This Summer, if our Lord tarries and is willing, my first decade at First Baptist Church of Farmersville will come to completion. FBC Farmersville has a history of long-tenured pastors, or, at least, longer than average. My two immediate predecessors were here for seven years and eight years, respectively. Passing the ten-year milestone will make this pastoral ministry the second-lengthiest in the church's 144-year history. If it pleases God for me to be here to celebrate our sesquicentennial in 2015, I will do so as the longest-tenured pastor in the congregation's history.
That could almost sound like bragging, so let me assure you that it is (a) a testimony to the grace of God, (b) a testimony to the lovingkindness and patience of this family of believers, and (c) a celebration of what I'm thankful for and not a boast in what I'm proud of on my part—God knows my heart. These people stuck with me through Ph.D. seminars and a dissertation, after all.
These next six months could well prove to be some of the most significant of the decade. After more than a year of dialogue and revisions, the congregation will see in January 2009 a proposed Constitution & Bylaws for FBC Farmersville. Once we have adopted it, I will gladly post it for anyone to see. But I do not grant any online community the privilege to see it before our church family has seen and approved it.
Coming hard on its heels will be our Church Membership Covenant. This one has passed the approval of the special committee that has been working to author it. I find that the influence of those on the committee has been very helpful to me. I authored all of the first drafts, but they brought to the table a goal to wind up with a document readable and understandable by children. As someone genuinely converted at nearly six years of age, I was sympathetic to the goal (even if unable to accomplish it without their help and prodding).
Although we will present the Constitution and the Covenant at different times, we will vote to approve them together. The Constitution & Bylaws refer to the Covenant, so were we to adopt it without the Covenant, we would be operating contrary to our Constitution & Bylaws from that point until the adoption of the Covenant.
Our deacons have joined with me in a project to develop a brief ministry plan for every household in our congregation. This will include both the households who actively participate now and those whom we have not seen for quite some time. I expect that every ministry plan will involve contact with the household, if possible. Here is my goal: To accomplish regenerate church membership at First Baptist Church of Farmersville without dropping a single household from the present membership roll. If they are lost, we want to present the gospel to them and have the privilege of witnessing their conversion and baptism. If they are backslidden, we want to see their love for the Lord and for the brethren rekindled. If they are active, we hope to encourage them all the more.
The goal is, of course, unattainable. Some of those folks go to church elsewhere. Some of them we will likely not be able to identify or find. Some of them will spurn our efforts to reach them. We're going to try anyway. And it is important to me for my people to know that it has never been my intention or the desire of my heart to effect any sort of "purge." If any wind up leaving our rolls, let it be because we were running after them to catch them for the Lord, not to chase them away.
If 50% of the people we contact tell us to go away and leave them alone, then we'll double in average attendance next year. But more importantly, I'll have the assurance of knowing that I've actually shepherded the flock over which God has made me an overseer.
I'm as enthusiastic about serving here as ever I have been. We've had a really difficult few years, marked by a few painful moral scandals among the church membership (the worst of which resulted in a sexual offender being sentenced to prison last month). Our attendance and baptisms have waned through this difficult season. Now I have every reason to hope that we have put this season behind us. Our baptisms since September have already doubled last year's ACP numbers, and far beyond. I baptized three adults in the last few weeks. We're seeing a heightened interest in evangelism to accompany the amazing improvements that our congregation has made in missions involvement in the past few years (from 0 mission trips ten years ago to 7 this year).
I've always wondered what it would feel like to have pastored a congregation for as long as a decade. The amazing thing is, it feels like I'm just getting started. It hasn't felt that way at every point along the road. Sometimes it has been quite difficult. But today, I can honestly say that it feels almost like the initial "honeymoon," only better, because we know that it is based upon a real understanding between church and pastor, and not some imaginary vision of one another soon to be exploded.