Pastor Appreciation Month Day 8 – The Ordinary Pastor

Because I feel a cold coming on, I’m heading the bed early tonight.  Tomorrow night I’ll continue my blog series showing my appreciation for pastors the Lord has seen to bless me with.

In the meantime I thought I would like to highlight a particular set of pastors, the ordinary pastor.  Today, we can get the best preaching in the world through the power of our own cellar device.  In a matter of moments we can call up sermons from the most popular mega-church pastor, lectures from world-famous intellectual theologians or the podcast of our favorite celebrity preacher.  We buy their books, chat them up on social media and flock to their conferences.  However, often over-looked is the man that fills our own pulpit, the ordinary preacher.

Its the ordinary preacher that prays for us daily, visits us when we are sick and seeks to personally address the needs of our souls –  all things the well-known preachers will never do.  The ordinary preacher is the one who tries to fit in as much study time as, perhaps, his other full time job will allow him to do.  The ordinary preacher is the one who can be found cleaning the church auditorium or filling in for the volunteer that failed to show during the latest church function.  He may not be the best speaker or the most well-read scholar, but he’s YOUR pastor.  He’s the man God has given to you and your church.  Don’t fail to recognize his sacrifice and time investment into your life just because he hasn’t authored a book or delivers the occasional “dry” message.

Here’s two resources you may find helpful in cultivating a deeper appreciation for the “ordinary pastor” in your life.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D.A. Carson

D. A. Carson’s father was a pioneering church-planter and pastor in Quebec. But still, an ordinary pastor-except that he ministered during the decades that brought French Canada from the brutal challenges of persecution and imprisonment for Baptist ministers to spectacular growth and revival in the 1970s.

It is a story, and an era, that few in the English-speaking world know anything about. But through Tom Carson’s journals and written prayers, and the narrative and historical background supplied by his son, readers will be given a firsthand account of not only this trying time in North American church history, but of one pastor’s life and times, dreams and disappointments. With words that will ring true for every person who has devoted themselves to the Lord’s work, this unique book serves to remind readers that though the sacrifices of serving God are great, the sweetness of living a faithful, obedient life is greater still.

The Ordinary Preacher Podcast

A podcast where the “ordinary” pastors, pastor’s wives, church members, missionaries, etc. are interviewed to bring glory to God through His faithful.


Pastor Appreciation Month Day 7 – Dr. Clarence Sexton

217355_5139223081_7275_nDr. Clarence Sexton is the pastor Temple Baptist Church, the founder/President of Crown College of the Bible, the author of such books as Following Christ and Fishing for Men: Becoming a Faithful Witnessand my pastor for about one year in college.

I spent one year of my college career Crown College in Knoxville, TN and thus attended Temple Baptist Church.  I am thankful for the many friends I met there, but am most thankful as this was the place God used to draw me to Himself.  For years before my relationship with Christ was mostly external.  I knew the words to say and the things to do to make sure people didn’t think badly of me.  Yet, there was not much of a spiritual life to speak of and I knew it.  I denied it for years, but through the preaching ministry at Crown, my years of running away ceased.  God got a hold of me one night in my dorm room.  After lights out one evening I waked into my dorm supervisor’s room and we talked and prayed.  The running was now over.  Then I could say with certainty, I am saved.  God used the relentless Gospel-preaching of Crown College and Temple Baptist Church to bring me to Himself.

What I remember most about Dr. Sexton was his vision.  This man was never content to let things stay the same or to merely maintain.  No, he wanted to do great things for the Lord.  He was always thinking of new and innovative ways to reach the World for Christ without compromise.  He was quite methodical in his thinking.  He taught us the nuts and bolts of ministry right down the the mundane things we never considered before, such as why Temple didn’t have pew Bibles or the role of ushers.

Yet, at the same time, he also wanted us to have a connection to our past, a rich Godly heritage that was not to be forsaken.  He was big on church history and wanted to impart to us a deep respect for those who came before us, plowing the ground we now walk.  A vision for the future and an appreciation for the past are things that not often found together which is what makes Dr. Sexton stand out in my mind.

