I pastor a small Baptist church outside of Durham, NC. A weathered sign at the corner of US HWY 70 and Old NC 10 points passersby our way. It simply reads in faded Old English font:
Mount Hermon Baptist Church
When I came to Mount Hermon in September of 2006, it was after four years of campus ministry. I went from the sound of drums and acoustic guitars to the sound of an organ… and the occasional hiss of Mr. J____’s oxygen tank. The smell of coffee and burning candles at the college services was replaced with the scent of the perfume preferred by older ladies. The reasons people missed worship services went from viewing American Idol to suffering with arthritis.
I fell in love this little church.
I came to Durham for a degree program, not for a pastorate. But God divinely cornered me and I found myself under the employ of Mount Hermon. For the past two years I have struggled to be somewhat decent as a shepherd.
Then I heard about this job in Birmingham. The dream job. Now, I was actually hoping to enroll in a doctoral program, but I had to take seriously this job opening. A suburban church with which my wife and I had worked during my seminary years was looking for a College Pastor who would head up a large, vibrant campus ministry. I knew the guy whose place I would be taking—he is one of my closest friends.
But I really love this little country church in Durham.
Weeks and months passed by. I actually removed my name from the candidacy for that campus ministry position. But when I was having doubts, they called back and asked if I would at least show up for an interview.
A week later, after long bouts of the kind of miserable prayer that precedes major decisions, we decided to move to Birmingham.
So I had to tell the little country church that I was leaving.
The Lord’s Supper had been scheduled for that Sunday (it was that time in the quarter, you know). I chose as the text John 13-17, Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to His disciples (for John, the Passover meal is decidedly placed in the backdrop of this scene). I told the congregation that the first Lord’s Supper was occasioned with the sadness of a departure, and that our morning of sharing in the same meal would be similar. I did not view myself as Jesus and the parishioners as my disciples, but the situation was that of a minor shepherd leaving a precious little flock.
I carefully conveyed my story to them. And since the disciples posed a number of questions in John’s Farewell Discourse, I gave them the chance to ask questions of me. No one asked a question at first, but the sanctuary was not silent. The sounds that accompany the use of a tissue sporadically echoed throughout the pews.
A few people made comments, and that was all I could take. I broke down behind the pulpit. I wept, tried to calm down and speak, only to make those terrible sounds one makes when they think they have calmed from weeping but haven’t (and the pulpit mic seemed to catch all those awkward sounds).
I finally escaped to play the piano during Communion. But afterwards, friend after friend approached me with hugs. These were people whose spouses, cousins, and even children, I had buried. I knew where their bodies were scarred from recent surgeries. I could not gather myself. I was wrecked.
There is a lot of glitz and glamour attached to certain churches and certain positions in ministry. I do think I am following God’s guidance in moving to the large suburban church with multiple services and video projection screens. It is a wonderful church. But I hope I never fail to forget what I told the little country church that day before we took the Lord’s Supper: “I am not moving on to bigger and better things. They may be bigger… but they are not better.”