Personal Testimony

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My journey to and with Jesus begins in generations past—parents, grand-parents, and great grand-parents. With joy, therefore, I claim common heritage with Timothy, of whom Paul declared, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother… and your mother… and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” (2Tim 1.5). I was born into the blessed environs of a home founded on genuine, lived-out faith. When the doors of the church building were open (usually of the Wesleyan or Nazarene variety), my mother made sure we were there. This habit, begun in the womb, has served me well to this day. Truly, my mother raised me in the company of the saints (without my father, who died before I was born). And this group of saints emphasized the need for a personal, saving encounter with Christ. In retrospect I see that Christ was always with me. There was a specific time, however, at the age of seven when I received in an intentional way what had always been accessible to me. I am also grateful for the baptism I received at the age of thirteen.
As a freshman in high school I heard the Lord asking me to leave my future career choice open to Him. And when I entered college I was confident that the Spirit was pulling me into the ministry. I knew I wanted to impact others for Christ the way my pastors, youth pastors, and youth evangelists had impacted me. Through the counsel of professors and friends the Lord lead me steadily into His calling for me. While in college, I was like a boy who hadn’t eaten for days, eagerly gobbling up all the knowledge I could, taking on three majors. But being a shy, academically oriented young man, I could not see where I fit into vocational ministry. Through it all, though, the Spirit quietly whispered to my heart that I was called to ordained pastoral ministry. Upon entering Asbury Seminary I pursued the MDiv, rather than the MA, because I wanted to be obedient.
To back up a little, a year before coming to Asbury, the Providence of our loving heavenly Father brought Rachel Joann and I together in the covenant of marriage. A classroom unto its own, our marriage has been and continues to be the primary catalyst for our deepening union with Christ. I am yet uncertain what Genesis 2:18 means exactly by calling Eve the ezer kenegdo of Adam, but I know that Rachel has been that and more for me. She has not just supported me as a student and a pastor, she has been one with me—offering me the strength, beauty, and faith with which her heavenly Father has blessed her. And now with four children, Josiah, Adalynn, Jonathan, and Joshua, our whole family enjoys our journey with Jesus together.
After graduating from Asbury, I was invited to pastor a small, wounded church in rural West Michigan. I made that move thankful that I had a place to minister, but also with tremendous fear and trepidation. Who was I to be called “pastor”? I thought I was going into the pastorate to be used of God to do a work for the people of that congregation. And by the grace of the Lord, we did see significant healing and maturation take place in the church. But the bigger work, by far, was the work Christ did in me during those seven years as a pastor. Much of the work was difficult and painful, and I must confess that I too often resisted the pruning and healing work of my Master. In the end I submitted and now rejoice in being the slave of Christ.
I was ordained in the Wesleyan church on July 13th, 2002. I could now humbly claim more of Paul’s words to Timothy, “…I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands… a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control” (2Tim. 1.6-7). Paul describes a reality that can only be grown into, one stage of development at a time. There seemed to be plenty of fear to go around for this young pastor, however! But Paul also mentions love, and I distinctly remember one of my professors giving me the simple advice, “Love those people under your pastoral care Rich, love them with all your heart.” This counsel seemed simple enough—but was it too simple?
In the early years of my pastorate I tried to love them through sound biblical preaching, which seemed less than effective. And as time wore on, I was stunned and saddened to discover how hard it really was to love the people under my care. Like marriage, it was more about hard work and self-denial than warm, fuzzy feelings. It was also about more than church growth success! In truth, it was also more than board meetings, preaching, counseling, worship planning and leading, funerals and weddings, training volunteers, overseeing ministries and programs, creating the weekly bulletin and running the copier, creating Power Point presentations, confronting, encouraging, budgeting, and praying! All of which I did to the best of my ability. The path to loving the people I had been sent to shepherd was choosing to live life with them. The more our lives became intertwined in the daily-ness of it all, the more I loved them, the more they trusted me, and the more I was able to facilitate the workings of Christ in them (and they in me!). And now that we are separated I know firsthand the love-pangs to which Paul so frequently refers in his letters (Phil 1.7-8, for example).
I have come through my pastoral experience embracing Jesus’ model of the good shepherd as the template through which all ministry should be primarily carried out. A shepherd must imitate The Shepherd: Leading, Feeding, Guarding, and Multiplying the flock of God (Psalm 23).


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