So last week my wife and I came back from a week of preaching and teaching and fellowship on Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada. I was honored to be one of the speakers at The Gospel Coalition, Atlantic Canada. We had an absolutely lovely time up there and I wanted to share with you about some of our experiences:
1) It’s an honor to be invited to share God’s Word with any audience. I hope this feeling never wears off, but every time I’m asked to preach somewhere, I feel a tremendous privilege. To hold in our hands the very precious words of the living God and to be used by the Spirit of God to teach His people is a gift of grace. For someone to trust me to handle the Word before their people is a job I try not to take lightly. All pastors and Christian speakers should realize that nobody owes them a platform or a pulpit or a speaking engagement. These are opportunities God graces us with as a generous Heavenly Father.
2) God’s creation never ceases to amaze. PEI is a beautiful slice of earth, with it’s beautiful stretches of farmland and rolling hills and forests. I was most captivated by the red sands and cliffs on the Atlantic shore. It’s no wonder that Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, considered this, her homeland, a window into Heaven. Angela and I had a conversation with a PhD student from Chicago who was studying in PEI and he admitted to us that the stunning beauty makes him doubt that all of this could have simply happened. We, of course, told him of our faith in the Designer, the Triune God who spoke this beauty into existence. So, in the 21st Century, the Heavens are still declaring the glory of God, are they not?
3) The gospel has the power to unite people into a special family. It’s pretty remarkable, but after five days together with our hosts at the conference, the wonderful Grace Baptist Church of Charlottetown. Angela and I said often last week about how much we loved these good people and how much it seemed as if we’d known each other for a long time. We came to serve through preaching and teaching and conversations, but we came away far more refreshed than what we gave out. The music, the preaching from the other men, the conversations, the fellowship, the food, the hospitality–all revived and refreshed our souls. What a gift it is to be among God’s people united by grace.
4) Hospitality is a gospel-empowered gift to others. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a more generous, hospitable group of folks like the people at Grace Baptist. Steven Bray, Dan Thomson, Jeff Eastwood, Jim Newsome, and Jason Biech are a passionate team of elders leading this church to love the gospel more. And this love for the gospel was poured out in the way they cared for everyone who attended the conference. Jim and his wife, Betty housed us in their beautiful Bed and Breakfast. They drove us, fed us, and took care of every need with a spirit of grace and love.
5) Modesty is an underrated gift for a pastor. I saved this one for last, because it’s the best. By modestly I mean humility and grace. I had the chance to get to know two pastors, Mike Bulmore and Paul Martin. I had known of these men, but had never spent significant time with them. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Crossway Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin, just a few minutes across the “Cheddar Curtain” from where we live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Angela and I really got to know Mike on this trip. We flew out to PEI together (three flights, including a harrowing near-miss of a flight from Toronto to Charlottetown), we rode from our guest house to the conference together, we sat on panels together, we ate together. You really get to know a man when you spend that much time with him. Mike was as gracious and fun and willing to engage important discussions as any pastor I’ve met. He was genuinely interested in our lives and shared about some of his own experiences in ministry and family.
Paul Martin was much the same way. Paul is the Senior Pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. I had known Paul only for being “Tim Challies’ pastor.” But spending this much time with him, driving, speaking, eating, etc, I came away with a wonderful respect and genuine friendship. We laughed together, shared stories, and just enjoyed the camaraderie. Paul also shared one of the most moving messages on the dignity of human life that I have ever heard, drawing from his own experience as the father of a disabled son.
From both Paul and Mike I saw a wonderful example of faithful, biblical pastoral ministry. Both are modest, mature, kind, and wise. Neither exhibit an ego nor took themselves too seriously, though they take the ministry seriously. It’s no wonder that among pastoral qualities listed in many New Testament passages is the idea of sobriety, maturity, a sort of balance and grace. From Paul and Mike I saw that demonstrated in action. With such an emphasis on platform, celebrity, and visibility in the evangelical world, these two pastors were examples of modest, faithful, humble ministry.
Bottom Line: We had a great time of ministry and built lifelong friendships. To God be the glory.