why I love my church


This is the first day I step off the pastoral staff of Battle Ground Bible Church, but it is also the first day I step onto your mission outreach team. Although the role of my family will change within BGBC, we will still be an outreach arm linked to this church in North Africa.

For the last 6-months I have been thinking about this day. I am reminded of Paul the Apostle’s third missionary journey when he gave his farewell message to the elders at Ephesus [Acts 20:17-38]. I can feel what he feels. I can understand his heart for the church. If I could I would make this my farewell address to my church too.

Paul had little time left to talk to the elders of the church in Ephesus [vs.16-17].

                  I only have one hour left with you.

Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus, which is longer than he spent in anyone place [vs.18,31].

I have spent almost 8 year with you [began September 21, 2003].

Paul wears his emotions on his sleeve. He cares for this church as a shepherd who suffers with his sheep [vs.19,31].

                  I wouldn’t consider myself a stiff board.

Paul was bold in his preaching. He did not hold back [vs.20-21].

                  I did not shrink back either.

Paul leaves Ephesus under the conviction of the Holy Spirit [v.22].

                  I take my family to North Africa by the call of God. Our family is gripped by the glory of God.

Paul anticipates the journey ahead to be difficult and full of trials, but worth the risk [vs.22-23].

                  I know it will not be easy in the desert among the unreached peoples.

Paul views himself as nothing and Christ as everything. Even his ministry is of Christ and for Christ [v.24].

                  I am humbled by the ministry of Christ and ministering for His namesake.

Paul encourages the church to preach the gospel with boldness [vs.25-31].

                  I have sought to protect this church and uphold the doctrine on which it stands.

Paul has worked hard, earned his keep, and challenged the church to give to the mission of Christ [vs.32-35].

                  I have labored hard for you because Christ is my boss.

Paul, not knowing if he would see them again, was sorrowful because he loved their faces [vs.36-38].

                  I know I might not see you soon, but we will see each other again if we are eternal friends!

In summary, Paul is saying to the church in Acts 20, FAITHFULNESS IS WAY BETTER THAN LIFE [vs. 24-25]. As missionary Bill Bentley to Mexico said, “I don’t want make a living, I want to make a [faithful] life.” Faithfulness to my call is far more important than whether I live—whether I live at all or live comfortably. Faithfulness is better than life because the rewards are literally out of this world and God is gracious.

I am grateful that I am not leaving BGBC because of disgruntlement, conflict, joylessness, tiredness, or unfaithfulness. I am leaving BGBC with joyful sorrow because I will severely miss the immediateness fellowship, worship and mutual ministry of this Body of Christ. I have not viewed being a pastor at BGBC as being a job, but a joy. I love my church.

Why I love the church?

1. Jesus sacrificially loves it. [Ephesians 5:25] He built it, established it, died for it, and is still the Head over it.

2. God is glorified through it. [1 Timothy 3:15] He is working out His eternal plan through it.

3. I am a member called to it. [Hebrews 10:24-25] It is the most precious reality on earth [and a glimpse of heaven].

When I first arrived at Battle Ground Bible Church I was 23 years old. I was green. I had just graduated from Bible College. I spent the year before serving in South Africa as a church planting apprenticeship and then served at Montrose Bible Conference for a summer leading evangelism workshops. While at Montrose I had a conversation over lunch with a missionary from Bangladesh named Sam Smoker. We were exchanging funny names churches we had attended. In the course of that conversation he mentioned the name Battle Ground Bible Church. That week I found BGBC’s name on a pastoral search placement list and the rest is history.

Why I love my church?

1. I love the way you have stirred my growth in Christ.

I have grown exponentially since coming to BGBC. Not only have I grown facial hair and a little belly, but also more importantly I have grown up in my faith. That didn’t just happen. Growth doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in a community of likeminded Jesus followers. God designed growth to happen in togetherness. As a church you have stirred me, shaken me, encouraged me, matured me, prepared me, and helped me to want to be more like Jesus Christ.

You have prayed for me. Bore patiently with me. You have prodded me to continue to dig deep into the Word. You have sent me to pastor conferences for spiritual encouragement. You sent me to seminary to continue my education. And now, you are ready to send me oversees as a light for Christ. Thank you for not holding back in stirring my growth. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” [Hebrews 10:24-25]

Your pastors need to be stirred. Thank you for stirring this one!

2. I love your fellowship and deep friendships.

God has used many of you to stir me to love and good works. Like Paul, you have helped guard my heart from carelessness [v.31], shallowness [v.32], covetousness [v.33], laziness [v.34], and selfishness [v.35].

