Someone asked Billy Graham when he was old what impressed him most about life. He replied, “Its brevity.” I can certainly relate to that! It’s hard for me to believe that it was forty years ago this month that with much fear and trembling I began as a pastor at a small church in the Southern California mountains. I was just six weeks shy of my 30th birthday (do the math–I’m an old geezer now!). I don’t know what that church was thinking to hire me. They had never had a full-time pastor, so they must have been hard up to snag anyone willing to step into that role.
I told the Lord that I would commit to three years and then see where things were at. I was not only unsure of myself (my three week’s of sermons when I candidated there was the longest series I had ever preached!), but also I had a lot of fears about becoming the pastor of any evangelical church in America. I grew up in the church and saw a lot of bad stuff. The pastor who baptized me was an angry bully (I knew this because my dad served on the deacon board and was often the brunt of his anger). He eventually left his wife and five kids and ran off with a woman counselee. I heard that he later became an alcoholic and compulsive gambler.
From there I started going to a large Baptist church, where I could get involved with the college group. Not long after I began there, I naively went to a meeting that was announced, where we could “learn about what was happening in the church and where it was going from there.” I found out when I got there that this was a meeting to discuss the pastor’s escapades with several women in the church, one of them being the wife of the Christian Education pastor, whose marriage subsequently ended in divorce. I worked with the college pastor for a while, but discovered that he wasn’t really into discipling college students. Rather, he measured success by how many normally disinterested students we could lure to come to our creative programs. After many months of trying to come up with what I called, “Creative programs for carnal Christians,” I finally dropped out of that church and devoted myself to working with the Campus Crusade group at my college.
From there I went to Dallas Seminary, which was culture shock for a Southern California guy. For the first time, I met Baptists who were just cultural Christians. They didn’t really follow Jesus. They just put on their suits (I hate suits!) and went to church where they were part of the good old boy network. By this time, I was not impressed with the churches that I had experienced, to say the least! And I did not want to become the hired guy who “put on the show” every Sunday in an attempt to draw in a growing group of passive spectators!
So, you can see why I was pretty gun shy about stepping into the role of pastor at the tender age of 29! But, God was very gracious to me and spared me from any major challenges or criticism for several years until I was better able to handle it. I ended up staying at that church, by God’s grace, for 15 years. During that time, Campus Crusade opened a seminary at their headquarters just down the mountain and I was able to mentor quite a few students over the years.
But, I had always wanted to serve near a university. Jesus said to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest (Matt. 9:38), and I saw that universities have a great pool of potential workers. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed college students with their questions and eagerness in the things of God. So when I heard about Flagstaff Christian Fellowship’s need for a pastor and the proximity to the university, I decided to submit my resume. I began here in May, 1992, so it’s been almost 25 years now. While we’ve been through several difficult times over the years, God has always been faithful and gracious, in spite of my many shortcomings.
I share all of this first, to give God the glory for His grace and faithfulness to me over these many years. But, also, perhaps someone reading this is where I was at forty years ago–uncertain about how God might use you and feeling inadequate about serving Him. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience in a church (I hope not here!). I hope that you’ll step out in faith, trusting Him to work through you wherever He leads to help extend and build His church. Maybe He will send you to an unreached people group overseas. He may want you to serve in a local church in America. He may call you to work in a secular job where your Christian testimony will shine in the darkness. He may want you to be a stay-at-home mom, to love and rear your children to know and follow the Lord. Wherever He leads, you’ll be in over your head and need to rely on Him every day. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back, thinking, “How did life fly by so quickly?” But you’ll also thank the Lord for His abundant faithfulness. So figure out where He wants you to serve and jump in!