This week at Calvary Baptist Church it was announced that our senior pastor, Al Gilbert, has accepted a position at the North American Mission Board under the leadership of Kevin Ezell. Al will begin his assignment with NAMB in mid-September as the Executive Director of Love Loud, the evangelism arm of the North American Mission Board. Essentially Al will help multiply ministries like our “Love Winston-Salem” initiative and our refugee ministry, and other mercy ministries to neglected neighbors throughout churches in North America. (Click here for the official announcement from NAMB)
It is bittersweet to see Al transition, but as I have told him already – for what its worth, I think it’s the right move. When I came to Calvary as a seminary student in the Calvary School of Pastoral Leadership, Pastor Al and Pastor Will Toburen immediately pulled me in and began investing in my life. These two men have a very special place in my own heart and in the heart of many in our church. They have both shaped my own life and ministry in ways they may never fully know. As for Pastor Al specifically, I view him as a “father figure” in the ministry. Al’s belief in me, his loving support, and his timely challenges have been formative and affirming – something that every young pastor needs and few have the opportunity to receive.
So I offer these thoughts in honor of my pastor and friend Al Gilbert, for what he has meant to me personally in the 5 years that I have been at Calvary. I also offer these thoughts to encourage him in this exciting, yet emotional time of transition.
First, as I reflect on our relationship over the past few years I am very appreciative of Al’s friendship. There have been times where I have come to him vulnerable about personal struggles, there have been many times where we have had good belly laughs, there have been times where we have had disagreements, times when we have shared fellowship over a meal, and there have been times when we have cried together. I can say that in all those situations I have always walked away knowing that Al loved me, cares for my soul, and wanted to see the best for me. Or as he has often joked, “God loves you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life.” Our relationship is something that I will treasure, and make every effort to continue.
Second, as Paul was to Timothy – Al has been to me and many of us young pastors through the years. Al has placed us in leadership positions, “platformed” us, and given us chances to grow into our ministry roles. For his belief in preparing the next generation I am deeply grateful. Personally, both Al and Will have walked with me through some important times in my own life. They both performed my wedding ceremony, lead my ordination service, and have become not only great mentors but great friends. As Al transitions it will be different not seeing him on a regular basis, but I look forward to how God is going to use him in the life of our convention.
Third, as for Al’s hobby as an amateur linguist – I smile. Al has invented at least one word that I know of – “supronomy” (You can ask him what it means, it’s a play off of one of J.I. Packer’s lines in a book.) It’s not officially recognized as an actual word yet, but many of us use it as if it was. We joke with Al about his love of words. But there is an important side of it also. There are some “ministry shaping” words that are imprinted on my mind because of Al – “panta ta ethnos”, “ethos” (If I can think of one just one more “e”…). I have taken Al’s quips, comments, and antidotes to heart, even when they are alliterated or corny. Sorry Al, I had to say it.
Forth, in his ministry at Calvary, Al has truly emphasized missions and multiplication in a way that has “lengthened and strengthened” us as a church. Under Al’s leadership and support our international mission efforts, our local mission efforts, our efforts to start new campuses have become part of the Calvary “DNA”. Many of us have heard Pastor Al’s benchmark sermon on God’s plan for proclaiming Christ to all peoples, a sermon that I once overheard Al Mohler recite “point for point” years after he heard it preached. The three points are simple, memorable, and provide a concise picture of Al’s love for seeing the people of God reach others for Jesus. The “ABC’s of the Great Commission” are – A is for “All peoples”, B is for “Blessing”, C is for “Church”. God has a heart for all peoples. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. Lastly, God has the church for his mission. I have lovingly picked on Al for making the points follow the “ABC” pattern, but at the heart of this memorable message is a love for God, and a passion for the church to be on mission – something that Al does not take lightly! Check out his chapter “The Big Picture of the Great Commission” in the book The Great Commission Resurgence. The point is this; I haven’t ever doubted Al’s passion for seeing the church on mission. I have often heard him pray, and teach us as a church to pray, “Lord, I will go anywhere, any time for your glory…and, if it’s not me, it would be a great honor if you would send my children.”
Lastly, Al is a true Southern Baptist statesman. He loves and believes in the Southern Baptist Convention. He has served as a pastor (of small, medium, and large churches – size matters to some people…), he has served at the International Mission Board, he has served on various committee’s in the SBC, delivered the Convention Sermon, and joyfully served on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. These things are all good, but they don’t define Al. Behind all of those great opportunities is a man that truly believes in the efforts of Southern Baptist churches. As a young pastor in the SBC I have learned to see the value of our cooperative efforts – even though I think we have much to work on – because of Al’s willingness to teach me about the SBC, and by taking me along with him to meetings, conventions, events, conferences, meals, and other engagements. This is something other SBC pastors need to put into practice with their younger associates.
These are just some personal thoughts, it helps me process. It is with both tears and a smile that I write this post. Confident that he has prepared our church for this moment by investing in many of us and by sharing his leadership. I have no doubts about the future of Calvary, all things will be well. I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God to bring about his perfect will. We pray for wisdom as we move forward. (You can also pray for our staff) As for Al, he will bring unique experience and perspective to NAMB, and I think he will do a great job. Plus, he already owns plenty of sweater vests, which I hear is the favorite attire of President Ezell.
All joking aside – I rejoice over this opportunity for my pastor. So, one final thought to Al. Pastor, this bittersweet for me. The most important thing for you to hear is that I love you, and will be praying for you as you transition. I’ll be praying that God give you favor as you seek encourage churches to see God’s heart for the neglected neighbor, as you challenge our existing networks, and cast vision to see the gospel spread in North America.