Dr. Sexton, thank you for your desire to train young men like myself for ministry.  Thank you for taking the risks to start new ministries and the providing a clear vision that inspired people to join with you.  Thank you for showing me what leadership looks like.


Pastor Appreciation Month Day 6 – Pastor James Wilkes

Jim Wilkes is the pastor of Grace Community Chapel in Seekonk, MA, the blogger at Grace Today, the11009170_10153840072568082_5595075706253613094_n author of the Glory Walk, and one of the main reasons why I am in ministry today.

My earliest memories of Jim Wilkes involve constantly mistaking him for Joe Coppola during those early days at New England Baptist Church.  He was known as the author of “world class skits” each year at our annual stewardship banquets.  (Perhaps he wishes known remembered anything about “Kung-fu Christian.”) As I grew older he became that guy who filled in for Pastor Ward when he was away.  You know, that funny guy who told great stories.  By my college years, he had become a skilled expository preacher and my most trusted confidant/councilor.

My fondest memories of Pastor Wilkes were the long talks in his office after an evening service.  I knew his door was always open to me.  I loved those one-on-one talks we had.  He knew me.  He knew my family and all the issues I struggled with.  Yet, he still made the time to chat whenever he could.  We talked about personal issues, theological issues and whatever was on my mind.  He was truly interested in what I had to say and wanted to help with whatever was plaguing me at the moment.  Looking back on it, I can see know how time-consuming and taxing that must of been.  That’s putting it nicely.  I must have been that guy, annoying and hard to get rid of…  But if that was true, he never made that known to me.

It was there in his office that I began my love affair with books as I gazed at the titles in his library.  I knew each of his messages were the result of much study and laboring in the Word.  Soon I began recognizing names and creating a library of my own.  Every once in awhile while I’m in my office today looking at my own library my mind will go back to those days.

Specifically I recall the day when, in his office, I blurted out the big secret. I had been contemplating the doctrines of grace (i.e. Calvinism).  I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it.  Little did I know he was way ahead of me on this.  He was able to guide and encourage me.  This was all the confirmation I needed that I wasn’t a crazy heretic. It was during that conversation in which he asked me to consider that the gospel was not something that was merely past tense, it was something I needed today.  It wasn’t something that had ever crossed my mind before and it wouldn’t be something I truly grasped till much later.  But God used that conversation to begin the process that would one day allow me to understand grace and the gospel in a whole new light.

During some of the most challenging times of my life, Pastor Wilkes was right there with me in the thick of it.  Emotional struggles, academic struggles, theological struggles and even struggles in my early days of ministry – the door to that office was always open.

It was these interactions with Pastor Wilkes that gave me a strong desire to enter into ministry myself.  I saw Christ through this man.  I saw what it meant to be a shepherd. I saw what it meant to throw yourself into a text and passionately proclaim its message as opposed to one I wished to hoist upon it.  I saw in Pastor Wilkes what it means to be a pastor.  With that kind of example, how could I not want to be one myself?

In more recent times I’ve seen Pastor Wilkes himself go through challenging times as he transitioned to a new ministry.  While I’m certain it was a difficult time for him, it was a joy for me to see him standing firm in the faith.  Just a few months ago I was able to visit his current church.  He’s a better preacher today than ever before.  His message was not merely sound, but was saturated in gospel truth.  After all these years, he has not merely maintained a ministry he has grown in grace and in the knowledge of Christ.

Pastor Wilkes, I don’t know where to begin to thank you.  If there’s ever a time you doubt that your ministry has produced fruit, please know that everyday I benefit from your influence and the impact you had on my life.  Anything that I accomplish in my ministry is a direct result of your ministry to me.  Thank you.

Pastor Appreciation Month Day 5 – Pastor Jim Martenson

539101_10150899635218082_18788723_nJim Martenson is the lead pastor of North Park Community Church in Carmel, Indiana; yet I’ll forever remember him as “Bro. Jim” – my youth pastor at New England Baptist Church.

My teenage years were quite formative, as they are for anyone.  That’s why who you place in charge of your church’s youth is not a decision to be taken lightly.  Entering into my teenage years, I was a shy kid who never spoken unless spoken to, and maybe not even then.  Yet, by the time I left for college, I was arrogant and outspoken.  Ok, so maybe I over-corrected…  God used Bro. Jim to being to transform me into the preacher/teacher I am today.  I believe this transformation took place on three different levels.

