There are perks to what I do. My relationship with Pastor Robert Burnside, whose story is in Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot, led to a meeting with Dave Clark, the event coordinator for Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). I had never heard of the organization until a breakfast was sponsored by CCDA to honor the ministers in my book. While chatting with Dave, he invited me to film comments from conference attendees and write about my experience at their national conference held the second week in September at the New Orleans Hyatt Regency.
Before the conference, I explored CCDA’s website, read Let Justice Roll Down by Dr. John Perkins, one of the original founders of CCDA, and read portions of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I concluded CCDA and its adherents fell in the liberal spectrum of Christianity. I fall in the middle leaning slightly conservative, as do most of the Christians I fellowship with. However, writing the Faith, Beliefs and Spirituality blog on NOLA.com has opened the door for me to interact with Christians of various beliefs as well as Pagans, Atheist, Jews, and Muslims. Regardless of our beliefs, I’ve learned humanity desires the same things: to be loved, accepted, safe and at peace with one another. The culprits that keep us apart and quarreling are usually misinformation and assumptions. I looked forward to viewing Christianity through a different lens at the conference.
I’d heard the term social justice but knew nothing about its concept. During the breakfast Noel Castellanos, the CEO of CCDA, spoke about the heart of God to help the poor. The churches I’ve attended had benevolence funds, and sent missionaries to impoverished nations but did little (that I was aware of) to raise the standard of living in the poor neighborhoods we avoided driving through. I had even experienced resistance to helping the poor. “You are just enabling them to buy drugs and liquor,” some claimed.
The original three components of CCDA, redistribution, reconciliation and relocation were conceived in the heart of Dr. John Perkins. Redistribution when he was paid for $0.15 cents for a job that should have paid $1.50. (The word “redistribution” led me to believe CCDA embraced socialist concepts, which I later learned to be false.) Reconciliation after his brother was killed during a racial incident with white police officers. The final component, the need for relocation, became apparent when Dr. Perkins converted to Christianity and spoke to prison inmates who were barely more than children. For a more thorough explanation of CCDA’s ministry, I recommend Making Neighborhoods Whole by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins.
My husband dropped me off at the Hyatt. I walked into a crowded foyer. As the long line inched toward the registration desk, I chatted with a man from California. “A number of years ago my wife was transformed at a CCDA conference,” said Benjamin. I typed his cell phone number into my Ipad’s notepad intent on learning about her transformation.
The mass of people in the hotel foyer made the room warm. My parched throat was screaming for water by the time I reached my room. I filled a glass with tap water and opened my Ipad to record some notes. I don’t recall why I hit backspace, but I did, and backspaced right over Benjamin’s cell phone number. Benjamin, if you happen to read this, I really wanted to talk to you and your wife.
Obtaining my conference badge proved a little more difficult than checking into the Hyatt. Fortunately, a supervisor recognized my name and told Fernando from Puerto Rico to make me a badge. The delightful Fernando rejected the first badge. “Your name is off center,” he said. He asked his partner to make me another one. The second one passed his inspection.
On the elevator, I made the acquaintance of David Spickard, President/CEO of Jobs for Life, which helps those struggling with unemployment and underemployment. David was appointed CEO in 2006. Dr. Perkins was on their original board, and the organization has been associated with CCDA for many years. A representative attends the CCDA conference every year for encouragement and inspiration.
I was on the way to Stage II, a designated area for exhibitors and special activities, when I ran into Pastor Burnside, one of CCDA’s Host Team’s Co-Chair and the driving force behind the breakfast. He paused long enough to tell me how excited he was about the conference. Most of the exhibitors in Stage II were still setting up. One gentleman looked up from the book he was reading and flashed a warm smile. I stopped to chat. Malcom Wall told me about Biblical Theological Seminary (BTS). The school was established in 1971 when a Bible scholar and evangelist prayed for God’s help to teach those who wished to understand the scripture and communicate the hope of the gospel. BTS had been blessed by the ministry of CCDA and the school strives to return that blessings.
I entered Wednesday evening’s plenary session to a jazz rendition of “I’ll Fly Away”. Mid-way through their fifteen minute set a group of people broke out into a second line (an impromptu parade common in New Orleans). The exuberant second liners returned to their seat. I heard Noel Castellanos speak for the second time. He seems to be most comfortable presenting his points with a dry erase board and hand-full of dry erase markers. The message was basically the same one he presented at the breakfast.
Rev. Leroy Barber, CCDA Chair, followed Noel with a masterful job of weaving Isaiah Chapter 61 into an explanation CCDA’s mission. He emphasized that God had convened the convention and each of the attendees had divine appointments. He then pointed out that the Spirit offers divine healing and divine healing is the heart of cultivation – the theme of the New Orleans conference. Finally, if the practitioners allow the Spirit to use them as agents of healing, the people they cultivate will become the planting of the Lord. Not the practitioners, but the plantings of the Lord will rebuild the waste cities.
I am not a practitioner of CCDA. I won’t be relocating or raising up indigenous leaders in poverty stricken neighbors, but I did have a few divine appointments during the conference. Within 48 hours, I encountered two very different faces of CCDA. More about that in my next post. Until then, enjoy the video of my day. I especially enjoyed the Salsa dancing.
I first heard the name Waylon Bailey when I wrote “Prodigal Daughter” about Christa Allan’s journey to becoming a published author. Christa had great respect for her pastor. She told me about the positive influence he had on her family, which I included in “Prodigal Daughter”. I also included her story in Finding Faith in the City Care Forgot. That was the first, but not the last time I heard the name “Waylon Bailey” in a positive light. I concluded he is a man of excellent reputation and Googled his name to learn more about him.
Pastor Bailey accepted my friend request on Facebook. Occasionally, a title to a blog post he wrote would grab my attention, and I’d click through to read the article. A few months ago, I noticed an invitation to share his blog articles with friends. I share a lot of material for pastors, authors and friends on NOLA’s Faith blog, so I sent him an email requesting permission to pick up some of his articles. In the course of exchanging emails with Pastor Bailey, I learned Martha, his wife, is an excellent teacher and also had a blog. By the time the details of sharing their material were finished, Pastor Bailey not only consented to speak to the Southern Christian Writers Guild about blogging, he also agreed to tell me his story.
He arrived at the Guild meeting full of intriguing information about social media. Seventy-two percent of Americans use social media. The percentage of eighteen to twenty-nine year olds is higher. In the past four years, the usage of those sixty-five and older has increased four times. Facebook has become America’s front porch. He then addressed how blogging opened a door for shy people in their church to communicate with them. People uncomfortable speaking to them personally willingly shared their thoughts through comments on Pastor Bailey and Martha’s blogs.
This information resonated with me. In recent months, I’d heard several ministers criticize the use of social media as though it were a demon destroying relationships. I even received a phone call chiding me for using Facebook. If I was limited to face to face encounters or even phone calls, it would have been impossible for me to connect with some of the people I have written about. As already stated, I connected with Pastor Bailey via Facebook.
