This week, Emmanuel celebrates 100 years of gospel ministry. I write this post for two reasons: First, I ask that readers please pray for our special weekend as we lift up Jesus to many guests and give God glory. Second, I want to reflect on the personal aspects of God’s work in my own heart during this time.
Here are some things that our 100th anniversary does to my heart:
1. It’s humbling to stand on the shoulders of others. Eleven active members of Emmanuel have served here for more than forty years! About forty more have been here for decades. In every opportunity I have to preach God’s word at Emmanuel, I’m standing on the shoulders of their faith. This is a cherished privilege to my heart.
One of the great passions of my life is to fuel the legacy of those who have gone before me—to give new life and new harvest to the seeds that they have sown over many decades. I desire “fruit that abounds” to their account. This week, we honor them, we thank them, and we bless them for their legacy of faithfulness.
2. It’s anchoring to the timelessness of God’s truth. Arguments over “new” and “old” are pointless. The gospel is as fresh today as it was the day that Jesus rose again. Hearts are as thirsty today as they have ever been. Christianity is timeless; and is not a political, economic, or even religious entity. Christianity is an intimate relationship with God made possible through Jesus. Therefore it is ageless—neither new nor old.
Additionally, the gospel crosses all cultural lines, infusing the most secular heart with hope and joy unspeakable. That same gospel will continue changing lives until Jesus comes, if we will continue preaching it.
Healthy, vibrant, dynamic churches are churches of gospel substance—rich and flowing with truth that brings joy, energy, and life.
3. It’s strengthening in the promise that Jesus builds His church. Kevin DeYoung said, “Pastors, do you believe that the word of God will do the work of God? If you don’t, you will resort to gimmicks.” How true. In my brief forty-year walk with Jesus, I’ve been exposed to biblical ministry as well as gimmick ministry.
God’s word truly does a work that is immeasurable. The Gospel is the power of God. Jesus still builds His church—through His word and His people—not through gimmicks. His church is an organic body that grows in His grace. Healthy things grow, and it is wonderful to see God’s word produce a healthy church family.
Last night I received an email from a young lady from another state who brought her sister to EBC nearly a year ago. It was a brief visit so that her sister (a lesbian) could hear the gospel. Recently that young woman came to Jesus Christ, and she told her sister that her heart began to seek the Lord as a result of her visit to EBC. How does this happen? This is the power of the preached word of God combined with the genuine love of believers.
4. It’s challenging to preach the gospel in New England. While being a senior pastor was never in my script of life, I have never enjoyed anything more than obeying God’s call to pastor Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Just yesterday it was our privilege to baptized eight new Christians—three of them over sixty years of age, and two of whom were Catholic for many years. It was a joy to share the gospel with them over several months and to gradually their eyes opened until they received the gospel.
Hearts are hungry in this spiritually dry part of America, and it’s amazing to see the quiet revival of grace that God’s Spirit is softly directing. I’m praying that God will continue to send pastors and laboring Christians to New England to participate in the harvest!
5. It’s deepening in the call to stand for the faith once delivered. Good doctrine demands a good attitude. Truth requires love. Lose either one, and you lose both. Why? Because truth without love isn’t entirely true because it isn’t reflective of God’s loving character. Love without truth isn’t really loving because it is wholly unloving to withhold the truth of God. You must have both, and the human heart spiritually thirsts for both.
As Christians we tend to lean to one side or another—unlovingly standing for truth, or untruthfully soft with superficial love. Some say, “Well, I would rather lose love than lose truth.” That is a false dichotomy. We can’t lose either one, and Jesus made both a priority—as both reflect the nature of God. For when we lose either one, we lose them both. More than ever I’m challenged to hold fast to that which is true, but to also let that which is true shape a tender, loving, gracious spirit within my heart and within our church family.
6. It’s a blessing to preach the same gospel in a 21st century context. Ministry today doesn’t look like ministry one hundred years ago. As I have examined photos of life in 1916, I see many changes. The people had different jobs, lived different schedules, survived with different resources, wore different clothes. Likewise, the Christians sang different songs, had different service schedules, and conducted different kinds of outreach. But the truth is the same.
For instance, in the summer of 1916, the first family of Emmanuel conducted open air evangelistic meetings twice a week. They preached or gave the gospel to over 25,000 people that summer. This was effective because in 1916 New Britain, people walked to and from work. They didn’t have TV’s and media, so an open air meeting during a weeknight might have drawn many listeners.
Times have changed but truth hasn’t. It’s a joy to see the timeless truth continue to transform secular, thirsty hearts today.
