When David Peterson marked his 40-year anniversary as pastor at First Baptist Church of Land O’Lakes, it was a celebration, indeed.
The tight-knit congregation presented the pastor’s wife, Denise, with 40 roses.
The couple also received an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in the world — and they are planning to visit New Zealand.
It was a time of happiness and renewal.
For the longtime church members, it was a reflection to the time when Peterson arrived.
He was not long out of bible college, already a well-known quantity because he grew up in the church. He was unanimously approved and the previous pastor left abruptly.
“But, if you could’ve heard my first sermon, I don’t think you would’ve predicted I’d be sitting here 40 years later,’’ said Peterson, 67. “I don’t know if anybody would’ve thought I’d made it. I was not an effective speaker. I stuttered and stammered.’’
“That’s absolutely true,’’ said Linda Galster, a church member for more than a half-century. “I think he might have been terrified. A lot of pauses. A lot of words like ‘but’ or ‘and’ … but we have seen him blossom. He has grown into someone who delivers a great message. We absolutely love him.’’
At Hillsborough Community College, Peterson took an English class that required an oral book report.
“l’ll read the book, but I’m not getting up there in front of the class,’’ Peterson told the teacher.
His hands got all clammy. He’d break out in a sweat. He simply wasn’t going to do it.’’
“Then you won’t pass this class,’’ the teacher said.
Peterson shrugged, and he failed the class.
When he felt the call and told his family about his desire to become a pastor, his mother cried because she was overwhelmed by the honor. His brother laughed because he couldn’t visualize an effective presentation from the pulpit.
“I’m living proof that whatever God calls you to do, He’ll give you the grace and strength to do it,’’ Peterson said. “Experience is the greatest teacher. Along the way, I earned three degrees (including doctor of theology from Bob Jones University) and always took courses in public speaking. I tried to improve myself.
“I tried to figure it up. Between Sunday services, morning service, Wednesday nights, Sunday school, weddings and funerals, I have probably spoken an average of five times a week for 40 years. That’s 10,000 occasions of speaking publicly. God has given me the ability to do that.’’
The delivery has improved exponentially.
The message has remained consistent.
Peterson, an introvert, fancies himself as a teacher. He teaches the Bible. That’s his textbook, his playbook, his everything.
“Before I came to the church, I felt like I was reading the Bible in a dark room with a flashlight on,’’ said Susie Perez, a church member for 23 years and a teacher at Land O’ Lakes Christian School on the church grounds. “I couldn’t see the whole picture. When I started listening to his teachings, I felt like somebody turned on the light. I could see the whole Bible at once. He explained things so clearly.’’
“He just seems to know what to say every Sunday,’’ said Paul Little, a church member for 43 years. “It seems like every time he preaches a sermon, he’s talking to me and it’s specifically what I need to hear. Sometimes, I wonder what the other people are there for. But I think they’re probably thinking the same thing. He’s very consistent.’’
Consistent enough to last for 40 years (and longer) when statistics indicate that the average Baptist pastor stays at one church for approximately six years.
“In bible college, I was told to never make a major decision in a crisis or when you’re down or depressed,’’ said Peterson, who has no specific plans for retirement but speculated it could occur within five years. “We went through hard times, very emotional times. There were times I wanted to quit. But I wasn’t going to do that. God led me here. I’m going to stick it out until God moves me. And he never did.’’
“He’s a very approachable man whose whole personality is about being calm and humble,’’ Peterson’s wife said. “That has helped when there’s a problem. There are times when I would’ve said, ‘Let’s go!’ But, when it’s bad, he doesn’t run away. Even when there’s extreme turmoil, when you think it isn’t worth it anymore, when everyone is mad at you, he stays the course. He’s amazing that way.’’
In off-hours, Peterson said he keeps plenty busy with the couple’s five grandchildren. Their son, Stephen, is an attorney with the Cincinnati-based Christian Law Association, and their daughter, Sarah, is a music teacher at the church school.
Peterson also enjoys tinkering with his street rod, a 1932 Ford Roadster with a V-8 engine, that he takes to car shows.
Mostly, though, each day revolves around his congregation, his Bible teachings, helping with spiritual needs and assuring the financial health of the church campus.
“I think people appreciate that he’s a very clear teacher of the word of God,’’ said Peterson’s wife, who added that their 38-year marriage has been about using one partner’s strength to complement the other’s weakness.
“He takes the cookies from the upper shelf and puts them on the bottom shelf so all can partake. He doesn’t teach his opinion or tell all these stories. If you want to learn the Bible, this is where you can come.
“And I think people appreciate who he is. He’s kind. He’s not this bossy, authoritative, domineering person. He has a way of doing things, and it has served him well.’’
For 40 years — and longer.
By Joey Johnston
Published February 03, 2021