First, I was purposefully placed into uncomfortable situations.  I was terrified the first time Bro. Jim asked me to give a testimony at a youth activity when I was junior high.  I wrote the whole thing out word-for-word and never looked up once.  I sighed in relief when it was over, except that it was never over.  I would be asked to do the same things several times again.  And then there were those teenage soulwinning activities.  Being dropped out of a 15 passenger van into the middle of the street to approach perfect strangers about the gospel was not exactly my cup of tea.  Yet, Bro. Jim pushed me out that van more times than I can remember.

Second, as I began to come out of my shell, the man who helped me get there was also not afraid to send me right back if needed.  In other words, he was more than willing to rebuke me.  Many of you know that I have quite the sarcastic sense of humor and often have a habit of speaking before I think.  This combination can get me into a lot of trouble.  This combined with immaturity gave Bro. Jim many opportunities to call me out.  And he did.  Every time.  He wasn’t afraid to knock me down a few notches.  It was exactly what I needed and am thankful for it today.

Finally, Bro. Jim showed me how to serve the Lord by serving along with me.  He allowed me to walk along side him and actually do the work of the ministry.  This was one of the things that the Lord used to give me a desire to serve him in vocational ministry.  Our youth group had fun games and activities, but we were also taught to minister to the needs of others.  You taught us what it meant to be a servant.

Its been a long time since my teenage years, longer than I would care to admit.  I think we both have taken different theological roads since those days.  Yet, I will never forget the long chats we had in your office.  I’ll never forget the love and concern you showed me everyday.  Bro. Jim, thank you for making me uncomfortable and not allowing me to remain an introvert.  Thank you for your loving, yet stern rebukes.  Thank you for giving me a love for the ministry.  Your ministry continues on through mine as I now work with youth.  I hope some day my ministry will make you proud to have been my youth pastor.

Pastor Appreciation Month Day 4 – K. Edward Copeland and the Heart of A Pastor

This morning I was blessed to be able to attend the early service at New Zion Missionary Baptist 10930157_10153505889228082_9107348238571284210_nChurch as they celebrated the 14th anniversary of their pastor, K. Edward Copeland.  Pastor Copeland is not only a blessing to his church, but to his community, my church and to the larger body of Christ as a whole.

It has been a blessing to me see him stand for Christ right here in Rockford.  He is a true statesman.  I’ve been able to watch him interact with local leaders and lawmakers.  He has earned their respect without losing his God-ordained prophetic role.  Yet he is also a servant to the people of Rockford.  The people of this city know he is someone who cares for them and will work tirelessly to help them – again, something I’ve been able to witness first-hand.

I’ve also been privileged to watch him be an encouragement to my church.  We are not competitors but co-laborers in gospel ministry.  As we try to understand what a multi-ethnic church is all about, Pastor Copeland has stood with us as we struggle to achieve this goal.  He has been there with insight, advice and understanding.  He has been a true friend to our pastors.

But, above all, Pastor Copeland is a gospel preacher.  He seeks to exposit the text and point men to Jesus.  He is not afraid to call out sin, even touching on subjects that make white churches like mine a little uncomfortable.  Yet, he does so with aim to please Christ and bring peace among God’s people.

Thank you, Pastor Copeland for displaying to me what it means to live out your faith and speak truth to power without compromise.  Thank you for being an example of loving the entire body of Christ.  Congratulations on 14 years here in Rockford.

Below I’ve included the youtube recording of the message my own pastor, Joshua Pegram, preached this morning at this service.  The topic was “The Heart of A Pastor.”  It was a fitting message for that service and a fitting message for pastor appreciation month.  So, I will leave it here and hope that though listening to it you will have a better look into the heart of your pastor and thereby appreciate him all the more.

Pastor Appreciation Month Day 3 – Pastor Joe Coppola

205448_5212328081_8804_nPastor Joe Coppola is currently the senior pastor of New England Baptist Church but during my tenure there, he was an assistant pastor, principal of New England Baptist Academy and definitely one of the most influential teachers I ever had growing up.

