Discipleship Over the Long Haul

I don’t know much about long haul truckers, but over the years people in our congregations have had this occupation, so I can imagine a bit of what it must be like. It is the preparation–being careful to be sure you have all the supplies you need before you head out. It is the open road; it is scenery; it is independence and something new every day.

But I also imagine it’s lonely at times: sleeping in the berth of your truck; showering at a truck stop; a different town every night and long hours behind the wheel.

It surely isn’t the life for everyone, but the perseverance this job requires inspires me when I think about patience in developing disciples of Christ. Jesus technically only invested in the lives of His closest followers for three years. A quick Google search yielded the statistic that the average stay of a pastor in a ministry position is four years. I guess we’re doing pretty well if we are going at it on average a year longer than Jesus did.

Yet as my husband and I have passed the post of ten years in our current church and we come up against some brick walls that we feel we’ve run into before, I have begun to think a lot about how long one needs to stick it out to see real change in people’s lives.

We’ve seen over our years of rural ministry that either rural and small-town areas don’t change much so people live here because they don’t like to change or the people themselves keep it from changing. I imagine it’s a bit of both.

Needless to say, when I look at my own life and I see how slow I am to change, it makes me wonder if I need to be more patient with the people we are discipling in our congregation. If we are going to see lasting and systemic change, it’s not going to be done overnight, so if we throw in the towel too soon, might we miss out just when God is about to do something big?

Recently our associate pastor resigned and took a position in another province across the country. We’ve had one of our strongest elders step down due to stress; and my husband has been under a lot of pressure to hold things together through these changes.

The pandemic has pressed people such that there are new conflicts and old unhealed personal and church hurts that have bubbled to the surface. The hurt lashes out upon my husband and our leaders in the form of angry people. Honestly, it seems like a good time to throw in the towel, to say we’ve gone more than double the average time in our tenure, and just move on.

But we know that it’s not that simple. We know that we want to be an example of sticking things out when relationships are messy and complicated. We know that if we want to give God time to work and change people’s hearts, then we need to be shepherds who commit to their sheep for as long as God says “stay”.

That might mean four years; it might mean ten, twenty or even thirty. One way or another we know that we have to seek our God for His timing in our decisions to stay or go; we need to test our motives to be sure we are not giving up before God has more for us to do; and we need to remember that especially in small-town and rural areas people always trust someone they’ve known all their lives more than a newcomer.

The reality is that we will always be the newcomers to our town even if God calls us to stay fifty years, but I want our people to remember us as a pastor and wife who patiently loved them even when they lashed out in anger or criticized needlessly or accused falsely. 

We want to be remembered as a pastor and wife who did not shy away from dealing with long-standing problems but were willing to get dirty and dig in and bear some of the emotional pain of the past and its present fallout in order to see our church be all that God wants it to be.

That is discipleship for the long haul. It takes patience. It takes courage. It takes grace that only God can give. And He does give. Abundantly.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (II Corinthians 9:8, emphasis mine).

That sounds like enough supply for the long haul.

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About Wendy McCready

Wendy lives in Alma, Ontario, Canada with her husband Mark and two daughters where Mark has been the senior pastor of Alma Bible Church since the summer of 2010. Together they have served for over 15 years in rural and small-town ministry. Their previous small-town pastoral work included a church in the mountains of Colorado while Mark was in seminary, and then in northern Ontario “cottage” country upon graduation. Wendy works as an Educational Assistant in the local schools where she enjoys making community connections in order to share Christ and helping children with special challenges learn new things. She also enjoys participating in music ministry in their church and hosting people in their home.