Sunday, June 08, 2008

Matt's Messages "10 Things I've Learned in the First 10 Years"

“10 Things I’ve Learned in the First 10 Years”
June 8, 2008

Heather and I have been here now for 10 years. This week, I’m completing my 10th year as your Pastor. My official start date was June 14, 1998.

A whole decade! A lot has changed in those 10 years. Gasoline was $.89 a gallon at the pump at Kwik Fill when we started in 1998!

Here is a pile of all of my monthly planning calendars for the last 10 years. 10 years of appointments, sermons, meetings, events, everything. A LOT has happened in those 10 years!

Since 10 years seemed to me like a big deal, I decided to speak for 3 weeks on “10 Things,” this Sunday, next Sunday, and the next Sunday.

“10 Things: Celebrating 10 Years of Ministry Together.” You and us. Heather was sorry that she couldn’t be here this morning. She is at my Aunt house for a family baby shower for my cousin today. But she wishes that she could be here and will be back next week.

Today: “10 Things I Have Learned in the First 10 Years.”

Now, these are not all of the things that I’ve learned in the first 10 years, and maybe aren’t the 10 most important things that I’ve learned in the first 10 years. But they are the ones that sprang to mind as I prepared to speak to you this morning.

It’s not necessarily that I didn’t know these things before I became you pastor, but being your pastor has given me a deeper awareness and knowledge of them. I’ve experienced them–and that’s the best kind of learning.

Because there are 10, we’ll have to move quickly through each one, though I could talk on and on about each of them.

10 Things I’ve Learned in the First 10 Years.


Psalm 37, verse 4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I’m going to start the story in August of 1997. I was beginning my third year as a seminarian at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

I was also a youth pastor at a great little Bible church in Zion, Illinois. I had had no desire to leave that ministry. I think the people there thought of me as a seminary student who also worked in their church. I thought of myself as a youth pastor that also happened to go to seminary.

But through a chain of events that I won’t go into here, Heather and I became what we called “untethered” to the ministry there at Beach Bible Church. We still loved the people, but we began to think that God had a different ministry for us somewhere else–especially a ministry of preaching and solo-pastoring a church. I was increasingly realizing that I wasn’t cut out for specialization and being a youth-pastor. I was a generalist pastor at heart. A G.P.

So, Heather and I went on a camping trip, across country to my favorite place on God’s Green Earth, Cook Forest State Park near Clarion Pennsylvania. While we were there, Heather and I stopped in a little coffee shop on the main drag in Clarion and dreamed about what God would have for us next.

We joked with one another, “Wouldn’t be great if God would plop us down in a little town in the woods of Pennsylvania somewhere like this? Nah. That would never happen! God probably wants us to live in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa or something.”

Fast forward 6 months. We had continued to pray and to seek God’s will for us, and Trinity provided the next step. In January of 1998, they had all of the EFCA district superintendents come onto campus and meet with prospective pastors about job openings in their districts.

That weekend, we met a phenomenal man named LeRoy Glover. And he was district superintendent of a little district that encompassed the eastern half of Ohio (where I’m from) and the western half of Pennsylvania where Cook Forest is.

And he had 7 churches with openings! And LeRoy said that he would give our information to the search committees, including one in a place I’d never heard of Lanse, Pennsylvania. The search committee’s chairman there was a man named Wallace Kephart.

And that started an amazing relationship!

You know, a year later, Heather and I left our home in August and drove to Cook Forest and sat in that same coffee shop–it only took a hour and a half to get there! God had plopped us down in the middle of Penn’s Woods!

He gives us the desires of our hearts. Notice what the verse actually says though.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your hearts.”

If my delight is in the Lord, what will I really want? I’ll want Him and what He wants!

Another gift God gave us was in the character of this church. I had a prayer-list of 7 items that I was looking for in a church to serve.

Listen to this list:

1. A place with potential.

2. A place that can support a full-time pastor and family financially (though not extravagantly).

3. A place that is evangelical (not fundamentalist nor liberal).

4. A place that is somewhat interested in creativity and innovation.

5. A place with a high-view of Scripture. (Central to church life.)

6. A place with a small-town, small suburban, or rural feel.

7. A place that is excited about Heather and I.

God gave us all 7 of those in you! All 7!

