Pastor's Blog

My blog for the past year and a half or so has been a review of my first 20 years in ministry.  It began in September 1982 and ended in June 15, 2003, the day we entered the new building.

It’s strange to look back on life and assess where you’ve been and what you’ve done, what you accomplished and hope yet to accomplish, where you succeeded and where you failed, what you’d do the same and what you’d do differently, and most of all – what your life meant and continues to mean.

I came into the ministry in 1982 with a lot of ideals about which I was certain and confident.  I was critical of large churches.  I felt they worked like machines pushing people through an assembly line of programs to produce one-size-fits-all disciples.  I felt like they were focused on programs rather than people and that they were impersonal and distant.  I believed in personal ministry – preaching the truth and people carrying out the truth.  I believed in the church as a community -- loving one another, encouraging one another, trusting one another, growing together, being faithful and loyal to the Lord and to one another, generations growing together like a spreading tree of deeply connected meaningful friendships.

During the first twenty years of ministry, I believe we had a good bit of that at our church.

But I truly believe that although the Father is interested in His church, He is also interested in molding me.  And in doing so, He seems to be having the last laugh.

The things I was aiming to develop, we had at our little church.  As a result, our little church grew into two services – two congregations.  And we had the tight fellowship I was shooting for in both services/congregations.

But things were getting stretched.  We started to experience discomforts.  There wasn’t enough parking.  The building was too small.    There wasn’t room for new people or growth.  Our bathrooms were downstairs.  They were small and there was no access to them for the disabled.  We were running out of space to handle burgeoning children’s ministries and a booming nursery.

I had been raised to “make-do”.  But not everyone else was.  Some people were getting disgruntled and wanted me to do what it took to handle the growth.

But that would mean becoming a big church.

In my prayer times I could almost hear God chuckling as He checkmated me.  I was not wrong – small, personal churches are a wonderful thing.  But when you have a wonderful thing – it grows.  And when a small church grows, it becomes a big church.

And the Lord’s personal challenge to me for the next leg of the journey was to learn to become the thing I didn’t want to be, the thing I had always criticized:  a big church.  It was as if the Lord stood back and said, “Okay – you’re the one with the ideals and the confidence and the certainty.  You’ve been the one who’s criticized my other servants who have led larger churches.  Show us, now, how it’s done.”

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God – even when He’s laughing at you!

In September 2000 an email from one of our missionaries popped into my inbox.  A missionary teacher at a little Christian college in the Pacific Islands had to return to the US because of illness, and an instructor was needed to teach two intense classes – a semester’s worth of information squeezed into three weeks – on the subjects of Genesis and Church History.  The instructor was needed by the end of November – about eight weeks from the time I read the email.

The situation caught my interest, as it seemed a providential convergence of a few of the streams of my life.  I had always wanted to teach at a college level and this would provide me that opportunity without having to leave my job.  My graduate degree is in Hebrew and Old Testament studies, so a class on Genesis was right up my alley.  Furthermore, history is a special interest of mine and I had taken numerous elective classes on church history.  I had never been out of the country, much less to any sort of mission field, so I thought it would be important exposure for me as a pastor.  The Chuukese speak English so I could get to work immediately without language preparations.  And finally, my head needed a break from the stresses I had been under; three weeks teaching in the Pacific Islands sounded good to me.

The elders of our church graciously agreed to pay my salary while I was gone and to cover my airfare for the trip.  There was a lot to do in eight weeks – flights to arrange, a passport to be gotten, supplies to be purchased, class materials to be put together, and a crash course in missions and Chuukese culture to be taken.

Pacific Islands Bible College was in Chuuk, one of the states in the Federated States of Micronesia.  Chuuk is a lagoon, a ring of volcanic islands rising from the ocean.  During WWII, Chuuk was called “Truk Lagoon” and was held by the Japanese fleet.  On February 17-18, 1944 American air and land forces sank the Japanese fleet harbored there in Operation Hailstone.  During my preparations to go to Chuuk I discovered another little providence:  my step-grandfather was one of the Marines that landed there as a part of Operation Hailstone in 1944!

