Ministry veterans relate wisdom on serving long-term
Nearly 200 years of ministry experience were represented on stage during Southwestern Seminary’s first Grindstone of the spring semester, Feb. 7. The featured participants in the panel discussion were Tommy French, founder and pastor emeritus of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.; and John Morgan, founder and pastor of Sagemont Church in Houston. The discussion was moderated by Southwestern President Paige Patterson.
French founded Jefferson Baptist Church as a mission of the First Baptist Church of Baton Rouge in 1959, and he served as senior pastor for the next 50 years. Similarly, Sagemont Church was planted by the First Baptist Church of Pasadena, Texas, and Morgan has served as pastor there since its first service in 1966. These two men—both graduates of Southwestern—were thus invited to the seminary campus in order to share with students and aspiring church leaders how to persevere in long-term ministry.
“Stick with the job,” French said, noting that Jefferson’s difficult early years eventually gave way to blessed years of fruitful, thriving ministry. “It doesn’t matter how discouraging it might be. You stay with it until the Lord’s time, and He always opens the doors and helps you along the way.”
Morgan, noting the importance of being called by God to vocational ministry, related advice he received from his father, who was also a pastor. “Son,” his father told him, “you better make sure God’s called you into this, because the day will come where that’s the only thing that will keep you in the ministry.” While affirming the truth of this statement, Morgan nevertheless declared, “Whenever you just do what the Lord tells you to do, it’s not really that hard. If God says it, that settles it; you don’t even have to pray about it.”
Both Morgan and French agreed that one of the main tactics Satan uses to keep people from doing long-term ministry is criticism from members of the congregation. But Morgan said his source of comfort in the face of criticism is this: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” He continued, “If you’re following the Lord, don’t look back. … Just be glad that the Lord invited you to follow Him.”
French shared a story in which one of his church members constantly criticized him to the point that French eventually confided in a friend that he was “going to do something about this man.” The friend, however, quickly told him not to do anything.
“This man thinks you’re the greatest fellow that ever walked the face of the earth,” the friend said, much to French’s surprise. “He thinks you’re the greatest preacher in the world.” French then realized that though the man was a harsh critic, he did indeed love him as his pastor.
“Don’t ever consider the criticism means they don’t like you,” French shared with the Grindstone audience in light of this experience. “And don’t isolate anybody.”
Fielding questions from both Patterson and members of the audience, French and Morgan proceeded to discuss such topics as calling out the called in their congregations, giving invitations, and helping their churches become debt-free. Methods of outreach were also addressed, with both emphasizing the need to quickly make contact with people who visit the church.
Morgan shared that Sagemont’s outreach methods include meeting people at restaurants, high school football games, and little league baseball games. Another avenue is inviting lost people on hunting or fishing trips and using that time to share the Gospel through both word and deed.
Regarding the need for ministers to seek out the lost and spend time with people, French reminded the audience that ministry should not consist of simply hoping people show up to church so the pastor can minister to them there. Rather, ministers must go to the people and thus reflect Jesus’ ministry of seeking and saving the lost.
“Don’t assume that because they go to church every week, they’re saved,” French said. “Make sure that you deal with them on a personal, individual basis. And get in the home. … It’s not, ‘Y’all come’; Jesus said, ‘Y’all go.’”
To view a recording of the entire Grindstone discussion, visit swbts.edu/grindstone.