Below is my typical “Here is what I am thankful for…” blog post for turkey day. Though, as you’ll see, it is anything but typical.
While I could express gratitude for a multitude of gifts in my life (and practicing consistent gratitude is the best way of developing a habit and heart of gratitude according to Michael Kelley), I want to explore in depth my thankfulness for something that I believe God is more thankful for than we might think…
The local church.
Jesus is thankful for his spouse, his body, his dwelling, his flock, his garden, and his family. We are all thankful for these things (a bride, our organs, our homes, our craft, our siblings, etc) that we adore in our lives. Jesus’ love for his church is organically connected to his gratitude for his church. He is glad that she exists, and he desires that she continue to exist.
But it is difficult (and even unbiblical) for us to talk of our gratitude for the ‘invisible church’ and never speak of our gratitude for the visible or local church. If Scripture goes into the minutia of the church and why each part is good and necessary (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). I want to spend the remainder of this post expressing my gratitude for the church I am blessed to pastor and be a part of, Hill City Church.
I am thankful that I am part of a church that is faithful to Scripture. These people believe in the “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of Jesus”, and this Jesus is the biblical Jesus that neither conforms to trendy liberalism or self-righteous fundamentalism.
I am thankful that this church loves its city alongside its love for Jesus. These twin loves intersect in this church’s stated mission.
I am thankful this church has loved my wife and children well. While we don’t have the flashy programs for my children or some well-oiled women’s ministry for my wife, we have people who love developing relationships with my wife and children. These relationships are more key to long-term discipleship than some shiny curriculum.
I am thankful for my elder candidates for letting some rookie thirty-year-old pastor lead them, train them, and disciple them. They are extremely patient with me and they follow me well. I don’t always follow myself well, but they follow me well.
In connection to this, I am thankful that I can call these six elder candidates (Stephen Crotts, Kirk Irwin, Terence Kendrick, John McAllister, Brett Sartain, Fred Shope) my best friends. So often a pastor is told they need to develop these close-knit friendships outside their church and church’s leadership. I understand why that rationale is useful in a traditional church context, but I’m glad it doesn’t seem true in my context. My best friends are co-laborers in ministry. I love that.
I am thankful that this church as a whole has tolerated my growing pains as a preacher, leader, visionary, counselor, and all the other hats a church planter gets to wear. It seems like I say something embarrassing every week during announcement time (thanks for the reminder, Stephen). These people are quick to forgive me.
These folks give me feedback on my preaching. Some have told me when they have been moved in to tears. Others have told me when the sermon seemed too topical and not enough biblical. Some have expressed appreciation for always having Jesus present in the sermon. Others have encouraged me to continue developing my imagination through the reading of poetry and good works of literature. I am thankful for all the feedback I have gotten. (I remember during my first ever Hill City sermon on Colossians 1:4-8 that Eleanor Harris wanted to speak to me afterward and tell me what the sermon meant to her. Three and a half years later, she still goes out of her to tell me how the ministry of the Word affects her. I love you and am thankful for you, Eleanor.)
The people that come to me for counseling and tell me all their junk (and trust me not to spread news about their junk to the rest of the church)…thank you. It bewilders me that you trust me and feel comfortable enough to share intimate details with me. Sure, some of you keep me up at night, but my favorite part of being a pastor is meeting with people to listen, laugh, cry, pray, etc. Thank you for letting this be my ‘job’.
Thank you to those who throw parties, open your homes, feed people, let people live with you. You show the heart of Jesus and his gospel, and we probably wouldn’t have Grace in our home if we didn’t see others bring people into their homes and love them well. Stagers, Audrey, Sartains…thank you.
Crotts, Kendricks, McAllisters, Irwins, Tursis, Alters, and many others, you all have shown me what it looks like for a Christian to ‘throw the best party’ in our city. Thank you.
We also have some folks who serve in the manner and likeness of Jesus. When there is a need or a crisis I can count on these folks. I try to affirm their servant-leadership, but I need to do a better job at that. Thank you to these special people. (Sara McAllister, you always jump in when someone is in need. I don’t know how you do it given all the other things you have going on, but you are a blessing to those you serve. Thank you.)
