Four months ago, my family moved to my hometown of Hazlehurst. This was something quite frankly I never planned on happening. I loved growing up in Hazlehurst, but felt like most people probably have before, that when I left, I was gone for good. As the Lord would have it, I was not gone for good and I'm home.
Coming home has not been without its anxieties as well. Jesus said that a prophet was without honor in his hometown. While I'm certainly no prophet, the implication is simple: sometimes at home you'll only be seen as the little boy who rode his bike, played outside, made teenage mistakes, and grew up in front of others. And while I'm sure there have been bridges I have burned in my past, I truly have a desire to minister in my hometown, to my hometown, and for my hometown.
I started what might be an official part time ministry at Bell Street Church of God in 2001 as I came on as youth pastor making $800 per month. The Lord blessed my ministry in the little more than a year I was at the church, and I've always had some fond memories. Coming back after 13 years has been surreal in many ways. I'm not who I was back then. I've grown. I've changed. I've changed a lot mind you. I've experienced many things that has shaped me for the good, and admittedly, probably for the bad in some areas. All in all, not a day goes by that I don't realize that I'm blessed. Not a day goes by that I don't think about how God has woven bits and pieces of my life together to bring me to this point. That excites me.
It also excites me to see what God has done in the limited time we've been back home and at Bell Street. Last night we had our second Quarterly Conference in which I went over the church's finances, recapped what the church had been doing during our previous quarter, and projecting ahead at the next quarter. Last night was a heavy meeting, but one that displayed promise and a clear desire to see this church become everything it has been meant to be.
I want to share with you some of our recap. I don't do this bragging on me. I'm the worst of the worst. I have no idea why God uses me. I would have thrown me away a long time ago. I can be bullheaded, quick-tempered, and strong-willed. When I become that way about the things God has called me to do, those attributes can be a great thing. But when I lose sight of the goal, they could certainly hinder me and have throughout my life. So I'm not bragging on me. I will do as Paul said he enjoyed doing, that is, brag on God. I also want to share what God is doing here because I want people in Hazlehurst to know that we're a different church. We're on a journey. We give thanks for who we are and where we've come from. We honor our heritage and history. We owe a great debt to those who paved the way and made today possible. That said, we also understand that it's a new day, a new season, and a new time. There are families to be reached, lives to be changed, ministry to be done, and a community to serve. Thus we are making changes little by little as we seek to fulfill the destiny God has placed on this church.
Here is some of the recap I shared with the church last night:
For the meeting I compiled a complete research audit of the church's finances and attendance records for the last 5 and a half years and then compared the data with several months' reports taken from several years since the mid 1980's. The church was started in 1980, so this gave me a good comparison model to see how the church had been faring over its history. The study revealed that over the last four months, our discipleship average and morning worship average is up almost 20 people on each. Again God is blessing us.
All that said, it's only been four months. On one hand, I'm blown away at what God has done in only four months' time. I certainly couldn't have scripted this when we came. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I knew what my vision for ministry was, but I was also having to deal with a lot of uncertainty and questions. Nevertheless, God has made the difference in this short time period.
And while I'm beyond excited about what we've witnessed God do in such a short time, I'm reminded that it is just a short time we're talking about. As the research report I compiled revealed, the church has seen swings both high and low over any given quarter throughout its history. The four months is a small sample size that we can either crown ourselves for or allow to continue to pushing us onward to bigger and greater things. I choose to celebrate what God has done and is doing while also realizing that the journey and task ahead will not be easy. We have such a long way to go, but God is faithful. My hope is that by showing what God is doing in our church that others will find themselves drawn to this church and this ministry that we may continue growing and doing ministry for the Lord. Beyond that, I want others to see who may not be in church and may not have the relationship with the Lord that they should, that this church is here to minister, love, and stand alongside each person in their journey to the cross and beyond. We're not who we were.
In a definitive sign of moving forward, the church voted unanimously on some pretty major projects. We are working to pay off a carpet loan and put some measures in place to knock it out in the next few months. But beyond that, the church voted last night to completely remodel our stage to expand our worship ministry. Below is a current shot of our sanctuary stage and to the right of the image is the drawing of what we will be doing to the stage in a complete remodel. The drawing is not completely to scale, but gives a good idea of what we're working with. The best part of this project is that through budgeting and hard work, we should be able to pay for the project as we go and incur no debt.
We also voted last night to change out the lights in the sanctuary and install recessed spotlights. Additionally, we will be removing the chandelier in the foyer and replacing it with a recessed light as well. We're moving forward and making changes little bit by little bit and God is leading the way.
As I said earlier, I'm very aware that what we have experienced has been done in a small sample size of time. As a pastor, I'm well aware of the "perils" of the summer slump which undoubtedly is upon us now being in June. Nevertheless, through the anxiety and nervousness, I choose to remain excited about the direction God is taking us. I know there will be times, tomorrow or later day may be an example, where my excitement begins to fade into concern, nervousness, and yes, even a bit of worry and fear. I pray I do as David did, and encourage myself in the Lord. It's only in His power and through His Spirit that any good thing is done or accomplished. This is His church. I'm privileged to be able to serve it.
May God continue to bless the Bell Street Church of God. May He continue to make His face to shine upon us. May He continue to unite us into one vision, one heart, one mind, and one accord. May He deepen our despair over the lost of our community. May He make us sensitive to the needs of others. May He burden our hearts to pray for lost loved ones and to serve our community. May He continue to strengthen us through His Holy Spirit. May He put a longing for the house of God in all of our hearts. May He send us workers, laborers, and supporters to grow this church and ministry that He may receive ALL the glory that is due unto His name. May He become famous and we become insignificant. May He increase and may we decrease. May Christ be seen all around us, above and below us, before and behind us, in every eye that sees us; Christ be all around us.
If you've been looking for a church home, don't look any further. We're waiting with arms wide open to love, accept, and partner together as we all grow in the Spirit and admonition of the Lord.
Praise the Lord for His eternal goodness, His never ending love, His abundant grace, and His awe-inducing power.