My church is going to celebrate our 25th anniversary this week. This is a big deal for us, for a lot of reasons.
Our senior pastor is also our founding pastor, so he and his wife have been with us the entire time. I have been at the church for 21 of those years, and on staff full-time at this church for over 16 of those years. In fact, we have quite a number of people that have been on staff for more than a decade. This in an age where turnover in ministry is high (e.g., the two largest churches in my area have each experienced worship pastor turnover twice in the past five years), and people treat “shopping” for a church the way one chooses a health club.
Second, we’ve gone through a lot in the last 25 years. We’ve had our celebrations, births, weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmas and Easter events, retreats and advances. We have met at a storefront, a high school, afternoons at another church, in portable buildings, and finally our own performing arts facility which we built with largely volunteer staff. There are hundreds of people to whom I have given my heart—in ministry and in life—for a season and for eternity. There are decades of memories wrapped up in this celebration, from special private moments with one or two people to countless moments in public congregational intimacy through worship and other artistic expressions. There have been large numbers of people (numbers known only to God) who have committed their lives to Christ. And I have laughed so hard and so long, that I’ve gone to bed with a sore belly.
Things weren’t always fun and games. There was a pastoral indiscretion (a.k.a., affair). There was an embezzlement by a volunteer, and a major church-rocking deception by another. There was a period where my wife and I felt called to ministry away from this church to minister in sometimes sunny Vancouver, British Columbia. And there was our church-defining refocus away from the attractional church model (in our case, seeker-targeted) toward a spiritual formation model (a.k.a., how to grow your church to less than half its size).
It was nineteen years ago that I left my high-paying job as an aerospace engineer to join a small group of people with a vision to make a difference in the world. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of being able to share art and ministry with hundreds—maybe thousands—of actors, dancers, musicians, producers, technical artists, poets, painters, graphic artists, recording engineers, writers, photographers, vocalists, artisans, visionaries. And one thing is certain: God has been constantly and unwaveringly faithful to us through it all.
And here is the thing. We have forgotten how important faithfulness is to God. I really believe we have this wrong understanding of what “success” is in ministry. We have a tendency to define success by size or scope, attendance or budget, how cool the music is or how well we perform. But I believe that at the end of the day—and at the end of our lives—our true “success” will be measured more by our fidelity. To continue to do what God has called us to do regardless of the circumstances. To continue to love those whom God has called us to love regardless of their lovability. To respond in increasing faith to God’s faithfulness to us.
Fidelity—to be faithful to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support—may be a more true metric of success in God’s economy. And honestly, it is in the living out of fidelity that depth of meaning is found. In ministry. In marriage. In family. And in life.
This weekend will be a celebration of God’s faithfulness. I will be linking arms with people that I have known for a season, a year, a decade, a lifetime. And we’re going to laugh and cry and worship and remember.
From a church standpoint, there’s no better blessing.