Yesterday, I had opportunity to do some hospital ministry to a gentleman whom I have only recently met, and to a family I formerly served as pastor.
Both were pleasant visits. The one gentleman was recovering from open heart surgery, and the other lady had gone through hip replacement.
The visit with the latter brought back so many memories. These folks were friends of my parents. My father had been their pastor in a country church many years ago, and it had been my privilege to serve the same church for four years in the early 80's. It was my second pastorate, and as I look back on those days, so long ago, my heart fills with appreciation for the congregations of that church, and others, who took a chance on me, and gave me opportunity to serve God, while learning and gaining valuable "on the job training".
I suppose that with the first three churches I served, it helped that I shared my father's name. I was certainly short on experience, and slowly gaining theological education, and I had a large set of footprints in which to walk. Two of the churches were small, "country" churches, but they gave me wonderful opportunity to learn what it means to minister to people. I had a couple of great teachers in my Dad and my other spiritual father, Carl Vallance, but there is nothing that can compare with learning by doing.
I am so thankful for the boost of encouragement I received from Bro. Vallance. He had been my pastor since I was two years old, and was a dear friend to my Mom and Dad. He was a great example to several young preacher boys who were called into ministry from his pastorates. One thing I appreciate about him so much is that he would give us ample opportunity to preach. I know some of those messages must have been tough to endure back there in the early 70's (some of them still probably are!), but he was such an encourager to me.
I am also very appreciative of other church members like the late Ray Wilcox and Deacons like the late Grant Chaffin who always had words of encouragement for a young would be expositor of the Word.
Having served six churches over the past 40 years of pastoral ministry, it is a joy to know that I never left any of those churches under bad circumstances. I have always felt welcome to "come back home" at any time, and have had opportunity to worship with all of them on occasion after leaving.
Even though the family I visited yesterday has their own pastor, (and I would never suppose to intrude on their relationship) it was nice to feel as though there was still a bond that tied our hearts together. I pray that I can be a blessing to some of my former church members in the future. Most of them have been a wonderful blessing to me!