20 years ago today

Although I started my current service here at Inter-City Baptist Church on the first Sunday of February in 1989, my formal installation as the senior pastor was held on September 17th of that year. I was called by the congregation to serve as the co-pastor with Dr. William R. Rice until his retirement and to serve as pastor following it. We held the retirement service for Dr. Rice on September 10th and my installation the next week. Dr. Rice served here for 40 years and now I have for 20 years. I hope you’ll indulge some brief reminisces, then I would like to share something that I shared with our congregation back in February.

I first came in contact with Inter-City Baptist Church forty years ago, in the fall of 1969. I was an eight year old boy in the third grade. My unsaved parents were concerned about the turmoil happening in our local school district, particularly for my oldest sister who was headed into Junior High. Someone told them about a private school over in Allen Park and they checked into Inter-City Christian School. They decided to enroll my sister, then three days after school started, I started up too (my other sister had to wait for an opening in the sixth grade class). More importantly, my parents decided to visit Inter-City Baptist Church. I don’t ever recall attending church with my parents up to that point, but we all went to ICBC and the Lord graciously worked in each of our hearts, resulting in the whole family coming to Christ for salvation. We were all baptized and added to the church that fall.

My first recollection of Dr. Rice comes from that fall in 1969. My third grade class was having lunch in the gym and he walked in to talk with someone. The kids at my table showed a strange awe and began to whisper to one another about that man being Dr. Rice. I didn’t know who he was, but he was obviously someone important. Here’s why this childhood memory is significant to me right now—40 years ago I was 8 and Dr. Rice would have been either 48 or 49 (depending on when during the Fall that scene transpired). As I write this, I am now 48 and he is one week short of his 89th birthday. Back then, he had been the pastor of IC for 20 years. Twenty years after that lunchroom scene, he would be retiring and I would be installed as the pastor. Reflecting on all of this makes me wonder about two things: (1) what impression I am leaving on the children around here when our paths cross? And (2) which one of them, if the Lord tarries, might be the pastor in 20 years?

So much for the journey down memory lane. Back in February my family put on a surprise fellowship for our church family to say thank you for allowing us to serve here for these past twenty years. We kept it a secret from just about everybody (including my parents and in-laws), flew my college age sons home to be here, cut the Sunday evening service short,  supplied some of my wife’s famous pepperoni rolls and just had a great time talking with the wonderful folks who are ICBC. I gave a short message from Hebrews 13:17 about how pastors should serve with joy, then I used a powerpoint presentation to offer thanks to God for what He has done. I’d like to share that with you as a way to again thank the Lord and this congregation for the privilege of serving here.

On the 20th anniversary of serving as pastor of ICBC, I would like to thank God publicly for:

  • The mercy He has bestowed on me in my salvation (Titus 3:5) and in putting me in the ministry (2 Cor 4:1)—I am undeserving of either and overwhelmed with gratitude for both.
  • The incredible favor He showed me in giving me Claudia as my wife (Pro 18:22)—words cannot express what a wonderful “helper suitable” to me she has been and how much ministry has been made possible because she has so willingly sacrificed for me and our church.
  • The wonderful blessing it has been to have our sons grow up in this church among people that have cared for them, encouraged them, and demonstrated the love of Christ to them in countless ways.
  • The gift of having our extended family as part of the church and our lives—our parents, especially, have constantly been a source of help to us and blessing to our families. The burdens that many parents carry have been made much lighter for us and that has freed us to do more in ministry than we could without their help.
  • The amazing men and women who serve on the staff of our church and its ministries. We have a great crew of dedicated servants who use their gifts to the advantage of the Lord’s work here and we all benefit from them, but I especially have benefited from having such godly and gifted co-workers.
  • The gracious response by those in our congregation who are old enough to be my parents and, in fact, have been here long enough to have watched me grow up in this church—you loved the Lord and this church enough to follow the leadership of a very young man and have been a source of constant encouragement to me.
  • The gracious response of those in our congregation with whom I grew up and who, therefore, know from personal observation that I was not always obedient to the Lord and very often was not a positive influence for Christ in my youth. In spite of this personal knowledge, you have made room for the grace of God to change people and have followed the leadership of someone who grew up alongside of you.
  • The godly men who have served as deacons through these 20 years—I’ve had heard far too many horror stories of bad relationships between pastors and deacons to not rejoice at the wonderful relationship that I have enjoyed with these men for two decades. The word deacon means servant and God has given us men who embody and display that meaning continually.
  • The power of the Gospel and how it has worked to bring life to dozens over these past twenty years.
  • The transforming work of God’s Word that has changed lives, transformed marriages, rescued people from bondage to sin, and propelled our congregation toward maturity and ministry for God’s glory.
  • The continued growth of our congregation even as we have faced a generational transition—76% of our current membership has joined since 1989. Rather than let the church fade away as the congregation gets older, God has enabled us to grow younger and keep moving forward for His glory.
  • The grace of God that has been displayed through the generosity of His people here at IC—He has used our church as a channel for millions of dollars to flow out into His work around the world. There are churches, schools, camps, orphanages that exist today, humanly speaking, because of how God has worked through the gifts of His people here.
  • The joy of seeing our commitment to missions grow from a few families to almost 40 serving all over the world for the sake of God’s name. I am thrilled to watch our church’s commitment to missions-minded prayer and participation in missions grow stronger year by year.
  • The opportunity we have had to help, in one way or another, over two dozen church plants in the US and Canada.
  • The privilege of seeing God raise up a missions mobilization movement like Student Global Impact (and now Missions Mandate) through our church. God has done great things in these past ten years!
  • The opportunity to have served thousands of pastors through our pastors’ conferences, mainly here, but also across the country (and world). I thank God that He has opened your hearts to minister to God’s servants so graciously.
  • The faithful commitment to and support of our congregation in the task of educating young people and training men for the Gospel ministry. These sacrificial ministries are bearing much fruit for God’s glory.
  • That our congregation has been an oasis of refreshment for me at those times in my ministry when I’ve found myself in theological battles outside of our church—words cannot express what a joy it always is to gather with our congregation to worship and dig into God’s Word after returning from preaching and teaching away from here.
  • “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5)
  • Thank you for making it a joy to serve as the pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church!

Comments are closed.