A few weeks ago, New Bedford International Church lost its senior pastor through retirement. Pastor JR Chavier had to step down due to health reasons. I have known JR for many years, and my family attended the same church his dad pastored when we first came to the United States in 1961. I have gotten to know Pastor JR in the past three years better than I have known him in the many years before that.
Not all who call themselves pastor are qualified to serve, because not all have been called by God. The literal translation of the word for pastor in the New Testament means “shepherd.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as a shepherd. Thus the pastor of a church is an under shepherd of The Great Shepherd, with a desire to serve being one of the first qualifications. A pastor is responsible for feeding the flock. It is a spiritual gift to be called by God to be a pastor.
Other qualifications of a pastor is that he must be vigilant; be sober, just, holy, and temperate; be of good behavior; must not be given to much wine; be patient with others; must not be greedy or covetous; not be a novice; be blameless (although none are without faults); given to hospitality; have a good testimony among those who are outside; be the husband of one wife; must rule his house and be the spiritual leader of his family, having his children in submission and with all reverence.
And finally, pastors must also be apt to teach; they must hold fast the faithful word; and they must teach sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers.
(See: 1 Tim 3:2-13; Tit. 1:7-9)
Those who know Pastor JR recognize that he has these qualifications. These qualifications are not optional, so a faithful pastor will meet and follow all these items. In my two plus years as a member of International Church, I have observed a consistency in these areas. I particularly have been observant of the last three items I mentioned.
In these days of increasing apostasy, the retirement of a senior pastor can be one of the most critical moments for a local church. In the last few years I have been at International Church, what I have heard is a pastor preaching the whole council of God: the good news as well as the bad news. I have seen a consistent underlying theme that is at the foundation of Pastor JR’s teaching: that the Bible is God’s inerrant word, that is it our final authority in our faith and practice, and that we must never deviate from its clear teachings. His father taught the same principle for many years. This is one of the legacies that Pastor JR is leaving to the church, and I have no doubt it is a teaching that will be reinforced by Pastor Ramiro.
Pastor JR has taught the word of God without compromise. He has not bowed down to the shifting “winds of doctrine” to catch on to the latest fad, even if doing so would gain favor, or gain more members. He has recognized that a healthy church is not measured in attendance numbers, in membership, in finances, or how many times the church has fellowship gatherings. The measure of the success of a church is by its fruits, resulting from obedience to the Lord and to His word. In faithfully preaching the message of uncompromising obedience to God’s word, he has laid a foundation that is strong and can be built upon. Being a pastor or teacher in the church is a serious responsibility which is taught in Scripture:
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” James 3:1.
Some of you know that three years ago was one of the most difficult times for me and my family. I recall the night I attended an evening service in April 2009, and before service started, I asked Pastor JR if perhaps in the near future, we could get together and discuss my concerns about a movement called the emergent church. Not only did he say yes, but he practically pulled me into his office after the service, along with Almeda, Clay, and Jim, and by the time we finished talking, I was scheduled to speak at the church a few months later about those concerns. He did not care about anything else but to open more eyes to the dangers around them.
I owe a lot more to Pastor JR than can be said here. He has been a source of encouragement and sound advice, and I know there are many others who would echo the same words. He did not choose the expedient things. He chose to do the right thing, and the right thing is to be on the side of God and His word, not on the side of men and popularity. Remember Luke 6:26: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” I have seen a man who has stood firm. He has maintained a standard and set an example that other pastors should emulate.
I have no doubt Pastor JR and Almeda will continue to serve the Lord in a new capacity. It would be a shame if that foundation of biblical certitude were to disappear from this church. I have no doubt it will remain with Pastor Ramiro. But as the church takes steps in the coming months to find a senior pastor, I have a humble word of advice to my fellow members.
It could be that this local church, a church which has stood strong in this community for years, may be at its most critical decision point in its history. The Christian church is under attack more than ever before, and the most dangerous threat is from within. One of the greatest acknowledgements we can give to Pastor JR, is to welcome a new senior pastor who reflects the same level of commitment to God’s word as he has demonstrated. We must select a pastor who is not swayed by the shifting winds of doctrine, but who will make all his teachings and decisions based on the word of God, who will uphold the gospel even at the expense of paying a great price, even at the expense of losing members. We must have a senior pastor whose focus is to faithfully preach the word of God, in season and out of season; who does not take from nor adds to the word; and who tirelessly defends the faith once delivered to the saints. Nothing less will do.
Thank you, Pastor JR, Almeda, Mrs. Chavier, and your children, for your faithful service to the Lord. May God continue to use your gifts to build up the believers, and to bring the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost. God bless you.