A few good men
I spent several days this past week with a few good men.
No, it wasn’t a Marine Corps reunion, although the men I shared a week with have many of the qualities and characteristics of Marines I have known.
No, this was a gathering of priests who serve as pastors and who came to Orlando for a church growth conference. But these were not just any kind of pastors and this was not just any kind of conference.
The gathering was not a large one, only about 20 priests. The churches served by the men are not large, the church with the greatest Sunday attendance being about 130. Some congregations were as small as a dozen in attendance.
Nearly all of these men were church planters — pioneers who have endeavored to scratch out a new church where none existed before.
They are, for the most part, well educated and nearly all of them are bi-vocational — that is, they have a full-time job that meets their needs while they attempt to pastor their church.
They came from all over the country: the West Coast, the Midwest, New England, the South ... and they paid their own way, came at their own expense, and used their valuable vacation time to attend. They were optimistic about their church’s future and seemingly not prone to discouragement.
One author has written that, five years after entry into the pastoral ministry, 80 percent of pastors leave the pastoral role. They may stay on as associate ministers, counselors, or work for other non-profits, but, if the statistic is true, a candidate for the Navy SEALs has a better chance of becoming a full-fledged SEAL than does a pastor successfully surviving beyond his first half-decade.
In spite of what people think, see, and imagine, the pastorate is a grueling, difficult, thankless, and often discouraging profession. Nearly all of these men were beyond the five year mark and they were doing what may be the most difficult type of pastoral ministry — the mission church plant. Yet, their level of discouragement was low.
The conference was atypical of other church growth conferences I have attended. The presenters were unpaid and also came from across the country at their own expense. There were no books for sale, no tapes or CDs being sold, no “programs” one could purchase to take home and magically grow a congregation. In fact, there was no admission fee. The conference was free. No one made any money.
Each morning session began with worship, scripture, a teaching, and Holy Communion. A presenter shared during the later morning session. The men then broke into small groups and discussed issues and shared victories and defeats. Honesty prevailed.
After lunch, during which members of the conference continued to share with each other, the pastors spent nearly an hour in prayer in the sanctuary. Afterwards, there was a return to the small groups.
After the day’s activities ended, the men gathered by the hotel pool and, long into the night, continued discussion. Each man also had the opportunity for a personal consultation — also at no cost.
The topics for the conference weren’t the typical fare found at similar conferences. The topics, rather than focusing on how to get in more numbers and dollars, were: “Look Up,” or seeking God’s will first in all things, “Look In,” which encouraged participants to put their own spiritual lives first, and “Look Out,” which called upon the pastors to not seek transfer growth from other churches but to seek out the “least, the lost, and the lonely” who had little or no connection with church or Christianity.
These “few good men” were committed, sacrificial, faithful, courageous, and full of hope, faith, and vision. They might not make the cover of the various church magazines, live in mansions, have a large TV following, or command enormous salaries but about these things they were not concerned.
They were, however, deeply concerned for the communities, their people, and their churches. They were concerned that they would please God and that they would live lives of integrity and honor and that they would “finish well.”
The Marines are “looking for a few good men.” God has a few good men too. I was privileged to be among them this week.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]