By Chuck Lawless
As I get older, I think often about people who have influenced my life. One of those influences is the pastor of the only church I attended before I myself became a pastor. He served as my pastor during my teenage years, and he led the ordination service when I became a pastor at age 20.
As a young preacher who thought he knew it all, I sometimes judged my pastor critically. Now more than 30 years later, I am still learning how much I don’t know about pastoring and ministry. Here is what I’d like to say to my pastor today:
- Thank you for preaching the Word. You could have preached anything you wanted. I wasn’t raised in church, and I may not have known if you were preaching something wrong. Every week, though, you taught the Bible. You used humor and illustrations, and you did it well as you took us to the Word. I believe the Word today because you and the church you led gave me that grounding.
- Thank you for allowing me to make pastoral visits with you. We didn’t do it often, but I still remember when we did. It was the church’s “visitation night,” and we visited people who had first visited the church. I watched you interact with others, share the gospel with them, and pray for them. I could not have known then that some day I would be a professor of evangelism at a seminary!
- I did not fully appreciate all you did. I saw you primarily during Sunday services and midweek events. I knew you were at the church during the week, but I didn’t know all you did. Nobody told me about the hospital visits, the personal counseling, the deathbed waiting, the critical phone calls. I did not understand that you walked beside church members from birth until death.
- I did not know the sacrifices you made. I didn’t know how many nights you were unexpectedly called to minister in an emergency. I suspect that sometimes your vacations were interrupted, though you never made a big deal of that. I remember your working late into the evening to help volunteers working on church building programs. Only years later did I realize how much you gave of yourself for the congregation.
- I apologize for not praying for you as I should have. I prayed for you, but only when you faced a health issue or a tough church situation. I didn’t pray for you regularly. I received the blessings of your ministry without returning offerings of prayer for you, your family, and your work. I trust you forgive me for that.
- Thank you for leading the church to give to missions and ministry. I didn’t understand all the details then, but I remember your calling the church to support missions and ministry through our denomination’s giving process. When I began pastoring, I did the same because I had seen that modeled. For the last seventeen years, that same denominational giving program has helped to pay my salary.
- Thank you for baptizing me. Sure, it was part of your responsibility as pastor. Sure, I didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of believer’s baptism at age 13. Looking back, though, I have grown to appreciate what baptism means. You played a role in that spiritual marker in my life, and I’m grateful for that.
- You gave me my start in ministry. You invited me to preach when I was 16 years old. Then, you invited me to do it again even though my first sermon was horrible. In fact, I can only hope that those early sermons (recorded on cassette tapes) have since disappeared! Still, though, you allowed me to grow and learn.
- My dad became a believer a few years before he died. You told me to pray for my family as soon as I became a follower of Christ. My dad would not become a believer until many years later, but God answered those prayers. Thank you for challenging me to pray persistently.
- I wish I had said thank you much earlier. My guess is that many of us took your ministry for granted. I might be late in doing so, but I thank you for being my first pastor.
What stories do you have about a pastor who positively influenced your life?