Here’s the letter that George Leathers wrote me dated April 28, 1998:

“Dear Mr. Mitchell, On April 26, 1998, the congregation of the Lanse Evangelical Free Church, Lanse Pa. Voted by a 94% margin to call you, Matthew C. Mitchell, to be senior pastor of the church. We praise the Lord for His faithfulness, and look forward with anticipation, having you and Heather ministering with us...We pray that as you come to Lanse that God will be glorified and that we will have a wonderful experience, serving the Lord in Lanse, Pa. Sincerely, George Leathers, Chairman.”

There have been times along the way when I’ve thought about leaving Lanse Free Church. Sometimes things aren’t as exciting as others. And my desires have changed at times.

But I have come back again and again to the sense of call I had when we came to candidate in April of 1998. I remember in the middle of meeting everyone and interviewing and so on going for a long walk in the rain in some State gamelands. And being assured personally by Lord, my Delight, that this is where He had for us to be.


In Psalm 16, David says about his situation, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

That’s how I feel about being situated here. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places!

I never would have known how sweet it is to be loved by a church family like you if I hadn’t experienced it these last 10 years.

You have been so loving and caring for me and my family.

When we first arrived, there was a group of you who helped us moved in. I remember Bea and Vera there with a basket of food and cleaning supplies provided by the church. You helped us get our first rental house up in Bigler and find things and made us feel right at home.

You have rejoiced with the births of each of our children and taken care of us when we are sick. You’ve done babysitting and watched out for us and appreciated us in October every year.

You’ve paid me a generous salary that has allowed us to do something financially that I didn’t expect to be able to do, including build our own home! You’ve given us big and little gifts like a shed and work-days on our property and our big dining room table!

And you’ve given me time off for vacations, conferences, classes, and last year even a mini-sabbatical that helped me to recharge at a significant point.

I could go on and on and on and on and on about how your have loved me and Heather and our family. If I’m the shepherd, you’ve been very loyal and loving sheep!

1 Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’”

You’ve treated me like an Ox! And I mean that as a good thing! You’ve provided me with double honor, and I’m grateful.

Let me tell one story to illustrate this.

We moved into our new house (which is another story of God’s giving us our desires and also changing them along the way) in February of 2002.

On Saturday morning February 9th, we woke up and got dressed and then out of nowhere a SWAT Team of Lanse Free Church people swooped down at our house in Bigler and carried off all of our stuff to Lanse!

There was like 15 pick-up trucks came in and out and took the stuff up to our new house–where a team of ladies started putting the things away!

We moved everything in 3 hours and it was livable by the time I left Bigler and got to Lanse!

One of the last things to go was the piano. Anyone remember this?

We got it into the back of the pickup truck, but we couldn’t get the tailgate up. So, someone had to sit in the bed of the truck to watch over the piano as it went up and down those hills on the Cut-Off. Guess who did it?

Blair Murray. And Heather was all worried about and she still remembers being at our new place in Lanse and hearing the truck pull in with Blair playing away at the keys!

What a sight!

Thank you for loving us. How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You!

We saw this very clearly in another way with #3.


We hadn’t been here a whole year when we lost our first child.

Heather was 6 months along when we went to district conference and we realized taht the baby wasn’t moving any more.

I still remember everything from that night, the drive the in rain to the emergency room, the wailing and sobbing, the drive home in the light April snow, going to Centre Community Hospital, giving birth, holding her in our arms.

That is the worst thing that every happened to far.

And you folks loved us through it. You brought meals, you listened, you gave us space, you cared for us, you walked through it with us.

But even more importantly, God loved us through it. We learned the deepest truth of Romans 8:32 (remember that I preached on Romans 8:32 just a week after Charis was born?).

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

He will!

We can count on it. God gave up Jesus. How could He fail to give us everything else for our good? Even the worst things. He won’t fail. He will give us all things.

We have learned that in the hard times. We have, as a whole church, haven’t we?

You all have gone through hard times. If you haven’t, just wait, it’s coming.

But God is faithful in those hard times!


I didn’t know how much I could fall in love with a group of people.

Paul said to the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you...” He said, “ you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.”

I am learning what that means.

