid and practical biblical content we have received. We have been significantly blessed by the rich relationships and long lasting friendships we have gained by participating in association opportunities.
We encourage you to take advantage of the many opportunities regularly shared in each issue of The Messenger e-newsletter. Your participation really does matter. And it will result not only in your own blessing, but also those with whom you partner.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 ESV)
You have His Word on it! (KEF)