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Monday, October 20, 2014

Pastor Appreciation...

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month. We'll be out of town next Sunday and the next week will be November. So I thought I'd post this here today.
I have been a Christian since I was nine years old. In 42 years of faith, I have only had 5 pastors. I just don't church-hop. I like to go to one church and get involved.
So here is my list of appreciation for the men who have pastored me in my life. Plus a couple who were never actually my pastor, as least not officially, but who are pastors and whom I respect.

Dr. E. L. Britton
He was my first pastor. I went to the church he started for almost 20 years. I became a believer there.
Pastor Britton started the church as a vacation Bible school in his neighborhood. He and his wife would move all the furniture out of their little house and into the garage or out on the lawn covered in tarps, then hold VBS inside for a week. He was a big man. Strong, both physically and spiritually.
Most folks saw him as a father figure and many of us still do.
Pastor E.L. is old school. It's funny the phases you go through. When you're 9 years old and all this is new, you just assume this is how every church does it and this is how it's supposed to be. Then you hit your late teens and twenties and you seek for something new. Then you get older, have a family, see the world through the eyes of fatherhood and after walking in your faith for a while and you yearn for some of that old school again. There was comfort in going to his church. Comfort in knowing everybody, in growing up with all the kids and the adults knowing you. Comfort in hearing battle- hardened old saints stand slowly to their feet, and lead us in prayer on Wednesday nights. I learned to pray there. I learned the value of living a consistent, honorable life. Great men like Harry Flohr and Dad Stanley, and Harold Alexander showed me that.
Pastor Britton is the Pastor Emeritus there now. He just turned 93 and he's still as spry as the mayor.
He's one of those folks who don't have to wait to hear God say "Well done good and faithful servant..." because God is already saying it. He taught me that a pastor loves his people. He taught me that if you truly want a church to function as a family, you lead by example. He was never unavailable, he answered every phone call, shook the last hand, put his arm around any needy shoulder. He was and is a great man, who I admire and love deeply.

Pastor Paul Walters
If you pinned me down and made me choose, I'd tell you Paul Walters was my favorite pastor ever. I was 29 years old. I was pretty broken and very burned out from the legalism that had so entrenched itself in the Fundamental Baptist movement of my youth. I was seeking something deeper with God. Something that would last. Some friends of mine attended Praise Assembly in Newark, Delaware and I decided to visit. I fell in love with the place and the people instantly. I fell most deeply in love with the man who quickly became my next pastor, Paul Walters. Pastor Paul and his wife, Betty are the sweetest, most loving, most caring people you will ever meet. The Apostle Paul compared the job of a pastor to that of a shepherd. Jesus did the same thing. There is a reason. A pastor must be a certain kind of man...he must have the same qualities a shepherd has. Sheep are stupid, stubborn, weak, defenseless, and easily attacked. They are dirty and smelly and have a short attention span. Sound familiar? Shepherds have to be gentle, yet occasionally harsh. Too harsh and the sheep will become timid and run off and get killed. Too gentle and the sheep will wander off and get lost. Because sheep innately wander. A shepherd really has to KNOW his sheep. He has to love them because being a shepherd is a thankless job that demands sacrifice.
Paul and Betty Walters love people. Really, really love them. Paul Walters would go without food if someone else needed his lunch. I've never know a more loving, caring, soft hearted man in ministry. Jesus wept over the grief of Lazarus' family. He let their pain touch him. Pastor Walters was the same way. He would put his arm around you when you were hurting and you just knew...he cares so much that this is hurting him as much as it is you. He was my pastor until I left Delaware in 1997. I miss those glorious days at Praise Assembly. I'm so thankful to still be in contact with this wonderful, Christlike man and his wife. If I were to become a pastor tomorrow...I'd just try to do it like he did it. If I came even close to being the pastor he was, I would be a great success.

