MONROE — They say that you can’t go home again. Returning to church is different, perhaps especially so for the Rev. Joseph Byrd.
Last Sunday, Mr. Byrd stood in the pulpit as lead pastor — for the second time — in Monroe, at Stewart Road Christian Ministries Center, 1199 Stewart Rd. This week, the celebration is behind him and Mr. Byrd is back to the business of the church, and moving back into his office and unpacking things.
From 1992 through 2003, Mr. Byrd was the main man at Stewart Road. He saw the church through a major building project, and the congregation almost tripled in size during his tenure, growing to 900 members.
But he was also studying to be a lawyer at the University of Toledo, and after he received his degree, he decided to leave Stewart Road to work at the headquarters of his denomination, the Church of God, in Cleveland, Tenn., and to teach at its school, Lee College. He also spent some time as the county attorney of Bradley County, Tennesseee.
In July, Mr. Byrd was serving as lead pastor of a troubled congregation in Orlando, Fla., which he was helping return to vitality. At a Church of God gathering, he heard that the most recent top minister at Stewart Road, the Rev. Sean O’Neal, had accepted the call to an evangelistic ministry in Baltimore. Mr. Byrd has a high opinion of Pastor O’Neal, and he had sad feelings for his former congregation losing a good minister.
“Pastor Sean’s leaving grieved me in a way,” Mr. Byrd said. “My wife saw that, and she asked if I wanted to go back. I had never thought about it in that whole eight-year period up to that point.”
But that thought and his wife’s encouragement set things in motion.
In the process of discerning whether to return, Mr. Byrd said, “I was very clear to the congregation that we can’t re-create what was done 10 years ago. We committed to the [church] council and the congregation not to relive the past, but move forward.”
The council, the congregation, and the area’s bishop all liked the idea of his return, and Mr. Byrd was appointed as lead pastor. Now that he’s back, he and the congregation know that “the way we did things in the ’90s won’t work today, so it gives me a certain kind of freedom to come in fresh and new.”
“I am clearly a different man” from his earlier years as pastor, he said. “Even my perspective has changed from that time to this. I was in my 30s then, now I’ll be 50 later this year. I can know about my heart and sense of ministry and the character of a leader. Hopefully, those experiences I’ve had in the interim will be enough to take the church to its new chapter.”
What is that chapter?
“My first answer was I don’t really know for sure. The best thing I can say about the future is to talk about where my passion is now. Where I’m at in life, first, is discipling, making disciples. Not just drawing a crowd, but seeing people grow spiritually. This is the great commission of Matthew 28:19, ‘Go and make disciples.’ He doesn’t just say, ‘Go and see people get converted,’ but go and watch people grow in their spiritual life, and watch them become who [Jesus] intended them to be through their conversion.”
Mr. Byrd gives an example of how discipling isn’t easy: “If you’re looking at what Jesus did, it took him a full three years to disciple those first 12.”
In making disciples, Mr. Byrd says, the church is “building people up within the walls of the church to be effective in ministry outside the walls of the church.”
And outside those walls Mr. Byrd, a native Michigander, has returned to a place he loves and people he knows. “Monroe’s got its own unique personality and nature to it,” he said. When he lived in Monroe during his first posting as lead pastor, “the fire department saved my house, I worked with all the funeral directors. There are so many ties and connections with the community and with the church folks.”
Contact TK Barger at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6278.