What’s your story? His will is perfect for my life

I

never thought I’d be a pastor. I’d grown up in a pastor’s home and we moved around Texas. In fact, the first question my wife, Nancy, asked me before we got married was, “Are you going to be a pastor like your dad?” I said, “No, I know what he’s gone through. I’ll work at the church, I’ll serve the Lord there, but I don’t want to be a pastor.” I had a good job that paid well. My intention was to live in Dallas and make money. 

Growing up in a pastor’s home, I thought salvation was a family package. My brothers and I went up at the invitation and I thought we were saved. It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I realized that it’s an individual decision that I had to make. At age 11, I was baptized and came to know the Lord. 

After college I was living in Dallas and doing OK when my dad called me. He said, “What are you doing in Dallas?” I told him, “Well, working and living.” He said, “No, no. What are you doing? Are you going to church? Are you serving?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going to church.” And he says, “Well, what are you doing [at church]?” I said, “I go to Sunday school, I go to the service, to the prayer service.” He said, “But you’re not serving.” And I wasn’t.

He got me in touch with a friend’s son and soon I was teaching a Sunday school class, but still didn’t plan to be a pastor. 

It was a little later, soon after Nancy and I married, that I understood that God did want me to be a pastor. We prayed together about it and soon I was serving as a children’s minister in Grand Prairie. Those children became like our children, and we’ve been blessed to follow some of them through the years. 

After 10 years of that, the pastor said he was going to retire. He asked if I felt the Lord calling me to step into the pastorate in the church. I said, “Well, I would love to serve the Lord in that way.” I told him that it would be up to the Lord first of all, and then the congregation. He brought it up to the congregation and they accepted me as pastor. I had already been ordained, so I became the pastor in 2008. I’ve now been pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Grand Prairie for 15 years—bivocationally at first and then full time.

What’s my story? God is sovereign over my life and His will is perfect for my life. I have to learn not just to accept His will, but to embrace it and walk where He leads me.

The transition went well. We had good attendance, then we saw it increase. So we were thanking God for that, that we were seeing more people coming—more people listening to the message and making decisions. We saw that as God’s approval of what we were doing. 

About two years after becoming the pastor,  in 2010, was when Nancy got a cancer diagnosis. Her mother had died of cancer and now she was facing surgery and treatment for the same disease. Five of her family members got cancer. I think Nancy was the second to be diagnosed and go through treatment. Her mom’s testimony during her fight was strong, and this was an encouragement to Nancy. We saw it as a growing opportunity for ourselves and for our church because our church just teamed up around us and prayed and held us up as she went through all this. 

Nancy had some difficulties with her treatment and the Lord worked through that as well. I was amazed also at Nancy’s testimony because right after surgery, I remember one Sunday morning I was getting ready to go to church and my intent was to leave Nancy at home with her niece, who was going to come stay with her. When I went downstairs, Nancy was dressing for church. I said, “What are you doing?” She’s like, “I have to go to church. I have to go to Sunday school.” I said, “No, you don’t. You’re going to stay home.” She said, “No, I already told her [her niece] that I’m going to go to church.” 

It means a lot to the pastor. Yes, it does, and it encouraged me. She constantly encourages me with what the Lord is doing in our lives. Nancy’s doing well now but is working through diabetes. I get concerned about her because she’s the type to say, “No, let’s keep going. I’m OK.”

What’s my story? God is sovereign over my life and His will is perfect for my life. I have to learn not just to accept His will, but to embrace it and walk where He leads me. I think that’s what drives me in the ministry right now—that it’s not what I do, but what the Lord does in spite of me through our church.

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Pastor
Joe Rivera
Primera Iglesia Bautista Grand Prairie
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