Tomorrow (Saturday) will commemorate 30 years since I packed my family up from our home in Trenton, New Jersey and moved to Southwestern Pennsylvania to a little town of Gibbon Glade to begin my pastoral ministry. It has been a long strange journey and God has taught me many sundry and different lessons on the path of following Jesus. I should’ve known from the beginning that ministry wasn’t going to be what I was expecting it to be. I began my ministry by pastoring two small churches in two very different rural communities. The first warning should have actually occurred even before I began my ministry there. When I went to candidate at one of the two churches in southwestern Pennsylvania they were in the midst of a constitutional revision and wholesale changes. The former pastor had initiated a movement to remove women from leadership in the church. The church had always had women in leadership, in fact the church had been founded by a woman who started a Sunday school class back in the 1940s that eventually grew into Wharton Furnace Union Church. When I went there to candidate I was presented the constitutional proposals as if they had already passed. The problem was that when I visited before beginning my actual ministry I was told by the chairman of the search committee that the proposals had been overwhelmingly rejected by the church family. This meant that when I arrived there I was in the midst of a hornet’s nest of resentment from the people that have worked on the constitutional amendments and on the other hand the ladies who felt slighted by being told they shouldn’t be serving in leadership positions in the church, so much for the so-called honeymoon period of ministry. Shortly after beginning my ministry to these two churches I discovered that the other church that I was pastoring had a long legacy of accepting sexual immorality not only in the church but within people who served in church leadership positions. Wow, what an experience for idealistic pastor with strong views on biblical integrity and personal morality. I also discovered in that church that when the church explodes with growth because people are getting saved and wanting to unite with the church that the people that run things are not necessarily happy about that development. For the first time I experienced the reality of a “family run church” and that anything that threatens the family that’s running the church, including church growth, is not a good thing. This was mind-boggling to me. This ministry was particularly difficult because as a pastor with three growing children even though I pastored two churches we really did not have our own church. Everything that you do in the church I did twice but I was not able to really worship with my kids as I had to run from one church to the other church for all the things going on. We certainly were not part of the family groups that ran the churches. We would actually go to church together as a family on Sunday nights so I could spend time with my children and worshiping the Lord. At Wharton Furnace Church we were able to work through major constitutional revisions that put everything in a proper order including the roles the women should serve in the church. It wasn’t until we did that that I realized the actual level of resentment that was present in the church when I got there. These constitutional changes were a significant help for that church. The Lord very much sustained us through our three years of ministry there. I’m reminded of Jeremiah’s words in the book of Lamentations where he writes: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him,” (Lam. 3:22-24NIV). It was purely by God’s grace that He sustained us through that ministry.
The Lord eventually led us to Central Michigan where I continued in my pastorate in the Church of the Brethren denomination. Before serving the church in Gibbon Glade I had no understanding or knowledge of the Church of the Brethren, what their beliefs and practices were. We were excited about this new beginning and with the change we started our 3 children in a Christian school just 4 miles from our home. Once again we very much experienced pastoring “the family run church” and not being part of the family. But after I had been in central Michigan only a few months I heard the local Christian radio station advertising for a licensed professional counselor. I had earned my Masters degree in counseling while pastoring the two churches in southwestern Pennsylvania. When I applied for the position part-time position I was surprised when I was called for an interview and even more surprised when I was hired to begin counseling 10 to 12 hours a week (SEPT. 1990) through this Christian counseling ministry. When I started in my pastorate in central Michigan I was there less than two weeks when one of the ladies in the church came to talk with me. She was the mother of four boys and her husband only a year earlier had been the moderator of the church and the adult Sunday school teacher. She informed me that her husband was involved with another woman and that they had just had a baby together. Once again, so much for the honeymoon period. As the years went on in my ministry there God began to do a very significant work and taught me many things. I would eventually resign from pastoral ministry and go in the full-time Christian counseling in the fall of 1997.
This was precipitated by some very painful events that happened with our two middle children. But God who began a good work in us is the one who is working out His perfect will. I counseled full-time for 20 months before God called us back into the pastoral ministry at Twining Baptist Church in Northeastern Michigan. I continued to be very involved in counseling ministry as God allowed me to secure a contract with the state of Michigan to counsel with families in the system. This became both a growth experience and part of my outreach ministry. Twining Baptist experienced amazing growth over the first two years of my service there. After the first year we needed to hire someone to work with our youth in the church and after the second year we needed to go to two services as the church had grown in its attendance past the size of our building- in Twining, Michigan! Shortly after that we had issues with the young man that we had hired to work with youth which resulted in him attempting to split the church. Growth in the church was slowed down by this but God continued to work out His perfect will in hearts and lives. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who directs us for His namesake into the paths righteousness. It was there that the pulpit committee of New Durham Chapel found me serving the Lord Jesus Christ in the summer of 2004.
While Saturday commemorates 30 years of full-time Christian service for the Lord Jesus Christ, Sunday commemorates 12 years since we packed up our belonging and loaded them in moving truck and moved to Piscataway, New Jersey where I’ve been serving the Lord Jesus Christ for the last 12 years. It’s funny that the road to Piscataway led through Twining, Michigan. It seemed that I needed to be there to get here. It is amazing in life’s journey how many times the Lord takes our stumbling blocks and turns them into stepping stones, as only He can do if we allow Him to. Maybe the dates September 1986 and September 2004 are insignificant to everyone else. But they are significant to us as we can trace the hand and presence of God in our lives in allowing us to serve Him and to make a difference in many people’s lives over many years and in many different locations. I have always tried to serve the Lord with a whole heart and I’d like to use Paul’s words from Colossians as the challenge to close this blog. Paul writes, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” (Col. 3:17 NIV). The most amazing part of the journey is to experience the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ each week as I prepare His Word to share with God’s people. May all be for God’s glory.
Pastor Rich Sivo