In Appreciation For Faithful Men…

In Appreciation For Faithful Men who Entrusted to Me What they Had Been Taught

This morning I was looking through a few old pictures on Facebook.  It’s funny what one will find in looking back.  Old memories flood my mind like a tidal wave, reminding me of long-forgotten joys, oft-remembered pain and much appreciated people whose presence in my life have left an indelible mark.

One particular photo has elicited in me a spirit of incalculable gratitude.  In this picture, taken the occasion of my ordination to pastoral ministry over 7 years ago, I’m surrounded by three pastors – faithful men who took particular interest in passing to me what they had learned through years of following Jesus and serving his church.

One of these men taught me the selfless heart of pastoral ministry, when he received an email from me, a young, soon-to-be college graduate, searching for a church home in a state in which I had never stepped foot until my first day on the job as a young broadcaster in Minor League Baseball.  Rather than see my presence as the new-guy in town as a way to build up numbers in his church, Jack Jagoditsch, a faithful shepherd of God’s people offered to help me get connected to a larger church in town, known for its ministry to college students and young professionals.  His pastoral love for a young man, starting out in life endeared him to me, and I quickly connected to his church, and the course of my life would never be the same.  Over the next ten years of my life, this man who personally called every member of his church on their birthday would not only mentor me by example in pastoral ministry, but would become my father-in-law, showing me what it meant to live and suffer well for the sake of Christ.

Another of these men, taught me a profound love for God and His Word.  When I was 8-years old, my family moved 300-miles from one end of the state of West Virginia to another in order to join a church, where their pastor unapologetically proclaimed the Gospel of grace and the glory of Christ.  The first time I met Thom Smith, a preacher with a larger-than-life personality, I did not know that in 4 years, I would come to faith in Christ under his ministry.  Nor did I know that several years later as a young man searching for wisdom and direction regarding my own call to pastoral ministry, he would take me under his wing in a year-long apprenticeship that shapes me to this day.  On day one he said to me, “Nate, all of pastoral ministry is a ministry of the Word,” and I had the privilege of watching him passionately espouse the wonders of that Word in contexts as varied as the bedside of a dying teenager, to the chapel of a private university to the pulpit of a church throughout various years and stages of life and health.

The third of these pastors taught me to lead in perseverance, keeping my eyes on the true Shepherd of the sheep in all circumstances of life and ministry.  When I took my first call as a youth pastor, David Tate, a leader in whom there was truly no guile, challenged me to move beyond my comfort zone, speaking with a loving honesty, often missing in mentoring relationships.  When I would get stuck in the confines of my unrealized expectations, he would stop, pray with me, and say, “Nate, do the next right thing.”  Though he was my boss, he always left his door open to me, teaching me that leadership in not best exercised in a distant superiority, but rather in a practiced humility when no one but God is witness.

At this, the end of pastor appreciation month, I am truly grateful for a photograph that has reminded me of the embarrassment of riches the Lord has given me in the relationships with these three pastors – faithful men who took to heart the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to his protégé Timothy, when he said, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2Tim. 2:2).  May God give me the grace to pass on what I have learned from these men.