“I’m not a writer,” said Pastor Bailey. “I am a pastor who writes.” The pastor who would not call himself a writer has written and co-written seven books. Marlaine Peachey, the Chairman of the Southern Christian Writers Guild set them on the table before he arrived. Marlaine also informed me that Pastor Bailey is her pastor and the President of the Southern Baptist Convention for the state of Louisiana. I thought what a truly humble man to come speak to our little group of writers!
Pastor Bailey taught us how to discern the will of God for our writing by taking the next step. Throughout his ministry, he normally knew the next step to take but never knows the second step before he has taken the first. Following God one step at a time has served him well. He oversees a large church, which is currently expanding its facility to accommodate the growing congregation.
After the meeting, Pastor Bailey and Martha met with me privately to share their story. Five minutes into our conversation my camera flashed “Turning off to conserve battery”. I could not believe what I saw on the screen. This was an inopportune time for my camera to die. A quick survey of my screen revealed I had not pushed record. Duh. The fail safe to conserve the battery had activated because the camera thought I was not recording anything important and sought to do me a favor. I profusely apologized, and we started again.
Waylon Bailey is a generational Christian. Both is grandparents and parents were devoted to God. His parents set an example of loyalty that engraved character on their young son. His father served as chairman of deacons. His mother was active in the Women’s Missionary Union and a capable Bible teacher. Throughout his parents service within the church Waylon witnessed much turmoil and many occasions for his parents to be offended. Unlike some who abandon the church when the waters become rough, his parents remained faithful to God, to their ministries and to God’s people.
“I had the shortest confession of faith on record,” Waylon laughed. He made that confession in an automobile in his hometown of Brantley, Alabama. His questions about a revival taking place in Brantley led to a discussion about baptism and faith with his mother. During the conversation, she quoted Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, …” Waylon shifted his slender nine-year-old body back into the car seat, closed his eyes and said, “Lord, I believe.”
He had taken the first step in his walk with God, but he did not know where the next step would take him. As far as Waylon was concerned ministry was not in his future. Until he was a senior in high school and his pastor asked, “What are you going to do when you graduate?”
“I might go into business, I might be a lawyer, I might even be a preacher…,” nervous laughter followed. Waylon had no idea way he included a profession he had no desire to enter. The perceptive Pastor Bobby Brown recognized a calling resting on the young man’s life. The following week, he invited Waylon to come to his office and talk.
Waylon took the second step toward God’s will in Pastor Brown’s office on a crisp January afternoon. Pastor Brown asked Waylon why he included preacher in his list of options after graduation. Waylon admitted that he had thought about it. “This is what you need to do,” said Pastor Brown. “You need to tell God that you are willing to do what he tells you to do.” Waylon made his second shortest confession of faith on record. “Lord, I will do what you want me to do.”
God took Waylon at his word. Easter Sunday night, Waylon sat on the back row of the church with his friends when his heart and mind were arrested by the Spirit of God. He felt possessed by God’s Spirit, overwhelmed by his presence and a sense of the reverential fear of God engulfed him. When the invitation was given to come to the altar for prayer, he walked forward knowing exactly what had happened. God had set him apart to preach the gospel.
Waylon Bailey paused to collect his thoughts and said to me, “My call to preach came violently. When you asked me a moment ago about my salvation, whether something dramatic happened, or I just knew. Well, I just knew. But when I was called to preach it was a violent call, an astounding call. It was I know this is what God wants me to do. Not only do I know this is what God wants me to do. This is what I want to do. My passion to preach the gospel was immediate and that passion has only grown stronger through the years.”
Pastor Brown took Waylon under his wing. Waylon assisted in funerals, visited the sick, and delivered his first sermon at a small country church. He preached everything he knew about the call of Abraham from Genesis Chapter 12 in eight minutes. Then Pastor Brown put Waylon’s picture in the weekly Alabama Baptist Magazine announcing Waylon Bailey had been called to preach. A church twelve miles from his home town invited Waylon to be their pastor. His parents bought him the same set of commentaries Pastor Brown used when preparing his sermons, which helped Waylon increase his sermons from eight minutes to ten.
Circumstances and the peace of God led Waylon to pastor several different churches before he settled into a long-term position as a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Each pastorate taught him valuable lessons. He learned the importance of relationships. In the smaller pastorates, he knew every congregation member by name and their struggles. His current church is too large to build intimate relationships with everyone, but he still strives to know as many people as possible.
He learned how to conduct business meetings. Voting whether or not to pay the light bill seemed trivial to Waylon, but he learned it was important to the people who wanted to vote. At times, he sat through business meetings that left him confused regarding what was accomplished. But he learned to be patient and gentle.
Another pastorate taught him the importance of evangelism. He invited a college roommate to preach a revival at his seventy-five member church. The revival started a good relationship with a nearby school, which allowed them to share their faith with its students. Ultimately, the revival produced thirty professions of faith. In another church, the deacons requested permission to worship “with him” instead of asking him to “try out” for the office of pastor. Their humility left a mark on Waylon’s life and ministry.
Waylon had a strong foundation to tread upon as he began seventeen years of service at NOBTS which undergirded that foundation with a thorough, accurate understanding of the Bible. “Four years before I came to First Baptist Covington, I felt like Jeremiah,” said Waylon. “There was a fire in my bones to be a pastor again. Every time Martha and I found a place we thought we fit and should go, the door was closed. Every time we didn’t think we fit and were not inclined to go, the door was opened.”
In 1983, First Baptist Covington invited Waylon to serve as interim Pastor. An impromptu revival started. People were walking in off the street and getting saved. Waylon asked the associate ministers on staff what they were doing that produced the revival. They didn’t have a clue. A new pastor was elected, and Waylon continued to help other churches when and where needed as he taught at the seminary.
Five years later, September 1988, First Baptist Covington, once again in need of a pastor, remembered Waylon Bailey and asked him to return as a candidate for pastor. He was already serving as an interim pastor at a church in Mississippi. He made it a practice to stay in an interim position until the church found a suitable pastor. He turned down their invitation. First Baptist Covington said, “We will wait.”
A comparison of Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:9 reveals that the Apostle Paul interpreted to wait is to love. When First Baptist Covington chose to wait while Pastor Bailey walked in integrity, they chose to love. They chose wisely. After a long vetting process, Waylon became Senior Pastor of First Baptist Covington in May of 1989 where he learned another valuable lesson. How to successfully guide a church through change. He led his flock of three-hundred to Bootlegger Road where the congregation blossomed to several thousand and continues to grow.
There is a purity and maturity in the Baptist pastors I have written about that inevitable affects my life, but I had never attended a Baptist church service and decided to investigate. I punched 16333 Highway 1085, Covington into my GPS and made the one hour drive to First Baptist Covington. I walked past the hall that led to the Children’s church and encountered Martha Bailey at the Women’s Ministry Booth decorated with Fall themed crafts and an announcement about an upcoming meeting involving Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate and Crafts on October 18, 2013. I have never been adept at crafts, but I do love chocolate.
