Home > Looking Back, Ministry > “Stay Here” And A Strange Conversation

“Stay Here” And A Strange Conversation

(Another post about my journey in, out, and back into ministry.)

Although I still didn’t understand my experiences with my calling and work in churches, I gave up on trying to make sense of them.  What had I gained by trying to figure any of it out?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I could live in the past or embrace the future.

I chose the future.

I continued working for an investment firm.  My responsibilities increased over time, the work challenged and fulfilled me, and I seemed to be somewhat good at what I did.  Having reached my mid-thirties, I figured I needed to focus on whatever career I had.

Having been “fired” as a volunteer by a church, I took it as a strong hint that they wouldn’t be looking to me to lead up any ministries in the near or distant future.  Angela and I started looking for another church.

My plan involved finding a place that we liked, somewhere we could be involved and offer whatever experience and skills we had.  I made no plans to pursue any speaking opportunities.  If they came my way, I would accept them, but I wouldn’t go seeking them out.

A friend invited us to their church, a new church that seemed to be struggling.  At one time, they’d had close to fifty people and now they had dropped to about thirty.  We went once and surmised that they didn’t seem to have much a future in front of them.  They had gone from meeting in a church to someone’s apartment.

The following Sunday we tried the exact opposite, a church of about fifteen hundred.  Although we enjoyed the services, the traffic in and out of the church as well as the parking proved to be an enormous hassle.

Since I spent every weekday fighting traffic on the way to work, the thought of doing so on Sunday didn’t appeal to me either.

On to the next possibility.

Someone else invited us to a church they’d recently started attending.  This church also proved to be a new church and from what I could gather off the church’s website they’d been in existence less than a year.

I called the student and college worship pastor from the church in Fort Worth and asked if he knew anything about the guy who pastored this church.  Prior to taking the job at the church in Fort Worth, he had worked at a large church in Arlington.

“What’s his name?”

“Joe Centineo,” I answered.

“Oh yeah,” he answered, “I worked for that guy as an intern.  He’s awesome!”

With two people recommending this church, we decided to try it.

Our friend agreed to meet us there that Sunday.  When we arrived, Joe greeted us.  The friend had gotten sick and called Joe to make sure we were welcomed when we arrived.

(I guess they figured if they’d called us, we wouldn’t have gone knowing they wouldn’t be there.)

(They were probably right.)

On that Sunday, they probably had seventy-five or so people in the church service.  The people seemed to be nice and welcoming.  Since the church had just started they didn’t have their own facility, so they rented the Dottie Lynn Recreation Center on Sunday mornings for their services.  The lighting was dim, the sound was tinny and hard to hear at times.  These things probably stood out more since we’d been at a large church with a new facility the week before.

A group of college-age students sat in the row behind us talking, rustling paper, and periodically kicking the chair that I sat in.

As the sermon started, I decided that we probably wouldn’t be coming back.  For whatever reason, I didn’t feel an immediate connection to this church.  I didn’t feel “it.”  It may sound consumeristic, it may sound selfish, but it’s what I felt.  Actually, it’s what I didn’t feel.

Joe spoke from the book of Genesis with particular focus on the life of Joseph.  He talked of how Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, charged with a crime he didn’t commit by his boss’s wife, and left to rot in an Egyptian prison.  While there, he continued to help people, yet these people continually forgot about their promises to help him when they got out.

Somewhere along in his sermon, Joe said something along the lines of ““God sometimes put people in uncomfortable situations (like Joseph who’d been sold into slavery, sent to prison, and abandoned there) for a purpose.  Perhaps to mold that individual into the person they need to be so that God can use them (like Joseph who ended up being the one who saved a nation, his own family, and even being reconciled with his family).  God puts people in uncomfortable situations for a purpose.  God may be putting you in an uncomfortable situation or place for His purpose.”

Despite the distractions all around me, I listened as best as I could.  One part of my mind wondered what church we could visit the following Sunday.

And then, I heard that voice- God’s voice- speak clearly to me.  “Be here.  Stay here.  Even though it’s uncomfortable.”

(What?)

This place?

Part of me wanted to ask “Why?” but I opted not to do so.  Experience had taught me that I probably wouldn’t get an answer to that question.

I didn’t know what to make of this, but on our way out, Angela asked what I thought, and I replied, “It was all right.”

“Do you want to come back next week?” she asked.

I paused, standing in front of my car door, keys in hand, thinking back on what I had heard, and wondering to myself, am I willing to take that risk again?  Am I willing to follow God wherever?  Am I willing to listen to that voice again?

Will I cling to the hope that God actually knows what he is doing?

Was I willing to be let down (again)?

