Last night we began our pastor and spouse retreat in Middlebury Indiana in the heart of Amish country. The fellowship, the preaching from my friend Pastor Dave Engbrecht of the Nappanee Indiana Missionary Church has been uplifting, the special music from Justin Wells has been outstanding, the meals unbelievable.
Today Susanne and I took a journey down Memory Lane. In March of 1984, we moved from Corpus Christi, Texas and began pastoring the Wawasee Community Church of the Nazarene in Syracuse, Indiana. Our 7 1/2 years spent here were indeed special. Today we went to a couple of towns that have special meaning for our family. We drove to the hospital in Goshen Indiana where 32 years ago this December our baby boy was born. We drove by both of the homes we lived in during our time in Syracuse. The first one was a brick home located on lake Syracuse. So many parties, Christmas events, and meals with parishioners and friends, such great times we enjoyed. When I turned into the driveway to take a picture I was surprised by my emotions. Our first Sunday in Syracuse I preached to 18 people. What God did in that little church in a small town is the “stuff” of miracles. I drove by both of the church buildings today; one is a condo and the other a worship center for a church of another denomination. Again memories flooded my mind. I mostly thought of the beautiful people we knew in this place. We drove around town and Susanne, and I kept saying do you remember? I remembered again the many remarkable life and ministry lessons learned in this little town:
1 To reach a community, you must become involved in the community. The community ministerial association conducted a boat in worship service from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the largest natural lake in the state of Indiana. The service had excellent attendance and pastors of the community shared the preaching and leading of the service. Several came and sat along the shore, and many came in boats and anchored them around the vessel that the speaker preached from and it was always a powerful worship service. It was in this setting that I learned the power of church and ministerial cooperation. It was here I found out that when churches cooperate there is a greater community impact.
2 I learned leadership in this pastorate. A business leader in the church took me under his wing and taught me valuable life lessons, as well as I caught a lot of leadership principles by spending time with him. What he provided for me was an incredible laboratory of learning. It has impacted my life to this day.
3 It was here that I learned God does do big things in small places. The town was quite small, and the church grew. There are always enough people to lead to faith and disciple, regardless of the size of the community. Indeed some of the best gifts do come in small packages.
4 Prayer became central to the move of God we experienced. Our prayer meetings on Wednesday night became the highlight of the week. We saw answers to prayer and the people were excited to see what God was going to do next.
5 It is exciting to see people come to faith and to see the church increase in attendance. Some of the most fulfilling days of our ministry happened in this little town.
6 I learned that growth does not happen overnight. 18 people attended my first service in Syracuse. There were Sunday nights in the winter that I preached to less than ten people. You must do your best even if the crowd is small. I preached my heart out to 8 people and tried to conduct myself as if there were 800 people there. I learned to keep plugging away and do your best, pray and trust God for the results.
7 I learned there is more to overnight success than overnight! When our church began to grow people thought I was an expert. They wanted to know what my secret was, but the truth was that there was no secret. I also learned to beware of people who tell you there is a secret. Let me tell you the secret, do your best, pray and leave it with the Lord.
Pastor Engbrecht said it best last night “just show up where God shows up.” God showed up in Syracuse Indiana, and by His grace, I happened to be living there!