Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the noble servant

I met Heather in the autumn of 1988. I can't remember when we decided it, but early on in our relationship it became clear that we needed to choose a church to attend together.

There was an Evangelical Free church that sent a shuttle bus to our college campus on Sunday mornings to provide rides to car-less students, so we decided to visit there. We didn't need to look any further. Grace Evangelical Free Church in Fridley, Minnesota quickly became our home.

For starters, we loved the humility the senior pastor modeled in the pulpit and in his life. He had a gentle way of speaking that made his teaching more approachable than other speaker's we'd heard and he even took the time to get to know us as individuals.

More important, however, was the friendly atmosphere of the church. Shortly after starting there, we were befriended by an older couple named Dwight and Bernie. Quality folks. They invited us over to their place for Sunday dinner. I have fond memories of playing games with them and laughing together. Whenever we went to anything at church, they were there, ready with a smile and quick to engage us in genuine conversation.

Over the years, whenever we've returned to Grace, it was always a highlight to see them. They've served many ways there: as elder, chairperson and as pastor of various ministries such as Seniors Pastor, Pastor of Discipleship, and Associate Pastor.

This past week, I was reading a newsletter from our church. In this most recent issue I learned that Dwight was retiring from the staff of the church. I have bittersweet feelings about this. On the one hand, I'm happy to see they've finished well--a rare thing in leadership these days. On the other hand, I'm sad to see Dwight step down from his position. He will, indeed, be missed in his leadership role. The only comfort is that Dwight and Bernie will (in Dwight's words) "continue serving the Lord whenever and however we can."

As I read the article, something hit me: Dwight and Bernie had only started attending Grace around the same time we did, yet they seemed like they'd attended there many, many years. What's more, by that point he'd already had quite a foundation of experience in ministry and I never knew this before.

I learned that he graduated from seminary in 1959 and after that he began pastoring churches for 30 years--a church in Michigan, a church in Illinois and two in Wisconsin. While he was pastor of one of the churches in Wisconsin he founded a Christian school. After that, they moved to the Twin Cities to retire (that's when Heather and I met them), but the Lord had other plans for them as he was called back into professional ministry by beginning to serve at Grace in 1999.

The humility of this couple struck me as I read this article. Never once had they talked with us about all the things they'd accomplished in ministry long before we'd even met them! To us they were simply "good friends". Rarely did I think of Dwight as "pastor", but that is what he was to us, all the same. Dwight and Bernie never worried about positions or titles. They simply wanted to serve--and they still do. For example, in spite of his "retirement", Dwight and Bernie are going to continue serving the poor through helping out with a food distribution ministry.

When I think of Dwight, I think of the words of instruction the apostle Paul gave to Timothy regarding the appointment of leaders: "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."

Dwight and Bernie were exactly that. They have been and continue to be above reproach. They are temperate, self-controlled, respectable and hospitable. They are gentle and I have never known them to be quarrelsome. They are people of godly character. In the long run, that is all that really matters. They are the kind of leaders you never have to think twice about--again, a rare thing these days.

For that reason, my hope is that I would be a leader like that. I hope that 30 years from now I will be remembered not so much for what I've accomplished but for who I am.

Oh, that the Church of today had more leaders like this, trustworthy men and women of God, that minister to others with the quiet power of a gentle, hospitable spirit.

Grace Church will be honoring Dwight and Bernie for 50 years of service to God's kingdom next February. 50 years. Incredible. They certainly deserve to be honored, though they would never say that themselves.

All the same, I'd like to go on the record by saying, "Dwight and Bernie: well done. I applaud you."

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