Many seminary students have heard (and probably repeated) the jokes and comments based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:57 when he says, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” The jokes and comments usually follow along the lines of no one will respect you in your home church if you ever return to preach or minister because they will always remember you as that bratty little kid who tormented the nursery workers. They will never be able to look past that time you dumped soap in the baptistery or short-sheeted the youth minister’s bed at youth camp. Now if you did some of those things as a child, it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and own up to them and apologize. It might clear the air a little.
The reality, however, is that seminary students and ministers alike can reap great benefits from staying connected to their home churches or the church that influenced them greatly during their time of preparation for future ministry. It is an overlooked relationship that ought to be restored.
This past Sunday, I had the joy, privilege, and honor of preaching at my home church, Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova (Memphis), TN. As I told the congregation, it was a moment that I never dreamed would come. During the first 18 years of my life, I sat in the congregation listening to Adrian Rogers expound the Word of God faithfully week after week. The list of guest preachers to fill the pulpit for Dr. Rogers during those years was short and consisted of a who’s who list of Southern Baptist pulpiteers. The likes of Paige Patterson, John Phillips, Ken Whitten, and a few others were the only ones I ever heard pinch hit for Dr. Rogers. As unfitting as it may seem, my name now joins the list of those who have preached from that famed pulpit.
In recent years, the current pastor of Bellevue, Dr. Steve Gaines, has invested in a friendship with me that I did not deserve. I am sure that I am not the only former Bellevue member now in ministry somewhere else whom he has befriended. For that friendship, I am thankful. But more importantly, the connection back to the church where I first heard the gospel message is one that is more valuable than gold.
I am thankful for the investment of Bellevue Baptist Church in my life. They came alongside my parents and nurtured me spiritually. Although I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to lead their children spiritually, the church is an indispensable resource for equipping both parent and child.
In my limited experience as a seminary professor, I see that most students remain connected to their home churches for a brief time and then mostly lose touch. I don’t know if it is the fault of the student or the church, but I encourage both the student and the church to work at keeping the lines of communication open. As the years go by and that student graduates, I believe it is essential for the church to understand how their ministry has expanded beyond the boundaries of their visible ministry in the community. As I told the church Sunday, Bellevue has a ministry in Fort Worth at Southwestern Seminary because so much of what I teach is based on the theology and ministry I learned growing up there.
Certainly, the average minister will probably never have the opportunity to serve in his home church as a pastor. However, I believe staying connected to the church of one’s youth and reporting to them the extent of their ministry through you is a very biblical concept. At the conclusion of both his first and second missionary journeys, Paul returned to Antioch presumably to report to the church what had been accomplished (Acts 14:26-28; 18:22-23). This was the church where Paul spent his formative years after conversion and that recognized God had set him aside for ministry. Paul made a point to return to Antioch and inform the church how their ministry had expanded through Asia Minor and Europe.
For those of us serving in ministry beyond the immediate contexts of those churches that sent us out, we need to stay connected. Let the church know how they have increased their ministry through the ones they have sent out into the fields. This is healthy for the minister and healthy for the churches.