It’s been a few years now, but I won’t quickly forget what it was like to be welcomed as the new youth pastor at the first church where I served full time in ministry. When Lauren and I arrived at the youth pastor’s parsonage, we had been married just over three years, we had a two month old daughter in our arms and everything we owned in a 20 foot Penske moving truck (yep, everything, our ’69 VW van was in there too). Howard Clark, the senior pastor of the church, his wife, and a dozen others were there to help us unload. And over the next 14 years of our ministry with them on the west side of LA, these folks would come to be some of our dearest friends.
When the writer of the book of Hebrews was closing out his letter, he wrote, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” And the idea in “remembering” was that we would do more than just bring their example to mind, but that we would be spurred to action. And then out of grateful hearts we would respond with words of thanks to these who built into our lives and in so doing partnered with us in our ministry. In fact, the Apostle Paul often made it a habit to close out his letters by publicly “remembering” the many who had ministered to him and who had been serving with him.
One of the real delights over the years has been to stay in touch with a number of those who built into our lives in Pacific Palisades in our first ministry. Hearing of their ongoing faithfulness is a great encouragement to me and a great tribute to God’s goodness. It reminds me that investing in the lives of people is what our calling as Christians is all about. We were blessed by their investment in us. They partnered with us. And lives were changed for eternity. It’s now been just over a year and a half since the Lord brought Stephen Whitham to our church family to help us with our Middle School ministry. We needed someone with a growing love for kids, a heart to teach God’s Word and an ability to authentically put the life of Jesus on display while nurturing one-on-one relationships with our students. And Stephen met that need, carrying this role so well that it’s deepened his passion to pursue a pastoral calling full time. And now Stephen is doing a little “remembering” of his own. The following is from his hand:
"To my church family,
I would like to extend to you a sincere and heartfelt thanks for the irreplaceable pleasure I was blessed with to be employed here at Sanctuary. This past year and a half has been filled with blessings and opportunities for me to not only impact the lives of your children, but I also felt impacted by how you all took me in so willingly upon our first encounter. The opportunities to grow in faith, leadership, and organization while employed here led to the eventual God-led inspiration to attend seminary at Western University, where I will be attending online classes in the Fall. While I will not be leaving the peninsula or Sanctuary, the need to find full time work while attending school will disallow me to continue working as a youth intern.
To all of you I wish to say thank you. Thank you for being such a wonderful church family that made me feel completely at home the moment I walked through the doors. Thank you for the blessing you granted me of working with your children and being able to assist in their walk with Christ. Finally, thank you for all the support and encouragement you have given me along the way. Thank you and see you Sunday!"
Listening to Stephen’s words of thanks takes me back to memories of the early days of my ministry, and I’m grateful all over again. I’m grateful for the many who invested in my life and who worked alongside me in ministry. I’m grateful for how their partnership encouraged me to stay at the task of building into the lives of others. I’m grateful now for those God has directed our way to join in the work He has called us to here. I’m grateful for Stephen and I look forward to more good days of serving together with him as God gives us opportunity.
Maybe God has used the life of another to build into your life in a significant way. Maybe this week would be a good time to give them a call or drop them a note to let them know that you “remember” and that you are grateful. There’s nothing like a little extra encouragement being passed around to strengthen the fabric of God’s family.