How to begin in the pastorate? Patience, patience, patience, Rose says
When a young minister is beginning his first pastorate, Tony Rose said there are two realities that may help him to be patient and avoid finding himself wearing the label "former pastor:" there is the ideal church you desire to have and then there is the church that you have actually been charged to shepherd, and the two rarely are the same.
Rose was elected pastor of LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Ky., more than 16 years ago. When he arrived, the congregation had just been through a difficult season of controversy that arose through the circumstances which had fueled the former pastor's exit. Bitterness and division abounded. There was no theological compass.
Over the years, Rose has patiently preached verse-by-verse exposition from God's Word and has carefully - "Too slow for some," he says - shepherded the flock and watched God bring about change.
It wasn't until 10 years into his tenure, that Rose led the church through its first profound change: a transition to a plurality of pastors. This came after nearly one year of teaching from the pulpit and member forums on the topic.
In 2005, LaGrange built a spacious new worship facility and moved from the building in which it had worshiped since 1895. Upon moving from the old building, the church even reverted to using its original name - LaGrange Baptist Church. It had been called "Dehaven Memorial" for more than 100 years previously.
In between the polity change and the new building, the church handled three difficult discipline cases and, though it had performed church discipline at some point in the past, Rose estimates it had been 60 to 100 years since the last case had come before the body at LaGrange. To many, church discipline was a brand new concept.
What was the key to making these major changes without implosion? Three things, Rose said: God's grace, confidence in the Word and patience on the part of church leadership to allow the first two factors to work within the body.
"We want to have the same church that God wants in His revealed Word, but then we have to back all the way up to where our present church is and shepherd them faithfully from that point," Rose said. "I think there is often a lot of struggle in making change because we want it too fast."
A biblical approach to church discipline, which Rose views as a front-line issue, was pursued only after he had taught carefully on it. Rose said each case has led to others joining LaGrange due to the body's desire to be faithful to Scripture, even the more difficult doctrines.
"Church discipline was a tough, tough thing," Rose said. "But every time, we have had people join because of church discipline. They were visiting our congregation during those times and they had been in congregations where it had been mishandled or nothing was done about (open sin) and they said, ‘This is the kind of church I want to be a part of.' That was a pleasant affirmation from the Lord. There are costs to it, but there are also blessings in it."