For this my 40th year of full-time ministry, one of the questions I keep getting is, “What’s it been like to be a church planter and pastor for so many decades?”
My first thought is to sum it all up in expected superlatives, but superlatives simply cannot do it justice. Perhaps a story or two can.
About 20 years ago on a Friday night at King’s Park, I was leading a Campus Harvest student conference. Listening to 2,000+ students going crazy in worship, I was reviewing the lineup of the night. I recognized most of the names such as Johnny O, Lucinda, Rice and others, until I got to a name that simply said, “Rapper.”
Turns out nobody knew Rapper’s name, but someone had put this tall young man in the lineup. He poured it out for the students who gave a rousing response. In the years to come, I started seeing Rapper in the news and on national shows, like the Grammys and the BET awards. One of his albums would eventually be named “One of the most important albums in history.”
This rapper isn’t Jay-Z or 50cent, but like them, he is known by only one name. That name is Lecrae.
17 years after our initial introduction I met Lecrae in person at our Every Nation NYC building, where we spoke about that night years before. He recalled being extremely nervous because it was his first Christian conference performance. He told me how performing under the tangible presence of God that night had had a serious impact on his calling.
Lecrae’s experience at our church is not unique. Thousands over these 40 years have shown up at one of our congregations without any of us knowing their name, and now, like Lecrae, we can never forget them. People came in one way and were changed, transformed and sent out to make disciples around the world.
Some are saving lives through medicine, others through public policy, education and business. One young man launched historic gospel crusades in a nation where the gospel was never heard before.
In the fall of 1997, while reading the Raleigh News & Observer sports page, I learned about a new professional NHL team moving to our city. The Holy Spirit whispered to me that I’d have a ministry with these hockey players. Have you ever told God that He chose the wrong guy? That was one of those moments.
Not long after, Adam Burt, a young defenseman for the Carolina Hurricanes, moved to town and I offered to help him and his wife adjust to Raleigh. He became a close friend, started coming to church with his family and became a disciple of Jesus. He eventually became a church planter with us in New York City and is now the chaplain of the NY Jets. Are there any other hockey players in history who became church planters? Maybe so, but definitely not many. What a privilege it’s been to walk by Adam’s side and have him by my side as a groomsman at my wedding.
I’ll never forget the time the 7-year-old child met his father for the first time ever in the lobby of our King’s Park church. This father and son restoration, which became part of a Sunday morning message, left us all in tears, and now 30 years later, the story still does.
So what’s it been like to be a pastor and church planter for 40 years? It’s been like having a “box seat” at a stadium with the best seat in the house and views that never grow old. I’ve been honored to watch, pray, and cheer for the people of God, seeing up close and personal how my great Lord and Savior, Jesus, changes the world one life at a time.