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Church Planting and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Church planting has humbled me in many ways, and I think one lesson/appreciation I’ve gleaned the past few weeks has been the great value of “a long obedience in the same direction”, a phrase coined by Eugene Petersen.

I’ve been particularly grateful for many of the stellar leaders who have gone before me, doing the long, plodding work of ministry and faithfulness so that younger people like me can stand on their shoulders – often times unbeknownst to them.

I was fortunate to spend a week with Leith and Charlene Anderson along with other pastors/leaders.

I recently took a week-long class at Fuller with Leith Anderson, now retired pastor of Wooddale Church and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and I was absolutely floored by all of his insights into Scripture, leadership, and life in general.  His wife Charleen joined us for the class as well, and it was such a privilege to have her there to answer questions and interact with us.

Leith shared that he had just retired as pastor at Wooddale after 35 years of being the senior leader there.  Wow.  That means that Leith was the senior pastor at Wooddale longer than I’ve been alive (sorry Leith, I never shared that out loud, but I was startled by this fact).

As we’re in the first few weeks of Hope’s launch team gatherings, I’ve wondered to myself what a long obedience in the same direction would look like.

Most of all, I’m wondering what it would look like to remain faithful in living and leading well, both in my family and in a church.  The Andersons are such great examples of this, and I’m humbled and grateful for their long service.

I’m also grateful for the many mentors I’ve had throughout my life, all of whom have modeled faithfulness in different ways.

I feel indebted to many church leaders with long-standing histories in NYC too, people who have paved the way for many years.  People like personal mentors Pete & Geri Scazzero, Craig & Ellen Fee, Mark & Pam Taft, Jim Owens as well as people I’ve learned from afar like AR Bernard, Michael Durso, Robert Johannson, Floyd Flake, Tim Keller, Mac Pier, Joseph Mattera, and Marcos Rivera (just to name a few).  These church leaders have faithfully served this city for decades (along with their spouses), and now younger leaders like me get to run with the baton that they pass on to a new generation of leaders.

I think one of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned in recent weeks is the difference between the question, “can we do this?” and “should we do this?”

My youthful impatience often propels me into the first question.  Wise friends and mentors at Hope (as well as mentors past) have directed me toward the second question.

With that said, I return to the serenity prayer once again, a daily discipline for me as I hope to live with a “long obedience in the same direction.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

God, grant me a humble, attentive heart, one that will commit to a long obedience in the same direction.