A Year to Remember
Michael Mock: June 10, 2019
The Mocks had a life-altering experience. One year ago today, I was ordained and installed as a pastor. Before June 2018, I had been a full-time teacher. I taught for 14 years. I taught mainly high school, but also taught junior high. I taught Spanish, Latin, religion, apologetics, and various Bible classes. And as the years unfolded, I loved that life more and more. I enjoyed my employers, my colleagues, and my students. For years, however, I had the internal call to full-time pastoral ministry, and Cross Creek Presbyterian Church (PCA) agreed with that call and offered me the position of Associate Pastor. It was sad to leave the full-time teaching profession. As sad as it was, however, I knew the Lord was taking us elsewhere, to a different kind of sweetness.
It wasn’t just a full-time teaching job that I had left. I left behind my whole immediate family: Mom, Dad, two sisters and a brother, and nieces and nephews. We left my wife’s parents as well. We left many other relatives: aunts and uncles, Grandma, cousins…and very dear friends. Leaving our church family was rough as well. It hurt (and still does) not being able to hang out with these loved ones, talk, play with the kids, go golfing with my brother, invite my mom over for late-night conversation, and all the rest that comes with living life with those dear to your heart. As supportive as they’ve all been, it is still sad that hugs are harder to come by now. But as sad as it was to leave, I knew (and they knew) that the Lord was taking us elsewhere, to a different kind of sweetness.
And that’s where the sweetness comes in. The Lord brought us to a church family that is intimately familiar with the grief and challenges of absence. We live in a military town. They know transience. They know absence from family. Their children go 6 months or a year without hugging their dad or mom. They found comfort from God and their church family, and it’s that comfort and warmth of spirit that they showed us immediately upon our arrival. I won’t recount all the people and blessings with which they’ve blessed the Mock family. That would require a book-length post. However, I’d like to highlight some things, as I reflect on my first year of pastoral ministry.
Perhaps surprisingly, I want to begin with nature. Arizona is different from North Carolina. Not really an earth-shattering idea, I know, especially since they’re at opposite sides of the country. But that difference has really hit me, and in good way. Maybe I took for granted the flora and fauna of Phoenix, but I’ve been amazed at all the plant and animal life here. Just this morning I was greeted by a cardinal, two squirrels, and a tree frog (that fell from my door and almost landed on my head). We’ve seen an opossum (alive!) in our backyard, squirrels for days, countless bunnies (even had one as a pet for a day before it found its life in the paws of another creature), frogs and toads, neighborhood chickens, the friendly neighborhood feline, Marsha, and even fireflies! And, yes, we’ve also experienced the fallenness of creation in the forms of mosquitoes, strange-looking bugs, and others. And yes, there were some hurricanes along the way, too. The Dogwood trees amaze me, along with all the other colorful foliage. I’ve gained a deeper love for the God of creation as I have beheld his manifold creativity and beauty.
I’ve also seen the care and self-sacrifice of Christ in the other pastor, Joshua Owen, and his family. This was immediate upon our arrival. Literally. Josh and his daughter met us when we finally arrived late to Fayetteville: 11pm. They welcomed us to our new home. They had turned on the lights and gotten the home ready for a tired Mock 7. Our families instantly meshed well, and not in any perfunctory well-he’s-the-other-pastor-so-we-HAVE-to-get-along-with-them way either. I’m speaking of genuine friendship, care, and mutual edification. And that’s been true the whole year. The Mock kids love the Owen kids! We’ve been blessed to hear Josh teach and preach, administer the sacraments, and care for the church. I’ve been blessed by his patiently walking with me through my first year of ministry. I still have some water behind my ears. (And I mean that in the Baptistic sense of the word.) I’m so thankful that the Lord has allowed the Mocks to enjoy the Owens this side of heaven. Would that every family have such a pleasure!
In a similar vein, it’s been a real encouragement working with the Session and Diaconate. Cross Creek’s Elders and Deacons love the church, love sound, biblical teaching, and desire to see Christ’s church grow into the mature stature of Christ. The Deacons have been patient with me as I’ve had to transition from a teacher to a minister (tax laws are different for ministers, and they still baffle me). They’ve sought ways to handle some of my more mundane requests as well. The Elders have been kind, supportive, and patient with me, even as I had to moderate a Session meeting during the illness of Josh. And they’ve loved me by helping solve a problem I’ve had with the Lord’s Supper. (More on that in the next paragraph.) They’ve encouraged me, sought my counsel, and are truly wise, godly, and hard-working men who know themselves to be undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. Would that every church got to know the leadership of Cross Creek!