We have thoroughly loved being a part of your lives. Visiting in your homes. As you probably know, I love to visit. If you’d like me to visit you, just let me know. I’ve been in most of your homes, but I’d like to be in all of them at some point.

It’s been a privilege to eat at your tables and have you at ours.

To be present at births and be involved in weddings.

To counsel you in hard times.

I haven’t always loved you like I should. I have failed to love you in specific ways.

I know that I’ve missed opportunities to actively love you, but I’m thankful for all of the ones that I’ve been able to take advantage of.

One of the newest ways that I want to grow in my love for you is in trying my hand at firearms and hunting.

Believe it or not, Heather and I both passed our Hunter’s Safety Course last weekend!

We are now safe! We’ll have to see if we’re effective!

Paul says that he daily feels the pressure of his concern for all of the churches in his care. He says, “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

I know a little bit of what he’s talking about. I care when you are hurting. And I care when you are sinning.

One of the hardest things for me is to see some of you make foolish choices and walk away from God’s best for you. It makes me burn inside.

Love can be a painful thing.

I didn’t know how much a pastor can really love a church. And now I do.

And I’m glad I do. I love you.

That brings us to #5.


Pastors can get the idea that it’s all about us, and it’s all about building our kingdom.

Now, it is all about His kingdom! And we are supposed to be bear fruit.

But that doesn’t always mean that churches grow and grow and grow numerically.

In a demographic like ours, without that many jobs, just staying the same size church and growing a little bit each year is fruitfulness–especially if people are coming to Christ.

Success in pastoring is being faithful to my calling.

I define my role in pastoring as Preaching the Word, Equipping the Saints, and Shepherding the Flock. Some of you were in that first Sunday School Class that I taught back on April 18, 1998 when I taught about what a pastor does while I was candidating here.

Preach the Word, Equip the Saints, Shepherd the Flock.

I’ll be honest. Sometimes, I envy those who have large churches, large staffs, and other opportunities. That sometimes looks “successful.” But God has called me to be faithful. And leave the “success” up to Him.

He promises this in 1 Peter 5–“Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

That’s success! Which goes along with #6.


We’ve been learning about how the church is a “Body.” And the body needs to work together as a team.

My favorite story about this is Wild West Day–July 28, 2001.

How many were here for Wild West Day?

How many don’t know what it was?

On July 28, 2001, our little church of about 120 people had a western fair for the community–a FREE western fair for the community and had 1200 people show up!

10 times the size of our church family!

Over 1,000 guests, 1,200 hot-dogs consumed, 416 families contacted, 375 JESUS Videos given out, 156 Gospel-Bracelets, and who knows how many SNO-CONES?

It was awesome.

And I think the most awesome thing about it was that we all worked together for it.

Nobody stayed at home. Nobody said, “I’ll let someone else do it.” Nobody kept their gifts to themselves. Everybody chipped in.

And we did something BIG that touched our community for eternity.

When it was all over, I preached from Psalm 133. Aaron’s Oil Beard.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon [big mountain] were falling on Mount Zion [little mountain drenched and refreshed]. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Who Good and Pleasant It is to Work as a Team In Ministry.

I love the fact that this is not Matt Mitchell’s church and Matt Mitchell’s ministry. This is our church and our ministry together.

I am thankful for all that all of you do–especially our board. I’m thankful for the team approach that our board takes in ministry.

It is good and pleasant and holy like Aaron’s oily beard!

Of course, that has a flip side, too. #7


It has not always been easy in these last 10 years. Don’t get me wrong. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, but that doesn’t mean that every step has been easy.

Before I came, I had 2 main worries about full time pastoral ministry.

First, could I really get a sermon done in a week? I had always had more time to prepare sermons before I became a pastor.

Could I do it week in and week out? I have learned that I can do it. I’ve now preached over 400 sermons here, and probably 500 when you add up guest preaching opportunities.

But the other thing I was worried about was whether or not I could handle church conflicts or if it would be too much for me.

I have handled them. We haven’t had very many because we are very focused on unity here. But we have had a number of them.

There is nothing harder in ministry, than when folks leave the church because of a conflict between Christians.

I’ve lost a lot of sleep over folks that have disagreed or gotten mad or gossiped or fought with me or other Christians.

