by Dave Thurman
Charles Dickens penned one of the most memorable lines of English literature in the opening of his A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” He was describing two metropolitan areas – London and Paris – separated by a little over 200 miles. Ministry often tends to be that way for those who serve. But as I look back at my first two full-time ministries, one filled with difficulty and frustration, the other full of joy and fruit, it is easy to see that the elders made the greatest difference. As a baby-faced preacher who desperately wanted to reach the lost and disciple people, it truly was “A Tale of Two Ministries.”
In my first ministry I served a small congregation in Northern Kentucky. I was twenty-two and my bride just twenty, still a student at Cincinnati Christian University. For the sake of transparency, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I prepared sermons and preached with passion, tried to comfort the afflicted and call members to a higher level of commitment. But along the way I received little to no encouragement from the elders, who saw it as their job to keep young bucks from creating too much chaos. The preacher before me had been fired, and there were days I thought I was right behind him. It wasn’t that the elders were bad men – a couple of them became friends – but together they saw themselves only as supervisors, not shepherds, and as I tried to be innovative and make some needed changes, they beat me down. It impacted my marriage, as a beautiful young woman saw her husband under attack. Being stubborn and inexperienced, I tended to fight back, which of course, only made things worse. Thanks to a sweet elderly couple who lived next door and took us under their wing, we survived and the church grew. But it was a rough introduction to located ministry.
Three years later, I accepted a call to Marengo Christian Church (Indiana), just 24-years-old, and only slightly less wet behind the ears. Immediately I found that the elders were my biggest supporters, wanting me to succeed. They held me accountable, but more than anything, we prayed together, envisioned what the church could become, and in the next 8 years the congregation doubled, reaching more than a quarter of the town’s population. Two men in particular, each with unusual names, Novy Andry and Revis Crecilius, coached me up, showering me with love. Many elders’ meetings ended with all of our leaders on our knees for in extended prayer. They valued me, my wife and our kids, and it was, in many ways, the best 8 ½ years of my life.
So, what made the difference? Sure I was a little older and more seasoned. I walked in the first day with a better plan and a bit of wisdom. But most of the difference was in the MO of the elders I served with. In one congregation, I was a partner in ministry; in the other, just a hireling.
Elders: never underestimate the impact of your leadership. You set the tone for the entire church – preacher included – and the most talented preacher in the world will only succeed if you come alongside him, build him up, and lovingly guide and correct him.
Earlier this year I returned to Marengo, 32+ years after that first call, to conduct the funeral for Novy’s wife, Colleen. It was a beautiful day, and I had the opportunity to tell Novy what a gift he’d given me as a young preacher. He shepherded our family. The Andry house was always open to us. Novy came in person to have hard conversations one-on-one. He loved me like a son. That simple man, who worked on a line at Ford, did more to make me a successful preacher than he will ever know.
Lead well, brothers.