It was 1998. I was 25 years old and serving at a church in Dallas when I got a call from Bruce Wesley. Only a little over four years earlier, Bruce had planted Clear Creek Community Church in Houston and now was looking for someone to fill the role of Teaching Pastor. At the time, CCCC was a Willow Creek model church and Bruce wanted a pastor who would start a midweek worship service (as opposed to the weekend seeker service) that revolved around the expositional preaching through books of the Bible. I was considering planting a church and the CCCC opportunity paralleled well with my desire to be a part of something from the ground up. Granted, they were a little over four years into it, but as church planters will tell you, at four years the paint is still very much wet on all things church. At least that proved to be the case at CCCC. A few months later, I told Bruce and the elders that I was in.
That was over fifteen years ago.
Last month we celebrated our 20th anniversary as a church. In many ways we’re the same congregation that plopped itself in a school cafetorium in 1993 and yet in other ways, we are very different. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am proud of the fact that I’ve been here for the long haul with CCCC. Don’t misunderstand, I do believe God calls pastors from churches to churches. It would be presumptuous (and wrong) to say that could never happen with me. However, I also know there are some ministers who seek different congregations as mere rungs in the ladder in the name of bigger and better. But there is something to be said about growing roots in one church for a long time.
Eugene Peterson referred to spiritual growth as a “long obedience in the same direction.” It’s hard to observe that in the people you shepherd if you’re only there for a pit stop. But to put down roots allows you to see the work of God in men and women over seasons upon seasons that will both humble and inspire you. I moves me deeply to think of those who look more like Christ now than they did fifteen years ago – followers of Jesus who make repentance a normal part of their life, who know what it is to be on mission throughout their days, who sincerely seek to keep the gospel central to all things. And here’s the deal, I can tell you who they are because I’ve been able to see them exhibit a long obedience in the same direction. Stories like theirs remind me that while shepherding the church is incredibly challenging it is also deeply rewarding.
I would also add, at the risk of sounding self-serving, that staying put has also allowed the people to see my attempt at a long obedience. Believe me, I’m confident I’ve said or done enough foolish things over the past fifteen years to demonstrate I’ve still got a long way to go in my sanctification. But every now and again, I’ll have someone who’s attended CCCC for several years pull me aside and say something to this effect: “Yancey, it’s been neat to see you mature as a believer, and a pastor, and a preacher.” My first thought is usually, “It was that bad at the start, eh?” But once I get over myself I receive their word as the blessing it is. A blessing I hope in turn impacts my congregants by demonstrating that their pastors, at their core, are simply fellow followers who are seeking to grow in the grace of the gospel like everyone else. And that’s something that’s easier to do for your people…with your people…when you stay put.
Thanks CCCC for letting me grow with you the last 15 years.