For any of my students who may have stumbled across this, if you ever saw Pastor Coppola teach, you’ll recognize some of my strange mannerisms.  When you take one of his classes, you not only walk away knowing the material, you walk away knowing him.  He opened up quite a bit in class through the stories he told and thus allowed us to enter into his life experiences.  Remember that trip to San Francisco… He was a story-teller like no other.  This created a bond of trust that allowed him to enter into our lives and leave a lasting impact.

Then there were those times he broke out into song at the most random moments.  For example, once while correcting each other’s papers he broke out into a chorus of “two points off for each one wrong, do-dah, do-dah…).

However, what I will remember to my dying day was a crucial point in my life that he probably never knew happened.  One day during a Physics class another student had come to his desk to ask for help.  Being busy at that moment, he told the student, “Go see Kevin, he gets it.”  I got it?  Kevin Thompson got it?  I was a kid who struggled with academics since the first day I entered kindergarten.  I repeated the third grade and spent much of my time in the “resource room” for students that needed extra help.  For a teacher to send another student to me for help was a game-changer for me.  From that point on, I suddenly felt like I might be, dare the thought, capable.  Maybe even… smart?  I once was once told as a small child not to worry about grades because “Thompsons don’t do well in school.”  Now, for the first time that I could ever remember, a teacher had confidence in me.  That moment changed my life forever.

A few years ago, I was chosen to be the Teacher of the Month in the city of Beloit.  That was because of Joe Coppola.  When I finished up my master’s degree this summer, I thought about Pastor Coppola.  This week when I learned I was nominated to enter into the The Kohl Teacher Fellowship, it was because of his influence.  He believed in me.  He encouraged me.  Pastor Coppola, thank you for the huge investment you made in my life.  Thank you for giving my the encouragement I needed to realize the potential that not many saw.

PS.  I apologize for the grammatical mistakes you probably found in this post…

Pastor Appreciation Month Day 2 – Pastor Tom Ward

Dr. Tom Ward is the founder of Partners in Ministry, the current pastor of Eastpoint Community 20151002_191856Church and has the notable distinction of being the first pastor I ever remember having.  Pastor Ward planted the New England Baptist Church way back in 1973.  About seven years later the Thompson family would move to Massachusetts and find their church home.

When we moved to Massachusetts, we were a broken family.  My mother, Susan, had just recently died leaving my Dad with two boys to raise, one of them severely autistic (before there was much awareness of such a thing).  It was certainly a difficult time.  I have faint memories of visiting several churches in the area.  Year later I recall asking my Dad why we settled on New England Baptist.  He replied it was the only church we found where the Bible, and the Bible only, was preached.

We certainly had our challenges during those times.  But, there to help us was our church.  To be honest, being that young, my memories of Dr. Ward are a bit faint.  But I’ll never forget the high esteem my dad had for our pastor.  When we weren’t listening to him on the radio we where reading devotionals and other material he wrote through Partners in Ministry.  Even at that early age I was learning to appreciate the role of the pastor and his pulpit.

Though we had a fairly large church for that day (somewhere around 500 members at one point if I recall correctly), our family was not lost among the crowd.  We knew we were loved and cared for within our church family.  My dad was even mentioned during one message.  When preaching on the topic of the just living by faith, not only was reformation monk Martin Luther used as an illustration, Jim Thompson was described as a man of faith.  How else was a single man able to raise two boys on his own?  In my mind’s eye I clearly remember where I was sitting and exactly where he was on the platform when he said it.

The memory that stands out the most was the time we invited Pastor Ward to my Webelos graduation during my years in the Cub Scouts.  Unfortunately he was unable to attend.  But, shortly after the event, he called me into his office after church one Sunday morning.  There, waiting for me, was one of the popular toys of the day, a pogo ball.  He had bought it for me as a graduation gift.  As a kid from a poor family who struggled with low self-worth and self-esteem, this was huge.  Pastor Ward actually thought of me.  And now, I could play with something that was actually considered cool by other kids.  It was a small gesture that had a huge impact.

So, Pastor Ward, I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, but I thank you for the love and concern you showed for me and my family.  God used you to begin to show me what means to shepherd the flock of God.