Today, Chuuk is a diver’s paradise.  Divers from all around the world come to explore the sunken Japanese wrecks at the bottom of the lagoon.

The flight to Chuuk took seventeen hours over two days.  I left from Philadelphia and had to switch planes in Houston and again in Honolulu.  From Honolulu I flew into Guam and stayed overnight with one of the missionaries.  The next morning I took the hour long flight south to Chuuk.

That was the first time I ever flew on a jet plane.  I was almost forty years old. 

Maybe I’ll share some of my experiences at Pacific Islands Bible College in upcoming blogs.  In closing this chapter, let me just say that my time in Chuuk was an eye-opening, life-changing experience.  It was a teaching experience custom-made for my soul and for the person I had become.  It was academic but it wasn’t mere academia.  It was chock-full of practical experience and life application for me and for my students.  It was not a teaching experience I would have ever dreamed of, but it was the dream God had for me – and when I lived it out, it was a wonderfully fulfilling dream come true.  He knew what I needed far better than I did.  God is truly so, so good.

Our little church had worked hard for almost fifteen years to save the money to purchase a 13-acre plot of ground for expansion.  Finally, that day arrived.  We paid cash for the property – everything we had -- and one of our elders quipped, “In about ten years we’ll have enough for a down payment so we can put a building on the property!”

I felt like a quickly deflating balloon flying willy-nilly around the room.

We couldn’t afford additional staff, so I had been pastoring alone, leading two services for several years and there was talk of adding a third.  I was getting stretched thin emotionally and I was wearing out.  I didn’t know if I could do it for another ten years.  So, I did something – actually TWO things – that were completely uncharacteristic of me.

Although I am committed to the idea of being faithful and not giving up on a congregation entrusted to me, there have been a few times in my pastoral career – when the pressure seemed unbearable – that I thought about seeking a different church.  It’s uncharacteristic of me, but I’ve come to that point a few times.  One of those opportunities arose in the mid-90’s when I was struggling with the thought of doing two or more services for ten more years.  Through a series of providences (or what appeared to be providences) a door opened to take a church on the west coast.  I went through a few phone interviews with leadership from that church.  The thought of getting out from under the pressure at Mountain View sounded like such a relief. 

But I just couldn’t bring myself to complete the process.  The grass certainly looked greener, but I couldn’t bring myself to abandon a flock entrusted to me by the Lord, people that I deeply loved.  Deep down I felt like I was taking the easy way out instead of learning crucial life lessons custom-made by a sovereign God Who wanted to mold me through hardship. 

I terminated the candidating process with the west coast church.  But I determined that if I were going to stay at Mountain View, I wasn’t doing another ten years of two services (much less, three!).  The second uncharacteristic thing I did was to challenge our congregations to quickly raise the money for a new building so we could get back together as one church.  I’m not a big cheerleading project-leader executive type of guy, nor am I a big risk-taker who loves to try new things.  I’m staid and prosaic.  But I did not want another ten years of struggle and discomfort for myself, my family, or the church.  Other churches were able to raise money and build, I thought, so why shouldn’t we?  The worst we could do was fail.  So why not take the risk and try?

I knew NOTHING about big building projects.  They don't teach you that in Bible college or seminary, and I’m a teacher by gift, not an executive or administrator.  But the Lord put men and women around me who knew all about raising money and working with engineers and builders and governments and attorneys – and I hate to put it this simply – but the next thing I knew, we had the money for a down payment and were making plans to break ground. 

Those years and that process are a blur in my memory.  I don’t recall how it all came together.  I just know that it did.  There were many little providences that came together to enable us to move into a new building in June 2003 and become one congregation again after seven years of being two.  And that launched a new leg of my life’s journey.

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