I have been spiritually and physically refreshed from bike rides with Steve “Z”. I have enjoyed friend chicken and birthday cakes with Edith. I look forward to Sunday hugs from motherly Karen O’Leary. Every Tuesday I hunger lunchtime talks with Brent Childs. I will miss slugging bats with Rollie and praying with the sweaty men on my softball team. I will miss random calls and quirky questions from Sheila Norton. I will miss having a secretary like Joyce [aka: boss]. I will miss the ministry of music played by the fingers of Greg and Alana.

I have cherished prayerful cards from Linda Wheat, Arnetta Berenda, and the Turpin’s. I am grateful for the roof top talks with Steve Fry while hammering shingles onto my home. I will miss praying with Granny Dee Marion [and watching how she did not waste her illness]. I have learned how to suffer graciously by watching Charlie Haines. I am blessed by the visual expression of the Zinn’s and Miller’s when the Word of God is preached. And I could go on and on listing VIP’s [Very Important Partners] in this church.

Fellowship is partnership. Partnership is more than just a liking of a sports team, talking about the weather, or ranting about the warts of our church. Fellowship is having a common partnership is what matters the most—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:3-6]

3. I love the great teaching and godly leadership of Pastor Kenny Loehe.

Those who know Kenny know he proclaims the Word of God with boldness. He is not an ear tickler. He does not hold back out of fear of man or a desire to please people. He faithfully and meticulously exegetes the Word of God, and delivers meat that I am forced to gnaw on. Steak is hard to swallow sometimes, but I’d rather chew on steak than suck blended spiritual food out of a straw of baby bottle.

You have expanded my vocabulary. In my Bible I have a list of words that I still need to go to the dictionary for a definition. I have learned how to use the word flagellation and ghastly without sounding boyish. I suppose I will now need to subscribe to Readers Digest and enrich myself with Word Power.

You have also expanded my love for the church, the Word of God, and living a real faith. I have had the privilege of seeing you work from behind closed doors. I have seen you wrestle through sermon preparation trying to apply the truth to your life, your family, and your church family. I have watched you suffer with your people, weep for them, pray over them, losing sleep because of them, and unconditionally loving them [even the difficult ones].

Kenny, I will miss you. You are my pastor. You have been just the pastor I’ve needed. You have shepherded my heart.

4. I love your gracious generosity.

As a pastor, it is humbling to know that the money I have to buy groceries comes from the generosity of faithful givers. You have given above and beyond.

When I first arrived at BGBC, as a single guy, I had nothing to my name other than a few books, a folding chair, and an extra pair of glasses. The church had a pantry party and afterwards I literally had enough boxes of Mac & Cheese to last me through a famine. A few Christmas’ ago an unknown group of people bought me a new wardrobe, a suit coat, neckties, and really sweet Super Man PJ’s. The gifts were individually wrapped with encouraging verses and letters. Each day in December I was able to open a new gift. When Sarah and went to North Africa earlier this year we got news that Emma Lawson was having a bake sale to support our vision trip. We were so blessed that the kids of our church get ministry and Christ’s mission.

The first Sunday Sarah came to visit our church you lovingly encouraged our blossoming relationship. When I asked for her hand in marriage you came alongside us with generous support. When you learned that we were having our first child you showered us with baby clothing, diapers, wet wipes, and other baby goodies. I think we are still working through all the diapers and we have only bought Justus one original outfit.

Your generosity over the years has been overwhelming, but an incredible blessing. I challenge you to continue to be a blessing to the next assistant pastor and his family. As you have blessed me, I would hope you would also bless him. I have bragged about you to Pastor Jeremy and Jen. I am excited to see how you will come alongside them in the days ahead. A generous church is a Jesus-centered church.

5. I love the young people of this church.

Young people keep you real. You cannot hide or fake your spiritual walk around them. I have enjoyed ministering to and being ministered by the teens of our church. Though sometimes they make me want to pull out my hair I have enjoyed praying with many of them through difficult times, discipling them through a critical life stage, and learning the great privilege of partnering with their parents to serve the whole family. It truly takes a church to raise a child!

The student leaders have been a source a spiritual growth for me. Hannah Starrett, Betsy Goodale, Amy Stratton, Brittany Ristau [Scheiner], Debbie Hill [Fights], Greg O’Leary, Andrew Ristau, Emily Ristau, Levi Starrett, Kyle Miller, and Wonho Rhee are just a handful of student leaders that have challenged me to live more like Jesus, love Jesus, and model servant leadership like Jesus. Many of these youth have been a source of spiritual conviction to many adults because of their love for Christ and willingness to serve Him.

