Dear Brothers and Sisters,
So far this year I’ve attended seven regional conferences in the US, an international conference (for Spanish-speaking elders) in Bogotá, Colombia, and just recently I returned from a ministerial conference in the UK. When I add to these trips my other travels in the US and abroad, I must say how blessed I am to meet so many GCI pastors, elders and other members. It’s not only a thrill to get to know them, I’m blessed to call them friends.
North American churches set aside October for showing honor, thanks and appreciation to their clergy and their families. In GCI, our clergy are our elders, and most of these men and women serve as pastors—some lead pastors, others associate or assistant pastors. As we enter October, I want to share how much I appreciate each of our pastors and elders. Their faithful, heartfelt service to God’s beloved sons and daughters is something I thank God for as I pray for a small group of them by name each day.
What a journey we’ve been on in GCI over the last 20+ years! Most of you serving as pastors have travelled most, if not all, that distance, and I must say how elated I am for your willingness to follow where God has led our fellowship. Along the way, most of you encountered significant losses in attendance and income in the congregations you pastored. Yet, you remained faithful to our Lord’s call to ministry. Some of you struggled at first to understand our changes, yet you persevered through many hours of prayer and Bible study and came to see the amazing triune nature of God who loves you and loves every person you serve. Through all the changes we’ve encountered in GCI, you continued to equip the saints for their work of ministry. For that, I give you my sincere thanks.
I also thank you for all the meals you’ve missed because you were on the phone, or had to run out the door to visit someone at the hospital. I thank you for the many nights your sleep was cut short because of a phone call. I thank you for the many times you gave up personal plans in order to fit a wedding into your schedule, or to officiate at a funeral. I thank you for the numerous evenings you spent at a church function, a ministry meeting, or to visit someone rather than being at home. I thank you for continuing to study and take classes and attend training sessions so you can be more effective in pastoring your congregation. I thank you for the hours you have spent on your knees or on a walk, praying to God on behalf of your members, for our fellowship, and for the advance of God’s kingdom.
I also thank the wives whose husbands serve as pastors. Thanks for your faithful, selfless service in the often-challenging role of pastor’s wife (thanks also to the men whose wives are pastors). As a source of encouragement to pastors’ wives, I recommend an NAE podcast featuring Kay Warren, who with her husband Rick, founded Saddleback Church. You’ll find the podcast at http://nae.net/warrenpodcast/.
To all our elders, I extend heartfelt appreciation for learning how the work of an elder should be done, and then being faithful to God’s call to that important office of service in the body of Christ. Ultimately, all thanks goes to God for his mercy and grace that disciplines us, but I want to thank you for being submissive to the Spirit’s lead as you have devoted your life to joining Jesus in his ministry.
Pastors, let me encourage you to not let your church responsibilities become greater than your responsibilities at home to your spouse, children, grandchildren, and other family members. Please set aside one day a week to be free from phone calls and other church-related interruptions. You need this time for your own physical and spiritual renewal. I also encourage you to go on vacation with your family and leave behind the textbooks, turn off the cell phone, not check your email, and just be present with your family and friends. Your congregation will be fine without you for a week or two.
For all of you reading this letter who are blessed to be loved and served by one of our pastors, I encourage you to take time this month to show them your thanks. Send a card or other small gift of appreciation to encourage and affirm them. He or she needs you as much as you need them.
Praising God for the good work of our pastors and elders,