In 1991, at the age of 24, I became pastor of a small church in southwest Toronto. I thought I had arrived. I threw myself into the work with everything I had — everything meaning energy more than wisdom.
After seven years I’d had enough. I loved the people, but I wondered if I should move on to another ministry venture. Perhaps my gifts would be better used in a larger context, I thought.
I wish I had read Francis Schaeffer back then. “We should consciously take the lowest place unless the Lord Himself extrudes us into a greater one,” he said. “Take the smaller place so you have quietness before God.”
I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed for the long haul.
Decades, Not Years
A couple of years ago I attended a weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I was surprised when I showed up. The building looked very much like an ordinary neighborhood church. It’s not the kind of church building that one expects when thinking about an effective church. It’s not what I expected.
When Mark Dever started as a new pastor in 1994, only a hundred or so people attended. But Dever stayed. Now, 25 years later, the church is over a thousand strong, and they’ve also helped to plant other churches. A church like that grows into health in decades, not years.
I think of another friend who took on a humble church not far from where I first pastored. I left; he stayed. Decades later, the church is still humble. Numerical growth is not guaranteed. He’s stayed faithful, and that church and community is better for it.
It’s not just churches. I’m reading a series of books right now that I’ll be reviewing later. It’s written by someone who started his venture in 1982. That business is flourishing, but it hasn’t grown overnight. Some good things only come with the investment of decades of care and love.
Last Fall I talked with a friend about my church planting ministry. The Fall had started slower than I’d like. I needed encouragement. Was I on the right track? Should I stay?
My friend was unwavering. Yes, he said, I’m on the right track. No, I shouldn’t lose heart. I had signed up for the hard work of planting a church in a secular, transient area. What did I expect?
My discouragement was temporary. I’m glad I listened to his advice, because just months later the momentum I’d hoped for in the Fall has finally come. But I’m experienced enough to know that it won’t last. Momentum ebbs and flows; it’s not always springtime. Sometimes I’ll be encouraged with what I see, and sometimes I’ll be disappointed.
But some things only happen when someone stays long enough to love a church into greatness not just in the short term but for the long haul.
Keep going. Some growth comes quickly, but the best kind of ministry takes place over decades.