I preached the Reformation Day services at Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Northville, Michigan (Detroit area), today. My day was quite full, with four services in all. The music and services were all inspiring and well done. Jimmy McGuire, the senior pastor, has become a very good friend that I have come to love and respect. He has served Ward Church for ten years, after a solid twenty-three year pastorate in Jackson, Mississippi. Jimmy has done exceptional work in leading this megachurch into new faciities and then in paying off a thirty million dollar debt in only eight years! A lot of men would have wilted under these pressures and demands.
Simply put, large churches are not easy to pastor, especially if the pastor inherited the leadership of the church after a long and successful pastorate. What it takes is the love of a true shepherd, the skill of a very good preacher, and the adminsitrative ability of a forward thinker to guide a large institution wisely, for a senior pastor to succeed. Ward is an old church, with a good number of younger families.
The pastor who built up this church was the late Dr. Barlett Hess, who was once my wife’s pastor in Cicero, Illinois (Warren Park Presbyterian Church) in her childhood. Hess also had a great influence in the formation of the EPC denomination about twenty-five years ago. The desire was to form a biblically based fellowship of churches that was committed to mission and unity without the spirit of sectarianism so common to newer groups.
Ward was a city church when Hess began to plant a suburban congregation in an undeveloped area west of Detroit many decades ago. In time the newer suburban church grew to become much larger than the city church, requiring Hess to give up the city church so he could serve the larger suburban one. The original Ward Presbyterian Church in Detroit was pastored, before Dr. Hess arrived, by the late Dr. Evan Welsh, former chaplain of Wheaton College. Evan Welsh had a magnificent influence upon my life at Wheaton and beyond, and was one of the two ministers who officiated my marriage to Anita in 1970. So, my ministry today was a trip back to my past in so many ways. The longer I live the more I can clearly see how God faithfully weaves a great story together to demonstrate that his faithfulness and mercy are new every morning.
I love Jimmy McGuire for many reasons. He is self-effacing and down-to-earth. He is kind and Christ-centered. His heart is tender and he is still moved by the ordinary things that should move a pastor’s heart. Jimmy McGuire has chosen to stay focused on the important things in ministry. He avoids silly fights and sectarianism like the plague, wisely steering the flock toward the love of God and mission. I first met him via an article he wrote for the RTS (Reformed Seminary) magazine. I republished that article as, "A Plea for a Softer, Gentler Calvinism." I so shared the burden of that article that I determined to get to know the author if at all possible. This led to our friendship and thus my being here today. Jimmy reminded the congregation this morning that he has lots of friends that he does not ask to preach for him. I am truly honored that he asked me. I pray my Reformation Day messages wil bear true fruit for the work of Christ at Ward Church. I am a blest man to have such friends and to preach in such places.