The youth leadership team is a family to me. Many of you have served together with me for years. Some since the day I started [i.e. Starrett’s and Norton’s]. You have struggled and suffered alongside the youth teaching, modeling, and discipling them in the truth of the Bible and reaching out to them the gospel. I am incredibly proud of our young people and I know the students and youth leaders will be a blessing to our new assistant pastor.

I love how the church supports and spiritually invests in the youth. I am grateful for the slew of older ladies who faithfully pray over the youth. We never have a shortage of scholarships for retreats or camps. We never have a shortage of homes will to host events or fellowships. We never have a shortage of volunteers willing to pour themselves into the lives of the young people of this church. We never have a shortage of opportunities for our young people to serve in the church [1 Timothy 4:12]. Thank you for loving the youth who are the younger generation of this church. Keep it up and our church will live long into the future.

6. I love your mission-mindedness.

Missions and gospel outreach is in the DNA of BGBC. You love what God is doing globally and are willing to invest locally. You have encouraged and supported the youth of the church to consider short-term missions, which has spurred some to go out or be sent out. Bethany has gone to Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Hannah has a heart to do linguistics work where people have no Word of God. And you have fueled my passion for global gospel outreach. Continue to go, sent, pray to the Lord of the harvest!

7. I love my small group.

The people in our small group are so different, but yet we so much the same. We are all a work in progress that is willing to work hard to help each other be more like Christ. Anand David has blessed me through his passion for Christ and longing to live for him. He asks me hard questions that keep me sharp and vulnerable. I have learned a lot about perseverance from him as he has waited for a godly bride.

It has been a joy to see Brad Kerns and Pete and Brittany Ristau own their faith and explode spiritually as young adults. Both Pete and Brad have move from being boys to being men! Austin & Hannah Mattern have become great new friends. Even though I know little about farming and country living their passion for Jesus has brought life to our group.

Janel Haines has been a rock to both Sarah and me. There is not one person in this church that does more behind the scenes in this church than her. She has her hands in almost every ministry it [i.e. youth ministry, children’s ministry, Children’s church, gardening, VBS, writing cards, prayer support, counseling, and more] and she obviously loves it. Her growth in Christ has been nuclear and the radiation from her spiritual walk has leaked into the lives of many in our church including the Hutts!

8. I love our spiritual leaders [deacons].

I remember the first time I met the leaders of Battle Ground Bible Church. I was sitting across the dinner table with them at The Hour Time. Immediately I had a respect for these men who dedicated themselves to the church. These men absolutely love this church, and they sincerely care about one another. These men have been used by God to trim my young, rough, and thorny branches.

These men have held me accountable through some spiritually challenging days. They have held the frontlines with me—a man who sometimes lacks confidence—helping me gain a backbone. I have appreciated it when they have confronted sin, rebuking at times, and challenging my vision to make sure it meshes with the Word of God and the spiritual direction of the church. These men have certainly stirred me to godliness.

I love meeting with Mike Fights over a tasty breakfast. He is my David and I am his Jonathan. His wear-it-on-your-sleeve kind of love for the Word and God is contagious. Cort Starrett is a software engineer for a living, but he has been used of God to do some hardware engineering on my heart. Cort intimidated me for a long time, until realized he is wired as one who likes to get to the point of matters. Now I want to be like him. I enjoy Phil Kerkoff’s generosity and knack for the practical. Dave Criswell is simply a rock and prayer champion. Gary Elliott and Todd Rice are full of wise insights and keep our long meetings sane. Deacons meetings—though long—have never been a drudge but a delight.

Together, us leaders have walked through some difficult minefields casting vision for the church, while upholding the doctrinal and theological integrity of the church. We have made some decisions that have met opposition. Yet these men would rather stand before God and give an account to him than please man.

I will miss praying over and pouring over Christ’s church with them men. I will miss caring for and coaching our church to be more like Christ with these men. I will miss the bond of brotherhood with these men. By the way these men lead this church they have reminded me that FAITHFULNESS IS BETTER THAN LIFE.

“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem [North Africa], bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more.” [Acts 20:22-25]

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Dave says:

    LOVE IT. Awesome, Justin. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder of how God has blessed us with his church!

  2. rmccutchan says:

    Justin-

    We hate to see you leave.

    We have realized this year how great BGBC is. It is truly a diamond in the rough. We are discovering what you were saying yesterday…….the people at BGBC are INCREDIBLE!, and we love being a part of the family.

    Please keep safe and keep in touch.

    Bob

    1. JT Hutts says:

      Thanks Bob! I am so grateful for a church like BGBC. I have some eternal friendships there. It is great to see you all getting plugged in and joining the family!!
      See you soon!

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