Pastor Steve Allen
I moved to Nashville in 1997 with a pregnant wife and $450 dollars in my pocket. I went immediately to work doing carpentry and we immediately set out looking for a church. We visited a few places but eventually settled on Oak Hill Assembly of God. Although we had only been there a few months, they gave Holly a baby shower. The night my daughter was born, Steve Allen showed up and stayed for three hours until she arrived. Because he knew we had no family there, and he didn't want us to be alone. That's the kind of pastor he was. He is supremely talented. I've only ever heard maybe four or five pianists that were his equal. He loves music. Mostly, he loves people. Loves them. He is the kind of man who never sees people...he sees souls. He would share Jesus with a statue and have it praying in an hour. He finds a way to introduce Jesus into any conversation he is having. He was my pastor but he was more a friend. He served selflessly until just a couple of years ago when he finally retired. I left Oak Hill Assembly in 2004 when I bought a house that was too far away, and I found something local. But I stayed in touch with Steve Allen through the years and love he and his beautiful wife Vada, as much as ever.

Pastor Jonathan Falwell
This brings us to present day. I moved to Lynchburg in May of this year. The last six years have been hellish and devastating. My lack of a pastor made it all the more painful and made the desert walk all the more lonely. I had a church. I attended regularly and was an active member. But I didn't have a pastor.
Moving to Lynchburg was a revelation. I was bitter, I admit it. Going through the sequence of devastating blows I went through from 1999 until this year wore me out and made me an emotional recluse. Having to endure that all alone was the worst part of it. By the time I moved here with my daughter, I was wounded and looking for a fight. But deep inside I was desperate for someone to restore my faith in the faith. Someone to show me that pastors still love people and shepherds love sheep and churches still make a difference by loving. I found it here.
Jonathan and I were classmates in a few classes in our freshman year at Liberty University. I consider him a friend, and he might say the same about me, but we weren't "buddys" in school. Mostly because I worked a full time job and didn't have much time to hang out, and also because I innately knew almost everybody else was trying to cultivate a friendship with him because of who he was, and I was never comfortable doing that. I had one famous friend in my life, and the one thing he appreciated about our friendship was that we never ever talked about what he did for a living. We were just friends, simply because we liked each other.
Jonathan and I laughed a lot in our couple of classes. He has a great sense of humor, like his dad.
Fast forward 30 years and now I'm back in Lynchburg with just enough money to pay two months rent, a truck full of tools, and no housewares. We didn't even have dishes. My daughter had a beautiful bed (mattress and boxspring) because a dear friend in Nashville blessed us. Every step of the way, God provided.
Now, Thomas Road Baptist Church is enormous. 14000 people call it home on Sunday mornings. yet in all that, they saw me and my daughter. They saw us. The church I attended before this one is 1/3 the size, yet I sat, homeless in their midst, and they never even put an arm around my shoulder. No encouragement. No cup of coffee and a chance to talk and feel like a human. Nothing. They knew my situation, but ignored it. I felt worse about what had happened to me, when I went there...not better.
Thomas Road was 180 degrees different. Since day 1, people called asking what they could do to help us. They gave us furniture, dishes, glasses. They showed an enormous amount of caring concern for my daughter. They spread the word and found me work until I finally got hired at Liberty. They loved us genuinely. In that sea of faces, they saw us and reached out. About 6 weeks ago, I got a text message from Pastor Jonathan. I had not gone to him since we got here. Once again, I just didn't want to heavy up. He's a pastor but he is also a husband and a father and people were already doing the job of the church in my life.  But he knew we were here after a while, and he texted me "Hey is everything going? Tell me what's happening with you and your daughter."
You know...I spent the last 6 years living most of them in my car. I got my degree while homeless. I battled and fought and tried to rebuild my life. Most of all I remained faithful to my daughter and stayed in her world, In all that I never...not one a text from the pastor where I was, encouraging me, loving me, telling me he was praying for me or especially...asking about my daughter.
Jonathan Falwell loves people. There are a lot of ways he is different from his dad and a lot he is like him. In this way, he is just like his dad. He loves people. After either service on Sunday morning, he stands at the front and greets anyone who wants a minute...or 10...of his time. No security guards creating a wall to separate him from the flock he leads. No glancing at his watch. No looking over your shoulder to see who else he would rather be talking to. Jonathan loves people.
I love TRBC. This church restored my faith in the way churches are supposed to be and how people are supposed to love. Jonathan didn't do it my watering down the truth and avoiding tough topics. He shoots straight and preaches what needs to be preached. But when you genuinely love people, you can say hard things and people will listen because they know you love them. And he does.
It's likely that TRBC will be my last stop, and Jonathan will be my last pastor. I'm excited at the prospect. I love this place and I love my pastor...because he loves me as well.

