Oct 18, 2011

The Power of an Unexpected Blessing

A few weeks ago I had the unique privilege of being invited to take part in a small pastor's retreat with Bob Russell.  Bob (we're on a first name basis now) was the pastor of Southeast Christian Church for over 40 years.  When he went there as a young man in his 20's the church was just a few hundred.  When he retired a few years ago, it was one of the largest churches in America, averaging over 18,000 people each weekend.  When Bob retired, he had some people who wanted to fund his ministry dreams and goals.  One of those was to hold private retreats for pastors where he could minister and pour into a small group of pastors at a time.

I had applied over a year ago and was extremely excited when I got the invitation to go.  What an honor and privilege to be invited to spend three days with a faithful servant of the Lord who did it the right way for over 40 years.  God used Bob's ministry and preaching to literally change the lives of thousands of people.  However, he was an extremely humble and joyful man who seemed to be loving getting to spend time with 8 pastors that for the most part no one has ever heard of.  He shared some painful moments in his ministry and valuable lessons he learned.  It was truly a once-in-a lifetime experience.  Here are a few takeaways I had from the week:

1.  When you cultivate a generous heart you are able to be a blessing and be blessed at the same time.  Bob Russell gave us dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, set up a private time with the CEO of Louisville Slugger, and even gave our wives a generous gift.  What a refreshment to see someone who wants to give away to make others feel appreciated and valuable.
2.  There is no substitute for cultivating a servant spirit in your church.  Southeast Christian Church is a very unique place.  My sanctuary can fit under their driveway.  The lobby is big enough to play a football game in.  The worship center can seat 9,000 people.  However, all of their landscaping is done by volunteers in the church.  Much of their setup for events is handled by volunteers.  The people of the church who helped Bob with the retreat were some of the most gracious servants I have ever encountered.  They really thought it a blessing to be able to serve pastors by carrying our luggage or by driving us to events.
3.  There is no substitute for godly lay leadership.  We had the opportunity to spend time with three elders of Southeast who talked about pastor/elder relationships.  These three men have been elders at Southeast for a long time.  Each of them were very successful businessmen and entreprenuers.  However, they also were men of great spiritual wisdom and the Word.  They showed the power that can happen in a church where men step up to be students of the word and lead the church spiritually.  This is no doubt one of the biggest reasons for the success that Southeast Christian has had in reaching people. 
4.  Preach the Bible and let God do the work.  This was one of the statements that Bob Russell made and perfectly sums up his preaching and ministry philosophy.  Russell's ministry shows the lasting impact that can be made when a preacher believes in the authority and sufficiency of God's word and chooses to rely on the power of the word preached over slick ministry strategies.  It was a great encouragement to me.  There is no guarantee of large numerical success in preaching biblically, but there is assurance of its power to change lives and build a healthy foundation for a church.
5.  Multiply your ministry effectiveness by investing in future ministers.  This is where Bob Russell is now.  As a faithful pastor for decades, he's earned the right to spend his days playing golf, going on occasional mission trips, speaking at conferences, and writing books.  However, Bob has chosen to spend some of that time pouring into guys that are in the trenches.  It doesn't matter where at or what size church.  In our group, we had churches ranging from 200 to 3500.  We had pastors from the Christian Church movement, a Wesleyan, Church of Christ, and one SBC (me).  A couple of guys were in their 50's, a couple in their 40's, and a couple in their 30's.  We were all much the richer for spending time with Bob and with each other.

All in all, my heart was blessed and I was impacted beyond measure for my time with Bob Russell.  It gave me a renewed vision for what could be possible at my church and a renewed passion to preach God's word with passion and application oto God's people.