I don't do a lot of just personal stuff but will today. This past week-end I had a rare open date in my schedule and was thrilled that it coincided with the fortieth birthday/anniversary of Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth Texas where Mary and I were privilaged to serve as pastor for several years in the late 70's-early 80's. We were invited back to share in the celebration and we had the opportunity to hear Dr. Carroll Marr, the present pastor, preach the morning message. He is one of those rare pastors that is NOT intimidated by former pastors, in fact, uses me to fill his pulpit often when he's on vacation and he knows I'm free. He and his wife are two of the better leaders in any church anywhere.
There was an all afternoon Saturday reception for former staff and members with some pictures, displays and historical items of days past. The church was formed by a merger of two congregations, Westcliff and Evans Ave. Both pastors stayed to serve the newly formed Southcliff with Frank Minton of Evans Ave. serving as Senior Pastor and Frank Moore of Westcliff serving as Co-Pastor. This was, as you can imagine, a very innovative step for that time. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea in certain places today.
Southcliff was then served by Daniel Vestal, who was and to this day is, a very dear friend of mine. I followed Daniel and I was followed by Dr. Hal Brooks who is now with the Lord. Then came Charles Stewart and finally, some nine years ago, Carroll Marr.
I have to say that it was a good bit more fun than I felt it could be. The Sunday morning service was a GREAT celebration of those forty years and Carroll's message was a REAL challenge to make the future just as innovative and risk taking as the past had been. His passage was Matthew 28:19-20 the commission to all of us. It was a unique look at the birth/life/death cycle of not only people but churches. He showed how that decline/death cycle can be turned around to new life and growth when people are willing to be innovative and willing to take risks trusting God's empowerment for the task. Southcliff is already doing that under his leadership and I see nothing but real growth in their future. What a blessing to see.
As I've reflected on the week-end, one comment made to me stands out for this post. One of the ladies there those many years ago and still actively involved, as was/is her husband, said this and I'll try to quote it to get it before you. "The staff [present staff at Southclif] is so unified it reminds us of when you were here and everyone could see how much you guys loved each other and served each other as well as the congregation."
It got me to thinking. Were I to have to choose the biggest blessing of my fifty years of ministry, forty of which were spent in the pastorate, I would say it WAS staff relationships. I'm going to name some people who served with me at Southcliff as an example and, for those left out, know it is only the length of this post that won't permit listing all.
James Robinson, pastor of First Baptist, Durant Oklahoma was a youth minister at Southcliff with me. Dave Clippard, the Executive Director of Missiouri Baptist Convention was with me as Evangelism pastor. Rick Shephard, now with the Florida Baptist Convention, was with me. Ric Hunt, Charles Starnes, Mike Carlisle with NAMB, Jeanette Travis, Tommy Snelen, [who is also with the Lord now] and the list could go on.
Why list people on staff? To make this point. These people are family. These relationships go on today. They are as important to me as my family, because, in a real sense, they are my family. Were I to need them or they me, a phone call/e-mail would be all that is necessary for that need to be met. I remind you, these people have not been with me in a church setting for over twenty-five years.
But in honesty I must admit the greatest pain /disappointment I've faced in all these years of ministry is ALSO staff relationships. I've faced failure with staff that ranges from strife-gendering to adultery and almost everything in between. It is certainly true that a staff cannot lead a fellowship to where they ARE NOT. So it is obvious something happened with some that did not happen with others. Some shared a common bond that, for whatever reason, some others could not/ would not share. What is that common bond?
I boil it down to four attitudes to which a staff must be committed. Those are a positive attitude, a loyal attitude, a servant attitude, and a respectful attitude. It is the willingness to embrace these attitudes and hold each other accountable for them that enabled the relationships of the staff at Southcliff , and other churches we served, that have lasted through the years, to be what they are today. It is those attitudes that the woman was remembering, without being able to articulate them. And I might add, those attitudes are present at Southcliff today as well.
One of my real blessings of ministry today is passing those attitudes along in principle form, with definition, illustration, and biblical foundation, in pastor's conferences, church conferences, staff retreats, and other times. These have always been well received and, it appears at least, a real help in the present day, but the point of this post is, to go back to the place it all came together was a week-end worth celebrating.
Happy birthday Southcliff Baptist Church and many more to come for you and your fine pastor, Dr. Carroll Marr, and the great staff that serves with him there. Thanks for the invitation.