Rumor has it it is pastor appreciation month. Kind of makes writing about it awkward when you are a pastor. But even pastors have pastors so they need to give appreciation too. So I will try (emphasis on “try”) to express my gratitude to my pastor, Dr. Donald Shirk; a man I have followed joyfully now for 22 years.
Our relationship began with him telling me, “Go to hell.” A rather auspicious start to what has become a 22 year relationship. But context is everything they say. And so it is. The “context” was my first ever visit to a church and his first words of a message that taught about a place called hell. I was shaken, Holy Spirit shaken. God had begun putting a spark of eternal life in me with questions of heaven, the afterlife and who just was this Christ who died and rose again. I knew nothing of these matters, but I had just met a man, who as far as I knew had the answers.
A few short days later I called him on behalf of my wife and myself to ask if he could answer some questions we had. March 19, 1991, just 9 days after that sermon on hell; he shared with my wife and I in our living room how to go to heaven. Pastor Shirk led my wife and I to the Lord that Tuesday. He explained how we were sinners (something we pretty much already knew!) and were in need of the grace of God found only in Jesus. Salvation was simple. Believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the grave as the triumphant substitution on our behalf and then confess with our mouths to God that we need His forgiveness and take His Son as our Savior. The weight of the world came off my shoulders that day because of the faithful preaching and witnessing of Pastor Shirk. I am going to heaven because of him. Let me repeat that, I am going to heaven because of him. Now I know full well that “salvation is of the Lord” and some other person could have shared these truths with me, but all that matters to me is he did! Now my eternity is settled. No other gift, no other words of wisdom, no other favor can ever be greater than giving another the gospel. Thank you Pastor Shirk!
But… being a pastor just begins there. I cannot count how many ridiculous questions I must have asked him. How many heresies I must have committed in our early conversations. How often I must have tried his patience. The reason I cannot count is because he never let on that I did any of those things. He was ever patient in his teaching. Thank you Pastor Shirk!
He saw something in me that altered the course of my life. He saw God working in me. Good pastors see those kinds of things. He had the sanctified guts to let me be a youth leader and share Wednesday night devotionals. (Good thing those have become long lost recordings!) He opened my eyes to serving and challenged me to step up to the plate and swing (I’ve heard that somewhere?). He gave me the chance to explore my spiritual gifts. Thank you Pastor Shirk!
He became a friend. By friend I mean in the sense of spending time together. He asked me to teach him how to golf. It was his humility that allowed him the spiritual teacher and overseer of my soul to learn from me, the golf instructor. Man, what good times we had on the golf course. God was forging our relationship for the times ahead. Thank you Pastor Shirk!
Oh, and what times God had in store for us. We began to discuss me becoming a pastor. We had heart to heart talks. I became his chairman of deacons. We thought, discussed and prayed about the ministry of Grace month after month year after year. Then came an opportunity for me to be his assistant pastor. But in the providence of God that was to be delayed due to some unsettledness in the congregation. I wanted to be a pastor so bad (but in the wrong way!) that I wept openly in his study as he informed of the delay. This was one of the few times we ever hugged (can I admit this publicly? I mean we are we’re guys after all) and it was in one of the most heart breaking moments of my life. But good pastors are there when you need them, aren’t they? He was a pastor to me even when he had to tell me the hard things. Thank you Pastor Shirk.
For the past 11 years I served by him in the ministry. He is a man of faith, integrity and humility. I have learned ministry (and continue to) from him. I sincerely enjoy coming into our church offices day in and day out knowing I get to serve with him. We just flat out have fun doing what we do (can a pastor say that about ministry?) Oh, and he can almost beat me at golf now. Almost.
I would be remiss in not mentioning his wife, Claudia. What a godly, gracious helpmate she has been to him all these years. A mentor to my wife, just as he was a mentor to me. Another true friend in the ministry and joy to serve with.
Pastor Shirk and I have seen the darkest side of life together and we have seen the glories of God together. We have wept and we have celebrated together. We have admonished each other (although I think it has gone one way more than the other) and we have prayed maybe a thousand times together. He never gave up on me. He has always been humble, consistent and vanilla. He has been my pastor for 22 years now and words fail to express my heart-felt gratitude for his ministry and friendship. Thank you Pastor Shirk.