The Word of the Lord through the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:3-5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” While Paul is certainly speaking to the church at Philippi and while this partnership involves praying and giving, I want to take this theme and reflect on my first year as associate pastor with Blue Ridge Christian Union Church. I, first and foremost, praise God for the blessing of partnering in the gospel with Pastor Brandon Sutton. It has been and is a joy to serve alongside a pastor whose heart is for glory of God and the Word of God. As I anticipate ministry with Blue Ridge in 2016, I wanted to share my takeaways from my first year in pastoral ministry:
Takeaway #1: The Importance of Guarding the Truth
In the latter half of 2 Timothy 1:14, Paul tells Timothy, “guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” This good deposit is the gospel. This gospel has been entrusted to us. We do not have the right to change the gospel, but we do have the responsibility to guard it. This truth is not new to me but it has been brought to the forefront of my mind. In pastoral ministry, you will not only encounter people who distort the gospel; you will find pastors who distort the gospel. In order that they may not offend anyone, they do not call sin sin and they speak about love without a biblical definition of it. The message they share does not save; it deceives. Within Shelbyville (where Blue Ridge is located), the issue is even relevant. As a pastor, God has opened my eyes to the importance of guarding the truth of the gospel and proclaiming biblical truth.
Takeaway #2: The Dependence on the Holy Spirit for Change
Guarding the good deposit does not happen without the first half of 2 Timothy 1:14, “[b]y the Holy Spirit who dwells within us”. It is foolish for me, or any other Christian, to believe we can guard the gospel or live the Christian life without the person and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within us because God has saved us. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit for change, both in our lives and in the lives of others. In my preaching and teaching, I have experienced this need. If I am going to teach and preach the Word of God, I need the Holy Spirit to illumine my mind and heart to what He has inspired. This takes intentionality in my devotional life, which is always a work in progress. Dependence on the Holy Spirit is evident in my witnessing too. In the past year, I have been particularly intentional in sharing the gospel with a some young adults and, as of yet, nothing has come from it. I must remember, though, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to change and soften the person’s heart; my job is to share and pray.
Takeaway #3: Be Ready In Season and Out of Season
In another exhortation to Timothy, Paul says, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). For me, this “be ready in season and out of season” moment came the last Sunday in October of this year. Pastor Brandon and his wife Sherrie had just had their first child, Emma, in September. That October morning, though, they needed to take her to the ER. So at 7:30am I was asked if I had a sermon ready to preach at the 9:30am church service. By the providence of God I did. This instance was a fresh encouragement to be ready now and in the future to preach the Word.
Takeaway #4: Uncommon Pastoral Friendship
I have learned much this year and space does not allow me to share all of what I have learned. Nevertheless, the last takeaway from my first year with Blue Ridge Christian Union Church is the uncommon and unique pastoral friendship between Brandon and me. Before entering pastoral ministry, I did not realize there was counsel against friends working in ministry together. Apparently, there is a concept that pastors cannot be friends if they are partnering together in the same church ministry. I praise God this is not the case with Blue Ridge. I thank the Lord for Brandon’s partnership in the gospel and his friendship to me. He has encouraged me and exhorted me. He has given me constructive criticism. He has been a godly example of pastoral leadership. I am grateful to partner with him, and Blue Ridge, in the gospel.