Martha and I chatted for a few moments, and I continued my exploration. I passed a coffee station with seven different blends of PJ’s coffee. People were scattered about the long foyer sipping coffee and chatting as they waited for the second of three Sunday morning services to begin. The sanctuary doors opened. The people from the first service formed a long line at the coffee station. I walked into the sanctuary. An usher handed me a small rock and a bulletin. I wasn’t sure what to do with the rock and dropped it in my purse.
The service was conducted in a format similar to the church I attend: worship music, announcements may the high tech way, an offering was received and then the sermon began. The bulletin had fill in the blank notes to keep us focused. The message about forgiveness taken from the life of Joseph brought tears to my eyes. We all have bitter experiences in life that can be difficult to forgive. I’ve done my best to practice forgiveness, and I am not angry with anyone who has hurt me. But Pastor Bailey also spoke about releasing the hurt. While he spoke, I remembered the day I accepted that some hurts are never healed; we take them to the grave. At the end of the sermon, he asked us drop our rocks in a nearby bucket as a sign that we are letting go of any unforgiveness or hurt we’ve been clinging to. I retrieved the symbol of my hurt from my purse and dropped it into the bucket. For the first time in more than a two decades, I had faith that God wanted to heal the hurt and renewed hope that he will. I am glad I visited a Baptist church.
Last year, Mike Marchese addressed the Southern Christian Writers Guild, and I requested to write his story. He invited me to visit his recording studio. Mike plays rhythm and lead guitar for Counting the Day; a Christian band he formed with a friend. He built his studio to record their music and to service Christian artists. I arrived expecting to record Mike’s story and received a bonus. He wanted me to Keva Fontenille’s story as well. Keva is the lead vocals for Counting the Day.
Keva always had an awareness of God. A benefit of attending Catholic schools until the eighth grade. But an awareness of God did not satisfy the deepest need of her heart for guidance and a consistent loving relationship. Her parents had divorced when she was a year old. During the school year, she lived a model 1950’s sort of life in New Orleans with her father and step-mother. She made good grades in school. Her family ate dinner together, but her father was often absent. Her summer months, living with her mother in Texas, were filled with stress. Her mother and step-father had a volatile relationship. Memories of fleeing the house with her mother for safety created fear and insecurity.
Her mother dramatically changed when Keva was seven years old. An uncle had shared Christ with her mother. That summer Keva attended church with her mother every Sunday. Instead of fearing an eruption of violence, she was surrounded with love. She liked attending the church full of people who sang happy songs and were kind to her.
One day, Keva and her mother were alone in the living room. Her mother asked her to join her on the couch. She gave Keva a beautiful children’s Bible and told her the story of salvation. Keva didn’t pray to accept Christ that day, but she thought about Jesus and his love for her.
After she received the Bible from her mother, their pastor preached a sermon on water baptism. Keva listened intently as the pastor explained how being submerged in water was an outward symbol of what happens spiritually. Christ takes away our sin, and we rise to newness of life, spiritually clean and adopted as a child of God. Keva wanted to be a child of the loving God her mother had told her about, so she asked her mother if she could be baptized in water.
Her mother wanted to be sure Keva understood what it meant to be baptized in water. “Tell me what water baptism is?” Her mother queried.
“It’s like a locust,” said Keva. “Sometimes I find their shells on a tree, but the locust is not there. When I go in the water and come back up that old, yucky shell will stay in the water. I will have a new shell.”
Her mother laughed. “Yea, that’s kind of what it’s like.” Satisfied Keva had grasped the basic concept of water baptism, she made an appointment for Keva to speak to the pastor.
Their pastor questioned Keva and shared scriptures with her until he was convinced she understood what she was doing. Then he led her in a prayer for salvation. Keva left his office excited about her new found faith.
Keva’s voice filled with emotion as she described her experience. “I did more than believe that day. I was truly persuaded from the inside out that there is a living God who loves me, desires a relationship with me and would be an attentive father. It was an intensely personal and intimate moment. I knew I was making a pact with a best friend who would be my friend forever. In him, I found the peace, guidance and security I longed for.”
She returned to New Orleans at the end of the summer excited about sharing her faith with her father and grandmother. They listened politely but remained neutral about their daughter’s experience. Lacking the understanding of God that Keva had acquired, they were not able to encourage her in her walk of faith but neither did they discourage her.
Keva’s mother encouraged her daughter through the letters they exchanged when Keva lived with her father. Keva asked her mother what she should read in the Bible. Her mother knew that her young daughter was not ready to read the longer books of the Bible and offered her a workable solution. Knowing one or two sentences would be easier for Keva to read and understand, she instructed her to read one Proverb daily.
Every morning Keva opened her children’s Bible and read a Proverb. She also thought about it and prayed God would tell her what it meant. She often received insight, which helped her apply the proverb and gave her guidance in dealing with life. When she read “a wise son listens to his father’s rebuke”, she understood that it was okay for her parents to correct her. Instead of rebelling or resenting them she should think about why they corrected her. The result was an unusually well behaved child.
Keva also learned by watching the life of her siblings. They did not receive Christ until they were adults. Consequently, their journey to maturity was very different from Keva’s. “I spared myself a lot of trouble just watching them. I could see the lack of God’s word in action, and how that ends up. I learned that biblical principles work. They can give you a life of peace, stability and direction when life does not make sense,” said Keva.
Five years after Keva accepted Christ, her mother and step-father returned to Louisiana. Keva attended church with her mother on weekends. They joined the church choir where Keva’s talent for singing developed. In high school, she took choir as an elective.
“Music was not a lifelong dream, but it was always around,” said Keva. “Both my parents sang. I chose choir in high school because I needed an elective to graduate. I continued singing because my choir teacher told me to keep singing.”
Keva found her niche in music when her pastor asked her to sing a solo. She was nervous but didn’t think telling the pastor “No” was an option. After her performance, she received many request to sing and became a regular on the church’s worship team.
Ten years ago, she joined First Baptist Covington. She found a place to serve on the church’s worship team where she became acquainted with Mike Marchese. He was in the process of forming a Christian band called Counting the Day. One day, he showed up at her place of work and asked if she would be interested in singing with the band. “I said yes, and ever since then I have been singing with them, and I love it,” said Keva.
Writing about missionaries requires a delicate balance. Those serving in areas hostile to Christianity are subject to persecution, expulsion from the nation and even death if their activities are recorded in a worldwide public forum as the internet. One missionary told me government officials Google the name of foreigners. Therefore, the identity of the missionary in this article and her area of labor will not be revealed.
Instead of calling her “the missionary who will not be named”, a long and convoluted title, I have assigned a fiction name – Alice. Rod, my husband, knew Alice before I met with her at a woman’s conference to record her story. That might be an understatement. My husband dated Alice before I met and married him. Their relationship ended as her call to missions became stronger. He had no desire to be a missionary. Had they married, she would have been miserable and unfulfilled, but not because Rod is a bad husband. He would not have followed her into missions work. Instead, he has made me a happy wife. As for Alice, she paid a price to obey God.
