When the Lord called me to Northwest Arkansas in October 1986, I had no idea I would be here 26 years later. I really did not come here “with a plan about how long I would stay” but always assumed I would probably one day be called back to a church in my home state of Texas. Yet, demonstratively and clearly, at least to this point in life, God has called me to spend 26 years of my life in our church, now known as Cross Church.
Therefore, I am often asked by so many people, especially ministers, “How have you stayed in one church or ‘survived in the same church’ for 26 years?” Through God’s grace and grace alone have we been able to do this. Yet, I want to highlight for you some practical matters that have placed us in this grace moment.
My Personal Walk With Christ
There is no way in the world anyone can pastor a church in today’s world for any length of time without a strong personal walk with Jesus Christ. In last week’s post, on Feb. 6, entitled, My Mornings, you will learn about how I have given my mornings to God. I mention this only briefly today because I wrote about it extensively last week. Please review it because I can tell you this: Nothing, and I mean nothing, has been more important than this daily time to empower me to be in the same church for 26 years. You can hear a pastor or leader say this or that about how they have stayed, but I can assure you, without my personal walk with Christ, I would have been toast years ago!
My Marriage Has Been Strong . . . We Have Done This Together
Jeana and I have been married for 36 years. She was raised in the family of a West Texas pastor. She had experienced the ups and downs of ministry life way before she married me. Her experience accelerated my perspective in many ways. While both of us have a passionate love for the church of Jesus Christ (and I mean passionate), our love for each other is also great and strong.
While some couples live life apart, we live life together. While many pastors and their wives declare independence from one another, we are dependent upon one another. You see, Jeana has a strong walk with Christ also, a very consistent time with God early in the mornings. We also pray together and share life together.
I am convinced, because our marriage has been strong and we have served the church together, we have been able to stay here for 26 years successfully. To every pastor and wife, commit to do ministry together. It will lead to longevity and happiness in life and marriage.
My Church And I Have Grown Together
Longevity in ministry is impossible when the pastor and church are not growing together. The mission of the church is what keeps you together and as you grow in that mission into complete alignment, longevity in ministry together is more probable. You see, in my opinion, it is a far greater achievement for my church to have had the same pastor for 26 years than for me to have been here for 26 years. Ministry is a missional partnership between a pastor and a local church.
Cross Church has a history of being a strong pastor-led fellowship of believers. This was the biblical pattern many years before my arrival. This DNA in our ministry has been one of the secrets of ministry longevity. Through our 26 years together, we have seen the church change continually, and guess what – I have also changed continually. Both the church and the pastor changing towards Christ-likeness contributes to ministry longevity.
My Perspective Becomes Clearer Daily
When my perspective is clear, I see things in a much better way. I want to share three perspectives that I believe have helped me greatly in staying here for 26 years.
Number 1: “I Do Not Let People Out Of My Circle Of Love”
In 1987, a very wise man named Ron Lewis challenged me in this area of life and ministry. I remember being at a Bonanza Restaurant, which is no longer open here, when he looked at me and said, “Ronnie, never let anyone out of your circle of love.” All these years from that day, I practice this continually.
Yes, church members and staff members have been disloyal and hurt me deeply and personally, but I determine never to let anyone outside of my circle of love AND I don’t! I refuse to do so. You see Pastor, if you will keep your heart open and not closed, sensitive and not hardened, some of those people may come right back around into your church again. Determine, “I will not let anyone outside of my circle of love.”
Number 2: “I Am A Great Forgiver and Forgetter”
Pastor, never forget this: Hurt people hurt people! Sometimes you will become the brunt of other people’s “stuff.” You must be a great forgiver and forgetter! I used to get sidelined and even paralyzed by the criticism of others. At times, it has put me almost to bed!
But it comes back to my daily time with God. In prayer, it is easy to forgive and even to forget. It wrecks me when someone dislikes me or writes about me being something I know I am not. However, the route to wholeness and healing is forgiveness toward all people and forgetting about it, always driving forward. Let it go Pastor! If you hold that hurt, it will fold you and your ministry.
Number 3: “I Realize All Ministry Has Seasons”
I cannot tell you how many times I have come to what I imagined as a wall in our ministry. I did not think there was anything left to do, or another mountain to climb. Through the years I have learned so many valuable lessons, way too many to post in one blog. Yet, one of the most valuable lessons has been that ministry has seasons.
Pastor, there are seasons we plant and sow; there are seasons that are bare and dry. Hallelujah, there are also seasons of God’s powerful blessings and harvest. I have seen our church at our best and I can assure you, I have seen our church at our worst. One of the great keys to staying anywhere is giving your church a break, realizing that all ministries have seasons.
Churches are like people. We do not always have our greatest moments and greatest years. We suffer, we change, we hurt, and we experience loss. So do churches. Yet, we cling to the hope of the cross, knowing that while weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning.
A right perspective can help lead you to ministry longevity.
Yours For The Great Commission,