For about half the world, I'm a young man. I mean, folks over 40 or so think I'm young and full of vigor. The other half of the world looks at my increasingly gray hair and they group me with the "over the hill gang" on sight.
Recently I was in a department store with my pregnant wife, sitting outside the dressing room while she tried on a number of outfits. Another expectant mom, probably in her mid- to late-20s came out of the dressing room to model an outfit for her eager and doting mother. After a couple of spins for her mother, I congratulated the young woman on her pregnancy. "First child?" I asked. With glee she promptly told me yes... and then as if embarrassed to have overlooked my own impending blessing, she turned and said, "Congratulations to you, too. Is this your first grandchild?"
She looked for a hole to disappear into when I explained, "No, this is our third child." Instinctively she stole a glance at my white, snowy dome, smiled an awkward smile, and muttered an embarrassed apology having something to do with her young husband graying prematurely too.
I'm something of a 'tweener I suppose. Not really "old" despite first appearances, and not too young either. This has been an advantage in ministry. But, it also makes me a dangerous man! I feel age setting in as I approach and so I'm in a hurry to do something productive and lasting for the kingdom. But also, I'm young enough to lack A LOT of wisdom about things, to make "freshman mistakes," and to think that things depend on my efforts more than they actually do.
During my time at CHBC, I've learned a great deal about being patient. This fruit of the Spirit is essential in so many ways when it comes to life together in a local church and leading a church.
Certainly, patience has been explicitly taught. Boice has been quoted a lot: "People tend to overestimate how much they can accomplish in five years, and underestimate how much they can achieve in twenty." One of Mark's favorite quips to young pastors (or for that matter older men going into new situations) is "Teach and pray, love and stay." Teach the people; pray faithfully for the people; love the people; and stay with the people. I think there is great wisdom in this phrase. And it's laced with the kind of patience that believes teaching God's word is effective, that prayer is necessary, and that a loving and long-term relationship between pastors and congregations tends to produce far more fruit, lasting fruit, when men stay in a pastorate rather than flitting between churches every few years.
But that kind of patience isn't just talked about; it's also possible to live it out.
I have benefitted from the fruit of a number of now older members (70, 80, and 90 years old) who patiently endured some lean seasons in the life of the church, holding fast to the gospel, and believing that faithfulness is rewarded of God. Herb Carlson, Jeannette Devlin, Charlie Trainum, Mildred Burnham, Helen Young, Homer Gill... these are but a few of the names that will not be recorded in the Evangelical Who's Who. But they are inscribed in the hall of fame of faith and faithfulness for their patient endurance. Now, partly on the back of their patience, the church is thriving by God's grace. A mere eleven years into Mark's tenure, the church is filled with life and signs of God's activity in evangelism, missions, training pastors, discipleship, and on and on. If he had moved on five years ago, perhaps CHBC wouldn't be what it is today. If those older members had moved on when things got tough, perhaps the church wouldn't even be around. But their patience has borne the fruit of gospel longevity.
I've watched the elders of CHBC deliberate for months over not just important theological issues but also how to teach and apply the issue to the life of the congregation. We would spend 2 hours working our way to a particular solution but twice that time across several meetings deciding how to make the issue understandable to the congregation who hadn't been in the room with us for the deliberation. My impatient self would have rushed in with the verdict and pronouncement and likely left a lot of people confused and hurt.
In my time at CHBC, I've seen staff and elders "do nothing" about a situation but pray... and then witnessed awesome moves of God in resolving the difficulty or issue. They've been patient when marriages were in trouble; patient when some members were upset with the church; patient when the developing baptism policy ruffled a few collars; patient when some members felt uncomfortable or unsettled as members; patient when trying to restore a saint from sin and, failing restoration, during agonizing cases of church discipline; and patient in grooming young men for leadership.
The patience of the church is built upon her trust in the sufficiency and the power of God's word to lead and galvanize His people. It's built on a confidence in the God of the word, who watches over and protects His Church, purchased as She is with the blood of His own Son. The patience I saw at CHBC, the patience that tutored me, stems from a deeply charismatic view of the Church. The Lord has placed in the Body sufficient gifting to accomplish His ends. He will make those gifts known when necessary and will bring to pass a deeper and more wonderful work in the lives of His people in His own time. We need only labor patiently and prayerfully and faithfully as stewards of God. He will perform His perfect work.
As I head toward Grand Cayman, I pray the Lord would mark me and First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman with such patience. As I head out, I'm more acutely aware of how necessary it is that I pray that all of God's under-shepherds and churches be marked by a patient faith for the glory of His name and the purity of the church.
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