Alice sat on the floor with the other children watching a slide show as a Methodist missionary explained each photo. During the presentation, the first whisper of her calling to missionary work gripped her heart. “I wish I were Catholic,” she said to her mother as they walked out of the church.
“Why do you wish you were Catholic?”
“Then I could be a nun,” said Alice.
Her mother’s reply was God ordained. “If you want to serve the Lord, it doesn’t matter if you are male or female or what church you attend. God will make a way.”
Alice knew that Methodist did not ordain women. Becoming a minister was not a viable option, so she did not pursue ministry. But she never forgot the Methodist missionary and the conversation with her mother.
God began to “make a way” for Alice when she was a junior in High School. Alice received a letter from her sister explaining how she came to know the Lord. Included with the letter was a booklet titled Have Your Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws. The evangelistic tract created in 1952 by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, explained the essentials of the Christian faith. In the booklet, Bright summarized the message of salvation contained in the Bible as four spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God. Alice read the booklet and then prayed the suggested prayer to receive salvation.
Several months after praying for salvation, an acquaintance at school invited Alice to a revival. God became real to Alice as she listened to the Baptist evangelist explain what it meant to have a personal relationship with God. “The Methodist church I attended was full of good, sincere people, but the services were very formal. It was more of a social gospel that did not fill my longing to draw near to God and to hear his voice,” said Alice. “When the evangelist invited people to the altar to make a public profession of faith, I went. They extended the right hand of fellowship to me. I thought I had joined the church because that is how we accepted members in the Methodist church, but I never returned.
The experience at the Baptist church brought Alice into a deeper understanding of God. But her life did not change until she went to a Baton Rouge college to study interior design. She quickly came to a crossroads during her freshman year. Join the party crowd or strive to live a life pleasing to God. She found the support to continue her walk with God in Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC), a para church organization doctrinally similar to the Baptist.
When the chapter of CCC Alice joined made plans to attend a Josh McDowell Conference, lack of funds prevented her from joining them. Alice’s mentor was undaunted. She invited Alice to meet with a lawyer who helped college students attend Christian conferences. Alice felt dwarfed in the massive office she entered with her friend. They sat at a large desk facing a well groomed man. “This is the guy I told you about,” said Alice’s mentor.
“Why do you want to go to the conference?” The lawyer inquired. As Alice explained why she wanted to go, she felt uncomfortable, as though she were begging for money.
The lawyer gave her the funds she needed to attend the Dallas conference. While she was at the conference, God gave her a vision for reaching the lost. Alice learned the responsibility of Christians to spread the gospel, but she was fearful of starting conversations with strangers. The leaders of the conference gave the attendees opportunity to practice the skills they learned by sending them out to witness in small groups.
Alice’s group went to the airport. She swallowed her fear and approached a pleasant looking lady who appeared to be alone. The woman patiently listened as Alice read the four spiritual laws that explained salvation. She was almost finished with the presentation when a man joined them compounding Alice’s anxiety. Her tract was shaking by the time she reached the invitation to pray. “Would you like to pray and accept Christ as your savior,” Alice inquired.
“Actually, this is my husband, and we are the pastors of a Baptist church in town.” Alice was mortified. She thanked the couple for listening and made a quick exit.
Alice found the leader of her team and said, “I am never going to do that again.”
“Why not,” she inquired.
“I just asked a pastor and his wife to accept the Lord!”
“You know what you have to do when you fall off a horse. You get right back on and do it again.”
Alice walked down the corridor praying, “Please help me find a person who is not already a Christian.” She was drawn to a lady wearing a military uniform. “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” said the woman.
This time Alice left the tract with the four spiritual laws in her pocket. “We are here sharing what God has done in our lives, and I just wanted to tell you what he has done for me.” Alice shared her story and then withdrew the tract and turned to the prayer at the end. “Would you like to accept Christ as your Saviour?”
Alice smiled broadly as she explained what happened next. “That was the first time I witnessed to someone about Jesus who wasn’t already a Christian. The woman prayed to accept Christ. In my heart, I was dancing and shouting for joy.”
Alice completed her first year in college with a low grade. Discouraged that her best efforts could not lift her GPA above a 2.0, she decided to return to New Orleans and enroll in the University of New Orleans (UNO). Her grades improved at UNO, but she quit a year short of graduation to work in retail.
Her spiritual walk had begun in a Methodist Church. She found salvation in a Baptist Church. She attended an interdenominational church while in college. By the time she returned home, she did not know what church to attend. Until she started dating a friend of her brothers.
Alice’s boyfriend invited her to attend the Easter service at his Pentecostal church. “Alice, the service will be a little bit different from what you are accustomed. This time you might be a little distracted, so promise yourself that you will go a second time.”
“The service was very different,” said Alice. But my experience that morning later proved to me the Bible is true.” In the middle of the service a woman stood and spoke in another language. To Alice, the woman appeared crazy and sounded like she was hollering nonsense. She thought the congregation was being quiet so they would not embarrass her family. Alice’s boyfriend whispered in her ear, “She is giving a message in tongues.” After the service, he explained that the Pastor had interpreted what the woman said. (1 Corinthians 14:22-25)
Alice was intrigued and decided to attend the evening service. The preaching was so rich she walked to the altar with many others seeking a closer relationship with God. As she drove home after the service, she prayed, “Lord, I wish I had the words to thank you for bringing me to this church.” Suddenly, she began to speak in tongues. Alice covered her mouth trying to stop the flow of words. As soon as she arrived home, she opened her Bible to research speaking in tongues.
She read the last scripture she could find on the subject and then closed her Bible and prayed, “Lord, I don’t know anything about this. But I just read if a son ask for a fish, his father will not give him a snake. If this is from you, it’s OK. If it’s not, I don’t want to have anything to do with it,” (Luke 11:11-13). Immediately, the presence of God filled the room. Alice lost track of time. When she opened her eyes, she was singing in tongues, and the clock showed a half hour had elapsed. She stood and joyfully danced around her living room.
“I already believed in God, but I was looking for a relationship. I found that relationship when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. We can have encounters with God that are incredibly intimate, holy and precious. I joined the Pentecostal church and volunteered my services. That is when I met your husband. We both worked in Children’s Church. There were a ton of kids in those services. I also started an outreach team to visit youth who came to the church and once a month we went to Bourbon Street to share Jesus. ”
One night, Alice sat in her living room with both her Bible and her Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible open. While researching scriptures, she sensed the presence of the Lord. She sat back and said, “Lord, what is it?
The Holy Spirit said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
“The only thing that concerned me was the word ‘preach’. In my mind, women did not preach the gospel. But I knew it was God’s voice. I looked up the word preach in my Strong’s Concordance. The definition said ‘share the good news.’ I thought, I can do that. So I prayed, ‘Lord, I know that you are speaking to me, but I don’t understand. I am going to put this on a shelf and when it’s time you will bring it to pass.’”
