No, not the ice cream. (Although I’ll take a pint of Chunky Monkey if you’re buying)
This Sunday will be our farewell service for the Ben Stewart family, so I want to give my tribute to them here.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Ben’s parents, Gary & Deb Stewart joined CLC. Although they were only part of our church family for about four years (if my memory is accurate). They were and are salt-of-the-earth-kind-of-people that churches can be built on, and were a great blessing here before a job transfer took them to Dallas.
About 17 years ago, as a newly-married couple, Ben and Nili came to Chicago to visit his parents, and attended a Sunday service at CLC. Even though we only had a short conversation after church (maybe 15 minutes), it was one of those ‘instant connections’ and before we parted that day, I asked Ben to contact me if he ever decided to leave Lake Charles, LA where he was a youth pastor.
A few years went by and we reconnected at a pastor’s conference, where I learned that he had left Lake Charles and was now serving a church in Lubbock, Texas. I ‘chastised’ him for not contacting me in advance, and told him again, “if you ever decide to leave Lubbock, please call me – I’m interested in hiring you”.
Same story…a few years later, we saw each other at yet another pastor’s conference where I learned that he was now serving Jesse DuPlantis Ministries in New Orleans, and I almost yelled this time, “I told you to contact me in advance. Please: if you ever decide to leave JDM, please let me know!”
That’s how, in the Fall of 2011, my phone rang and Ben was on the other end, saying, “I don’t know if you were serious, but you told me to call if I sensed a transition coming in ministry – and I do.” It was basically a done deal over the phone (for me, at least), but a few weeks later, he and his family drove to Chicago to look at CLC’s need for an Executive Pastor, and by the end of the year, they were here on location.
This is where words fail to describe the difference they have made. I can honestly say it was the best hiring decision I’ve ever made, as Ben has simply made each member of our team more effective in ministry with his coaching and encouragement. If you’ve been around him for 5 minutes, you know how he genuinely and deeply loves people, and that’s the greatest secret of his success. He has overseen the launch of our latest 2 campuses in Hammond and Blue Island, not only in coaching and developing our pastoral teams there – but he even jumped in physically when we purchased a building in need of rehab at both locations – it seems like there’s practically nothing that Ben can’t do, and do well.
He has made my job so much easier, as he has lifted so much of the day to day load off my shoulders and freed me to focus on the big picture for CLC and spend my time in prayer & the Word. He’s also been my go-to person on a daily basis, providing me with a godly sounding board for all sorts of ideas, affirming those from God and helping me recognize the ones that resulted from bad pizza late at night.
If you can’t tell, I love Pastor Ben and his wonderful wife and their amazing 8 children. I loved him for those 10-12 years I pursued him to join our staff, and I’ve loved him even more since we’ve worked side-by-side these past 5+ years.
It’s going to be hard to say goodbye on Sunday, but not quite as hard as it could be because we’ve already made plans to stay connected and he agrees that he will always be part of our CLC family.
I hope you’ll join me in preparing a love-gift for their family and/or a card or note of your heartfelt appreciation – I know that’ll mean much to them in the days ahead.
See you Sunday!