I’m glad to have Joel Rainey writing for Lifeway Pastors today. Joel is the Lead Pastor of Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He is husband to Amy, father of three, serves on the adjunct faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is the author of three books. Joel blogs at Themelios.
“If God calls you to be a preacher, don’t stoop to be the King of England.” -Charles Spurgeon
It was about a year ago at this time that a public announcement was released which shocked more than a few people. After 11 years working in various capacities for Maryland/Delaware Baptists—most recently as State Evangelism Director—I would be transitioning back into the local church to serve as a pastor. While most warmly congratulated me, a few were puzzled. In their minds, I was leaving a highly influential denominational role accompanied by national and international platforms and the collective resources of more than 560 churches. Why would I want to leave that to shepherd a single congregation?
The answer was quite simple: after 11 years, I was ready for a promotion! And in the process of following God’s leading, His people at Covenant Church, Shepherdstown, West Virginia honored me by asking me and my family to invest our lives in serving them as they reach their local community, region, and the world with the Gospel.
My call to Covenant was the culmination of approximately four years of asking the Lord to place us back into the local church. During that period, and the seven years that preceded it, Maryland/Delaware Baptists gave me a phenomenal platform on which I was able to forge some exciting and God-glorifying work not only in our region, but on five continents. During that time, I was grown and stretched in ways for which I will be eternally thankful.
But something was missing.
On the international field, I truly loved forging relationships that allowed our churches to add a global element to their ministry vision. But I felt personally incomplete once things were set up—knowing it would (rightly) be the churches, and not me, who would carry the torch of international missions and outreach. Lots of airplane rides and exposure to multiple cultures can be exciting. But travel gets old quickly, and my inability to get personally and deeply involved in any one area of the world left me feeling as though I was constantly dabbling on the surface.
These feelings were helped—though not eliminated—through opportunities I had to guide a number of churches through the transition between pastors. Throughout my 11 years of denominational service, I served as interim pastor of seven local churches. In serving those churches I was exposed to multiple cultural contexts as diverse as the Mid-Atlantic region itself, and it satiated my appetite for regular preaching. But I was baptizing people I was never able to personally disciple. I watched the proclamation of God’s Word move people to seek help I was unable to provide because of my “day job.” I high-fived kids in the hallways that I knew I would never get to watch grow and mature. I would soon be turning over my responsibilities to a permanent pastor, and I would have no role in raising up the next generation of leaders in that congregation. I wanted more. And due to the nature of my work, I knew I would never get more unless I returned to the local church.
So my wife and I started to pray. And after four years of seeking His guidance, He brought us together with the precious people at Covenant. For the last nine months, I’ve had the privilege of doing several things I haven’t been able to do in more than a decade.
-I now live in a community I can invest in long-term. And since airplane rides don’t happen nearly as often as they used to, I have the time to be the neighbor I should be.
-I’m building relationships with local school systems, and a nearby state university that will bless our local community long-term.
-I’m hanging out with kids and teenagers whose lives I can now invest in deeply, and whose paths I can watch and pray over for years to come.
-I’m investing in married couples and able to see some relationships heal, and others strengthened. I’m counseling with parents whose children I will, by God’s grace, get to watch grow up.
-I’m now in a position to shepherd an entire generation. I’m excited about the prospect of dedicating a child, later baptizing them, still later officiating at their wedding, and watching them have children of their own.
-I’m grieving with those who lose loved ones, celebrating the birth of children, praying for the sick, congratulating graduates, and living life alongside God’s people.
I get to serve a local church. No amount of speaking engagements or airplane rides can top that!
If you are a pastor who sometimes wonders if there is “something better out there,” there isn’t. No, it’s not always fun, but nothing tops the honor we have in this age of preparing Jesus’ bride for the next age. Thank God for that.
Nothing I’ve written should be construed as a slam against denominational or para-church ministry. The Kingdom is richer because of them. But, if God calls to you pastor, don’t stoop to do anything less.