Three weeks later, she was standing in the church foyer talking to Sharon, a friend she worked with in ministry. Their pastor approached and said, “Sharon, would you like to go on an Ambassadors in Missions (AIM) trip as a representative from our church.” Alice froze. Her heart beat faster.
“I have to work. I can’t go,” replied Sharon.
The pastor looked at Alice. “What are you doing this summer?”
“I have to work too,” Alice sighed.
“I want you to pray about going on this trip and then make an appointment with me.”
God’s command to preach the gospel echoed in her thoughts. Alice could not ignore her pastor’s instructions. She prayed and scheduled an appointment. During the meeting, her pastor explained the options for raising money. Alice walked out of his office discouraged. She did not want to ask for donations.
She turned to her parents for advice. Her father’s temper flared. “God helps those who help themselves.” Both her parents were extremely upset that she would consider asking for “charity”. Alice said to her parents, “If God provides would it be alright for me to go?” Her parents ended the conversation without answering her question.
When the deadline arrived to pay for the trip, the pastor called Alice to his office. “I won’t be able to go,” she said. Then she told him what the Lord said to her hoping he could explain what God was trying to do in her life. The pastor called the finance office and told them to write Alice a check to pay for her trip.
The AIM team went to South America for twelve days. Communism had recently overthrown the government and established martial law prohibiting gatherings of more than two or three people. God gave the AIM team favor. They were allowed into the country and given permission to hold public meetings to preach the gospel. Alice went door-to-door with translators sharing the good news and inviting people to the evening services.
One night, she saw a well-dressed woman standing behind a tree. Alice shared the gospel with her and the woman prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior. (Twenty-eight years later, the woman contacted the denomination that sponsored the AIM trip looking for the young girl who led her to salvation. Alice learned that woman hid behind the tree because she was wealthy and well-known. She didn’t want the communist to learn she had attended the meeting. She later started a church that grew to 5,000 members.)
Alice returned from the mission trip thinking she had fulfilled God’s command. Until, she visited Sharon to share a lemon coke. “Alice,” said Sharon, “Did you get a call to be a missionary?” Alice was about to say “No” but stopped and thought I need to pray about that.
One Sunday, she was sitting in the church balcony contemplating missionary work. She felt strongly that the Lord wanted to say something to her. The pastor finished his sermon. She hurried to the altar. “Whatever you want me to do, I will do,” she prayed. His answer surprised her. “Quit your job and go to Christ for the Nations.” His command troubled her. She had been working eight years, but she didn’t have enough in savings to quit her job and relocate to Texas. Once again, Alice placed the matter in God’s hands trusting him to make a way for her.
A few weeks later, she was making sales calls. One of her customers was a devout Catholic. As they chatted, she mentioned that she might quit her job to pursue missionary work. The man gave her enough money to pay her first year tuition. Alice gave away everything she owned except her car and enrolled in Christ for the Nations.
The school required students to go on a mission trip during the summer or take additional courses. She had opted to attend summer classes and work so she could save money for the next semester. At the end of the school year, the academic dean asked Alice to go on a mission trip he was organizing. Lacking the necessary finances she declined. During the semester break, she returned home to talk to her pastor about her growing belief that she was called to be a missionary.
At the end of their conversation, he asked how much the mission trip with Christ for the Nations would cost. Alice was aghast. She had not come to ask for money. Her pastor insisted. She told him how much she needed. Once again, he picked up the phone and called the church’s finance office. She left with the money she needed for another missions trip. The trip to Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Africa confirmed to Alice that God had placed a calling on her life. She returned home convinced God was in control of her life, and she was called to be a Missionary.
My husband joined us. Twenty-five years had elapsed since they had parted ways. I turned my camera off, so they could talk. We showed Alice pictures of our children and grandchildren. She wistfully commented that she thought she would have married by now, but it never happened. Following a calling cost Alice the joys of marriage, but she has no regrets. She was eager to return to her island.
“I go inter-island instead of interstate. I have been around the world and back again many times, and I love what I do,” said Alice. “If you follow the Lord’s plan for your life, you will never have regrets. That is the only place you will ever know true peace and contentment.”
On a trip to Oklahoma, I did an outdoor interview with two pastors on a windy day only to return home and hear nothing but the rushing wind on the video. The videos could not be used. Returning to Oklahoma was not an option. I purchased a wireless microphone to isolate the speaker’s voice for future recordings. Confident I had solved the problem of picking up peripheral noises, I looked forward to meeting Benjamin Franklin who had come to New Orleans to establish a ministry based on Amos 5:4 “…[S]eek me and live.”
The microphone worked beautifully until the battery died. I didn’t notice because the camera microphone kept the sound levels active on the video screen. Later, while transcribing our conversation, I was suddenly inundated with sounds of a noisy motorcycle whose owner thought it was cool to rev the engine for no apparent reason; also recorded: cars whizzing down the nearby parkway, the conversation of people sitting nearby and the usual noises of life we don’t notice until we attempt to transcribe a recorded conversation. After Ben moved to Texas with his cat named Abraham, I could no longer hear what he was saying.
My only option was to reschedule and hope he did not mind telling me his story a second time. He was happy to oblige, but the rescheduling was delayed when a publisher offered me a contract making it necessary to put my NOLA articles on the back burner. After nine months of working with the publisher to prepare the manuscript for publication, followed by three months of non-stop marketing upon its release, I was able to come up for air. Once again I meet with Ben, whose Bible study had evolved into a small church that shares a building with Maple Street Chiropractic at 7605 Maple Street, New Orleans.
“I am a fourth generation Pentecostal, as close to having been born a Christian as possible,” said Ben. “My great, great, grandparents were swept into the Pentecostal movement when it first came down to Louisiana in the early 1900’s.”
Ben spent most of his youth in a non-denominational church of which his grandparents were founding members. While Ben’s peers entertained themselves riding bikes and playing games, Ben’s favorite past time was playing church. He built churches with Legos and put his Walkman speakers in the church so his congregation of stuffed animals and pet cats could have a time of praise and worship before he preached the gospel to them.
When he was eight years old, he felt impressed to be baptized in water. His parents suggested he ask their former pastor, Gene Vincent, now doing the work of an evangelist, to baptize him. Ben liked that idea as he was close friends with Rev. Vincent’s four children. Ben and Rev. Vincent’s daughter were baptized in the swimming pool in Ben’s backyard. He distinctly remembers the feeling that swept over him when he came up out of the water and traces his moment of salvation to that experience. Ben paused and then explained. “I know water baptism is an act of obedience without a spiritual aspect to it. We don’t need to be baptized in water to be saved. That experience was my confession of faith and baptism all rolled into one event.”
