This past Sunday, Legacy Church blessed my family and me by celebrating our 25 years of ministry with the church. We were humbled by the kind words and gifts, but most of all we were reminded of how good God has been and that people are the why behind the what and how.
So, what have I learned in 25 years of ministry with one church? There are too many lessons to write about now, but here are four big ones.
1. God is faithful to those he calls to serve. (1 Cor. 1:9) Never once in 25 years of service have I doubted God's faithfulness and presence. His call for me to serve in full-time ministry and his specific call to serve with Legacy has never wavered. I have questioned the circumstances I thought he allowed, and I have made messes I wish I had not created, but I am convinced that no matter what, God does not abandon those he calls on mission with him. Trust him.
2. Relationships matter most. While I lean more to tasks than people in my ministry style, I do know without a doubt that relationship is the most important word in the dictionary of faith. From personal spiritual growth to leadership of people, relationships are key. Jesus came to rescue, restore, and release people, not buildings, budgets, and projects. My relationships with God, my best friend/wife, Kim, my family, friends, and those the Holy Spirit gathers and scatters as the church are the foundation of my life and ministry. Friendships count more than your resume.
3. A remnant is my hope. During the days of change and chaos caused by others or by me, one of the ways I kept going was to know there was a remnant who "got it." Just as the Old Testament prophets pointed to a remnant of Israel who represented God's promise (Jeremiah 50:19-20), through the years I have kept a list in my heart of those who "got" God's mission and vision for Legacy Church. Those who came to trust Jesus as Rescuer and Leader and who lived out God's call on his people to be "missionaries in his or her own mission field" kept me going no matter the circumstances. Look for the remnant. They are your hope.
4. Success is not by the numbers. There was a day when I labored under the guilt of having been the fastest-growing, largest church in the area and then not wearing those labels at the associational meeting, but that is not the case now. Whatever the number of those who consider themselves Legacy Church, the biblical measures of success for God's leader are "faithfulness, fruitfulness, and finishing well." (Neil Cole, Organic Leadership) God will judge me on my faithfulness to his mission call on my life and his people, the fruitfulness of my work (personal and in the lives of others), and whether or not I finish my life and ministry well. The church is larger than those who show up on your campus each week in a given hour. Lives, not bodies, count.