8 years ago I received an email from a Pastor who was letting me know about a unique ministry opportunity at his church. He emailed me to ask me and my (future) wife to consider accepting a position to go on staff as the youth pastor and worship pastor at his church. He told me many things about the church, including the exciting potential in the youth ministry, the direction of the music ministry and the potential for making a difference in many lives. His email sounded incredible, but there was one problem. They wanted to hire a youth pastor near the beginning of the summer, and I had already committed to go work at the Wilds as a counselor for the summer. I decided to reply and thank him for the kind email and let him know that it sounds like they have an exciting ministry and I hope that he finds someone for the job. I explained to him that I had already committed to the Wilds for the summer, and I would not be able to accept a position because of that. He replied and said, we can wait until the end of the summer when you are available, why don’t we meet. I was thrilled. This pastor drove several hours to meet with my girlfriend and I (We were almost engaged, but not yet) in one of the offices at Trinity Baptist College. We sat around a table and talked and had a great time learning about the ministries of Suncoast Baptist Church. It was so exciting that God would show His grace on me by allowing me to be considered for this incredible position. By the end of our meeting Katie and I had a great feeling about visiting Suncoast Baptist Church to determine if this is where the Lord would lead us. To make a long story short, we visited and fell in love with the church. By the end of the summer of 2005, I moved down to Port Charlotte and began serving as the youth and music pastor at Suncoast Baptist Church.
It is hard to believe that almost a decade has gone by since that time. I was just looking through pictures today and I was shocked to see how many people have come into and passed through my life during this time. I am so thankful for so many life long friendships that have been established during my ministry here at Suncoast Baptist Church. One relationship, however, stands out from the rest. That pastor, who sent the email, drove to Jacksonville for an interview, and then hired me to serve under and beside him has become one of the greatest friends and influence in my life.
Chip Keller has been my pastor, friend, mentor, leader, encourager, and father like figure in my life and I could not be more thankful for him and his influence on my life. Pastor Chip has been the kind of leader and pastor who lives in a way that the more you get to know him, the more you respect him and want to be like him. Pastor Chip is a gentle shepherd, a loving and humble example of Jesus Christ, a man of great character with incredible grace and patience.
As a young man fresh out of Bible College, I had many rough edges and Pastor Chip gracefully helped me through many different learning experiences. Pastor Chip has been known as a man who ALWAYS GIVES PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. I must admit, there have been a few times that I have found that frustrating, like the time when we were held up at gun point and Pastor was confident that the gunman just wanted to show us his gun… Ok, maybe He is not that bad, but he definitely gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. Funny how I don’t mind that grace at all, when it is being given to me!
Anyways, I feel like I could go on for a long time and bore all of the readers to death with my respect for Pastor Chip, so I will be quick.
Pastor Chip is a grace-giver. Grace is when you receive something you do not deserve. Pastor Chip has shown more consistent grace into the lives of others than any other person that I have ever met. When I came to Suncoast Baptist Church I did not understand nor appreciate the value of grace. But with 8 years of mistake making under my belt, I have learned this: Grace is precious. It is a precious thing to give, and it is all the more wonderful to receive. When you know that you have been wrong, and you know that you deserve a rebuke, and instead you get a loving hand of grace, it changes your life.
As my family and I decided to accept a position in another ministry, one of the key things that I asked before accepting the position is whether or not the leaders led with grace. It is something that I have grown accustomed to, and something that I want in my life daily. I want to be around people who pour grace out on those that do not deserve it, and I want to be someone who is known as a grace giver. Pastor Chip had many many opportunities over the years to give me a stern talking to, there were many times where I forgot something, or I caused a big problem, or lost my temper and so on… but each time Pastor Chip led with an example of Grace. I am so thankful for his faithful loving Christ-like example of Grace.
By the way, I believe that there is no greater motivation to help someone become better than what they are, than giving grace. I have received much grace over the years and I am better off because of it. I want to be like Pastor Chip, in that I want to be known as a grace-giver.
Thank you Pastor Chip for leading with Grace. I pray that God will always bless my life with a leader like you.
Who are the Grace-Givers in your life?