7. It’s delighting to see God restore a church for His glory. I was in a wonderful bubble for most of my Christian life. With two brief exceptions, I was blessed to grow up in balanced, biblical, healthy local churches. My faith wasn’t tattered and torn by betrayal, greed, bitterness, division, or exploitative leadership. Thankfully, I wasn’t exposed to those things until my roots were well-grounded in God’s grace, and even then, the exposure was brief and peripheral to the core of my faith.
But only recently have I realized how many struggling churches and legitimately hurt Christians there are in America. In fact, declining or stagnated churches are the norm, and a majority of Christians can share a “bad church experience.”
Coming into a church with a recent past of hurts has been eye-opening and heart-breaking in many ways. Partnering with the pastor just before me, it’s been a delight to see God heal hearts, hold His church together, and then restore His work through them. My heart rejoices to see God’s “flock” enjoy green pasture and still waters in a loving, joy-filled church environment.
8. It’s exciting to see Christians fervently committed to Jesus. When I started pastoring, I worried about whether I would be good enough at being “motivational.” I felt pressured to somehow convince God’s people to serve Him. This was a bad road. It filled me with anxiety, caused me to focus on all the wrong aspects of ministry.
Thankfully, God corrected my thinking. Early on, I heard my friend, Pastor Stephen Chappell say, “If we teach our church to truly worship Jesus, they will want to serve Jesus!” This statement was an echo of what God was already saying to my heart—something like, “Cary, stop trying to make the work happen yourself. This is my church. These are my sheep (including you), and I will do the work.”
At that point, I let go. I focused on preaching God’s word, reaching the lost, and discipling believers. Amazingly, God has continually fostered a growing spirit of service and engagement in our church—it’s authentic, by His Spirit, and not by my coercion.
9. It’s encouraging to serve with such a wonderful church family. Recently, I was talking with a friend, and we agreed that a large percentage of the joy of ministry is the friendships of “who you get to serve with!” Community, fellowship, and friendships in local church life are precious. Truly, the Christian journey is all about relationships. If you don’t enjoy “who you get to serve with” then most everything else falls apart.
I’m intensely grateful for the family of friends that God has drawn together at Emmanuel. The sweet spirit of love and grace crosses all lines, whether economic, social, enthnic, age, political, and personal background. Often my heart craves to spend more time, to grow closer to the many friends He has brought into our church.
The daily joy of ministry is largely found in the great relationships God allows us to enjoy—and that makes Heaven seem all that much better!
10. It’s motivating toward faithfulness and Christian longevity. It all makes me think about 100 years from now, if the Lord tarries. It reminds me of that great song Find Us Faithful— “Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fires of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe; and the lives we live inspire them to obey. Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful!”
Several weeks ago I spent three days reading and sifting through several bins of historical documents. We have 100 years worth of meeting minutes, and things like hand-written checkbook ledgers when the church budget was $4 per week. I looked at letters from previous pastors, annual reports, building campaign materials, tracts, bulletins, and other historical records.
In one binder I found the angriest letter I’ve ever read. It was five pages, and was written to the pastor, deacons, and church leaders from a lady who taught children’s Sunday School. The letter was scathing, insulting, and accusatory. It was arrogant, demeaning, and demanding. I read it out loud to our staff, and we laughed our way through it. Then we examined it, considered her concerns, and how she approached them.
Suffice to say, her legacy is not good—her harsh words outlive her. I doubt she ever considered that fifty years after writing that letter, people would be marveling at her caustic spirit and unjustified anger.
Then it occurred to me, “I wonder if someone will do this with our present ministry 100 years from now?” If they do, I know what I want them to find—grace, love, truth, faithfulness, humility, worship, Gospel, and Jesus Christ preeminent in all that we do.
Pray for Us and Pray for New England
I had lunch Saturday with a couple that recently moved back to New England. They were coming from a vibrant church environment in their previous location. They shared their frustration with the struggle to find a healthy church with authentic passion.
At one point in the lunch I said, “Sadly, many churches are dead and don’t know it.” To which the man replied, “In my experience, I would add they are dead and don’t care.” They spoke of visiting three different churches, none of which reached out to them. Sadly, this passionless religiosity is common in New England.
As our church crosses this 100 year point, I’m grateful and humbled to be a part of an energetic church family! I’m privileged to participate in the legacy of others. It’s fun to celebrate the faith and faithfulness of great Christians who allow me the privilege of ministry within their story.
Friend, would you pray for our church this weekend. Pray that Jesus would be glorified, and that thirsty hearts would drink of the gospel of grace. Pray that our celebration would encourage Christians and glorify God. Pray that we can continue to be a bright candlestick in a dark corner of this world.
EBC family, thank you for sharing the dream, loving the Saviour, and holding forth the word of life! I love you and love serving the Lord Jesus with you!
Happy 100th Anniversary Emmanuel!