Articles

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

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Nearly 15 years ago, I stood in front of this church, knees knocking and voice quivering. Young and green, I came to this place with the conviction that I would stay a while. God gave me a vision of pastoral ministry that is long work. Little did I know about the pressures and temptations that would combat my conviction. By the grace of God, the people have allowed me to stay put and become the longest serving pastor in the history of this local church, recently surpassing the tenures of several saints—former pastors whom I deeply admire. I recognize the reality that sometimes God calls pastors to serve for short seasons and that my conviction does not have to be shared by others. Ultimately, obedience to the Lord is what matters most. Nevertheless, while considering this ministry milestone, I would like to reflect on what I needed to stay put.

Grace

First and foremost, staying put takes grace. When you share life with the same people for a long time, offenses abound. Mistakes and misunderstandings arise. Sooner or later, you are bound to sin against one another. Grace must be extended in both directions—by the people to the pastor, and by the pastor to the people. When we learn how to forgive many times over the years, the Spirit binds us together in ways unimagined. Instead of allowing conflicts to drive us apart, we bear the Fruit of the Spirit toward one another. We begin to embody the reconciling community the Apostle Paul imagined in 2 Corinthians 5. As holiness people, our conflicts become occasions to practice the holy love we preach. Staying put takes grace.

Incarnational Mindset

Staying put also takes a relentlessly incarnational mindset. Instead of seeing ourselves as set apart from the community of faith, pastors who practice incarnational ministry enter in and live with the people we pastor. It is the difference between ministry that is “for” and ministry that is “with.” Ministry that is “for” people sees them as “other.” Ministry that is “with” people entails solidarity. Incarnational living is long work. There are no gimmicks, tricks, or shortcuts. Getting to know people does not happen quickly or easily. It requires time, effort, and the commitment to empathize with the congregation. It requires listening to the stories of the people until the pastor becomes part of their stories. Staying put takes an incarnational mindset.

Courage

Finally, staying put takes courage. In a highly transient, transitory culture, staying power is in short supply. Short-term has become the norm. When a pastor and congregation remain together for a long time, their relationship becomes a counter-culture witness. It runs against the grain of the world as it demonstrates our God’s covenant to faithfulness. Many of us associate courage with pulling up stakes and moving to new horizons. We assume that the courageous thing involves leaving the present context behind and embarking upon the new frontier. Sometimes it is. But it also takes courage to stay put. Committing to live with people through seasons of struggle requires Spirit-empowered courage. Some people may associate staying put with remaining unchanged. On the contrary, it takes great courage to stay with people in order to change with them over the course of time.

In my fifteenth year, I continue to stand before this church as pastor. My knees still knock and my voice continues to quiver. I am not so young, and I’m a lighter shade of green. I am still trying to figure out what it means to be the pastor, just as we are still learning what it means to be the church. With the Lord’s help, we move ahead graciously, incarnationally, and courageously. We don’t always get it right, but we’re still going at it together.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

 

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