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“I Give Up!”

“I will never- ever- do that again.”

On Easter Sunday 1995, that emphatic thought resounded in my brain as I drove away from Wilmeth Baptist Church located in Wilmeth, Texas.  Although I had enjoyed the last year at this church, in my mind, I had just preached my last sermon.  Under no circumstances would I ever work for another church again.

Ever.

I had not taken the job as pastor at Wilmeth with the purest of motives.  Rather, I had taken the job to prove a point to someone, that someone being me.  I wanted to prove to myself that my experience at a previous church had not been my fault.  I was not a failure.  Having sufficiently demonstrated that point to myself, I now felt ready to move on to the next phase of my life.

I just had no idea what that might be.

And I was all of twenty-five years old.

At age eighteen, after a long period of thought, I arrived at the conclusion that God had called me to be a minister.  With this in mind, I left home in San Antonio and enrolled at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas where I majored in Bible.  (This was the literal title of my major.)  A year later, my sophomore year in college, I started preaching every other Sunday at Eolian church in Eolian, Texas.  (Eolian doesn’t appear on many Texas state maps for some reason, but the town is located just outside of Breckenridge, Texas.)  This church happened to be a bi-denominational church compromised of Baptists and Methodists.  To satisfy both groups, they had the Baptist minister preach on the first, third, and fifth Sundays of the month while the Methodist minister preached on the second and fourth Sunday of the month.

Eolian Church happened to be a far cry from my church experiences in San Antonio.  In San Antonio, I’d attended a large Baptist church that had two Sunday morning services with approximately five to seven hundred in attendance on a given Sunday.  At Eolian, there might be twenty-five people on a good Sunday and three on a bad.  To get to this church you had to drive down a gravel road, but there were no signs indicating the presence of a church, so I assumed that everyone in the nearby area knew that this church existed.  On my first visit to Eolian, I had been directed to go not to the church, but to the home of the couple that oversaw the church.  I then rode with them to the church.

The more I preached, the more comfortable and confident I became in my abilities.  I don’t know if I’d begun to do a good job or not, but I no longer felt nervous and petrified every time I stood up to preach.  It seemed like an improvement to me.

Along with my increased confidence, I started to tire of the hour long drive to Eolian.  I don’t know if it had been the drive itself or that the service started at nine am that wore on me more.  I also wanted more challenges.  I wanted to preach more than twice a month and I wanted to begin developing the other skills required of a pastor.  Being an hour away from the church limited my ministerial responsibilities to preaching only.

Someone made me aware of a small Baptist church in Abilene that needed a pastor.  Including stop lights, they were only ten minutes from my house.  I met with their interim pastor, who gave me a rundown on the church and its history as well as the people in the church.  It appeared to be a good possibility.  After meeting with him, I met with the church on a Wednesday night and I may have preached at a Sunday service (one of those weekends when the Methodist minister preached at Eolian).  Although they were very nice people, I walked away with no immediate desire or inclination to accept the offer.  I felt no connection or draw to the people or to the church.  To me, it seemed as if we had nothing in common.  We didn’t seem as though we fit one another.

“Oh well,” I thought and moved on.  I informed the interim pastor that although I appreciated the church’s interest and time, I did not feel drawn or compelled to pursue or accept the position of pastor at this church.

I then resigned myself to making that hour long drive to Eolian every other Sunday.  It could be worse, I could have no opportunities or I could be in a church that I didn’t like.  I had a few friends who worked in churches throughout the area and they were miserable.  At least that hadn’t been my experience.  So, even though there probably weren’t many other churches in Abilene that would be interested in hiring a twenty-one year old kid as their pastor, I still had a good thing going in Eolian.

A couple of months passed, and then one day, completely out of the blue, the thought of this church in Abilene entered my mind.  It seemed crazy to me, and I expected that thought to pass.  A few days passed, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this church.  Why?  There was no reason to reconsider this church, but the thought wouldn’t leave me alone.  Had I made a mistake?  I didn’t think so.  When I’d met with them, I’d felt nothing.  The decision had been made.

But that church kept coming to mind.  Why?

Still, I figured the thought of them would eventually go away.

After a week, it hadn’t.

So, I wondered, am I supposed to do something?  If so, what was it that I was supposed to do?  They had most likely already found their new pastor, so that couldn’t be the issue, so what could it be?  Nothing about this whole scenario made any sense.

I reached the point that I wanted my mind to focus on something else, and so I figured that the only way for that to occur would be for me to find out what happened.  That’s the only conclusion I could reach.  Without an appointment, I went to the interim pastor’s office one afternoon.  He happened to work on the HSU campus.  I figured he’d probably moved on to another church as well.

I blurted out my reasoning for coming.  “This might kind sound of silly, but this church has been on my mind recently.  I don’t know why.  Anyway, I though I check with you to find out what happened.  I take it they have already found someone.”

He grinned at me.  “Yes, they have.”

I was an idiot and a fool.

And now this guy was laughing at me.

I don’t know what I was thinking.  I could be so stupid sometimes.  I don’t know if I thought God was leading me to do something like this even though it made no sense at all or if something else was going on.  I wondered if I might be losing my mind.

He continued.  “They found their new pastor a few months ago.”

“That’s great,” I replied with absolutely no interest in continuing the conversation.  I reached down and grabbed my backpack.

I felt incredibly stupid.  This guy would have a good laugh about this for awhile.  Hopefully, he wouldn’t mention this to any of the professors and embarrass me further.

“When they found their pastor, they disbanded the search committee, and the church has been praying for God to change this man’s mind.”

Huh?

This didn’t make any sense.  I hesitated before asking the following, “Who are they praying for?”

“You.”

In that instant, I was floored, humbled, shocked, and awed.  These people had been praying for God to change my mind, it had worked, and now here was the culmination of their prayers.

This man made a phone call and setup a meeting for me to meet with this church again, although we all knew it would be a mere formality.  When I left his office, I had no idea what the future had in store, but I figured that it had to be something absolutely incredible.  After all, this was not how pastors and churches were typically united.  Churches and pastors usually meet and form some sort of connection right away.  Here, I’d felt nothing, yet the people at this church had sensed that God had called me to be their pastor.  They held fast to this belief, prayed for God to act, and now, God had answered their prayers.

This was going to be some kind of life-changing experience.

And it was, just not the one I had planned or expected.

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Categories: Ministry
  1. January 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

    What a great story. I assume because God orchestrated it, everything went perfectly, right? 🙂

    • January 27, 2011 at 2:56 pm

      Not even close, but that part will be coming soon. Probably next week.

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