In Future Grace, John Piper relates the story of a Church of England pastor, Charles Simeon. In 1782 he was appointed to serve at Trinity Church in Cambridge. He served that congregation for 54 years.
But he was initially appointed to the church against the will of the congregation. They opposed him, not because he was a poor preacher, but because he was evangelical. That is, he believed the Bible and called for people to get saved and to live in holiness and to participate in world evangelization!
For the first twelve years the church members boycotted the Sunday morning services and “locked” their pews. They actually had doors at the ends of the pews in those days. The people who did come to hear the message had to stand or sit in the aisles – for twelve years!
The Unplanned Place and the Unplanned Pace
The average stay of an American pastor is four years, and under far better circumstances than Simeon faced! But he lasted for fifty-four years. As Piper put it, Simeon learned to walk with God “in the unplanned place of obedience…and at the unplanned pace of obedience.” How rare it is in our day for anyone to commit to such permanence. Could it be that the pastors of old had a more biblical view of success and significance? I think so. This is one of many reasons why studying church history is so important for us.
Why would a preacher stay at a church for twelve years while the members boycotted his ministry? Couldn’t he be more useful and productive somewhere else? Simeon had something that a lot of people today don’t. He was not his own, but was bought with a price. He was the Lord’s bondservant. The reason he stayed is because that’s where His Master assigned him. It really didn’t matter if he could have been more useful somewhere else. Simeon was not a free agent or a mercenary. He wasn’t a gun for hire.
Ministry for him was not about making a name for himself. People who serve God in this way can endure hardship and obscurity and find joy in tough or obscure assignments. They seek the approval that comes from God alone.