By: David Sheldon
My experience in ministry is certainly much shorter than many but it is also a unique experience. I am serving as the youth pastor at Freedom Baptist Church. What makes this unique is that I grew up in this church. My family has been members here at Freedom since before I was born. I remember growing up here, being saved here, getting baptized here, and being called to ministry here. During college I served as an intern for my former youth pastor, now my senior pastor. When I first tell people that I am serving at my home church, their reaction is always one of two things. Either they immediately think that it was a terrible idea and will never possibly work or they think that it is really neat that God would call me back to my home. To be honest, I was extremely leery of taking this position. I was scared because I had heard horror stories of people who returned to their home church only to be broken and mistreated until they left or quit the ministry altogether. As I am approaching my two year anniversary of being on staff at my home church, I have learned the pros and cons of this decision. In this post, I want to share a few benefits to serving at your home church.
- The church’s trust
One of the hardest parts of ministry is getting adjusted when you are the new guy. Everyone else in the church only has to meet the new pastor, but the new pastor has to meet everyone else in the church. This could be hundreds of people. Furthermore, as a youth pastor, students and parents do not automatically trust you. Before they will ever listen to your sermons or hear your advice, they want to know that you are a guy that they can rely on. Building your relationship with them is a process that can take months or years to achieve.
Coming back to my home church eliminated this problem. I walked into a youth group where I already knew half of the kids. Even though we had never hung out they had seen me around and there was a natural trust. It was easy for me to relate with them because I had grown up in the same schools, had the same teachers, etc. They did not have to get used to an outsider, because I was already on the inside. Within the first few weeks of ministry, students were sharing struggles and parents were asking me to disciple and mentor their teens.
- The church’s history
Having grown up here, I remember Freedom in our old building with our former pastors. I remember the mistakes that rocked our church to the core and I remember the successes that catapulted us forward. Despite being the youngest and newest pastor, I have been here the longer than our lead and associate pastors. I remember Freedom in a way that they cannot.
The reason this is so important is that it brings an element to the staff that not many churches have. Most churches have a change of pastors every few years, whether it be the senior, associate, youth, children’s, or so on. In a span of ten years, it is completely possible to have an all new staff that knows nothing of what it was like just a decade ago. Being able to recall the situations that the church has faced in the past is very valuable in making decisions for the future.
- The church’s love
This final benefit is absolutely huge but sadly, it is not the case for all churches. I am blessed to serve at a church that loves having me here. The people love the idea that a guy who was raised here has become a pastor and is now leading their students towards Jesus. I do not say this to lift myself up but to say that I am the product of effective discipleship. Because Freedom loves me, my wife, and son we are never lacking for encouragement or support. The church has a natural trust and love for one of its own and they are very easy to get on board with your vision.
However, this is not the case for all guys who return to their home church. Many face struggle after struggle that they would not face had they gone elsewhere. If you are faced with the decision to return to your home church, I would encourage you to genuinely ask yourself the question, “will our church love having us there?” If the answer is anything but “yes”, you should probably say “no”. It would be better to go elsewhere and start fresh, than to go home and be crushed. You know your home church. You know it’s flaws and shortcomings. You know whether or not it would be a good decision.
In Part 2, we will look at several cons that I have discovered in returning home.
David Sheldon is currently the student pastor at Freedom Baptist Church in Goldsboro, NC. He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Piedmont International University and is currently pursuing a M.A. in Biblical Studies from the same.