Several of us sat around a table during freshman orientation and talked about preaching. This foreshadowed many of the conversations we would have as undergrad students at Boyce College. At some point the conversation turned to the preacher we would pick to listen to if we could only choose one. This was 2008 and the YRR movement was in its prime, so the expected answers emerged: John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, etc. When my turn came, I sincerely answered, “Honestly, my pastor.” The other brothers paused for a moment and said, “Oh, well, good man.”
This was not an intentional “Jesus Juke” or expression of self-righteousness. I enjoyed the occasional podcast sermon as much as anyone, but my past experience left me with only one answer: Joe Buchanan, pastor of First Baptist Church, Metropolis, IL. Joe may not have possessed the gifts, influence, or platform as those other men, but Joe knew my name. He prayed for me regularly, had me in his home, and talked to me about ministry over lunch. Joe was not a mere preacher whose content I streamed, he was the preacher who served me as a shepherd.
It was the investment of this ordinary, unknown pastor that changed the trajectory of my life. He accepted the call to pastor FBC, Metropolis just before my senior year in high school. I had already expressed an aspiration for ministry, but it did not develop with passion until I met Joe. His sermons were common but faithful. They were ordinary yet glorious. As he preached through the Gospel of Mark his first year, it created an appetite for expositional preaching. It was then that I formed the conviction that preaching is essentially reading, explaining, and applying the text of Scripture, centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Many of us would gather around Joe’s kitchen table or back deck every Thursday evening to talk about the Bible, theology, and the church. We began studying the book of Colossians while also reading Wayne McDill’s The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. We read great books like Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, developing convictions and passions about ecclesiology. Eventually, he would require us to write Bible studies, develop sermon outlines, and preach in a controlled environment. He then gave us the opportunity to preach during Sunday evening services. After my final sermon before leaving for Boyce, Joe hugged me before the congregation with tears in his eyes. Hearing public, affirming words through the voice of a tearful pastor was one of the more meaningful moments of my life.
These experiences exemplified Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Ti 2:1–2)
When I gather to shepherd my people, those Thursday nights remain with me. The ecclesiological convictions instilled in me at eighteen are the convictions that are with me still. The philosophy of preaching Joe exemplified to me then is the philosophy I exemplify for my people now. I was reminded of him just this week as I began planning a men’s discipleship group for 2023. So as I plan to gather next year with men from my church to read Mark Dever’s Discipling, I can only hope that one day someone will look back and believe that time with their ordinary, unknown pastor changed their life. Mine certainly did.
Your pastor may not possess the gifts, influence, or platform of a celebrity pastor, but they know your name, pray for you, and shepherd you. They are your pastor, and praise God for that.