Leaving a Middle-Georgia Pastorate

When in ministry, full-time or not, there are moments when we must move from one field to another. Sometimes it’s planned and orderly, while other times we find ourselves making that move unexpectedly, or at least sooner than we planned. However, the one encouraging truth for those who love God and are called according to His purpose is that “all things work together for good.”

It’s a Romans 8:28 day every day!

Regardless, moving from one place to another is never easy, especially when you’ve grown to love the people and the place where you’ve been serving. That’s the current situation facing my wife and me.

The Ups and Downs

For the last three years (three years and six weeks, to be exact), we have been living and ministering in Warthen, GA at Bethlehem Baptist Church. The last three years have been anything but normal, but I do believe that’s been part of what has endeared us to the area. It was so nice to experience a genuinely small-town atmosphere, especially during COVID.

But don’t misunderstand me, there are downsides to living and ministering in a small community. For one, having to drive an hour and a half to go to the hospital or to a doctor for anything other than a sniffle got a little old. My wife and I would schedule our appointments and shopping on the same day so that we wouldn’t have to make multiple trips . . . three hours on the road for one appointment was insanity.

Another downside is the simple fact that everyone in a small community either knows everyone else or they’re related in some way. This makes talking with someone in secret nearly impossible. And for the love of all that’s civil, NEVER say anything bad about somebody unless you want everyone to know.

But everyone knowing everyone is also a sweet and wholesome thing, too! Sure, the slightest misspoken word can bring all hades down on one’s head, but everyone being in everyone else’s business can also prove beneficial when times are hard. The willingness to help each other out of a jam is not something you find as often in larger communities.

A Special Breed

However, when it comes to pastoring a small church in a small community, it takes a special breed of person to succeed. Evidently, I’m not that kind of person.

Small churches in small, rural communities more often desire a pastor who:

  • assumes the role of fun uncle, wise grandfather, or ever-present brother-in-law who stops by unannounced to see what’s for dinner
  • is always soft-spoken and deliberate with his words, never blunt
  • charms the non-attending church members into returning
  • says the most comforting things at all funerals (yes, even for the heathen)
  • has a working understanding of all outdoor activities, including, but not limited to, hunting, fishing, trucks, factory work, grilling, the military life, chainsaws, and deep-frying turkeys
  • and rarely preaches Greek and Hebrew-free sermons that are longer than 25 minutes.

So, does that mean that I’m not called to the pastorate if I’m not like the gentle shepherd above? Heavens, no!

Granted, if I’m to be honest, being told more than once that I’m not the “best pastor” led to some depressing days. Honestly, it stung. I even found myself doing some self-re-evaluations.

The conclusion was that yes, I’m called; I’m just different.

My Calling

Official George S. Patton portrait

I sometimes think of the World War 2 generals like Eisenhower and Patton. If you know your history, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General George S. Patton were both super patriotic military geniuses, but their personalities couldn’t have been more different. One was a calm, calculated, diplomatic leader whose gifts and abilities led him to be selected as the Allied Supreme Commander during WWII. The other was a complicated, often eccentric, warrior who loathed cowardice and felt destined for glory on the field of battle.

I might be more of a Patton than an Eisenhower, just without the cursing and all the reincarnation beliefs. However, if there was any general with which I would aspire to be compared to, it would be General Robert E. Lee, a man of utmost loyalty and conviction who led an army of men willing to follow him into the mouth of hell itself. He was both a warrior AND a gentleman.

But I’m not called to be a general.

My calling is to preach and teach the Word of God without apology or intimidation. More than an itinerate evangelist, my calling extends to laying doctrinal foundations on which can be built the solid and grounded faiths which can withstand the strongest storms of life. So, this kind of teaching and preaching requires time with a congregation and cannot be achieved through one or two series of sermons.

I’m a Stirrer

What’s more, when I first arrived at Bethlehem Baptist, it wasn’t long before one of our deacons gave me the nickname of “Spoon”. . . because I had the tendency to “stir things up.” It wasn’t that I tried to cause problems or move too quickly; it was just my personality. As much as I believe in tradition, “the way things have always been” can be the enemy of souls and the waster of precious, irreplicable time.

When things are left to sit and settle for too long, the ingredients separate and lose their combined effectiveness. Sometimes stirring or shaking things up involves nothing more than reawakening the inherent abilities already present. Remember what Paul told Timothy?

Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:6

And let’s not forget the words of Peter.

Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance . . .
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance . . .

2 Peter 1:13; 3:1

Please don’t misunderstand me, I think it is important for every God-called pastor to show love and compassion to his flock by being there for them through the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows of life. However, there is a reason that in Acts chapter 6 the infant Church in Jerusalem was instructed to select the first official deacons. I like the way it reads in the following translation.

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

Acts 6:2-4 NLT

Note, the apostles had no problem “running a food program” in the beginning. It only became a problem when it began to take away from their primary responsibilities: prayer and teaching the Word.

How We’ll All Be Happy

Don’t expect me to show up to your home unannounced.

Don’t expect me to visit you in the hospital if I don’t know you’re there.

Don’t expect me to stalk you and show up uninvited to all your activities. Invite me and I will come!

I mean, seriously, do you REALLY want me showing up when you least expect it?

That’s a job for a deacon 😉

Therefore, give me a place where I can pray, study, teach and preach the inerrant, all-sufficient Word of God, or as the apostle Paul would say, “the whole gospel,” and I will have found my happy place.

And I think you’ll be happy with me, too.

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Filed under Bethlehem Baptist Church, ministry, Preaching

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