On March 1, 2023, I completed my twentieth year as the lead pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. It has been an incredible journey. I am excited about the future and want to share some reflections that come to mind about the past two decades.
1. The greatest need I have in my life is to walk with God. Busyness and selfishness can distract me from my walk with God. Nothing is more important in life and ministry than spending time in prayer and the Word.
2. I rely on the grace of God every day of my life. As the Apostle Paul said, I want to know Jesus, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. I want to share Jesus with as many people as possible so they, too, can experience the grace of God.
3. Prioritizing my family has always been important to me. Significant sacrifice is required for a family to serve in ministry, and I am grateful for my wife, Emilee, and our children, Nathan, Sophia, and Grace, and their commitment to the Lord and the church.
4. My call from God to serve in ministry has been a constraining call that has kept my hand on the plow. Many people today, even in ministry, minimize the importance of a call to ministry. I can make a strong biblical case for God’s call. If I did not have a clear call, I might have walked away from ministry several times through the years. I believe God also calls to specific places for specific seasons of life. On our first visit to Cross Lanes Baptist Church, I knew God had called us here when we drove up on the hill, before I had even been interviewed in person. The pastor search team and the church ultimately confirmed what I already knew.
5. People in the church are under the care of a pastor to be shepherded for the time he is in that role. People are not a means to an end; they are image bearers of God, ultimately cared for by Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. I value relationships, and God has taught me the importance of entrusting His people to the Chief Shepherd.
6. A healthy pastor-to-congregation relationship is essential. There must be an abiding love that comes from God, deep trust, a healthy understanding of forgiveness, and a willingness to overcome imperfections and shortcomings. I am an imperfect pastor, leading imperfect people to keep their eyes on a perfect Savior. The more I can point people to Jesus, the better off we all will be.
7. Every established church has a history that should be valued and can be built upon. I have sought to honor the history of our church, and I am still deeply moved by the fact that our founding members put their own homes up as collateral to secure the first property the church purchased. They were “all in.” I am grateful for all the members of our church who have come and gone and were “all in” during the time they invested in the work and all who remain and are fully committed.
8. A praying, patient, and supporting church has been necessary for me to experience an extended stay. There are good churches, and there are toxic churches. Some churches major on the majors, and some churches major on the minors. I am thankful to serve in a great church that majors on the majors and keeps the main thing the main thing.
9. Encouragement is worth its weight in gold. We should encourage one another regularly. I am grateful for the many people in my life who have continually encouraged me along the way as I have served the church.
10. Preaching the Bible consistently is required for a pastor’s extended stay in one church to be healthy. I believe the Word of God is inspired, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient for everything pertaining to life and godliness. I will continue preaching God’s Word as long as he gives me the strength to do so.
11. For a church to be faithful, it must value and cultivate an outward focus with a kingdom vision. Our church believes in and has invested in a kingdom vision to make God’s glory known to the ends of the earth. Through our church, I have had incredible opportunities to lead people in God’s mission worldwide and to lean into a multiplying vision for the church.
12. Change must be embraced and not feared. Change is constant. Less than twenty percent of our current members were members when I arrived here. I have preached approximately 175 funerals at CLBC (250+ in my ministry overall). We have averaged an 8-12% annual attrition rate over the years. People have left for educational, vocational, and family reasons and many more new people have come to the church. Further, the world around us is rapidly changing, and the past several years have accelerated the rate of change. I am grateful for a church that is unafraid to pivot and try new initiatives or go in new directions when it is necessary.
13. Processes should be periodically evaluated and adjusted based on current circumstances and seasons. The Word of God guides us and is unchanging. Practical considerations of how we do certain things have to change occasionally. What worked twenty years ago may not work the same today. What we are doing today may not work twenty years from now.
14. A long-term vision should guide a pastor and a church. Many years ago, I heard a long-tenured pastor say about church ministry, “Build a house you can live in.” I have sought to build a ministry house that I can live in at Cross Lanes. Many pastors overestimate what can be accomplished in a short period of time, and they underestimate what can be accomplished over a long period of time.
15. The pastor and the church should seek continual renewal. We are either moving forward or backward spiritually and in ministry. Our church has been open-handed with me to give me opportunities to continue growing as a leader and a servant.
16. Goals, dreams, and initiatives are compelling. I am amazed at what God has done in our church in the expansion of properties and buildings. I am even more amazed at what he has done through changed lives, mission advancement, and church planting initiatives as a multiplying body. Dream big, pray big, and trust God for the results!
17. Equipping and empowering the staff team around the pastor and the leadership in the church is essential. I have learned the importance of raising up people around me who make me better at what I do, and then empowering and releasing them to do shared ministry.
18. Every pastor is an interim pastor, even those who serve for extended tenures. I want to resist the temptation toward entitlement and an unhealthy sense of ownership. I could be gone tomorrow, and God’s church would live on. Nobody is indispensable.
19. Staying in one place requires endurance. I have sought to resist “the grass is greener” way of thinking. A lot gets blamed on God in spiritual speak as pastors sometimes get impatient and move from place to place. I would never put a heavy burden on any pastor for a particular time frame they should stay. God determines whether it is a short time or a long time. If it is possible, though, I think pastors should stay longer than they often do.
20. Ministry brings with it an intense amount of spiritual warfare. There are times of discouragement, abandonment, betrayal, and more. The wounds of ministry sometimes are deep. God who calls is faithful to his servants. We must seek Him together to live and serve in the power of the Spirit.
My worth is ultimately in who I am in Christ, not my role as a pastor. My identity is in Him. I am committed to kingdom work in West Virginia as long as God permits me to participate in it. I love the place and I love the people. I bought burial plots at Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens in Cross Lanes many years ago. I pray that God will give me many more fruitful years of life and ministry by his grace before I use my spot. I would not presume upon what the Lord will do or how He will lead in my life, family, and ministry or in His church in the future, but the burial plots represent our commitment to and deep love for West Virginia, the place we call home.
Early in ministry, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to Galatians 2:20. The verse states, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” I desire to grow in my surrender to Jesus so that His life is lived through me more and more.
I am humbled to be called the pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church. To my church family, I say thank you for your love, prayers, and support of my family and me. Thank you for the amazing blessing I have to serve with you. You are loved and treasured. I am honored to tell the story of what God is doing through you everywhere I go in the world. Let’s be thankful for our collective past, but at the same time, let’s ask God to do His greatest work through us in the future as we grow in faith. May we be like John the Baptist, who said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Father God, will you make it so in our lives!