“I can do this all day.”
I love how Captain America says that with a bloodied lip and bruised cheek. And as he gets back up, dusts himself off, and pulls the straps of his shield tighter around his arm he jumps back into battle, never willing to give up.
The ethos behind this kind of endurance is rare among us today, especially in the church. Too often, many churches are like revolving doors: people come in, stay a while, find something that bothers them, and then move along to the next church.
I don’t say that to pass blame. There are many good reasons to leave one church and find another. Nor do I intend to say that this problem only exists among non-staff members. However, ministry does require resolve, and those who are in it for the long haul encourage others to faithfully endure.
IN MINISTRY FOR THE LONG HAUL
Pastors often set this half-hearted tone. Some difficulty in ministry comes along, a critique hits a little too close to home, or they have realize the ordinary church in front of them isn’t as glamorous as the larger church calling one state over, and out the door we fly. (And yes, there are good and right reasons for a pastor to leave his current church and to take another.)
I remember being told a story of a young pastor having his “honeymoon” season at his new church abruptly soured by an older lady who approached him after a service during his first month. Sensing that this “young buck” might be one to try and apply some changes to the ministry, this seasoned saint approached the pastor and said, “Pastor, I know you’re eager to make your mark here and make a difference. That’s nice. Just remember, we were here long before you came, and we’ll be here long after you’ve gone.”
You can see why the occasional feat of a long-haul, faithful pastorate is inspiring to me. Seeing one man labor and serve a singular congregation beyond one decade is unique. Watching two pastors do so is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s a mark that would inspire us all.
Last weekend the senior pastor of my church, Doug Schmidt, concluded twenty-eight years of ministry at Woodside Bible Church. Later this summer, another pastor I’ve served under named Chris Bauer will transition from his role as Senior Pastor of Santa Rosa Bible Church after serving in that capacity for twenty-six years.
Both men finished this course of their ministry well. Both have lived “above reproach.” Both have stayed the course, served faithfully, and suffered through growth, trial, criticism, cultural change, and the ebbs and flow of life, faith, and ministry.
These men are pictures of long-haul, faithful endurance. Such endurance is in short supply, and yet, the New Testament calls us to it with frequency:
Peter invites us to “make every effort to supplement your faith… with steadfastness” (2 Pet. 1:5-6).
Paul told Timothy (and us) to “pursue . . . steadfastness” (1 Tim. 6:11).
The anonymous writer of Hebrews implores us to “lay aside aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2, emphasis mine).
THE CALL TO LONGEVITY
I write this partly to pay tribute to both of these men to whom I owe a great debt because of their endurance in one church for the long haul. But I also write this to encourage us to stay the course with our local churches.
Whether you are a pastor or not, there is a profound treasure of the gospel the world can only see through people who commit to faithful endurance in the local church. How else will the world know God does not give up on his people unless they see God’s people faithfully committed to one another? How else will the young believer understand how to persevere in trials and suffering unless they see pastors and people enduring conflict together? Where else will the reality of forgiveness, mercy, and growth be lived except among people who practice faithful endurance together?
Perhaps our culture lacks an understanding of God’s own patience and endurance with us because it can’t see God’s people living with endurance among one another. If this is the case, we should celebrate and call out the ways we see long-haul, faithful endurance among us.
I’m thankful for the example and the faithfulness of Pastor Doug and Pastor Chris. Both have served with distinction, honor, and with much sacrifice. There is an unfading crown of glory awaiting them.
Their example spurs me on to pastor for the long-haul. Their example gives flesh to Paul’s blessing on us: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6).
May we all be long-haul, faithful believers for the sake of the name of Jesus!
Jeremy Writebol is the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI and the Executive Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in The Present and a contributing author to several other publications. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.