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the love that I have for the church members of Cross Creek. There are too many names to mention, so for sake of space, I won’t mention anyone by name. But we’ve been blessed beyond measure by the love of Cross Creekers, as I call them. They’ve been warm and supportive of me and my family from the very start. We’ve been welcomed into their homes, blessed by meals, groceries and a functioning vacuum, godly conversation, and authentic friendship. They knew of my military ignorance when they called me to be the Associate Pastor. But they’ve lovingly explained (and re-explained!) important terms, jobs, and the culture of the military that is foreign to me (still foreign now, but a little less so, thanks to them). They’ve been patient with my musical ignorance as well. One Sunday I had picked some difficult songs and did not lead them well, but they joyfully sang to their Lord anyways! They’ve been patient with me as I occasionally choke on the bread for the Lord’s Supper. In fact, the first time I administered the Lord’s Supper, a piece of bread was lodged in my throat, and that bread interrupted my speaking more than once that first time…and a couple times since! Before becoming a pastor, I read a lot of books to help prepare me for the ministry. There is a lot of practical wisdom in those books. But I NEVER would have guessed (nor was I ever warned) that I’d have to struggle to eat the bread without choking! O the simple ways the Lord humbles his servants. (And thanks to the Elders, we’ve gone to a different bread now in part because of their care for me.) The church has supported my teaching and preaching, weekly blog, and has loved my family well. Whenever there’s a new pastor in any church, there’s talk of a honeymoon phase. I’d be a liar if I said we didn’t experience that phase this last year. It’s my prayer that in my ministry, I’ll never look back nostalgically missing the “good ol’ days” at Cross Creek, but that I’ll always see the love, compassion, sacrifice, and care of Christ in his sheep. Would that every church know the Cross Creekers!
Speaking more about the church, I give thanks to God for the Christlike courage of these members. I’ve seen this courage in many ways. They’ve been courageous to seek the Scriptures as God’s authoritative and benevolent direction for their lives. They’re like the Bereans who search the Scriptures to see if things the pastors say are so. They’ve shown courage as they fight to live for Christ. In just 2019, I’ve counseled formally over 50 times, not to mention the informal counsel during all the lunches, coffees, sit-downs, phone calls, emails, and “foyer fellowship.” I’ve been encouraged to see how Cross Creekers care about fighting sin for the glory of God and the purity of the church. In our Covenant Group (like a small group), I’ve seen men and women open up, share their sin and suffering, and urgently cry out for help from God and his people. I’ve also seen their courage in the revival of a pro-life ministry. Some in the church every month faithfully face the opposition that comes with being a voice for the voiceless. Would that we all have similar Christlike courage!
In this last year, we’ve experienced the gamut of emotions. We’ve rejoiced in the many blessings of birth and adoption. We’ve delighted in God’s grace and faithfulness in the covenant sign of baptism. We’ve celebrated with graduates. We’ve congratulated men and women for their military promotions and at change of command ceremonies. We’ve laughed a lot. And we’ve cried. We’ve lamented the remaining sin in our lives and the effect it has on us and others. We’ve had to say goodbye to many military families and singles who were with us for a short but significant time, and now off to other areas. We’ve cried over the many sufferings a church goes through. We’ve even had to say goodbye to one of the dearest members this church has ever known. We said goodbye, grieving with hope, knowing that she’s with the Lord in unceasing worship and joy. We have rejoiced with those who rejoice; and we’ve mourned with those who mourn.
You might get the impression that I think Cross Creek to be the perfect church, especially as I’ve ended most of the preceding paragraphs with “Would that…!” I’m not delusional or starry-eyed. I know the challenges, sins, sufferings, and heartaches that come with pastoral ministry. And Cross Creek is no exception in that regard. We are not a perfect church. There’s sin. There’s suffering. And that’s sad. But the sadness is outweighed beyond measure by the sweetness of our Lord Jesus Christ in and through Cross Creek. Would that every church be a Cross Creek!
P.S. I’d be remiss to the 3000th degree if I did not mention the loving support from my wife, Elizabeth. She has been nothing but supportive. It would take 365 days to mention how much of a blessing she’s been over the last 365 days, as each day was just another day of her self-sacrifice, giving of herself for me: keeping watch over the kids during my late-night Session meetings, having my divided attention as we watch a show and I do a little work on the computer, being a wonderful cook and Covenant Group hostess, inviting people to our home, helping me sort out who’s who and who has which children, encouraging me when I ask her how I taught and preached, and all the million other big and little ways she reminds me of the self-giving of Christ, our Savior. Would that everyone have an Elizabeth! (But you can’t have her; she’s mine!)