In the Company of Greatness
Yesterday was the 75th Anniversary of the church I am privileged to pastor, the Grand Avenue Baptist Church. It is difficult to describe in words, the emotions that surged through my being as the events of yesterday unfolded. Seventy-five years is a long time. Many churches never make it to 75 years and many of those that do are on the verge of closing up shop. To be a part of a church that is 75 years “young” and to have that very distinct sense that God has only just begun is an awesome feeling.
For me personally, the highlight of all the events surrounding the anniversary was the opportunity I had to sit in the company of greatness. There have been only 12 senior pastors in the 75 year history of GABC. Yesterday, five of these men (along with myself) came together in one place at one time. Six out of 12 pastors – half of this churches pastoral legacy all together at one moment in time. To be in the company of these men was extremely humbling and almost overwhelming. What’s that? These are just “men” you say? Yes, it is true, they are just mortal men, BUT it is what God has done in and through the lives of these men that made this a company of greatness.
Every church that celebrates a significant anniversary (20, 25, 50 years, etc.) has a pastor that is chosen by God to lead that church through the anniversary moment. Providence has chosen me, Jeff Crawford, to be the pastor of Grand as we celebrated our first 75 years. While that, in and of itself, puts me in a unique position in Grand’s pastoral legacy, as I reflect upon this particular company of greatness, I think that perhaps I am in the most unique of circumstances that any pastor could ever be in. For you see, each one of these former pastors has crossed paths with my own spiritual development in one way or another. To understand this you first need to know that GABC is the church of my youth, my home church. I cannot think of any other pastor who could be in such a unique and privileged position in which I find myself.
Clifford Palmer – I arrived at GABC as a child AFTER Bro. Cliff’s tenure as pastor. He moved on from GABC to pastor the First Baptist Church of Springdale, AR. It was his vision that led that great church to relocate and to start a school, a Christian School called Shiloh Christian School. If you know my history, you know that I spent almost 10 years on the staff of FBC Springdale serving at Shiloh Christian School. Palmer had already left by the time I arrived, but once again, I found myself in the wake of the fruits of his ministry.
Don Moore – Bro. Don was the pastor of my childhood. It was many a sermon I “listened” to as I sat in church as a child coloring on offering envelops. I loved Bro. Don and I always thought it was cool how he knew my name, the name of a child. It was Bro. Don that led GABC to tremendous growth and established the church as a significant force for the love of Christ in Fort Smith.
James Bryant – Dr. Jim was the pastor of my formative teenage years. I was saved under his watch. Baptized by him. I was called to the ministry under during his tenure. I learned more sitting under Dr. Jim’s pastoral teaching each week than any other pastor I have ever had. It was Dr. Jim who invited a 16 year old kid into his private study and taught him how to craft a sermon. It was Dr. Jim that opened up his pulpit to this same young “preacher boy” a year later and let him preach to his home church.
Ed Saucier – Bro. Ed was the pastor of my college years. He was the pastor leading GABC on those Sundays that I would “come back home” from college. Bro. Ed would eventually leave GABC but he did not leave Fort Smith. He felt the call of God to plant a new church in Fort Smith. So as I would one day arrive in town to pastor my home church, Bro. Ed became not only the pastor from my college years, but also a colleague in ministry.
Bill Blanchard – Bro. Bill once tried to hire me as the youth pastor at Grand. Things did not work out because it was not the timing or call of God. But through that exchange, Bro. Bill became my friend. Bro. Bill led GABC to adopt a new constitution and by-laws, a new form of church government. It is a brilliant structure and frankly, I do not think I would have come to Grand were it not for the foundation of church governance laid by my predecessor, my friend.
So maybe you can see, in some small way, how utterly humbled, and yes, even, dare I say it, out of place I felt, to be in this company of greatness.
Seventy-five years is a long time. A great 75 years depends upon great leadership. As I sat in this company of greatness on Sunday, it was my prayer to God that I would be found worthy and equipped to carry the torch of pastoral leadership that was passed to me by those who had gone before.
Passage for Reflection: Hebrews 12:1-2
“Lord, may the cloud of witnesses, inspire, encourage, and strengthen my spirit as I run YOUR race. Amen.”