By Craig Thompson
“Lord, please give me the courage to stay here as long as you’d have me stay.”
I began praying that prayer not long after coming to Malvern Hill Baptist Church. In the early days of my ministry, that prayer came about as a result of struggle and strife that were often present in our church.
Staying When It’s Hard
Our church had a history of short-tenured pastors. Therefore, I prayed God would give me the courage to stay as long as He would have me, even if it was hard. I prayed I could stand up against the nay-sayers, the critics, and the people who didn’t want me there.
But I also prayed I could have the courage to love people who weren’t sure if they could trust a pastor since every other pastor had been a short-timer. I prayed God would give me the courage to endure the hard days.
Interestingly, the prayer I began praying over eleven years ago is the same prayer I continue to use today.
The circumstances have changed, but the prayer has remained the same. Back then, I prayed God would give me the courage to stay when times were hard.
Staying When It’s Boring
As the years progressed, the situation changed, but the prayer stayed the same. I needed the courage to stay when things got really good and when they got very boring.
I don’t ever remember learning that a healthy church may go through a very boring stage. But that was our experience.
Things here were a little crazy for the first three years with struggles, trials, and spiritual warfare. We experienced some incredible victories and some difficult defeats.
But then, year four hit and things just sort of leveled out. We weren’t growing, but we weren’t declining either. I was still preaching, we were investing in evangelism training and children’s ministries and in strengthening our systems and structures, but there was little to show for it.
Statistically, we were flat in nearly every way. We went from being the next (kinda) big thing in our community to just another thing. For three or four years, I prayed God would give me the courage to stay because the ministry wasn’t exhilarating.
The ministry wasn’t hard, but I regularly questioned whether or not we were (or could be) making a lasting impact.
People talk about the hard times of ministry and the great times of ministry, but what about the boring times? This is the spot where a lot of pastors walk out the door.
Staying When It’s Easy
Ministry isn’t bad; it seems like a good time to leave. People love you, and you love the church; you can walk away and still get invited back for Christmas dinner. But, it’s also in these boring days that you need to be willing to pray, “God give me the courage to stay as long as you’d have me to stay.”
The courage in this foundation-building stage is different. I was essentially praying for God to give me the courage to trust the long game. I was praying for God to give me the courage to trust that staying the course was right and that there was a future and a hope.
What I didn’t realize at the time, but do now, is that I was praying for God to give me the courage to hold on for the best years of ministry.
During those three or four boring years, I didn’t realize God was using the mundane ministry of repetition to strengthen us to become a more healthy, vibrant church where lives are changed, and disciples make disciples.
Staying In the Center of God’s Will
Today, I continue to pray the same prayer. On the back-end of the foundation, God is building us into a really awesome church. I’m blessed to pastor this church. Yet, I continue to pray for the courage to stay as long as God would have me stay.
I now pray God will give me the courage to stay in Camden, SC as long as He’ll have me be there and to not outrun His will for my life.
Further, I pray He’ll give me the courage to stay in a community that’s not rapidly growing, at a church that’s a little out of the way even if and when it seems as though the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
I don’t know if I’ll retire at Malvern Hill, but I want to be in the center of God’s will. I need His filling and indwelling to have the courage and faith to remain in the center of His will.
I’ve also learned that my tenure at Malvern Hill is the greatest gift I could’ve given our church. But it’s also the greatest gift God has given to me in my ministry.
Staying is Worth It
It’s worth it to stay. However, staying is hard, and not many people talk about it or write about it because it is hard. Staying is hard when life is difficult. But it’s also hard to stay when ministry is boring even if the church is thriving.
But staying is worth it. Staying in a church isn’t easy during hard days and boring days. Staying even during successful days takes courage and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
But, pastor, if you are willing to stay, you may just see the culture of your church changed and you may discover that your church, no matter what it has been or where it is, can become a great place to call home—not only for you but for many who are far from Jesus and need a safe harbor to find hope.
CRAIG THOMPSON (@craig_thompson) is the husband of Angela, father of four, and senior pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina.