This weekend is a special set of days for me as it marks the ninth year of existence for First Family Church. That’s right, nine years ago – September 10, 2004 – we held our first “official” service as a body of believers committed in unity to making disciples who, along with us, would celebrate, grow, and serve.
Looking back, which I do each year about this time, one thing surfaces consistently as what I really treasure about pastoring here: people’s God-story. Sure, I hold close many mountaintops and, believe it or not, valleys; events and places where God proved himself over and over. And this is not to say I don’t thoroughly enjoy or value other aspects of my role here at FFC. God knows my heart – my calling to preach and teach is a top aim.
But all that considered, when I think about the last nine years, it’s not the “programmatic” mile markers that make me say, “Man, am I glad we obeyed God and planted First Family Church.” Instead, it’s the “people” gallery– the trophies of his grace – that causes my heart to humbly worship our Savior for using us as vessels in his household.
I’m probably splitting hairs here a bit – wrangling with semantics – but the stories of God-changed people always rise to the top when it comes to memories. Frankly, it’s not the latest accomplishment, big crowd, next initiative, future drive, or pressing goal that gets my blood flowing as much as the people who are and will be, Lord willing, impacted by those efforts. Should that stop, well, let’s just pack it up and find other work. If it’s not about people, it’s probably not about much.
This is why Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3 resonate with me so deeply:
“And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Ah, there it is – 1st century God-stories! Those are the footsteps in which I want to follow. And those are the footprints I want to leave.
So as this Sunday approaches and a somewhat birthday mentality sets in, I’ll be recollecting a sea of stories — and looking into a crowd of faces — which represent God at work! From the accountant saved at one of our first services to the addict baptized just last week … to the family who was setting up tables week after week at Neveln Center who are now setting up a Bible college in Jamaica … to the couple who showed up simply engaged and now walk in with a wagon load of kids … to the young high schooler wondering what to do in life who has now finished her education and is serving as one of our biblical counselors … to the postal carrier who served as our first deacon and is now pastoring a flock close by … to those who sensed God leading them elsewhere but did so in grace and truth … to the agnostic young man who was done with God but now is radically saved and serving the Lord he once derided … to the religious do-gooder whom God regenerated in year one as well as the lesbian God redeemed in year 9 … to the lightbulb salesman who “wandered” in a few years ago and is now our site pastor at our first satellite, set to launch tomorrow … to the refugee family who found a family of friends (as well as clothes, food, and transportation) … to the dad who trusted Christ and was baptized, then served his wife lovingly till she, too, followed Jesus and will be baptized (tomorrow!) … to the 2 couples who took the first, initial risk with us back in 2004, one of whom will be planting another church next year, and who are both still radically serving Jesus at FFC … to the little child who wondered what Communion was all about and then simply trusted in Jesus’ finished work as mom or dad walked her through its meaning … to the young husband whose marriage was at the end but, through God’s grace and truth, is now on track to serve as an elder soon … yes, that’s what makes pastoring so rewarding: God at work through his Word in the lives of people.
Without a doubt these kinds of stories are the gems that, over time, grow more valuable and precious in the mine of ministry. Thank you, FFC, for the privilege of letting me watch God “dig out” these diamonds over the last nine years. Without a doubt, my heart beats with Paul’s — “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8).