Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

Tag: Pastor

My First Year: Confessions of an Ordinary Pastor

Most of the pastors I know took fairly similar vocational paths. They began by doing youth ministry or preaching (at small churches) in their early twenties, usually while working on their seminary degree. They typically have 20+ years of experience by the time they reach my age (mid-40’s).

My path has been a little different. I spent most of my 20’s in drug rehab–as a counselor, that is. I usually went to school on Mondays (working on my master’s degree at NOBTS) and worked Tuesday through Friday/Saturday at a drug treatment center in Birmingham, AL. I eventually moved to New Orleans to finish the before-mentioned degree (and spent more time in rehab there–yes, as a counselor). I invested the next season of my life (11 years) as a missionary in the Philippines.

I won’t rehash everything that happened when I returned to the United States with my wife (I’ve already written about that in my Life 3.0 post). I’ll just summarize it this way: it took us over three years to find my current place of ministry.

It’s been a full, blessed year since I became the pastor of Apollo Heights Baptist church. We celebrated this milestone with a high attendance Sunday today.

I decided to share a few reflections from this past year. I don’t claim that any of my observations are unique or original. Many of them, in fact, sound more like overused clichés.

Pastoring is a marathon, not a sprint.

I warned you about clichés, didn’t I?

But this one is certainly true of the pastorate. We’re a small church (around 80 worshipers on a typical Sunday), but it seemed to take a long time for me to learn everyone’s name. It has taken me a while to develop a “feel” for the different personalities in our congregation, but I’m still learning.  That’s just our church–it’s taking me even longer to figure out what “works” in our community in terms of outreach, etc. I think I might have Roberts Rules of Order figured out by the time I retire (maybe). You get the idea–I’m just scratching the surface after a year.

Change is hard.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t really want to be an agent of change during my first pastorate in the USA. I hoped to be more of a “game manager” (to use a football analogy) or a “maintenance” type leader. God had other plans. Our church has many strong points, but we really need to make some adjustments in order to more effectively reach our community. Studying Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church helped us to see this. Leading us through some of these first steps has been challenging, but it has also been very rewarding.

You can’t please everyone.

“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Go sell ice cream.” -Eric Geiger

I always like to hear the bad news first so here goes: some people just can’t be pleased–including some “church people.” No need to go into details.

This probably would have bothered a younger version of me. But now I understand that trying to please everyone will paralyze a pastor/leader (or anyone else, for that matter). God has hopefully cured me of most of my people pleasing ways.

This quote also helps me keep things in perspective:

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” – CH Spurgeon

God’s people are pretty amazing.

I’ve shared the bad news about people, but there’s really great news: watching God’s people at work is one of the greatest joys of being a pastor. I’m constantly amazed at the way our church members give, serve, and care. Many of our senior adults have inspired me by putting their own personal preferences aside for the sake of the gospel. For every disappointment there have been dozens of these “wow” moments, and it’s a beautiful thing.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” -Proverbs 15:22

“If you think you are leading, but no one is following, then you’re only taking a walk.” -John C. Maxwell

There’s something else I want to point out while I’m on this topic. I’ve had to ignore a few naysayers, but I know better than to disregard the godly wisdom that is available in our congregation. The advice from the mature saints in my church has been extremely valuable.

Love covers a multitude of sins

I’m sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes during this first year. My congregation has graciously overlooked them.

God is Faithful

This is the most important lesson from the past year, or the past 45 years, for that matter. God has proven Himself over and over. His mercies are new every morning, and His blessings are far greater than I’ll ever deserve.

Mare Cris and I are deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve and for an incredible year of ministry.

Somewhere Between Jerusalem and Corinth

My church and I have been journeying through the Book of Acts during our Wednesday night Bible study. We’ve studied verse-by-verse, discussing the birth of Christianity in ancient Jerusalem.

Two passages in particular have been on my mind: Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. Luke describes a body of believers that were intensely devoted to the Scriptures and to each other. They were selflessly focused on the mission of spreading the Gospel to their community. God blessed them with both numerical growth and supernatural manifestations of His power. I constantly remind my congregation (and myself) that the events recorded are much more than a historical account–the same Spirit who started the church in Jerusalem is at work in our midst. In other words, Luke (the author of Acts) doesn’t just show us what the church was–he shows us what it can be, here and now. It’s awe-inspiring, challenging, and quite frankly, convicting.

But another side to the story unfolds as I read through other books of the New Testament.   The gospel spreads rapidly through the Roman Empire and beyond, but not every church we encounter is as healthy or vibrant as the infant congregation in Jerusalem. I can think of no clearer example than the church in Corinth. Paul’s letter indicates many of these believers struggled to leave behind their pagan attitudes. The problems were many: factions, worldliness, immaturity, arrogance, and expressions of sexual immorality that even pagans would find objectionable (quite remarkable when one considers the Romans’ nonchalant attitude about sexual promiscuity).

The stark contrast between the Jerusalem and Corinthian churches intrigues me. I’m grateful that God chose to give us historical snapshots of both ancient congregations through His word. I’m especially grateful now that I’m a pastor.

Allow me to explain this a little further. I consider myself to be an ordinary pastor of an ordinary congregation serving an extraordinary God. Luke’s writing shows me what God can do with and through an ordinary group of believers like us. Paul’s letters teach me to be patient as we, and imperfect congregation (with a very imperfect pastor), journey together by the grace of God.

So here we are, somewhere between Jerusalem and Corinth. I dare to dream of greater things, because God may just use us to radically impact this community for His glory. But I dare not lose patience with the everyday struggles, quirks and failures of people who are just as deeply flawed as I am.