There was a patch of about a year and half when 19 adults left the church. Not together. In my time, we haven’t had a split, but 19 adults for various reasons had a problem with (primarily) me. And that was incredibly difficult.

I’m so thankful for the training that we’ve received from Peacemaker Ministries about how to respond to conflict biblically. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

I do know that I’ve been responsible for some of the conflicts.

There was a patch of about 6 months when I had a list of people that I need to ask forgiveness from. You might have been on my list.

It took me 6 months to reach all of them and ask for forgiveness.

Thank you to those who gave it to me.

I know that I have to keep on working at biblical peace-making and biblical unity so that our church family continues to experience the blessing of God.

That leads me to #8.

I’ve learned #8. HOW BIG A SINNER I REALLY AM.

I think that I’m called to be a pastor because I need more time in the Bible weekly than some of you do. I need pastoring for my sanctification.

I never knew that I could be an angry man until Heather came down with mononucleosis and baby Robin decided she didn’t need to sleep any more.

I found out that I am an anxious man when things in the JESUS Video Project didn’t go the way I thought they should be. Or when there were disagreements with other leaders about the way we should go.

I found out that I am tempted to laziness and to the fear of man so that I haven’t always led you bold and with vision–preferring a safer, more popular route some times.

I’ve learned that I’m a big sinner.

But thankfully, I have a BIG savior!

I am so thankful for the teaching that came to us from a variety of sources, but most notably from CCEF and teachers like David Powlison and Paul Tripp.

They’ve taught me truckloads more about my heart (the control center of my life) and how I need heart change through the gospel.

God doesn’t just save me and then leave me the same.

He wants to change me into the image of Christ.

Jesus died for that!

This August, I’m going to take 2 weeks to study on the doctoral level with the teachers at CCEF. I’m going to learn more about how to minister to people right where they are and right where they live with the truth of the gospel that changes us!

I can’t wait.

I know that means that I’ll find out even more how big a sinner I am.

And I’m sorry for you that you’ve had to live with the consequences of my failings these last 10 years. Thank you for bearing with me. Help me to grow!

#9 was a real surprise. It shouldn’t have been, but it really was.


I knew that theoretically, but it really comes home when you start leading funerals:

Melvin Fleck.
George Neidrick.
Hilma Nelson.
Raphael Johnson.
Ralph Madden.
June Martin.
Mary Slother.
Violet Shoffner.
Glen Shimel.
Dempsey Kyler.
Squid Coble.
May Smith.
Imilda Shimmel.
Joan Houser.
Mabel Carlson.
Tiny Older.
Della Owens.
Marie Benton.
Alexis Folmar.
Mary Lucas.
Jaden Plisco.
Jean Netterblade.

Everybody eventually dies.

I’m going to do. And so are you.

You might be at my funeral. If so, I want you to sing “In Christ Alone.”

I might be preaching at your funeral. And it may not be long.

It may be a while.

But it is coming.

I’ve been at the hospital and seen suffering.

And I’ve been at the graveside and seen and felt weeping.

Everyone eventually dies.

“[M]an is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Which leads me to #10. I’ve learned #10. HOW BEAUTIFUL AND POWERFUL IS THE CROSS OF CHRIST.

Again and again we come back to the Cross.

The Lord Jesus Christ died to save sinners like you and me.

He was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.

I’ve said it hundreds of times from this pulpit, and Lord-willing, I’ll say it hundreds of times more.

Turn from your sins and trust in the Savior. Believe the Gospel. Receive Jesus and be saved!

The Cross, which was ugly and terrible is actually beautiful and powerful.

I have learned so much by coming back again and again to Calvary.

You and I can be ready for death by putting our faith in His death and His resurrection life.

If you don’t remember anything else from the last 10 years, I pray that you will remember a focus on the Gospel, on the Cross, where the Prince of Glory Died.

I invite you to believe in Christ and His Cross, and Christ alone.

For 10 years that’s been the center of our partnership–the gospel.

And because of it, I can say, as I have for the last 10 years.

“It’s a joy to be your pastor.”


Awesome sermon brother...What a testimony showing us the faithfulness of God and your heart after his....

Stay Strong...

Derek Wadsworth

Thank you Matthew. I have been blessed. Your favorite Mother-in-law