Two years later, Ben learned the realities of human nature and ministry. A church split resulted in the pastor, Ben’s father who was head of the deacon board, and Ben’s mother the youth pastor, being escorted off of the church property. The church Ben’s grandparents had labored to build dwindled from 400 members to 20 leaving his family hurt and disillusioned.
His parents abandoned organized religion for several years, but continued to meet in home Bible studies with their rejected pastor while their wounded hearts healed. During this time, they were careful to maintain a godly attitude and taught Ben the unfortunate circumstances were produced by misunderstandings not bad people. Ben enjoyed the intimate environment of the home Bible study throughout middle school and into his high school years.
While Ben was in high school, Rev. Vincent returned to pastoral ministry at a Christian Missionary Alliance church in Sulphur, Louisiana. Ben and his grandmother began attending the church. As high school graduation approached he entertained the idea of becoming a pastor. His family loved ministers, but did not want one in the family and having witnessed the difficulties of pastoral ministry, Ben decided to enroll in McNeese University as a journalism major.
During his sophomore year at college Ben questioned what he believed and why he believed it. The nagging questions started a journey of discovery. Ben concluded that he could not deny Jesus, so he researched Christianity. He read the history and beliefs of the Catholic Church, then the Orthodox Church, and the birth of the protestant church. He attended Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. Finally, a friend invited him to attend Glad Tidings Assembly of God. During the service Ben sensed that he belonged at Glad Tidings.
Growing up with a strong Oneness background presented a quandary. Oneness did not believe in the trinity as the Assemblies of God did, and he’d been warned to beware of the Trinitarians. Ben researched the subject and consulted pastors. He concluded that Oneness and the Assembly of God were two sides of the same coin. Concluding that God is a mystery we can’t fully understand he found peace in attending the Assembly of God church.
One Sunday, he felt a quickening of the Spirit during the song service and began to pray. Suddenly, he realized that he was praying in a foreign language. That afternoon, he told his parents what happened. They rejoiced with Ben and shared their experience with the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14). “I was twenty when I received the gift of tongues,” said Ben. “The gift restored the zeal of living for God and of seeking his face.”
As Ben’s senior year approached, he realized that he didn’t want to be a journalist. He was interning at the local paper and didn’t like the daily grind of producing a newspaper. He had been told many times he should be a lawyer. With his background in communications, he felt transitioning to study law was a natural progression. He chose estate planning, so he could incorporate his love for ministry. As an estate planner, he would be working with people who were diagnosed with incurable diseases or had just lost someone. Ben saw it as a practical way to minister to people going through a difficult time. He also saw it as a way for him to be in ministry without becoming a pastor.
That summer Ben went on a road trip to visit all of the law schools in Louisiana. The trip ended in New Orleans. That evening, as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room enjoying the view of New Orleans, he felt a strong impression that he would live in New Orleans. He believed that impression was God’s confirmation that he should attend Loyola’s School of Law.
Ben scored ten points better on the LSAT then he did in the practice test. The extra ten points gave him a full ride scholarship into law school. He had finished mailing the applications for the law schools he had visited in Louisiana when he received a letter from Baylor University offering to waive his application fee if he would send them an application. He did.
When letters of acceptance from various colleges began arriving, Ben decided to keep all of his options open and visit Baylor before he made a decision. He drove to Waco, Texas with his parents. They were impressed with the new beautiful law school and warm loving environment. When Baylor gave him a full scholarship, he returned home conflicted. Ben asked his parents to fast and pray with him for direction. He had planned to attend Loyola, but Baylor was a Christian school and a top tier ranked law school with a 99.9% passage rate of the bar.
During a personal devotion, Ben read the story of Abraham and Lot. The time had come for the patriarch and his nephew to separate. Lot looked to the east and chose the well watered beautiful city of Sodom. Abraham went west to a barren dry land. Ben felt that he was at a similar crossroads, even the geography was similar. To the east of Lake Charles was the well watered beautiful city of New Orleans, to the west, Waco, a tiny dot in a barren dry land. Ben felt a strong impression that he should go west. The next morning his parents agreed with his decision giving Ben the peace he needed. Ben packed his things, and his cat named Abraham to go west.
Ben attended an Assembly of God church on his first Sunday in Waco. The membership consisted of either elderly or young married with kids. Ben didn’t see any college age members. After the service, he chatted with the pastor. “Thank you so much for coming. I’m glad you are here, but we don’t have anything to offer you at this time. I suggest you try Highland Baptist Church,” said the pastor.
Ben asked his friends at school if anyone knew how to get to Highland. Amanda said, “That’s where I go to church. It’s on Maple Street. You can ride with me.” Ben liked Highland. The pastor preached an excellent message. The people were warm and friendly. Their college Sunday School class had 900 students. He was grateful that the pastor of the Assembly of God church had referred him to Highland.
By the end of his first year at Baylor, Ben questioned if he wanted to pursue law. “My first year at law school was the most traumatic, horrible, terrifying experience of my life. Law school is tough and Baylor took pride in being the Marine Corps of law schools. It was a rough year,” said Ben. Ben thought his questions about becoming a lawyer were resolved when he attended a conference in New Orleans with his family and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton. He enjoyed the luxurious atmosphere of the Ritz. While swimming in the resistance pool, he decided to pursue law and make wealth his goal so he could buy a mansion and put a resistance pool in it.
Ben returned to Baylor spiritually dry. His decision to pursue riches had erected an impenetrable wall between him and God. He excelled in law school, but his life felt meaningless. After months of walking through a wilderness, he dropped to the floor of his apartment with a heavy heart and cried out to God. For the first time since he returned to Baylor, he felt the presence of God. “While laying on the floor, I had an epiphany,” said Ben. “What does it matter if I am a distinguished lawyer and make lots of money and have a cool pool in a big mansion? If I don’t have God, I don’t have anything.”
Ben rededicated his life to pursue God instead of wealth, and the verse of a song arose in his heart:
“It may not be on the mountain’s height,
Or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front,
My Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls,
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine,
I’ll go where You want me to go.
(I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go by Mary Brown)
He never wanted to feel disconnected from God again and pleaded with God to keep him out of the wilderness. He felt a strong impression to write a check. Ben opened his checkbook, but did not know whom to write the check to, so he made it out to God. Lacking the funds to cover the check he folded it and tucked it in the back of his wallet.
As Christmas approached, attending seminary filled Ben’s thoughts. Then a young lady he had been dating visited him during the Christmas holidays. He could not escape the feeling that she would be the perfect wife for a lawyer, but not a man pursuing the call of God. He knew that he needed to end their relationship, but was reluctant to abandon a woman he had been dating for three and a half years. After much prayer, he decided to end the relationship when he returned home for spring break.
His first night home, Ben invited his girlfriend to a crawfish boil. While they peeled crawfish Ben said, “I have something I need to tell you.” His girlfriend interrupted, “I have something I need to tell you too. God is telling me that we need to break up.” Even though it was hard to say good-bye, Ben was relieved by the mutual and amicable end to their relationship. He knew God had intervened and received it as a sign that he should attend seminary.
