Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thanking God’s Servants

I wrote the following article for the BGCM e-message (our e-mail newsletter). You can sign-up to receive our monthly e-message here.

This past weekend I had the wonderful privilege of sharing a message at the retirement celebration for Dr. Richard Lionberger. Dick has been Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Savannah for 22 years. He is concluding 40 years of ministry and service to the congregations he has served and to the Baptists of Missouri. It was obvious that this congregation loves Dick and his wife, Linda. There was laughter and there were tears. The service included many memories and many words of appreciation, but it was also a worship service because that is what Dick wanted it to be. The wonderful music provided by the church choir and other musicians led us to remember we were present to praise the Lord.

Dick was licensed to the Gospel Ministry the same month I was—August 1972. He served congregations in St. Joseph, Stanberry, Salem and Savannah. In addition to providing outstanding pastoral leadership, Dick also served faithfully in his local associations and on a variety of Missouri Baptist agency and institution boards including Grand Oaks Camp, The Baptist Home, and the Executive Board. He also demonstrated courage and provided significant leadership by serving as the first President of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. It was wonderful to hear about the lives that had been touched through Dick’s ministry at Savannah. He led the church in significant growth including a relocation of their facilities and three building programs. He was faithful pastor and shepherd conducing 263 weddings and 510 funerals during his ministry at Savannah. Most importantly 532 people came to know Christ during his ministry with the church. We praised God for the way he has used the lives of Dick and Linda.

Dick is a humble servant of God, and he was not really comfortable with all the attention he received. He knows, like all of us who serve in vocational Christian service, the praise goes to the Lord. All of us are unlikely candidates for any place in Kingdom service. But, it was certainly appropriate for this wonderful congregation to express their appreciation for his ministry as their pastor. I know God has plans to use these servants even in their retirement. I also know that God has great plans to build upon the foundation of the past 22 years as he continues to bless the First Baptist Church in Savannah.

As I have reflected upon the events of this celebration day, I thought about how wonderful it would be for churches to pause at times in their pilgrimage of faith to express their appreciation for their pastor and others who serve among them. Some churches have staff appreciation days, and others acknowledge special anniversaries. Whatever approach you use, let me encourage you to express your appreciation for those who serve among you. Celebrate what God is doing through their lives.

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