Many years ago, on October 31 something took place that changed the course of my life. I am not talking about Martin Luther’s seemingly innocuous act in 1517 of nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. In ways that he could never have anticipated that act did come to symbolize the beginning of a movement that rocked the world as the Protestant Reformation recovered the full and final authority of God’s written Word and its message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Luther, along with those who stood with him and followed him in proclaiming this gospel message, most definitely have impacted my life. The Reformation has impacted all Western civilization.
But I am reminded of October 31, 1978. On that Tuesday night I accepted a call to become the pastor of the Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, Texas. Two days before that, the church let me know that they wanted me to become their pastor. That phone call was unexpected. The previous pastor had moved and I had preached for the congregation several times in the previous weeks. Though I had enjoyed worshiping with them and getting to know some of the members more personally, I had no thought that they would consider asking me to become their pastor.
I was not a great candidate. I was a single, twenty-one-year-old sociology major at a state university. I had taken a couple of seminary extension courses and preached intermittently over the previous five years. But by any reasonable metric I was ill-prepared to be a pastor. In fact, when the call came from the church, I was actively trying to avoid entering a life of pastoral ministry. The church in which the Lord saved me and that had nurtured me as a child and young person believed that God had called me to preach and had given me a license to do so (that was fifty years ago next month). But my antipathy for pastors caused me to shrink from the thought of pursuing vocational ministry.
Looking back, though I had many reasons for my lack of regard for pastors, the bottom line was that they were mainly rooted in pride and arrogance. I was a self-righteous prig when God saved me and much of that remained (and remains) unmortified in me. Because of that, as I embarked on my last year of college I was developing a plan that I hoped might satisfy God and ease my own conscience. Since pastors help people, I thought that if I entered a “helping profession” that would do the trick.
Through a connection with some professors, early in my senior year I was offered a contract to work for an organization that provided care and counseling for troubled youth. The job was to begin upon my graduation the next semester. I let the contract sit on my desk for the month of October with a growing sense that this was a wonderful opportunity that would allow me to help young people, be active in the life of a church, and perhaps fill in preaching and teaching on occasion.
Those plans were disrupted when the chairman of deacons told me that Rock Prairie wanted me to be their pastor. Donna (who was seven months away from becoming my fiancé) and I decided to go to the church’s “harvest festival” two days later on the 31st. The church provided this each year as an alternative to trick-or-treating for kids in the community. As we watched the members of that small church work together to serve children and parents the few remaining doubts I had about accepting their call vanished. I had harbored many doubts and fears and my list of reasons for saying no was long, but several trusted counselors urged me to give the call serious consideration. So, that night, October 31, 1978, I told the deacon chairman, Arthur Olden that I believed it was God’s will for me to accept their call and that I would start immediately.
One relative, as we discussed my new role, pulled out a handheld calculator (which was a novelty at the time) and jokingly congratulated me for taking a job that paid $15 an hour (which was $12.35 more than minimum wage!) while requiring only three hours of preaching a week. In reality, that move cost the church much more than money and what they gave me cannot be measured in finances. The people of Rock Prairie Baptist Church loved me and patiently endured with my inexperience and ineptitude. They genuinely cared for me and, after we were married, for Donna and me. They were forgiving of my many mistakes. And they genuinely loved me.
I only served that church for two years but doing so led me to pursue theological training that I would have otherwise eschewed. The discipline of preaching week after week was good for me. I still have notes from those sermons and though much of the understanding of God’s Word that they reflect now make me cringe, I would not trade anything for the lessons I learned in those early years of pastoral preaching. That church gave me a start. They were used by God to put me into pastoral ministry and on a path that continues today, 45 years later.
I thank the Lord for His faithfulness through those years. I am grateful for the way that He providentially overruled my plans and changed my desires about being a pastor. To me it is the most wonderful calling in the world and I am still amazed at the privilege of being a servant of God’s people in a local church of Jesus Christ. All of it is a testimony to the steadfast love and immeasurable grace of our sovereign God.
Soli Deo Gloria
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