One of my spiritual fathers is my uncle, James Pauley. He has faithfully pastored the same church for nearly half a century. He is a man of prayer and a man who has deeply challenged my walk with the Lord. I recently asked him if he would write something on what he has learned from staying in the same ministry for many years. You will be blessed by these thoughts from the heart of a faithful shepherd…
At this juncture of my life I am often asked how I have remained the pastor of the same church for over 46 years. Knowing full well this is not always the will of God for good and godly men, I believe it is a good question. As I reflect upon this milestone in my life I want to say in all honesty that I myself am amazed.
I often answer the question by saying, “I got them in debt, and they can’t get rid of me!” or, “They just feel sorry for me.” Sometimes I jest and say, “I am just a great preacher with a great personality and a pretty wife.” (One out of three is not bad! The pretty wife has been of great assistance…no doubt about it.)
I have thought about it over the years, but it wasn’t until my 40th anniversary that I began to think more about it. I was 65 and, yes, I thought about retirement, but I got my second wind (or my twentieth wind!) and continued doing something I love. If a man does not love what he is doing the ministry will drain him and often lead to burnout. Even though there have been times of discouragement and wanting to quit, three verses have encouraged me so many times: Philippians 4:13, Romans 8:28, Isaiah 40:31. We must learn to live by “promises” and not by “explanations.” I call these verses the Fighting, Forging, and Flying Supply. I can fight the good fight of faith; I can forge ahead knowing that God is in control of all things that He allows to cross my path, and occasionally I can mount up on eagle wings and fly as I get a different perspective. At various times one of those verses – or another – was my stay.
Prior to coming to Kannapolis, North Carolina, I was enjoying my first pastorate at a rural church outside of Florence, Alabama. I was green behind the ears and feeling my way through. I’m so thankful for those precious people who called me “pastor.” It was a preparing ground for the next and only other church I have served.
Three words come to my mind, words that have had a bearing on the privilege I have had to pastor our church since 1971…
TENACITY. I know it is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, but throughout the Scriptures tenacity was a quality in many people. It is just having that spirit to “grab the bone and hang on.” As a young preacher I had to decide that a person could not run from problems and difficulties. It was not always easy, and through fears and tears God gave extra grace. I guess it is the bulldog complex. An older preacher (He must have been 65!) once gave me some advice. He said, “Young man, just learn in the ministry to ride the tide. The tide goes out and the tide comes in.”
TENDERNESS. This is a quality that I had to acquire in order to have compassion. We all know that compassion makes a difference. I needed that, and to this day I need more of it. The broken, blasted, and burdened lives that a pastor encounters reminds me of the calling to be a pastor. It is not only in others but in our own family that we hurt and cry. God can use times to break us and to bless us in order that we can be a blessing to others. Without a doubt, the 360 funerals that I have conducted or assisted with have had a bearing upon my soul. I want to be a pastor that cries when people cry. I want to rejoice when they rejoice. To some degree God has allowed me to visit many valleys personally and with the church collectively. Each situation, I believe, has made me a better pastor, knowing that I have not arrived even now.
TEACHABLE. I have had many mentors that have invested in my life. Some I know personally, and others I know by their sermons and their biographies/autobiographies. I owe a debt to my preaching dad who was the first to give me wise counsel after announcing my call to preach as a teenager. He encouraged me to go to Bible college and prepare. He, by example, instilled in me the desire to read and I, too, became an avid reader. To this day I recommend reading. We can learn so much from the past and how God has worked in every generation. Many known giants of the faith – and others that most would never know – have impacted my life. To remain at a church for a long time, a pastor must stay fresh in reading the greatest book in his library, the Word of God. A man must spend time with God first and foremost. We all need the unction. It has been said that we need the unction to function. How true! At my age I am realizing how weak and frail I really am, and I am aware that I need God’s power more than ever in my life.
May these three words be an encouragement in any walk of life. We all need tenacity, tenderness, and to always be teachable.
The future is as bright as the promises of God. When and if the day comes that I believe it is time to resign and pass the torch to someone else, I want to say that I have enjoyed the trip. However, it will be one of the saddest days in my life. God puts a love in the pastor’s heart, and the longer one stays at the same church the more that love grows. Thanks to the two churches that have allowed me to serve as their pastor.