It recently dawned on me that all my church experiences have come in threes: I pastored six churches, three rather small and three rather large, and in between served on the staff of a large church for three years.
As you know, we preachers love our threes. Sermons seem to always have three points.
In doing these church staff articles, it occurred to me that the time I spent on the staff of First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, was critical to everything that came afterwards. In some ways, I received more from those 3 years than from a similar period in seminary working for a master’s. Of course, the lessons learned and skills received from each were different and invaluable, and are not to be compared.
When Ken Westbrook left FBC Greenville, MS sometime in 1970 (he had been assistant pastor; it was a fairly large church) for a pastorate in Florida, I said, “I wish I’d had the experience you’ve had, to serve on the staff of a large church. There are lessons and experiences not available in smaller churches.”
Little did I know.
A few weeks later, Pastor Joe Walker suggested that FBC of Jackson was looking for a minister of evangelism. He wondered if I’d like my name in the pot. “Not me,” I said all too quickly. “I’m a pastor. I couldn’t be a staff member.”
One week later, Joe Walker and James Richardson–two of my best friends in the ministry–mentioned my name to Larry Rohrman, pastor of FBC Jackson. He called late that night, asking if I could drive down the next day to talk about the position.
I knew before the interview had ended this was of God.
For the three calendar years of 1971, 1972, and 1973–exactly 36 months–I served that wonderful church as their Minister of Evangelism. (Although, student minister Derrell Murphree could never get the title right. Murph kept calling it “minister of vandalism.”) When I departed, it was to become pastor of the equally wonderful FBC of Columbus, Mississippi, where we stayed an even dozen years.
Now, let’s get to the question: What difference did serving on the staff of a large church make in my life and subsequent ministry? Originally, I’d planned to limit the list to five things, but the more I’ve thought it, it could easily be fifty!
And–lest readers get lost in what follows–may I emphasize that the whole point of this is to encourage someone who is thinking of joining the staff of a big church to go for it!