Tomorrow I celebrate four years as the Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. What a ride it’s been! In those four years, I have laughed a lot, cried a lot, and aged (internally) a lot. Yes, pastoral ministry has grown and stretched me in some unique ways, and though painful at times, I am grateful for all that I’ve learned and experienced.
In fact, pastoral ministry may be many things, but it’s certainly not boring! In four years of ministry, I have witnessed plenty of incredible moments – highs and lows – births and deaths – marriages and divorces. I’ve seen people saved, baptized, and added to the church. I’ve prayed more than ever, preached a few sermons, and officiated the ordinances. I’ve chaired many awesome meetings…and quite a few tense meetings. I’ve had the privilege of connecting with the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the well-known and the unknown. I’ve been in love with pastoral ministry and I’ve loathed pastoral ministry. Yes, it seems to me that a large part of successful pastoral ministry is the ability to have (by God’s grace) a heavy heart and a steady walk.
Yes, there have been some incredible moments in my ministry thus far with Prairie Flower Baptist Church, but the four stories below are some of the most unique moments in my ministry. These stories are not only unique, but incredibly formative in who I am today. Below are the stories (in summary form) of God’s uncomfortable grace at work in my life and my church’s life…
1) Season Premiere of Dateline (2014) – The story of Jason and Elisabeth Tinnes will forever stand out in my mind as one of the most vivid demonstrations of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love overwhelming two lives wrought with so many dark difficulties. Their story, made public with the 2014 season premiere of Dateline, was presented in terms of juicy entertainment filled with betrayal, infidelity, lies, and murder. But as my wife and I sat with Jason and Elisabeth in our living room to watch the season premiere together, I saw a different story. I saw a broken man who was learning the biblical art of repentance. I saw a broken woman who was getting a first-class education on the gospel beauty of forgiveness. I saw two lives shattered by sin and selfishness; but I also saw two lives held together by a God who loved them deeply and was healing them fully. Their lives aren’t perfect today (they would tell you that in a heartbeat). There’s still work and healing to be done, but by God’s grace they will continue to be overwhelmed by God’s relentless, merciful grace.
2) Taking It All Down (2015) – The year 2015 has been my most painful and emotional year as Lead Pastor of Prairie Flower Baptist Church. That year, I had trouble sleeping and lost nearly 15 pounds. I was on pins and needles all the time. To be sure, 2015 was a difficult year as our church was experiencing the horrible effects of gossip, anger, confusion, and years of unresolved bitterness. People were also leaving the church, and I could feel a church split looming. So one day, I called my Associate Pastor and one of my most faithful Deacons, Will Luers, to examine the worsening, tense situation. Our meeting lasted into the wee hours of the morning. We talked about many things. We cried together. We prayed together. Then, we did the only thing we knew to do…we took it all down. The three of us went into the sanctuary and took down all the decorations, music stands, hymnals, and everything else that was in there. We decided to do a “hard reset.” In other words, since our people had forgotten about what really mattered (i.e. God and His Word) and instead wanted to bicker about music and other preference issues, we decided to take it all down and have a “come to Jesus meeting” that very next Sunday. So, that very next Sunday, after vomiting in the shower because I was so worked up, I put on my clothes, drove to the church with my family, and got up to share my heart with the people of Prairie Flower. I honestly thought I was putting a bullet into my career, but God used that moment to do a profound work in my life and our church’s life. Things aren’t perfect today, but we are still feeling the wonderful effects of that Sunday. Also, I thank God for the two men (Pastor Jon and Will Luers) who stood by me, counseled me, and prayed for me during that most difficult year. Friends are hard to come by in the ministry, but they are needed, and I have such friends in these two men.
3) Slashed Tires & Broken Windows (2016) – The year 2015 was filled with internal conflict, but 2016 presented us with external conflict, most vividly presented in our church being vandalized during the summer of 2016. Here’s the story…One weekend, I, along with some other men from our church, had taken the church van up to Men’s Retreat at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp. While up there, I received a phone call stating that someone had come in the night and slashed the tires to all the men’s vehicles in the church parking lot. Some of the windows of those vehicles were also smashed out. I felt horrible! Here I was with some great guys, just trying to get away to spiritually recharge, and this happens. To be sure, the guys took the news really well and clung tightly to their faith during this time. After we got back (Saturday), we surveyed the damage, filed a police report, and went home. The next day (Sunday), I arrived at the church building to discover that the vandals had come back and this time they slashed the tires to our church van (and trailer) and had busted out more windows. This was scary. We were a church in the middle of a cornfield and we had been vandalized not once, but twice! We filed another police report, prayed, and installed some security cameras around our church building. Eventually, the vandals were caught and punished. I praise God that no one was hurt in this incident, but this event stands out in my mind as proof positive that the Evil One will use whatever means necessary to dismantle the work of God. In this incident, I learned that vigilance and wisdom are needed more than ever in pastoral ministry.
4) Baptizing My Associate Pastor (2017) – When Pastor Jon asked (last summer) if he could speak to me about an “issue” in his life, I assumed the worst. However, what proceeded from his lips both surprised and encouraged me. He said that he had been wrestling with his conversion story and was convinced he had been born again, not when he was a young person, but during his freshman year at Bible College. Thus, his “baptism” as a young person was invalid. He stated that he needed to be baptized, but for real this time. I was truly encouraged by his humility and courage, but I was also a bit speechless. My mind raced…how will Prairie Flower take this? A pastor getting baptized?! Who would think it? I was also concerned for Pastor Jon’s career as well. I wondered if someone would try to throw the book at him and demand his resignation. After all, we’ve had a saved, but unbaptized church pastor, for nearly three years! But the day I baptized my Associate Pastor proved to be one of the best Sundays I’ve ever had here at Prairie Flower. The service was filled with such power and grace and forgiveness. Indeed, that Sunday seemed to unify our church in a rich, supernatural way. This event (like the night we took it all down) proves to me yet again that courage (though scary) is always the right thing to do and yields such wonderful, peaceable fruit. And yes, dunking my Associate Pastor in the baptismal tank was also just pure fun…I loved it!
Well, thanks for taking the trip down memory lane with me. Pastoral ministry is truly a joyful burden…and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Please continue to pray for me as I launch into my fifth year with all of you. And truly…I pray that God blesses you guys…I love you guys…and I’ll see you when I see you.