The first Sunday in August marked my fifth anniversary as your pastor. This has caused me to spend a few weeks reflecting on our past five years together. I was a young man, not quite thirty years old, eager to apply the education that I had worked so hard to attain, eager to utilize God's call on my life, and you were a congregation wondering what you had gotten yourselves into with this bearded fellow. We have had some incredible moments together though.
I can't help but remember unloading a moving truck on Monday and then spending the rest of my first week with a grieving family as one of my deacons left this life for the next that Wednesday. Oh, how I wished I could have known him better. My first sermon as pastor was actually for his funeral. That launched what would be a busy first year getting to know our local funeral homes. But God proved his faithfulness to me. I really didn't know what I was doing but God's grace was so sufficient and he taught me how to honor the life of the deceased, and how to honor Him.
I remember wondering what I was going to do on my one-year anniversary when our treasurer informed me that we were broke and she couldn't write my check. I'm not sure why, but my mind immediately resolved that I would begin delivering pizzas. (I still think that would be a great way to get to know the community.) But God proved his faithfulness to this congregation over the next few months as he brought financially gifted folks to join our congregation. God graciously brought us through that financial valley and by the spring of the next year we were much more secure. In fact, God used that moment for his glory in that he led us to adopt the usage of an actual finance committee; a committee that has proved to be very effective and very beneficial for our church.
Do you remember the first Trunk-or-Treat we hosted? We showed up at the church at 4:00pm on October 31st in the freezing rain and sleet. I can remember the few that showed up looking at me, asking with their eyes when I would cancel the event. I didn't know what to do. I was so nervous about that decision. Do we stand in the rain and probable snow that would come? Or do we go home and sit by the fire? We chose to stand in the weather and give candy to the kids of our community, nearly 300 of them! God showed us to trust him, even when circumstances were not ideal.
Or what about the first time we hosted a Broyhill cottage for Christmas? I didn't really know what to expect when those high school girls showed up at the church that night. What would they say? Would they feel welcomed here? Would this be a good opportunity to serve the least of these in our community or would this blow up in my face? But God faithfully showed us how to deny ourselves and how to love these girls and how serve at Christmas time, just as he came not to be served but to serve. They will be back again this year!
And it's been so good to see West Canton keep moving forward in technology. I was so pleased to see a congregation that had been pioneers on the technology front for decades! I came to a church that had been broadcasting sermons live across the radio waves for years, even decades. You had hung a screen and began using a small projector. It has been a joy to see the heart of our congregation as we have simply moved forward in what had been started long ago, using whatever technological advances we can get our hands on to get the gospel message to the world. We now have multiple screens and projectors, with live-streaming TV's in our nurseries, nursing mother's room, and fellowship hall. As the popularity and accessibility of the radio ministry was fading, the Lord led us to change directions, and begin seeking after live-stream options. According to the results of our extended radio survey in 2014, we were only reaching about 6 people via radio, and now we have as many as 20-25 viewers online every Sunday morning, including viewers as far away as Maryland and Minnesota. We had 119 views last month alone. As I write this, our Facebook page has 314 likes, with 10 new ones in July. We built a new church website earlier this year that is frequented fairly often, and not just by our people. In fact, 46% of visitors to our church website in July were new visitors! In fact, we actually have members who first came to our church because they discovered us via the worldwide web. Notice I called them "members." Just this year we have begun offering the option of online giving, and year-to-date our online giving makes up about 8% of our total gifts. West Canton has a legacy of using technology to the advantage of the gospel, and I'm so proud that legacy continues today. God provides the means and we are a congregation that jumps on it and capitalizes! But God....
Missions! Wow! In five years, we've been from the poverty stricken mountains of West Virginia on mission to the urban reality of New York City. We have witnessed the gospel of Jesus to folks on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn several times, establishing a partnership with Mosaic Baptist Church. Each time we go we take somebody new, somebody that has never been on a mission trip before! God has even established a partnership with missionaries in Cambodia; 12 time zones away, quite literally the ends of the earth. In fact, as I write this, Cambodian students are living in the homes of our three of our families and many of you are supporting the effort by providing transportation and grocery funds. Only God could have ever orchestrated this international mission opportunity!
There is so much more to mention, from our local partnership with North Canton Elementary school to our mission opportunities in town to the new deacons we've ordained to the new ESV pew Bibles. The memories and victories of the first five years abound, but I must draw my reminiscing to a conclusion with one final point to celebrate. I remember our first Sunday at West Canton as your pastor. Rebekah and I had two little girls (only two) that needed a nursery to stay in. I'm not sure how long it had been since that had been a real need at our church, but it had been a while! We now have two active nurseries every Sunday morning and we have anywhere from 10-15 kids in our GLO kids ministry on Sunday nights. But God is faithful.
So I ask myself what I have learned in five years, and I answer, "But God..." I have learned that God is faithful to provide resources for his people, to reap the harvest of souls, to grow his church, to encourage his people in times of grief and sorrow, to send his people on mission, to steady the anxious heart of a young pastor and to put his word on my tongue every seven days.
If the first five years have been this good, imagine with me what the next 5 years are going to look like! But God.....
I see the potential for West Canton Baptist Church. I see where we can go and who we can be. I'm am content with God's goodness to our congregation, but I cannot be content with where we are. I am asking you to not get content with the growth we've seen. Rather, dream about what lies ahead. Let's not rest til we shine so brightly from this hilltop that our light can be seen all throughout Canton and to the ends of the earth!
Begin watching The Next 5 Years Sermon at the 37:01 mark.