They say you should never meet your heroes. I worked for mine.
Like so many young people, I was partially discipled by far away authors and YouTube heroes. Unlike so many, I actually met my hero. Better still, I got to work with him. Best yet, this hero really loves Jesus and taught me to do the same.
In August, my pastor and mentor (and The Gospel Coalition Council member) Sam Storms will be retiring from his role as lead pastor of Bridgeway Church here in Oklahoma City. On the occasion of Sam’s retirement—and because it’s always a good exercise to publicly honor those who stay faithful over a long ministry tenure—here are a few reflections on what he’s meant to me.
1. In a world of false dichotomies, Sam is committed to having his cake and eating it too.
Sam taught me that I didn’t have to choose between being enthusiastically expositional and charismatic. This is what first drew me to Sam’s teaching. In Sam Storms, I found a man who was committed to both the functional authority of Scripture and the eager pursuit of spiritual gifts (some use “Word and Spirit” as shorthand for this approach). Sam is Reformed in his soteriology, a Christian Hedonist in his affections, and unapologetically charismatic in his ministry to others. He wrote the book on amillennialism (or, at least, one of the best), and he routinely led a prophetic ministry time at the end of his sermons.
It’s always a good exercise to publicly honor those who stay faithful over a long ministry tenure.
To some, Sam is a walking contradiction. To me, Sam has been a proof of concept. In an evangelical culture often shaped by false dichotomies, Sam has shown me (and many others) that I need not feel pressed to pick between good things. I can be both passionately Reformed and fervently continuationist. I can love both the serious exposition of Scripture and the eager pursuit of prophecy. Sam has exposed the myth of mutual exclusivity.
He has not only demonstrated this on paper. He has also contended for a local church culture that displays the convergence of Word and Spirit. Such an approach requires both wise courage and tenacious intentionality. By God’s grace, Sam has exercised both.
2. In an age of cynicism, Sam is childlike.
When I’m in my 70s, I want to be as youthful and enthusiastic in my faith as Sam Storms.
Over his nearly five decades in ministry, Sam has had countless opportunities to yield to the temptations of cynicism or cold aloofness. Pastoring is often a front-row seat to the darkest moments life has to offer. By God’s grace, 40-plus years of shepherding members through tragedies, moral failures, sinful conflict, and apostasy have not blunted the edge of Sam’s exuberance in Christ.
This is because Sam foregrounds the supremacy of Christ, not just in his preaching but also in his heart’s affections. As a result, Sam prays like God is good and is really listening to his petitions. He shepherds as one who is both a present and future “partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Pet. 5:1). He takes boyish delight in discussing God’s Word. In fact, were it not for the outward marks of aging (sorry, Sam!) you might just mistake his enthusiasm for that of a first-year seminary student.
3. In an age of celebrity, Sam is a local church pastor.
The pride that often accompanies fame is one heck of a drug. An obsession with amassing fans seems to be the undoing of many pastors who gain notoriety. In humble contrast, Sam’s gaze has been set firmly and noticeably on those in his own congregation—those he can truly know, love, and shepherd with care. Yes, many of his works have profoundly benefited faraway sheep, but Sam’s heart is decidedly focused on the local flock over which Chief Shepherd has made him an overseer (1 Pet. 5:2–3).
Sam has loved my family well, caring for us as whole individuals. I never had the impression he was simply interested in my abilities or my ministerial output. He was never too busy to take meaningful pastoral interest in my life.
Sam and Ann Storms have walked with my wife and me through several dark valleys. Last March, Sam concluded a sermon with an admonition that the church pray for couples struggling with infertility. After inviting couples to stand for prayer, Sam walked off the platform and made a beeline to Brit and me (we were both standing). He prayed for us. He really prayed for us. There was passion in his tone and no platitudes in his vocabulary. He prayed as one who loved us deeply and as one who believed that the Lord still does miracles. I can only describe it as fatherly fervor. The next week, we found out Brit was pregnant with our son, Shepherd.
Thank God for the prayers of faithful local church pastors.
Best Kind of Leader
The best kind of leader takes off his robe to wash feet. The best kind of shepherd leads you to the Good Shepherd. The best kind of spiritual father leads you to the Father of Lights. The best kind of friend cuts holes in a thatched roof so you might gain an audience with the Great Physician.
Sam is this kind of leader, shepherd, father in the faith, and friend.
The best kind of shepherd leads you to the Good Shepherd.
I don’t want to eulogize or canonize Sam here (he is neither dead nor perfect). But I do want to honor him, as a son honors a faithful father and as the healed paralytic honors those friends who sawed out a skylight over Jesus’s head.
Honoring one another should be a staple of Christian life together (Rom. 12:10). There are many faithful, honorable pastors, like Sam, who run the race of ministry well. Let us honor and celebrate them, thanking God for the gift of exemplary leaders we can look to, learn from, and follow in the path of long obedience.