Ben decided to graduate from law school before attending seminary. That summer he obtained an internship at a prestigious law firm in Lake Charles. He expected to hate it, and that would be one more confirmation that he should attend seminary. “I didn’t hate it,” said Ben. “I didn’t love it either, but I wondered why I didn’t hate it.”
At the end of the summer, Ben drove to the bank to deposit his final paycheck. Wondering if he had wasted his summer, he asked God what he was supposed to learn. Ben remembered the check he had written when he repented for choosing to pursue money instead of God. He withdrew the check from his wallet. The check was the exact amount of money to the penny he had earned that summer. Since God had already claimed the money, he spilt it between his church in Lake Charles and the church he attended in Waco. The experience taught Ben that he knew how to discern God’s voice.
During Ben’s last year of law school, he decided his friendship with Amanda needed to move to the next level. He could not ask her to be more than friends without first being honest about his plan to pursue ministry. “We had what Baylor calls a DTR (Defining the Relationship) that lasted for days. I had encountered some Baptist churches that were suspicious of Pentecostals. I couldn’t ask a Baptist to date me without being honest about who I really am. After long discussions about differences in doctrine and career goals, we concluded that we should date.”
Ben felt strongly he should attend the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. He submitted an application. Being awarded a full scholarship guaranteed his move to Springfield after he graduated from law school. The day after taking the Texas Bar Exam Ben loaded his belongings into a U-Haul and drove to Missouri. Two weeks later he began seminary. He loved seminary. He found healing from insecurities and frustrations he had developed while attending law school. He also developed close relationships with professors and fellow students. But he remained uncertain about God’s plan for his life and what happens when one fully surrenders to God.
A life changing event led to Ben’s full surrender. Ben and Amanda had been invited to a friend’s wedding in Nashville. He planned to fly to Dallas to pick up Amanda and then catch a flight to Nashville. Severe weather and tornados delayed Ben in Texarkana. The airline informed the passengers of Ben’s flight they would have to sleep in Texarkana. Ben learned there was one last flight that would fly over the weather and approach Dallas from the north. He informed the airline that he had family in Dallas. If they allowed him on the flight, they would not have to pay for his hotel room in Texarkana. After a horrific flight through rough weather he arrived to find Amanda waiting for him in the airport’s tornado shelter and their flight to Nashville canceled.
They went to Amanda’s house to await the arrival of her parents. At 2:30 a.m. they received a phone call that changed their lives forever. Amanda’s father had died. “That phone call was a turning point in my mind of how fragile life is. Even with my concerns about my father’s cancer, I realized everything is in God’s hands. Amanda’s father was in good health, yet suddenly gone. If concern for my parents was the only thing holding me back from entering ministry, God could easily remove the hindrance. For the first time I said to God, ‘I will go anywhere you want me to go.’”
He returned to seminary at peace with his commitment to enter ministry, but lacked direction. Each semester the students would do a retreat of contemplation, study and private prayer with the Trappists Monks. It would have been an ideal opportunity to seek God for direction. Ben was not able to attend, so he locked himself in his apartment for a week with no telephone, internet, or TV intent on surrendering to God’s plan even if it meant foreign missions. Ben concluded his home made retreat knowing he was called to United States Missions.
He entered his second year of seminary thinking he was called to be a Chi Alpha missionary. His focus shifted during a class on contextualized theology. The professor brought his students to St. Louis to assist in planting a church in the inner city. During his time in St. Louis the thought New Orleans needs what we are doing here kept coming to mind. That summer he interned at a small church and loved it. He returned to seminary with a desire to become a pastor.
He shared his burden and desire to pastor a small church with his Bible study in Springfield and requested prayer. Several weeks later he picked up a member of the Bible study for church. In route to the service Sarah said, “I understand that you are thinking about going to New Orleans to start a ministry. I think God is calling me to go there too.”
“I never said I was going to New Orleans. I just asked for prayer,” Ben replied.
The next day, two more members of the Bible study approached him. “We think God is telling us that we should go with you to New Orleans and help you plant a church.”
“NO, I didn’t say I was going to New Orleans. I only requested prayer that God would give me direction.”
“We think this is God’s plan for us and for you,” his friends replied.
At the next Bible study, Ben asked his over anxious friends for a six week commitment. They agreed not to talk about going to New Orleans, but to pray about it and then meet to see what God was saying to each of them. At the end of the pre-set time, they met for dinner. The message was unanimous. They would go to New Orleans to plant a holistic ministry that involved more than the spiritual aspect. As the ministry grew, they would start after school programs and health clinics.
The puzzle God was assembling had one piece missing. Between the end of the semester and graduation, Ben drove to Forth Worth to ask the woman he grew to love while attending Highland Baptist Church to marry him. Much to his relief Amanda said, “Yes.”
While Ben and his friends prayed about planting a church in New Orleans, God gave them a five year plan. They later discovered a scriptural basis for the plan in Leviticus 19:23-25:
When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, don’t eat the fruit for three years; consider it inedible. By the fourth year its fruit is holy, an offering of praise to God. Beginning in the fifth year you can eat its fruit; you’ll have a richer harvest this way. I am God, your God. (The Message)
Ben and his church planting team are currently in their fourth year. In the video Ben explains how the plan is being fulfilled, and expresses confidence that God will be faithful to complete the good work he began in their lives.
Anyone I encounter is subject to have that interaction written and posted to my blogs, if I feel there is a beneficial message for the readers. However, I never subject anyone to embarrassment. I will change names, places, circumstances and even gender to protect the privacy of those involved. “Idiots” is an encounter that required changes.
Wednesday evening, I opened my Ipad, and tapped the Words With Friends icon to pursue the fourteen games I am playing with friends. Sometimes a friend is playing simultaneously. One of my Words with Friends opponents is a pastor. He was online and responded to the word I played. I responded to his word. Several words later, he sent me a message with the chat option, “Why aren’t you in church?”
“Why aren’t you?” I typed and hit Send.
“I am,” he replied.
“What are you doing playing Words With Friends?”
In all fairness to the pastor, it was quarter till seven. Mid-week church services usually start at 7 p.m. That brief interchange began a long conversation that spanned several days. I explained to him that God only asked us for one day a week, and I no longer carry the burdens pastors add, like insisting people attend every service to qualify as a “good” Christian. When our worship of God consists of obeying the rules men add, we worship God in vain.
“According to Acts the church meet daily,” he said. Clearly, he thought every Christian should be in church every time the door opened.
“If today’s church had the power the first church had, people would attend more often.” I replied, and hoped he would leave the subject alone. He didn’t.
“Meeting one day a week is law. We are under grace.”
“I’m not basing my church attendance on law. I am basing “one day” on creation. God worked seven days and made the one day he rested holy. There is nothing wrong with meeting several times a week. Doing so does not guarantee a person will become a better Christian. The people who failed to recognize God and manipulated others to have Jesus crucified never missed a worship service, tithed, fasted and prayed long prayers.”
