But I've had this growing list of things calling for attention as well. Among them, this installment of things I'm appreciating about the congregation of saints the Lord has given me to shepherd along with the other elders at FBC. I've mentioned a few things here and here. Here are a few more the Lord has brought to mind:
8. Selfless Service. The Lord commands that churches have leaders, and leaders are important. But the life of the church and the effectiveness of the church really depends on those folks who voluntarily and cheerfully serve without a title and without pay. A church is only as dynamic and powerful as the members who are willing to die to self and serve others around them. This past year, we had the sad privilege of saying goodbye to two wonderful staff persons. And the Lord blessed us with members of the church who jumped right in, working as a team, to take up the slack. Our children's and our youth ministries have continued in full swing as some agreed to lead and others agreed to play a part. For the first time in my Christian life, I heard a children's worker report to the congregation, "We don't need any more volunteers." I nearly fell down, and had to take a moment. But it's one indication of the selfless service that's going on all over the place. And I appreciate the Lord's people who give of themselves quietly and steadily for His glory.
9. Increasing Love. How sweet this is! A number of members have commented recently about how they see the Lord growing our love for one another. It's been amazing. We've seen it in everything from mourning with others, to rejoicing with others, to gently attempting to correct others, to walking together one-on-one. Fellowship groups are sprouting and flourishing: small groups, basketball and volleyball groups, men's and women's groups. And nearly all of it is the Spirit's spontaneous and natural work in the life of His people. Nothing planned, nothing programmed, just God's people being imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). And that's a delight to this pastor's soul.
10. Sacrificial Giving. Okay... everybody here will tell you I don't like to talk about money and giving. Gives me the hives. But from time to time (like during this budget season), I have to do it. And as long as I have to do it, I might as well express my deep appreciation for the way this congregation gives financially. When the worldwide economic downturn was gaining speed, by God's grace, we were celebrating the elimination of the church's debt. It was years in the coming, spanning three pastorates, resting on the generosity of many who have come and been moved elsewhere. But all the while, it was God making His people cheerful givers. This is a generous congregation, and I trust we're experiencing the promise of God to supply yet more (2 Cor. 9:6-11).
11. Burden for the Lost. I'm regularly in conversation with members about people they're burdened for, family members and friends they want to see converted and living for Christ. It's a joy to pastor people who weep over judgment and hell, and intercede for the lost. It means the eternal realities of salvation and damnation have taken root in their hearts and they are stirred with the Savior's compassion for the lost. That burden makes it easy for us as a church to see the big picture, to know that we're here not for ourselves or to build a name for ourselves or to compete with other churches. We're here to see sinners saved and rescued from the wrath to come. We're here to see the changed by the wonderful love and grace of Christ. What a joy it is to serve a people who "get that" and act on it with their prayers, conversations, and resources.
12. Loyal/Committed. Boy, I couldn't say enough about this. But this is a loyal people. I think loyalty is an important value in Caymanian culture, particularly family loyalty. And I think among God's people here at FBC that gets expressed toward the spiritual family. The folks who are here are folks who don't quit or give up easily. There is a stick-to-it-ness that comes from feeling a deep commitment to others. Folks here persevere in relationships in the church that have perhaps soured. They stick with ministries of the church that have perhaps declined in some way. They stick with their pastors and the spiritual family. Like every church, we have people that remain loosely connected and that drift out of the family. But the large heart of this church beats with the blood of loyalty to Christ Jesus and His people.
13. Faithful in Prayer. There are prayer warriors at FBC. And I appreciate them because I know that I'm the recipient of a disproportionate amount of their petitions and intercessions. Notes of prayer are constantly exchanged between the saints. Our prayer meetings are not overflowing, but those who come pray. Sunday mornings finds my little study filled with people praying down heaven on the choir, the preaching, the congregation and whatever else we're doing that day. We're increasingly bathed in prayer and we can see the Lord's answers in so many ways.
14. Engage the Sermon. Now, this is a pastor's dream: to have a people who listen attentively and interact meaningfully with the sermon. I praise God for the evidence I see of this in our spiritual family. Wednesday night a young woman asked me if I thought I could be a more faithful expositor. Earlier that day I'd had a good conversation with the staff about reading all of Scripture as Christian Scripture, seeing the Lord even in the patterns of Israel's history (Matt. 2). A couple days prior some saints emailed for a copy of Sunday's manuscript to study the text more closely. And then there are the follow questions that come by email or during our Sunday evening service where we spend a portion of our time doing Q&A in response to the morning service. I can't think of a place I'd rather preach than here with the saints at FBC. Many are appreciative of the ministry of the word, pray for our boldness in preaching, are challenged to give more of themselves to the word, and think carefully as the word is preached. I'm thankful for this because listening well when the word is taught is critical to the health of any local congregation. I praise God that we seem to be increasingly healthy in this respect.
15. Cheerful. Sometimes people serious about the word or serious about missions and evangelism become doleful people. I don't know why that happens. It sometimes happens in my own heart. But I do know the people who belong to the Lord should be the happiest people on earth. That doesn't mean God's people don't have deeply sad and unhappy things happen in their lives. But it does mean that our disposition should be generally cheerful, joyful, happy, merry. And that's what we find here by God's grace and Spirit. Bright colors, bright faces along with bright minds. The general disposition of the church is cheerfulness. And that makes the pastor's heart merry.
16. Harmony. The Lord has given us a good season of real harmony in the congregation. We're getting along, and that can't be taken for granted. Churches are called to do everything to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, live in harmony with one another. We all know the tragedy of churches not getting along, fighting over this or that issue. We've known that in our church's history. But there is a long Spirit-given harmony now, and I'm thankful that the Lord is at work producing it in us. We, like all gatherings of sinners, have a lot of things we could be bickering about. But we're not--praise God! The saints here are selfless, loving, sacrificial, loyal, prayerful, and cheerful people. What an overwhelming privilege it is to shepherd a group of people like this!