As the son of a retired Southern Baptist pastor and now a pastor myself, I’ve seen churches of all shapes, sizes and styles. I’ve been around the itty-bitty country ones, the extra-large city ones and quite a few in between.
I’ve seen churches that moved very fast, and I’ve seen churches that moved so slow you would think Jesus would return before they made any decisions. I’ve grimaced watching churches die up close, and I’ve rejoiced watching other churches thrive.
I’ll bet that while you were reading that first paragraph, you began thinking about your church. You imagined her quirks, her strengths and her challenges.
I’m privileged to be the senior pastor at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church where I’ve been now for nearly four years. As long as I’m a pastor, I will be evaluating the body of believers I’m entrusted to serve.
And yet, if we aren’t careful, we can allow the responsibility to evaluate and correct tempt us to only look for what needs to improve rather than seeing and celebrating where God is already doing His good work.
When I sat down to write this piece, I thought of Glenda, Christy, and Susan—three members of our body who lost their husbands. They shared with our church recently by video about God’s mercies to them through God’s people. They praised God for shrubs trimmed anonymously, countless cards of encouragement received and visit after timely visit.
I thought of Jonathan, too. He is a pastor on our team who found himself battling blood clots that kept him in the hospital for two months. Our church made sure his home and property were cared for, his needs were met, his ministry responsibilities were covered and his family was loved well.
They have reminded me that the church is a body. And when the body hurts, it cares for itself in the way Paul described in Ephesians 4:15-16 and 1 Corinthians 12:21-27.
I also found myself thinking about Ryan and Amy, two adult leaders who have taken their discipleship groups into their neighborhoods as they reach out to those unchurched.
I thought of a discipleship group of student girls who have written the names of their lost friends on a chalkboard surface in our home where my wife Diana is leading their group.
I remembered Sherry and Terry, church leaders who are regularly showing hospitality to their Muslim neighbors as they live out and speak the gospel to them.
My mind then flashed to a team of college students who will travel to New York City this summer to engage the broad cultures in the city with the gospel. Each one of these have reminded me that the church is an army. We are on mission to make the good news known and reproduce disciples.
I remembered Judy, everyone’s “grandmother” at our church who greets me with a smile and hug each Sunday.
I recalled this year’s Valentine’s banquet for our senior adults that our student ministry served. Dozens of middle school and high school students loved on hundreds of our seniors for a night of fellowship, encouragement and worship.
I pictured Vicki and Denise, two nursery workers who “adopted” Margo, the one-year-old daughter of Abby and Grayson who stayed in our mission house while awaiting departure to Japan with the International Mission Board. Each time I see them, they want an update on the young missionary family we were privileged to host. They’ve reminded me that my church is a family—a family that loves one another the way Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
I pictured Curt, sitting with his hand on his chin taking in a comment in my discipleship group. As a lifelong Bible teacher, his encouragement to those coming behind him is immeasurable.
I saw Gary, Edgar, Karen and Diana—just four of our members whose faces I’m drawn to each Sunday as I preach. Their engaged eyes and urging nods announce that what God’s been saying to me in the study, He’s saying to them in the sermon.
These people remind me that the church is the temple of God, a gathering of growing disciples to be challenged and changed by the Word of God.
Just like most bodies of believers, I know we are still chasing Paul’s words about the unity of the church from Ephesians 4:1-6. We’ve probably got a long way to go to live up to the early church’s Acts 2 model in her first few months.
I believe we will need to be about disciple making until Jesus returns; our task will not be done until then. I know we will still be striving to live out God’s holiness until the last time our doors close. But I’m also so encouraged. For while we await the full completion of the work God is bringing about in us, we often get to see God’s beautiful work in progress.
After all, the most important truth about the church is that it’s God’s church. He’s building her, growing her, nurturing her and shaping her. It’s only because of Him that the gates of hell cannot prevail against her.
We are His work, His body, His disciples, His family and His bride. He’s preparing her for the wedding day that’s fast approaching. And while He’s making all the final preparations, I’ll rejoice that I get to see just how beautiful His bride already is!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dr. Robert Hefner is the senior pastor at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church. Dr. Hefner graduated from Fruitland Baptist Bible College and earned a master’s and Ed.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)