On Sunday, October 19, 2008, Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia installed me as its pastor.
It was an incredible day, the culmination of nearly a year's worth of effort. In January a search committee came to hear me preach in Louisville, Kentucky. In March my wife and I visited Mount Vernon to talk to church leaders. In April I came back to preach in-view-of-a-call. Finally, in June, my family and I moved to Atlanta and I started to pastor.
Yet that Sunday in October is what will stand out in my mind. We all rejoiced together in God's goodness: he had provided me with a place of ministry and the church with a shepherd. And we reflected on our responsibility to partner together for the good of the gospel.
I want to explain what happened during my installation weekend, my goals, and some unexpected benefits I saw arise from this time.
Many of the men influential in my calling to and preparation for pastoral ministry joined me in Atlanta for the weekend.
On Saturday night, my wife and I invited the search committee and our guests to a reception in our home. It seemed fitting that the first people to meet my long-time friends would be the group of men and women the Lord used to bring me to Atlanta.
On Sunday morning, the church joined together for a united Sunday school in which I led a panel discussion entitled "The Church and Pastoral Ministry." During the morning service, the deacons of the church laid their hands on me and prayed over me before my former pastor, Mark Dever, charged me to "preach the Word" from 2 Timothy 4:2.
We stayed for lunch at church so that Mark and my other friends could meet as many church leaders as possible. We had a fruitful discussion and it provided an opportunity for the church to get to know our guests.
Then, during the evening service, my doctoral supervisor, Greg Wills, delivered a charge to the church. It was a full day.
WHAT WAS THE GOAL?
What were my goals for the day? I wanted to begin shepherding the congregation through the day's events, and I wanted to do so in three ways. First, I wanted to underscore for the congregation the serious responsibility of the pastor. That is why I was so pleased when Mark chose to preach from 2 Timothy. He challenged me to exegete Scripture faithfully and to apply it carefully. It was a sobering experience to be addressed by the man the Lord used to raise me up for the pastorate.
Second, I wanted to emphasize for the church their responsibility. Greg Wills did a terrific job that evening explaining how important it is for the church to be the churchto take the Word and membership seriously. It was a great reminder for me and was instructive for the congregation.
Third, I wanted to explore the relationship between the church and the pastor. This came out most clearly in the panel discussion. We discussed everything from the tenure of pastors to the role of elders to the pressures placed on a pastor's wife.
WHAT WERE THE BENEFITS?
As I look back on this installation day, I notice several unexpected benefits. First, I was able to reflect on God's providence. As I sat under the preaching of my mentors and saw old friends meet new friends, I realized afresh how amazing it is that the Lord took me from Oregon to political life in Washington to seminary in Louisville to a pastorate in Atlanta. I get so lost in the daily routines of pastoral ministry I forget that the Lord has planned my path. He used many individuals over many years to prepare me for this day and the installation services reminded us all of God's oversight. It is difficult for me to put into words what it meant to be gathered with these men who have spoken so clearly into my life. I don't know when or even if that group will be together againat least in the church I serve. But their presence reminded me of God's incredible faithfulness.
Second, the church was encouraged to meet the pastors who influenced me. They appreciated knowing more about my background. They enjoyed witnessing the camaraderie that has been forged over years of shared ministry. They were pleased to know that I had a group of men willing and eager to support me in difficult days. The pastorate can be lonely, and a godly congregation wants to know that its pastor has a place to turn for counsel and guidance. Mount Vernon walked away from the weekend grateful and encouraged to have seen those men who have become co-laborers in gospel ministry with me.
Third, the guests put on a clinic in church leadership. Going into the weekend, I underestimated the utility of the installation services. I had begun to lay a foundation for pastoral ministry in the few months leading up to the installation, but these men poured more concrete in one day than I could have in several weeks. The weekend effectively became a mini-conference on gospel-centered church life. Mount Vernon encountered many of the themes I intend to return to repeatedly: the centrality of the Word, the importance of preaching, the value of discipleship, and the necessity of evangelism. I was amazed at how well the discussions and sermons laid a foundation for biblical pastoral ministry and church life.
Setting apart pastors for the work of shepherding is nothing new. In 1794, Thomas Baldwin, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Boston, delivered an ordination sermon for a young man by the name of David Leonard, a sermon very similar to the one I received.The work of the ministry, Baldwin preached, "is principally contained in the solemn charge . . . Preach the Word." After describing the responsibility of the pastor, he urged young Leonard to be bold:
The faithful minister will keep back nothing that might be profitable to his hearers; he will not shun to declare the whole counsel of God . . . He will preach Christ crucified, as the only foundation of hope; though it should be a stumbling block to some, and foolishness to others.
My prayer is that as the early months of my ministry turn into years, I will never fail to preach Christ crucified, and the congregation I serve will never tire of hearing it.
Aaron Menikoff is the senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
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