I believe we were all designed to create something to glorify God. Whether it's art, lesson plans, furniture or sermons, humans have a desire to make something from nothing and that is most fulfilling when it glorifies the creator.
Last week was our first Sunday as a church without our friend Pastor John. It has been a long time since my home church has been preacher-less. From before I was born until my middle school years we had a preacher we called Brother Charles. He was at our church for about 25 years. The gap in between him and Brother John spanned of several years. There was a man in between but he didn't last very long.
Really, I spent some of the most crucial years of my life in a church without a youth minister or a preacher. My family went to church every Sunday and Wednesday regardless of the lack of staff. Throughout most of this time I joined the cool kid crowd at school and became somewhat of a "snot", as I have heard it explained before. I was very focused on myself and my outward appearance, and anyone outside of my friend circle was irrelevant.
Towards the end of May 2007, the summer before my Junior year, I remember meeting Brother John for the first time. I was 16 and my attitude portrayed that. The church hadn't officially voted John into the church yet I don't think, but he was invited to our house for dinner and inspection. I really don't remember much about that night at all because I didn't care about this new preacher and I really didn't want to eat dinner with him or my family, I had friends to meet up with and things to do.
After a long and meaningless dinner with all the adults, I finally received permission from my parents to go hang out with my friends. By this point in the evening we were all outside in the garage talking and enjoying the night air. Realizing that I was in my own world of narcissism, Brother John kindly looked me in the eyes and began asking me about school, my friends, and my love interest. I remember being shocked that he would care enough to ask me about my life. I remember thinking it was odd that he cared. Weren't preachers only interested in old people with money and visiting the sick and dieing? What does he care that I have 2 best friends who I do everything with? It's not like they even go to my church.
His willingness to know me definitely made an impact. In fact, it softened me long enough to let my worries about my friends and appearance momentarily float into the background of the real world. That was my first meeting of Brother John.
Just a week or two later I found myself at a Christian leadership camp I had always been forced to go to. Every year I went for the wrong reasons and came back with little to no spiritual growth. This year was different though, on the second night of worship I deeply and vividly encountered the Lord. I tasted him and saw that he was good. My desire for him became so immense that I decided that night to change every part of my life. I wanted God, first and foremost. Nothing else mattered anymore.
When I returned home, a few weeks and another camp later, I think lots of people were shocked at my attitude change. I had abandoned my old friends and habits and begun actively pursuing a teen girls bible study program.
Brother John had become our official pastor and he was very eager to hear about all of the youth's experiences at camp. Although we liked the attention, I think all of us were a bit hesitant to trust this new preacher guy. We had never had an adult take interest in our personal lives, much less a ministry leader at the church. So in spite of our mistrust, a handful of us teenagers began creating our own gathering. We met on our own time to talk about God and how to grow the youth membership at our church. By the end of July there was a solid group of teens on fire for the Lord for the first time in years. We recruited everyone we could to go with us to Falls Creek, an evangelical camp. John encouraged us all the way, yet we still weren't 100% sure about this guy.
That year at Falls Creek many kids came to know Jesus. A flame was lit and it spread rampantly throughout the entire school year. There were more Bible Studies organized than we knew what to do with, and the church was finally actively looking in to hiring us a youth minister (although we didn't want one because we had never had a good experience with one.)
Every Sunday John encouraged us, both from the pulpit and from eye level. He was so concerned about our spiritual growth. He always asked us questions and told the old people to encourage us and lead us. After church he would come to our pew section and ask us about God, school and our dating habits. He truly cared and that really set a firm church foundation in many of us for the first time. We also liked that he didn't care if our friends were Methodist or whatever, he just wanted them to know the Lord. That's what we believed too and we were relieved that an adult seemed to "get it."
Throughout my last 2 years of high school, John was a big role model for me. He was a Christian man who loved the Lord and the Lord's people more than anything else. He brought our broken church together and taught us to love and trust again. I had never seen my church so friendly and full of love. It was a refreshing change to have a positive, encouraging and friendly preacher shaking each and every one of our hands every Sunday. He came to our football games and cheered as loud as Mom and Dad. He visited our grandparents when they were sick, and he even showed up at the County Fair! John got it.
When I graduated High School he spoke at my Baccalaureate reception. Classmates I had prayed over expressed their appreciation for his encouraging speech.
For the following 4 years I moved off to college and found myself in First Baptist every few months or so. He as always so specific in his questions about my schooling, my future husband I hadn't met yet, and my relationship with the Lord.
This year I moved back home and have been going to First Baptist every Sunday with my parents and grandparents once again. Of course, Brother John was the first to congratulate me on my new job and tell me how great I was doing. I can't tell you how humbling it is to make your preacher proud.
I guess we all hurt when he announced his resignation a few Sundays ago. He assured us a thousand times of his love and we all knew he was doing what he thought was best for his family. With a bittersweet farewell, we held one last Ice-Cream Social for Brother John and told stories of how much he meant to us. I wanted desperately to stand up and contribute, but I knew I wouldn't be able to without getting emotional.
When the formal reception was over, I walked over to Brother John and gave him a big hug. He squeezed me and told me he was proud of me, and big alligator tears instantly filled my eyes. At a loss for words, I quickly hugged his wife and exited out the back of the building. I couldn't quit crying when I realized how much this man had impacted my life. He had been there through every big event and had been a huge part in laying the spiritual foundation of my life. He taught me to trust the leaders in a church again and also to trust myself and the calling God has given me.
Although it is hard to let go, I am trusting the Lord will provide us with another great man to follow in John's footsteps. In the meantime I am thanking God for this spirit-led man who has been such a gift to all of us. He created love out of madness and unity out of separation. His gift to us was totally inspired from the Lord. What a blessing it has been to receive what he willingly created.