I am nervous. In a few weeks, I will have the privilege of returning to the church in which I grew up. I have only been back a couple of times in the last 40 years. After I graduated from high school, my parents moved back to the family farm some 60 miles away, and I went off to college, never to return. With every job change, I moved farther and farther away.

Just recently, the church asked me if I would come back and hold a “meeting.” You had to have grown up in the old-time Baptist church to know what a “meeting” was. It is ironic that after traveling the world, meeting world leaders and heads of tribe and standing before thousands teaching the Bible, I am nervous about going back. But it is to these people that I am indebted. I am nervous.

Many of the people who were there when I was growing up are still attending. I was a young child, and they were high school students or newlyweds. They taught my Sunday school class or led children’s choir. And God used this small and unassuming group to bring my life into focus and clarify His calling. I saw them as giants of the faith, and it would embarrass them to no end if they even knew I thought of them in that way. They were our milkman, an electrician, a printer, a jeweler, an insurance salesman, mothers and grandmothers.

Yes, I am nervous, for these were the ones who followed me with their eyes the day I stepped out and walked down the aisle to surrender to the Gospel ministry. These were the one who laid hands on me and prayed for me when I was licensed and ordained to the ministry. This small group of people were the ones who commissioned me to “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15b). These were the one who spent hours preparing and teaching His Word, so I would be equipped.

Yes, I am nervous, because I don’t think I will do an adequate job of expressing my gratitude for what they did in my life. I am nervous because they will remind me of all the stupid things I did growing up, and that list is extensive. But at the end of the list, they will remind me that they knew long before I did that God had His hand on my life. And with a twinkle in their eyes, they will give me a hug.

I am nervous because I lost the opportunity to thank many of them because they have gone home to be with the Lord. Oh, how I wish I could have had one more time to sit down and tell them how they impacted my life.

I am nervous because my mom and dad, who spent many years serving in this church, died a long time ago, yet their legacy still abounds. There will be many conversations about them, and it will sadden my heart yet encourage my soul.

You see, I grew up in a great church. Not because it had a big building or hundreds of programs. It didn’t have a world-renowned preacher standing at the pulpit each week and drawing crowds. It was a great church because:

  1. The people loved one another as Jesus told us to. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
  2. A spirit of encouragement welcomed you as you entered. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as in fact you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).
  3. They cared for one another: “but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25b, ESV).
  4. They sought to life lives of humility: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5b).
  5. It was a community in which kindness and compassion were the norm” “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32, NIV).

Was it a perfect church? Far from it. But it was a great church.  And if I had to choose between a perfect church and a great church, I would choose a great church every time. After all, once they let me join, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Ours was a church full of sinners saved by the grace of God, imperfect people working together trying to do the perfect will of God. What more could I have asked to have demonstrated in my life?

I am nervous because I get to spend time with the keepers of the kingdom. And it is the keepers who are closest to the heart of God. Thank you, God, for putting me in Calvary Baptist Church, Chillicothe, Mo.