Last week I posted a review of 2020 through the articles I posted at Rob Paul | Church Revitalization Resources. As I prepared the article, I thought, “Wow, I am exhausted just reading about last year…” That got me thinking. This entire decade has been exhausting. But it has also been a decade of discovery.
Several years ago, Melanie and I started celebrating the start of the New Year on Eastern Standard Time. Then, as we got older, we started celebrating on Atlantic Standard Time. That’s 10:00 local time. But one year, Melanie discovered that there is a tiny portion of Newfoundland and Labrador that has it’s own time zone. And for them, the new year starts at 9:30 local time! And since we have a Labrador Retriever, we celebrated with his people!
Last night (I am writing this on New Year’s Day 2021) I stayed up until Midnight local time. I wanted to make sure 2020 left like it was supposed to, and I was happy to bid farewell to the second decade of the third millennium! Yes, it was a decade of discovery. But it was also exhausting. Here is a look back.
I should have realized the decade would be filled with challenges from the very beginning. My mom died in February of 2011. When my father died in 1988. I remember having a conversation with my boss at that time. She was offering her sympathy. But she also said that while losing your father is bad, losing your mother is worse. Twenty-three years later, I discovered that she was correct.
Less than three years after becoming the pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, I got to see up close and personal how a small but determined group of church members could almost destroy a local church. And for the first time in twenty-five years of ministry, God clearly told me to walk away. In the summer of 2012, we moved back to our home in Talladega and adjusted to our new normal. Melanie went back to work for the Talladega County Board of Education, and I started what would eventually become Rob Paul Ministries.
After leaving Muscle Shoals we joined Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham. We actually joined in July of 2012. But we truly discovered Shades in 2013. We sang in the choir. I lead the mid-week prayer meeting and Bible study for senior adults. I even got to preach several times on Sunday mornings. Shades has been and continues to be a constant and encouraging part of our journey!
In the early summer of 2014, Melanie and I moved to Louisville, MS where I became the senior pastor of First Baptist Church.I knew that FBC had a troubled history. What I didn’t know were the lessons I would learn about churches in need of revitalization. The two-and-one-half years I served FBC became a crash course in how to (and not to) lead a church to experience revitalization.
First, our son. Then, our daughter. Robert and Amanda’s wedding took place in September of 2014. We traveled to one of our favorite places, Vail, Colorado, with a few close friends and immediate family. It was a beautiful setting. Our family of four became a family of five.
On Christmas Eve of 2014, Brooks asked permission to propose to Emily. The next morning, she said yes! 2015 became a wonderful journey as Mel and Em shopped for dresses, picked out venues, planned a wedding. And in July, I walked my baby girl down the aisle at Shades Mountain Baptist Church. Her mama sang. And our little family of five became a family of seven. I got a son-in-law and a grandson on the same night!
With the exception of grandbabies, those two weddings were the highlight of the decade. I had the privilege of officiating both weddings. I hope I tied the knots tightly!
Shortly before Christmas of 2015, Emily and Brooks shared the amazing news that they were having a baby! And on a Sunday morning in July of 2016, almost one year to the date after I walked her mama down the aisle, Evelyn Dunn invaded our world. Then, one year later, in June of 2017, we welcomed granddaughter number two. Agnes Paul also made her debut on a Sunday. Fitting for the grandkids of a preacher, right! Our family of seven became a family of nine within less than a year. And Doc loves his baby girls!
In March of 2017 I took a group of high school and college students to Brooklyn, NY to work with one of our mission partners. While I was there, my sister-in-law called to tell me that my brother was in the hospital, and they weren’t sure what was wrong. Joe recovered from that incident, but little did I know that six months later, I would preach his funeral. He was my brother, He was my best friend. He was my confidant. As 2017 gave way to 2018, I reflected on our relationship in this article.
Late 2017 was also a time for something new. Taking the lessons I learned over more than two decades of pastoral leadership, I launched this website and church consulting ministry. I also met and had the privilege of serving one of the sweetest group of Christians I have ever known as their transitional pastor.
Since the Fall of 2017 I have written dozens of articles. Consulted with churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. I have also coached and attempted to encourage pastors. I thank God for this ministry!
In 2019, Melanie and I made the decision to move to Birmingham. There was the obvious pull of grandchildren. And Mel really needs to get back in the Alabama Teacher Retirement System. At that point, I had no plans to return to full-time pastoral ministry. But God… And Huffman Baptist Church.
This past year really needs no explanation. But it started really well. In January we welcomed the tenth member of our family with the birth of Brewer Dunn. We have spent afternoons in the park with our children and grandchildren. We have kept each other safe. And now we await the birth of another grandchild sometime in late March.
- Life Happens – The rain falls on the just and the unjust. And there is so much that is out of our control. I am reminded of a lesson from sports: Adapt and overcome.
- Hurting People Hurt People – This one needs no explanation. But it explains a lot!
- Ministry is Hard – harder now than when I started 34 years ago.
- I am Imperfect – I make mistakes. Hopefully, I learn from them. But I am totally imperfect.
- The Importance of Mentors – I’m not sure I would have survived the decade without mentors like Danny Wood and Joe McKeever.
- God Provides – Every. Single. Time.
- God Directs – When I walked away from the church in Muscle Shoals, a friend asked about my plan. I answered, “I don’t have a plan. But I know that God does.”
- You Can Trust The Heart of God – This may be the single most important spiritual lesson I have learned. God works for his glory and my good.
Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving as the senior pastor of Huffman Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries and the work of church revitalization, visit http://robpaul.net