“Yeah, let’s come back next week,” I replied.

With that decision, we started attending CrossRoads of Arlington in September 2003.

I had no idea nor any expectation of what the future held.

**********************

Almost immediately, I began to feel “it” at CrossRoads.  We met some people and began to feel a part of the church.

In keeping with the plan, we became involved at CrossRoads.  At first, we were part of a home group.  Then Angela became part of a Ladies Bible Study.  We helped with those college-age students who’d been such a distraction to me on that first Sunday.  Periodically, Joe would ask me to preach in his absence.  From time to time, he would call and get my opinion about issues or decisions that he needed to make.  One evening, he handed me the quarterly financial report from the accounting firm and asked if I could help him decipher it.  A year after we’d been there, Joe asked me to join their elder team.  I accepted.

Everything went as I had planned.

*********************

After twelve years of marriage, Angela and I decided we wanted to have a child.  (Actually, she decided first, and then convinced me.)  It took way longer than expected (and that is another topic altogether), but eventually on February 9th, 2005 Samuel was born.

With responsibilities at home, at work, and at church, I had little time consider “that calling to ministry.”  It had become part of my past and I’d be happy if it stayed there.

I had found happiness, success, and contentment.

As the distance from my past ministry work grew, fewer and fewer people knew about it or brought it up.  Occasionally, someone might ask about college and my major which always seemed to necessitate the question, “What are you doing in the investment field?”  One of my bosses would periodically remind me of my past ministry work, stating that one day I would go back to that.

I smiled and nodded my head while I thought, “I don’t think so.”

***********************

One afternoon, I drove to the bank to make a deposit for work.  The empty gas light came on and with some time to spare, I drove around the corner to fill up the tank.

“Better now than after work.”

It was a typical July or August day in Texas when the temperature hitting close to one hundred degrees and certainly feeling significantly hotter than that.  I stood there in my dress slacks, pressed long-sleeve shirt, and tie, sweating profusely.  A man from two pumps over walked towards me.

Oh great, I thought, just what I need, a conversation.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes,” I answered, politely.

I could see that he was missing most of his teeth and his clothes were dirty.

“I was standing over there, and I had this question, ‘Are you a minister?’”

Excuse me.

Did he say what I thought he said?

Why did he ask me that?

Why would he think that?  I’m standing here in north Dallas, dressed like any other businessman in the area.

Why do these strange conversations and thoughts always seem to happen to me?

I answered, “No.”

Technically, the answer was true.  I worked as the Chief Compliance Officer for a registered investment advisor.  I did not work for a church.  I had no desire to seek the employment of a church.  Although I had been licensed as a minister, that certificate had been buried in a filing cabinet somewhere.

“Oh, okay,” he answered.  “I didn’t mean to offend you, but I was standing over there and this thought came to me, that man must be a minister.”

“Sorry,” I offered.

I thought he might leave, but he didn’t.

“Are you a Christian?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He smiled.  “Me, too.  I used to be hooked on methamphetamine, lost all my teeth as you can see, and I worked in the oil fields.  Nothing but drugs there.  But then God saved me and called me to His ministry.  Right now, I’m on my way to a church in (I forget where) to preach a revival.  I have to tell people of what God has done for me.”

“That’s great,” I replied.

And I meant it.  I’m glad that your life had turned around with God’s intervention.

Then came the kicker.  “You wouldn’t be able to have some money to spare to help me get to this church would you?”

I didn’t see the plea for money coming.  I had been too confused by the “Are you a minister?” question.

I didn’t know what to make of this conversation or this man.  He startled me by asking me about my vocation, then told him his life story, and now he asked me for financial help.  Was this really happening to me?

Yes, because the sweat pouring down my back while this guy kept me engaged in conversation was real.

I rarely carry any cash.  If I have it on me, I’ll spend it and do so quickly.  Yet, that afternoon, I happened to have a couple of dollars on me.  For whatever reason, helping someone in need, guilt, appreciation for the novelty of his approach, or something else altogether, I gave him the few dollars that I had.

When I finished, I got in the car and blasted the air conditioner on high.

What had that conversation been about?  Had I been hustled out of a few bucks by a con artist?  Was his question of asking me if I was a minister a way to grease the wheels for his panhandling?

Or had this been something else?  A conversation to get me back on track in line with my calling.

I don’t know.

I tried not to think about it.

*****************************
That Which I Don’t Understand
You Belong Up Here
When They Wouldn’t Accept “No” As An Answer
“No thanks.  I’m really busy.”
“I’m done.  I quit.”
“Why me?  Why here?”
“I Give Up!”

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Categories: Looking Back, Ministry
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