In celebration of pastoring Cornerstone for 10 years, I am writing about my ministry in Forest City, PA. In mid-October 2007 I delivered my first sermon in here. I had returned from Florida where I was a youth and music minister at a great church. There was a small group of people at Cornerstone at the time, I believe about 20 or so, And we met in the borough building. I was so happy to be back in the Northeast for the crisp fall weather. This is not to negate the many great friends and opportunities in Florida (who we like to visit every couple years – although not in the summer).
I want to list 10 things that I learned over the last 10 years of pastoring. In some ways you may think to yourself that only one thing a year is pretty poor. These 10 things really impacted me. Some came directly from people, others came from how God worked in my life. Some came through studying and being mentored by others who are a lot wiser than me. I’m thankful to the people of Cornerstone who have allowed me to minister to them for 10 years.
Some of these things would be good advice for any pastor, especially those entering full-time ministry. Other lessons can apply to every Christian. When I took over Cornerstone I was 24 years old and while I had experience working in churches it was mostly with youth. There was a lot to learn. Some of the lessons are theological in nature, others are practical.
- Some things are not worth fighting over. My formal education made a big deal out of what we call “separation.” While there are times that certain churches, communities, or denominations make decisions which require separate communities of faith, I realized that there are things that are not worth fighting over. I Corinthians 15:1-4 teaches that the thing we must fight over is the Gospel – something we cannot give an inch on. But there are other things in my congregation which we agreed to disagree on (Romans 14).
- God is in control. Often Christians choose a “life verse.” It’s often something in God’s word that seems to resonate greatly within an individual’s life and is needed for recurrent encouragement. When I graduated high school my life verse was Proverbs 3:5-6. When we left Florida to move back to Pennsylvania it became Isaiah 55:8-9. God’s ways and thoughts are not always mine. Little did I know how much I would learn from these verses over the next couple years. Understanding God’s sovereignty, or that He is in control even through the bad things in life, has helped both my ministry and personal life immensely. Over the last 10 years there were definitely times when it didn’t seem God was in control of my life, our church or the world. As I continue to trust, study and pray, God proves Himself faithful to who He is.
- Spiritual growth takes time. I’m a very logical human being. I think I would enjoy hanging out with Spock as my best friend. A lot of times I look at Scripture, see what it says, see the direct benefits and how it glorifies God and want to obey it. Over the last 10 years I’ve learned to become patient was spiritual growth in others (Philippians 1:6). Scripture gives plenty of examples when spiritual growth took longer for several people. I’ve learned patience in that way.
- My job taught me patience. I’ve spent most of my 10 years at Cornerstone working a second job to support my family. Most of that time has been spent in mental health. I’ve been able to interact and observe all kinds of people that I did not get to interact with previously . Working in mental health has taught me much patience for people who do not have skills and abilities that I sometimes take for granted.
- People are jaded with church, but not God. I’ve met a lot of people over the last 10 years that believe in God, trust in Jesus, but no longer go to church. We have a good group of those people in our church who would’ve been in that category several years ago, but now attend Cornerstone regularly. Sometimes people are jaded about church because of what the church has done, and other times it’s because of something done or what they perceive the church has done. Over the last 10 years I’ve heard many times from people who are so happy to come to Cornerstone after too many years away from church. They had given up on church, but not God, and are very thankful they gave it another chance at Cornerstone.
- A lot of life is work. When Shannon and I lived in Florida we both worked full-time jobs. We were very active with the youth group that I lead and Shannon spent many hours a week volunteering at the church. However, we were renters with no children, didn’t live near any relatives, and while we developed friendships we had very few formal obligations to the community.. Ten years later we own a house, Shannon runs a homeschooling group, we have three children, and we’re back in the region where we grew up, which includes a lot of social obligations with family and friends. Life is a lot of work and sometimes ridiculously busy. I’m sure this is just part of being an adult, but understanding that for a lot of people, there is a lot of toil to life. Along with toil, however, there is fruit. So many people are not enjoying life because they’re not working – whether it be at work, or on relationships with their spouse, children or friends, or not being productive in society. When you pick the fruit there’s enjoyment and satisfaction in it (Ecclesiastes 3:22).
- We need to enjoy life. I think in a lot of ways I struggled with this for two reasons. First let’s go back to being Spock-like. It doesn’t seem logical to enjoy things. Enjoyment is not something measurable. Logic wants to measure and quantify everything. I have a very interesting path for learning about enjoyment, what I would call a backward path. The first person who taught me enjoyment about the Christian life was an atheist friend. Now he did not as much teach me but challenge me. We were out playing disc golf when he mentioned something to the effect of Christians are so focused on the next life that they don’t enjoy anything about this life. This stuck with me for years. Then I ran into John Piper. Not personally, but through his teaching in books, YouTube clips, and speaking at conferences I attended. He addresses Christian hedonism, which is the enjoyment God gives us in this life. Then studying for a teaching series on the Fruit of the Spirit, I realized one of those fruits is joy – not just joy through tough times, but in fact, daily enjoyment.
- Gospel Centered, Cross Centered, Jesus Centered This one theological truth has changed my entire approach to studying and teaching Scripture. I’m very thankful to the current reform movement and how they taught and displayed this in writings and teaching. I remember it like a “light bulb” moment the first time I heard Mark Driscoll say that all Scripture is about Jesus in John 5:39-40 and Luke 24:27. Understanding that our Bible is not just some academic book on “how to” live from God, but that everything God has called us to flows out of Jesus, the Gospel and the Cross into us so we can give those things to others. This is life changing.
- You can’t please everyone. I’m not saying I didn’t know this before but I was reminded of it repeatedly over the last 10 years. Many times a leader must make tough decisions. Thankfully for years our church deacons have stood by my side, challenged me, encouraged, and tested my thought process, motives and theology. There were several times when people who I deeply cared for and spent a lot of time ministering to decided that our church wasn’t the place for them, or because of me. For a lot of pastors that fact brings a lot of pain. I would say that was compounded by the size of our church. There were times when a family leaving might have been 5-10% of the congregation. Some of these people later came back and apologized, and are some of the greatest servants we have at Cornerstone today. Others have decided to move on and I wish them the best.
- A spouse is one of the richest blessings this side of heaven.I almost hesitate to state this fact because I know not everybody has a great spouse or even has a spouse. Over the last 10 years Shannon has been with me through thick and thin. She has been a stable friend, companion, romantic partner, encourager, and soul mate. Without her I would not be who I am or where I’m at. Proverbs 31:10 exemplifies who she is, “an excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”
What lessons have you learned over the last couple years? How has God challenged you in different areas of life?