He didn’t reply to my last comment. I thought the matter was over. The next day, we resumed the game. He played a word. I played a word. He played a word. Then I played “idiots”, which ran across a triple word space producing high points. Moments later, I heard the familiar ping telling me he had sent me a message.
I opened the chat and read, “Is that what you think of my church.” The statement was a bit surreal. The only reason I played “idiots” was the point value of the word. Apparently, the exchange we had earlier had made him feel like an idiot and now he thought I was calling him and his church idiots.
“I hope you are kidding,” I replied. Then added, “I don’t think that about your church or any church. And I don’t think that about any pastor either.”
We exchanged a few more comments about church and the value of attending church. “I see. I have you diagnosed.” He wrote.
“What do you see?” I queried.
His replay was…I don’t know what to say about his reply: “$45 dollars and hour.” In addition to being a pastor, he also has a counseling business. I assumed that was his rate and he thought I needed counseling. Christian counselors offer a valuable service, and I would consult and pay one if I believed God wanted me to. However, he is not the first pastor to decide I needed healing, and he was the man to do it. The last pastor who tried to heal me could not heal himself. His church died; he is no longer a pastor.
“God diagnoses and heals me for free,” I replied.
“So when is the healing going to come? You have a lot of anger toward pastors.”
At one time, I was very angry toward pastors. God healed my anger when he taught me compassion for his shepherds. The pastors I’ve known wanted to be good pastors, but, like the rest of humanity, stumbled in their fallen nature and either shipwrecked or lost the ministry God gave them. The belief that they had all the answers blinded them to the reason they failed.
Refusing to do everything a pastor requires me to do is not anger, its love. I am revering God’s words and honoring God above man. Pastors who “need” people to obey their ideas are insecure and easily manipulated. I have seen pastors destroyed by the “yes men” they surround themselves with.
“If I am so angry toward pastors,” I wrote, “why do I write positive articles about them to honor their labor? Why can’t Christians speak honestly and frankly without others assuming the worst? Doesn’t love believe the best?”
“Ok, it just seemed like you were bitter and angry,” he replied.
The judgments we make about others is a good indication of who we are. Several weeks earlier, we had dinner with this pastor. He shared some negative interactions that he had with other pastors who had criticized him. At the time, I thought he might be bitter and angry, but things are not always as they appear. To find the truth, words must be weighed with actions and I did not know this pastor well enough to make that judgment.
While I appreciated this pastors concern, I am neither angry nor bitter for the way I have been treated by pastors. They taught me a valuable lesson: The Lord is my Shepherd. All others are servants of the Good Shepherd. They are not worthy to be worshiped and blindly obeyed.
Dr. Joe McKeever, cartoonist and minister of the gospel, shares his wit wisdom and humor with the Southern Christian Writers Guild.
Author Christa Allan talks about her writing, retirement from teaching High School English and future works at the Southern Christian Writers Guild, Mandeville, Louisiana. Christa is the author of Dancing on Broken Glass, Edge of Grace, and Love Finds You in New Orleans.
Before I left for vacation, I had an unfortunate exchange with a minister. He had a need to find something wrong with me that he could heal. His first attempt resulted in an acknowledgement that he was wrong about me, but he could not leave his quest to “heal me” alone. During this time, I encountered four people from four different churches, who unloaded their frustration with the condescending way they are addressed by ministers and the marginal way they are treated. Cleary, I was not alone.
This minister continued to pick at my life until I had enough. He was not the first minister I’ve encountered who thought God had appointed him to heal me. Those ministers shipwrecked their ministry. Rather than cut him off without explanation, as is the practice among many in ministry, I like to lay everything on the table to guarantee I understood his or her true intentions.
I sent an email explaining how I felt about his quest that also addressed the frustrations of the other Christians. I pointed out that this is not an isolated problem between me and him, but a problem in Christianity. His condescending response left me one option. Remove him from my circle of close friends.
Many years ago, a friend told me the painful truth about my personality. I prayed for the truth. God confirmed the truth by surfacing a multitude of memories that proved my friend was right. Therefore, it’s not my habit to dismiss the assessment of others about me simply because it’s negative. Once again, I asked God for the truth. This time memories failed to surface. Instead, I received a complimentary copy of Charisma Magazine, which I tossed in my suitcase for reading material while lying on the deck of the cruise ship.
Our son brought us to the cruise terminal. We unloaded our luggage and almost didn’t make it on the ship. My husband did not note the difference between “and” and “or”. He marked that he had a fever and a runny nose. The agent quickly dismissed herself with the promise she would be back shortly. I glanced down at the paper. “You don’t have a fever.”
“I have a runny nose.”
“From allergies, there is a difference between “fever and” and “fever or”. By this time, the agent had returned with her supervisor, whom we convinced my husband had misread the question. “No fever, just allergies.” She waved us through.
We ate, explored the ship and found a place in the atrium behind four ladies from Wyoming to watch the Super Bowl on the big screen. An elderly couple from Tennessee sat next to us and bemoaned the $200 they paid to park their car – one of the perks of sailing on Super Bowl Sunday from the host city. A young man from Florida asked if the seats next to us were empty. They were. An inebriated woman from the Wyoming party offered him free beer if he promised to explain the football game. He was reluctant to accept the expensive gift, $8 per beer. “Don’t worry I got lots of money,” slurred the woman. Cruising is so much fun.
Half way through the game my husband and I left for the ships theater, and the “Welcome Aboard” show. We sat behind a couple who had been married 73 years. They won several gifts for being the oldest cruisers. When the master of ceremonies asked the couple how they stayed married that long, he said, “Find a good one.” His wife said, “Have fun.” After the show, the mini burgers, chips, hotdogs and chicken wings we ate during the Super Bowl game negated a reason for dinner. We retired to our room to watch the last 10 minutes of the Super Bowl, and I picked up my magazine to read.
The February 2013 issue of Charisma was a God send that addressed my recent prayer. The title of The Strang Report, written by the magazine’s founder, caught my attention: The Real Church Crisis: As more believers grow disillusioned with church in America, our leaders must wake up to the real issues.
In the article, Mr. Strang addresses the “leadership situation” within the Charismatic community. His first point: “Anointing is more important than academics.” The minister I removed from my close circle of friends was obsessed with academics. Strang addressed sloppy theology and the marginalization of successful people with strong personalities. He concluded church leaders need accountability and true relationship, which produces a spirit of humility and servant hood rather than an “I’m the bishop, serve me” mentality.
I am not the only one who sees a problem in the church. There are many ministers in the church who are unapproachable and uncorrectable. They think they have all the answers and God has appointed them to heal the rest of us. They are the ones creating the “Real Church Crisis”.
“I don’t believe that you are not offended or hurt. You ran for sympathy to people who agree with you, but you will be back,” was the last thing the minister I severed relationship with said to me.
I hope he doesn’t wait too long. I won’t be back.