During our 38 years of ministry Jane and I have had the opportunity to serve in four different churches in four different cities. We pastored in Del City, Oklahoma ( a suburb of Oklahoma City), Independence, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Denver, Colorado. Our first church had 74 people in attendance on our first Sunday. Our last assignment in Denver was a church that often had 2,000 on a Sunday morning. It was a wonderful experience moving from place to place and meeting new people and trying to transition into their lives. It was always challenging, sometimes extremely frustrating and often side-splitting funny.
After stepping away from the pulpit in Denver and moving to our cabin I preached only occasionally for the first few months. This past January I was invited to become the Interim Pastor at the Church of the Nazarene in LaJunta, Colorado. Upon embarking on this temporary assignment I was immediately drawn back to our time serving in Independence. It was a strong church in a small town. Big city folks often tend to put down small towns. But let me tell you, there’s no better place to serve the church. LaJunta reminded me of all that I enjoy about smaller towns.
When you serve as the pastor of a strong church in a small town you realize how easy it is to get the attention of a community. You also realize what it means to be part of an extended family, a community. There’s a work ethic there and a sense of responsibility that you don’t always find in larger settings. People realize that they are needed and that the church depends on them.
LaJunta is a wonderful place. The city of some 12,000 people is struggling as the economy and the move toward larger cities has caused the population to fall and some industry to leave. Yet the folks who have stayed feel a sense of pride in their town and their church that’s contagious. Our weekly trips to Lajunta in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado became something we looked forward to. In the four months we’ve been serving them we’ve made friends that we cherish, we’ve grown encouraged by the state of the church in general and we’ve learned that God can handle every situation.
The LaJunta church has called a new pastor and he will begin his ministry there on May 2nd. I must confess that I’m a bit sad about the transition. I trust that I’ve helped the church prepare for his arrival but I’ll miss these wonderful people. They’re BIG people…..no, not obese. They are people with big hearts, big spirits. They take the high road. They care about one another. They pray for each other and encourage one another.
I realize how much they’ve done for me. In fact, they’ve done far more for me than I’ve done for them. They are a wonderful example of what Christ’s church can look like. With their new pastor they can indeed live up to the words of Joshua when he was leading the Israelites against Jericho. His recorded words to his people are these: “Shout!! For the Lord has given you the city.”
I love small towns and BIG hearted people.