I was a young college student when I attended Bethel for the first time. My experience with church growing up was, well, quite honestly, dry. Boring. A list of rules, most of which translated for me into “Be a good girl. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Do this and you’ll go to heaven.” No one told me about Jesus Christ (except that he died on a cross for our sins). But I wasn’t aware of his sacrifice for me. It was all very disconnected.
In college, I tried to continue being the good girl, but I was empty, searching for fulfillment. I thought I found it in a relationship with a guy, but I instead was consumed by insecurity and fear. Rejection soon ensued, and I found myself alone and afraid. My life fell apart, and my grades in college reinforced what I had always feared: that I was dumb, stupid. I wasn’t prepared for higher education, and I was lost. My health suffered, my job was at risk, and my future unstable.
In desperation, I tried church. But the familiar denominational church I attended left me feeling even more alone. I was seemingly invisible as no one greeted me, neither as I entered the church nor left after the service. The feeling as if something were missing was palpable, the ache in my heart unfulfilled.
My roommate at the time, however, attended Bethel. I asked if I could catch a ride with her one Sunday, and so the following week, I nervously entered the doors of Bethel Baptist Church. I hadn’t a clue what Baptists were like, the stereotype completely foreign to me. All I knew for sure was that when I walked in through those doors, I was greeted warmly. I was seen. As I left after the service, I was invited to stay for coffee and donuts. A couple people asked me about myself. Their genuine interest in my life took me by surprise.
I continued to attend Bethel for several weeks, all the while hearing stories about Jesus Christ and listening with amazement that God seemed so alive here. Pastor Dave preached with confidence, transparency, and vulnerability. It was a far cry from my previous experience with church where authority rang loud, but love lacked, and Jesus still hung on the cross. I will never forget the day Pastor Dave preached about the Word, saying, “Don’t believe me. Look it up for yourself. Make sure what I’m saying is what the Word says.” I’m not sure a Bible has ever been flipped open faster than I did the one sitting there on the chair.
Many weeks later, Pastor Dave preached about the need for Christ, the emptiness and longing that many who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior feel. He went on to explain what it meant by knowing Jesus as LORD. He spoke of what salvation was and what it meant. And then he extended the invitation to accept Christ, to ask Jesus to be Lord and Savior for anyone who desired. I needed saving. I knew 100% that I could not control my life, that I needed Christ to lead. I accepted the invitation that day, and my life has never been the same.
My life and the lives of my family have been forever changed because of Pastor Dave. He spoke truth, he challenged me to discover what God said and to explore God’s character. By being vulnerable in the pulpit, he showed me that a man in a position of authority wasn’t perfect, but only relying on God and as needy as the rest of us.
Pastor Dave has served our church for 30 years. 30 years. That is faithfulness. That is commitment to the hard, hard task of shepherding some very stubborn and stupid sheep over those 30 years. He continues to speak truth and challenge our church to dig deeper, reminding us that we can never plumb the depths of God’s word to completion. He speaks scripture with clarity and manages to preach it succinctly, somehow tying it seamlessly in to our everyday lives, making it relevant and applicable to our lives now. (And he does it with his trademark 3-point sermon!) He serves with enthusiasm even after 30 years. It chokes me up that he still gets choked up over communion.
Pastor Dave, I know the job of leading this church has been difficult and, at times, downright heartbreaking. I want you to know how appreciated you are. I want you to know that you, and the years you (and Suanne) have served, have not gone unnoticed. I want you to know we recognize the thankless job you do, but that you have done it well. Pastor Dave, I am indebted to you. It is because of you that I came to know Jesus. And because I came to know Jesus, my children know Jesus. Each of our kids have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and responded. (That’s quite a harvest!)
Thank you, Pastor Dave, for serving us 30 years! You are a blessing, and we are blessed.
Friends, if you haven’t thanked your pastor recently, I encourage you to do so. The task and responsibility he assumes is enormous. He faces tremendous challenges daily, but perseveres. He hears criticism often and doubts his abilities occasionally, yet leads courageously. Despite fear and opposition, he does what God calls him to do: speak God’s word and lead His people. Like Moses, pastors are men who are not perfect, but only obedient to what God has called him to do. And while I realize there are many pastors who are not these things (teachable, obedient, humble, etc.) our church is blessed with a pastor who is.
With a grateful heart,