Honorable Mentions
There are a few men who have been pastoral to me, even though I was not a member of their church. They deserve a little appreciation as much as anyone else so here is the list.

Pastor Dave Lewis
Technically, he actually was my pastor. He was my youth pastor in high school, my coach in soccer and baseball, and above all, he is my friend.
Dave has been a friend who stuck closer than a brother in both good times and bad. He always seemed to know just when to call, just what to say, and just how to pray for me when I was enduring the heartbreaking devastation of my divorce, and then, seven years later, when I lost my career and lived in my car. He laughs at my jokes and cries my tears with me. He has never given up on me or stopped believing in me.
He pastors Ewell Bible Baptist Church in Dothan AL. It's a medium sized, church in a small town. Big enough to be self-sustaining, but small enough to allow the members to really know each other and really interact as a family. Dave and his wife Cindy love their people dearly. They pour themselves out daily in service to everyone. They have a vision for the lost that drives their every decision and motivates their mission. Their church is very blessed to have them as pastor.
They've raised two beautiful girls to adulthood and are now doting grandparents. Their sons in law are godly men who love their wives and children well. Dave and his wife did it right.
Above all else...he loves people. He loves leading them and loving them and serving them.
He loves being a shepherd.

Pastor John Willis
John and I go all the way back to high school. He's been a friend for a long time as is his wife. I don't know of a more integritous, honest, caring man than "PJ." He chose to go to the burned out, wounded-by-church, weary souls when he started his church. He didn't want the easy road. The decision has been costly at times but the harvest has been great and it's been meaningful. People go to Freedom Biker Church North, and they see something that instantly says: "This is for me. They get me. I'm safe here." John preaches the real truth. He's a tremendous apologist who knows his stuff. But he has never used any of that as a blunt instrument. He and Kathy have sacrificed and loved their folks well. Beyond that, he's been a true friend who encouraged me when I was down and who believed in me all along the way.  I love this guy, and I love his vision that says "Give me all the sheep you don't want to love. Give me the ones you have no patience for or don;t find attractive. There's room here for them along with all these "good" sheep. I'll love them all the same."
That, is a pastor.

Pastor Tim Britton
Pastor Tim is another guy who left his imprint on my heart since childhood. When I was a kid, and attending his dad's church, Tim was my hero. He was always joyful, always smiling, always deeply in love with the Lord. And he always loved people.
He pastors a church near home and he has taken that church from it's past history into a new vision. It wasn't an easy journey...a lot of folks didn't want to take a new approach. but under it all, Tim loves people and that lends itself to trust. The trust paid off. Crossroads Bible Church is a wonderful place. It's a great cross-section of the community it serves and it's abounding in love. Pastor Tim is as joyous as he has ever been. You can't be in his presence for more than a few minutes before you feel like he knows you, he loves you, and you matter deeply to him. He's always believed in me and that made all the difference. You have to love a man who loves as well as he does.

Pastor George Tuten
George and I have know each other since elementary school. We went to the same church, the same Christian High School, and the same college. He has been my hero at times and always my friend. George started a church from scratch a few years ago. Starting a church is not easy and it takes a toll. But George and Cindy remained faithful to their vision and the calling of God and God was faithful in return. Liberty Baptist Church sits in the middle of expansion and growth in lower New Castle County. His burning desire is the communication of the Gospel with the community this church is entrenched in. George is an excellent scholar who has put in the time it takes to really know the Word. Above all he loves Jesus. He loves Him deeply and he loves people because of that. he's been a friend, a mentor, and a brother who has spoken truth to my heart. He's been a great role model and has raised wonderful children who all love and serve Jesus. I love this man and respect all he has done.

There are others I suppose. But the list is long already. Pastoring people is hard work. It's easy to see the others out there who turned it into a popularity contest and became "Flockstars" and get caught up in that too. But these men resisted that temptation and remained faithful to one flock and loved them well. Pastoring takes a toll. It's demanding and you never ever ever please everyone. And far too often you only hear from the ones you somehow failed to make happy, and almost never from the ones you served so well. So this is my little way of letting these great men know..."You served so well. You did it so right. Keep going, don't quit when you think you want to. If my thanks and appreciation mean anything at all, let them be enough fuel for your tank for one more day and keep doing it the way you are doing it. Thank you for what you've meant to me.

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