Ted Harris, thank you for making sure the IRS doesn’t go after us. :-) You work hard as our Treasurer, and you get little thanks and no compensation.
To those of you who suffer from serious health trauma, thank you for showing me what it means to share in the sufferings of Jesus. It is hard what you go through, but you point me and others to Jesus through your faithfulness.
To those of you with financial stress who still give tithes and offerings to Hill City, thank you. Many others would just spend the money they don’t have on things they don’t need, but you give the little money you do have on God’s kingdom. You show me the generosity of Jesus through your faithfulness.
Andy and Ellie Stager, I tear up as I type this sentence. You are the reason I am now the pastor of this church. Thank you for shepherding and growing this flock the previous three years. Andy, I could have not asked for a better mentor, pastor, teacher, and friend. Ellie, thank you for being a best friend to Ashlee.
Dave and Heidi Baniszewski, thank you for giving me the categories to understand the Bible’s view on poverty and what it means to help the least of these.
(Stagers and Baniszewkis, please move back to Rock Hill. Thank you.)
Olsons, thank you for eggs. More importantly, thank you for your unique commitment to Hill City. It doesn’t go unnoticed.
Terence and Denise, your commitment to discipling our children deserves many thanks. My firstborn son is learning about the Trinity because of you two. Thank you.
Those of you who have been in strife, disagreement, conflict, or hostility with Hill City Church, me, our leadership, or individuals within the church but who chose faithfulness to Scripture in by “living peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18), thank you. Because of you, I’ve been reminded and our church has been reminded that the gospel message is one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). You are peacemakers, and you are blessed (Matthew 5:9). You have shown us the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Reconciliation and peacemaking is simple but hard. It is scriptural yet painful. Thank you for being gospelicious in the best send of the term.
To those of you who have left the church because of unresolved tension or conflict, thank you. I thank you for the time you did spend in our community as part of our extended spiritual family. I am sorry things did not work out, and I would love to get together again to let the gospel do its work between us. It might be hard, but it is what Jesus wants. However, I thank you for the time you did invest with us and in our mission for our city. I hope one day to gather around the table with you again.
Musicians, you guys are awesome. People have come back to our church again because of your gifts. Thank you.
Our Help Team has aided several households in serious crisis situations. Thank you! We are going to have some amazing deacons some day.
Community Group leaders and disciple-makers…keep plugging away. I thank you and appreciate you for planting seeds, building community, and helping foster a gospel imagination in others. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Doug and Cindy Stelzig, thank you for donating your time and ministry gifts to our church plant. I hope others may imitate you two in your servanthood.
Silas, when you are old enough some day to read this, I am grateful you were the first covenant child I baptized. Your parents love Jesus, and I pray you will love Jesus too.
Reggie, thank you for being the first adult for me to baptize. My love for you has grown over the past year. Thank you for letting someone so different from you be your pastor and friend.
Friday Arts Project, thank you for letting Hill City Church latch on to your success. We try to claim ‘credit’ for all the cool things you do. But it is all you. Keep it up, and we’ll just continue to enjoy the ride.
Stephen, thank you for helping start Friday Arts Project while a college student. And thank you for being instrumental in planting Hill City Church.
Kirk and Sarah, thank you for letting our church support your mission work. I get excited every time I talk to people about what you two are doing. (And thank you for the whiskey.)
Ralphie, Simon, and Grace. I love you. I pray you all might know, follow, and treasure the Jesus I get to serve and proclaim for a living.
Ashlee, thank you for not moving to another country when I wrote you that awkward letter seven years ago asking you to be my girlfriend. And thank you for partnering with me in life, marriage, parenting, ministry, and Netflixing. Oh, and thank you for finding me physically attractive. I am still trying to figure that one out.
I know there is much more to be thankful for. I wish to could type out a tangible thank you to every individual in Hill City Church, but some folks are bashful and certain details should remain private.
Let’s continue to be an extended spiritual family on mission together for the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus for the flourishing of Rock Hill. It’s only been two days in being gone on vacation, but I miss you all. Thank you for being a group worthy to be missed.