The pastors who inspire me…
I need to begin this with an asterisk because so many pastors have inspired me, and I don't have enough time or writing skills to explain them all. But I can give you are a brief synopsis of my background in the church and faith, so it will provide you with a better understanding of why these pastors matter to me.
When I was a young warthog, I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade. I had the opportunity to grow up in a pastor's household where my father and mother were pastors. FYI that has significant pluses and significant downfalls. One of the pluses was that I had a biblical teaching and theology class every day. I got to hear the Word of God from the beginning of faith and parents to help guide me in questions I had. The downfall is I couldn't do some things other kids got to, and I saw the church in a bad light. People who would raise their hand in church praising God turned around and raised their hand against their wives. I saw how "holy" people could be so evil and divisive. So, in short, I had a great family and church, but I saw the wrong side of church early—enough of the depressing stuff. Let's move on.
When I was a teen, I wanted nothing to do with the church and had lost faith in the church. There were people that I now see God put in my path that helped me along the way and have helped shape who I am as a pastor.
I didn't have a close relationship with Gary or profound theological moments that shaped my faith. He was someone that God had at the right place and time to speak to me. You see, Gary was the Chaplain at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, where I went to college. He was someone I heard almost three times a week speak in chapel that we had to go to in college. Sadly, they don't do that anymore, but they do some great things still. Gary was preaching one day, and he had no idea who I was, except I was the random college student who shaved his head and shaved MVNU into his head. He was speaking, and at one moment, he said this phrase, "If you are a pastor’s kid here today and the church has hurt you… I'm sorry." Seriously that hit me in the gut like a bag of rocks. He was going off-script, and I was awake during this part of the service (no judging me). What he said was so honest and direct, it hit me at the core. You see, I wasn't in pastoral ministry; I was a criminal justice major as I disliked the church and everything it was, but what he said revealed to me it was not the church I was mad at but sin nature of the heart. The church is beautiful and God-ordained, but people are flawed and can take something holy and corrupt it. I realized my anger was misplaced at the church and should have been toward the sinful actions of the specific people. When I received my call, I wanted to be a pastor that would be transparent and lead churches to transparency and speak to help people find healing and reconciliation as my basis of teaching. I'm thankful God used Gary Sivewright to talk about reconciliation on that day to me.
When I began as a pastoral ministry major at MVNU, I wanted to find a place to intern and have a hands-on approach to ministry. I learn better by being thrown into something. So, I found a church called Fredericktown Freewill Baptist Church that had a flyer on the ministry board at MVNU but no one was interested in interning there. I called and had the pleasure of meeting Aaron Boggs, who at that moment was one of the youngest pastors I had met. He was a businessman who was bi-vocational at the church. He taught me that small churches could have a strong community and be effective in their communities. I wasn't there long, but my friendships from there still last.
My first full-time ministry job was at Highpoint Nazarene Church, and it was a time of some big things- getting married, buying a house, first full-time job, first dog (he was the spawn of Satan). As a young minister, I was still rough around the edges even though I grew up in the church. Being a pastor is a different role than I was accustomed to. While I was at Highpoint, we had some incredible high moments and some challenging moments. Kevin Seymour taught me how preaching could be more than just head knowledge but heartfelt and engaging which is essential to the church.
Before I was at Fairview Village, I had learned how community and preaching could transform the church. Still, at Fairview Village, I was able to learn something new. I had the opportunity to see how a church can function from the structure and formulate a business plan that will keep the church running. Some people think that the church shouldn't be run as a business, and some believe the church should be run just like one. I feel a healthy mix is what the church needs to have. My view of staff meetings to reports and how to view finances in the church was formed at Fairview Village under Dave Bennett. He was one of the biggest influences of my life and someone I hold dear to my heart. Just don't let him know that, lol.
When I began my first lead pastorate, I was at a church where many struggles were happening. On my first Sunday there, I will never forget talking to the treasurer about how we didn't have money, but we affirmed God will provide, and one day, we would look back and laugh at where God brought us out of. After our first Sunday, I walked into my house and told my wife there was a good possibility we would close the church in three months. This was after we left a solid church at Fairview Village and followed the spirit of God calling us. Well, I went to a pastor's breakfast on the Tuesday after my first Sunday and had breakfast with a pastor named Phil Bower, who I grew up loving, and he was the real deal as a man of God. I told him about the church's struggles and how I felt like I made a mistake coming to WV. He stopped me and looked me straight in the face, and said, "Stop whining and follow your calling and trust God." I needed that at that moment. He became someone I enjoyed listening to and learning from. The day the church paid its massive debt off, I drove to his church to tell him. And his response to me was, "Aren't you glad you stopped whining and followed your calling." I am thankful for Phil, who reminded me of my calling as a pastor and helped me realize that ministry will not always be easy, but my calling isn't just for the good times but also the rough times. He taught me that. Phil recently passed. Heaven gained a saint.
I can't leave out the most important role model in my life, not just as a pastor but as a human being. There have been many moments I have called my dad and said, "I want to burn the church down." And he has to walk me away from my emotions and into understanding. Sometimes as a pastor, people will hurt you, and they will let you down. Sometimes I do the same, and I have set up an accountability system to help me out, but it still hurts when you receive it. Having a father that understands the hardships of ministry and church is the most incredible tool and resource a pastor can ask for. He has helped me walk through some difficult moments of ministry and celebrate the highs of ministry. All while he spoils my children. I have learned from Sonny Williams that practicing what you preach is so important. You won't find a pastor who can back that up more than him.
There are so many more pastors I would love to acknowledge, but if you’re reading this and happen to be a pastor, then most likely you have helped shape and form me as a pastor, and for that, I truly am thankful for you.
Grace & Peace,
Rev. Abraham Williams