This Sunday Evening, we will hear from Dr. David Nelson with his sermon, Live Life Forward (2 Peter 3:14-18). Let’s learn a little more about Dr. Nelson and his history with Immanuel:
Tell us your background and history with Immanuel.
I have been a part of IBC since the late ‘50s even before the church moved from Pine Street (read more of Immanuel’s history). Phyllis’ family became part of the church in the early ‘60s, so our families had grown up under Pastors Seume, Toussaint, and Fesmire. We count it a real blessing to have sat under godly preaching while growing during many years of Sunday school and very active youth groups! It was under Seume’s ministry that I began to feel the tug (call) to the pastorate which subsequently guided my life and education. Thankfully, Phyllis, quite separately from me, had felt that she’d like to serve God as a pastor’s wife. Though our families knew each other, we had not met before the late ‘70s. God brought us together at IBC and we were married in 1981. Phyllis has been a faithful, godly and indispensably wise companion throughout our life of ministry. God blessed us with two children, Dave (37) and Rachel (husband-Jay Short) (36).
How have you served the Lord over the past 30 years?
Thirty-three years ago, our young family moved from Richmond to the Philadelphia area to attend seminary and serve as an intern at First Baptist Church of Newtown (now called Grace Point). One-third of my seminary degree came from that active internship where I served in many, and varied ways. Subsequently, in January 1992, God directed us to take the pastorate of The Baptist Church of Perry, in western New York State. Through many years of trial and blessing, we were able to see the church turn around from a generally legalistic church to become a gracious, relational body with love for Jesus Christ. Phyllis and I likewise grew in many ways, grounding our faith in the centrality of the glory of God over all things. John Piper’s saying encapsulates the heart of our ministry: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Along the way (late ‘90s) I had become burdened by the state of converted people. So many who claimed faith did not seem to live it. Where was the effectual change conversion was supposed to bring? Upon expressing this in a phone conversation with my former pastor, he urged me that if I were going to study the subject anyway, I would do well to get a degree in the process. This I did. It has been a profitable study that led to a doctorate from Gorden-Conwell Theological Seminary. It fine-tuned my faith in God and his Word and benefitted the church as well. Several years ago we began to feel that our work at BCP was nearing an end and that it would be profitable to the gospel for me to pass the baton to the next pastor. By God’s grace we were able to leave the church with a healthy unity in Christ and a good pastor to lead them further down the path we had begun.
What does semi-retirement mean for a pastor?
I can say only what it means for me. First. I don’t look at what I’m doing as retirement, but only that we resigned (affably) from one ministry in order to rest (for a short time) before returning to further ministry. Second. Without knowing exactly what is next (God always knows) our thought is that we would like to remain in some form of ministry though in a different place and perhaps at a different pace. In a real sense, one never “retires” from ministry altogether. Third. Rest, like labor, if done in a godly way, restores the soul and finds its grounding in faith that trusts God in quiet as well as in work. Lastly, I plan to do some writing.
What advice would you share with a church after a lifetime of ministry?
First. Ensure that the main thing IS the main thing! I know, that sounds so cliche! But it is not! It’s absolutely critical to a happy, God-fulfilling life. To glorify God BY enjoying him forever is the sine qua non of the Christian’s purpose. All things must emanate from this pursuit, whether it’s work or witness or worship. Second, Pray. Pray privately. Pray corporately. Be so intent on prayer that other things in life might suffer in order to give time to prayer! I often said something to the effect that “prayer is the engine that drives the church.” And if that is true, then how will the church move forward on the right basis unless they pray? Further, if prayer is essentially communion with God, then it is natural for us to enjoy the privilege of such a beautiful union. Third. God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Soak in it until it becomes who you are. Aim to become something of what Spurgeon said of John Bunyan, viz., that he knew the Bible so well, that his very blood ran bibline. Prick him anywhere and out flowed Bible! Many things happen in our lives and in our churches, so if we get these things right, all other things will fall into place. In sum, a lifetime of ministry has reinforced the basics, the ABC’s of Christianity!