It was great to go back to the place I was called to serve so many years ago. I was called to St. Paul's right out of seminary in June of 1990 as their Associate Pastor, focusing much of my time and energy on youth ministry. What a blessing it was to see some of those kids that were in my confirmation classes and youth group at worship this past weekend. Many of them have kids of their own that they are now raising in the Christian faith.
I started off my sermon by telling them in preparation for coming back to preach, I looked through some of my old sermons that I preached some 20 years ago, and I told them I had only one thing I wanted to say to them - I am sorry! Some of those sermons were not very good! But grace abounds, and over time, I guess it isn't the bad ones that are remembered. Or maybe they were just being nice and not mentioning those.
The memories came flooding in. I remembered baptisms, funerals and weddings, Christmas programs and youth events. I remembered Easter egg hunts and making hardtack candy in the basement kitchen. I remembered youth group meetings and Sunday school classes, confirmation classes and camp retreats, youth gatherings and Bible studies. So many memories from just five and a half years of ministry there.
What struck me so vividly this past weekend is the influence we have on people that can and will last for years to come. I realized first of all the influence those years had on my ministry. It was at this congregation that I was given an opportunity to serve and try new things, and preach some sermons that were less than stellar, but also some that people still remembered 20 years later (in a positive way!). It was at this congregation my wife and children were nurtured and grew. It was at this congregation that I came to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a pastor. This congregation has had a great influence on me.
I also came to see the influence our ministry can have on others. LET ME STATE HERE CLEARLY - it is not all about ME! As a pastor, I am called to be the vessel by which the Word of God is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. This is most certainly true. My call is to point to Jesus Christ, and to proclaim Christ crucified and risen. That being said, I was deeply moved by the words of thanks and appreciation from the parents and kids I served. Through social media, especially Facebook, I have been able to keep in touch with some of the members of the church, especially the youth (former youth, I should say), and I am so thankful to see how many of these continue on in their faith journey.
For me, this weekend affirmed how vitally important it is to give our children the encouragement and tools for growing in the faith. At the baptismal font, we make promises to raise our children to grow in faith and in relationship with God and others. What a daunting responsibility. What a great opportunity. We are to be the ones who nurture and teach and encourage our children (God's children) in their walk with Jesus Christ.
St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, who were arguing over which leader they should follow. This was causing divisions in the church. The people took up sides - some claimed to be followers of Paul and some followers of Apollos, who was a leader from Alexandria that was also a leader of the church in Paul's day. So Paul shared these words with the church:
...When one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:4-11)
We have been given good news, and good news MUST be shared. Don't think your words or actions are in vain. We plant. We water. God WILL provide the growth. Thank God for the opportunity to work in His vineyard!
Some pictures from our trip back to Massillon.
What a Pulpit - I love preaching up there!
Son Andrew, Wife Lisa, Son-In-Law Brad, Daughter Bethany and Me
Ben is one of the "kids" I confirmed some 20 years ago!