Armfield Reflects on 30 Years of Ministry

Post a Comment » Written on August 19th, 2009     
Filed under: News
GRAND RAPIDS, MI (August 19, 2009) – When six families seeking to plant Thornapple Covenant Church first asked Steve Armfield to be their pastor, he declined. Four months later, they asked again, and he accepted.

Thirty years later, he is retiring from the church he helped start. Having preached some 1,500 sermons by his own estimate, Armfield will preach his last on August 30.

“That Sunday, I just want to bless the church,” he says.

ArmfieldThe church and Armfield have been blessing each other from the beginning. Even as the church has expanded to an average weekly attendance of 800 people, relationships have continued to deepen.

“You go through the high moments and the low moments together,” Armfield says.

Being at the same church for so long has meant walking through those moments with multiple generations in one family. On Tuesday, he was getting ready to visit a mother and her newborn infant – the mother was the first baby Armfield baptized at the church.

Armfield, who served First Covenant Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, before planting Thornapple, says he and wife, Janet, “never felt the grass was greener someplace else.”

Still, there were the challenges that come with growth as a church and pastor. Armfield now oversees a staff of 20 people, for example.

“We didn’t even have a secretary when we started,” he says, sounding as if he still marvels over the change.

The congregation met for seven years in Pine Ridge Elementary before constructing their building in 1986. They worshiped in a multipurpose space until a sanctuary was added in 1997.

“Of course, everything doesn’t go the way you hope it will,” Armfield adds. “Generally it’s because of my own weaknesses. I’ve had a patient group of people who stood by me.”

Armfield announced a year ago that he was leaving and has been preparing the congregation for the transition. He initially was concerned about making his plans known so far in advance, but says, “It’s been good for the church, and it’s been very good for me.”

SignHe has been helping the church prepare for the transition in a variety of ways, including several preaching series. Last fall, he preached a series with the theme “Generation to Generation” that highlighted biblical stories of one generation passing a blessing to another. Earlier this year, he preached the series “The End is the Beginning” from the Book of Revelation.

The church also has been finding new ways to bless Armfield. Most recently, that has involved baseball. They know well that his passion for the Atlanta Braves is exceeded by few other passions.

“I fell in love with them when I was 10 years old and living in Portland,” he says, laughing and adding that he has no idea why.

The church held a party that began in place of the third worship service and lasted for several hours one Sunday in May. Attendees were encouraged to wear baseball hats, jerseys and T-shirts.

A four-by-eight-foot wood sign was hung from the ceiling and read, in part, “Thanks for being a big league, world champion all star friend, pastor and coach.”

“That sign is going to be a treasure for me,” Armfield says.

In July, the staff surprised him with a trip to Wrigley Field in Chicago to watch the Cubs play the Atlanta Braves. They also accompanied him and wore jerseys that matched the Braves jerseys, except they had “Steve” in place of the team name on the front.

“You can imagine how many baseball stories they’ve heard,” Armfield says. He doesn’t know yet whether the congregation will hear one more August 30.

What he does know, he says, is, “Ministry is a great privilege. I thank God that he called me into ministry.”

Armfield plans to spend several months traveling – and considering how and where God will have serve next.

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