HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to meet Duck Commander, Phil and wife, Kay Robertson, as well as renew acquaintance with their oldest son and newest cast member, Alan and his wife, Lisa. They are good folk, down-to-earth, and seem genuinely humbled not only by their popularity but by the platform it has provided to share Christ. I confess, when I met Alan and Lisa in another context almost 3 years ago I had no idea what Duck Dynasty was. And, when someone else at the table asked him a question about it, I didn’t have to play dumb, I was dumb! I’d never heard of it at that point and even after that conversation still had no idea of the “dynasty” proportion it was even than and certainly is now.

It’s always a blessing to see someone like that using God’s unexpected blessing in their lives to share His Good News.

I left the home yesterday afternoon of one of a member of our congregation named Roger. Roger had died the night before after battling with cancer for 31months. Cancer had to be surprised by the fight he put up because he lasted 20-27 months longer than the doctors had predicted. Roger is one for whom life had reached bottom back in the oil bust of the early ‘80’s and was surprised by God’s unexpected blessing in his life when a former employee of his shared Christ with him at his lowest point. Roger made the decision to follow Jesus as His Savior on that day and never looked back. He went on from there to use his platform as a successful insurance salesman to impact hundreds of lives for Christ. People walked into his office to talk about insurance and hundreds walked out as changed people!

I’m convinced that God has given every one of us a platform of some kind for sharing Christ. Whether you are a reality TV star, a successful insurance salesman, or a checker at WalMart, you have a platform.

How does God want to use your life to make an impact upon others for Christ?

FALL PRECAUTIONS!

I stepped into a hospital room not long ago for a visit where a sign was posted for attending nurses that read, “FALL PRECAUTIONS!” That’s the essence of this terrific blog by James Emery White entitled, Church and Culture (Vol. 9, No. 39). I encourage you to subscribe- all the info you need is at the end. Dr. White hits the nail on the head with great insight and wisdom while speaking out of his own practical life application. Enjoy and… heed! The only thing missing from his recommendations of precautions is… DO CPR! (only because he is not aware of it, I’m sure- J)

FALLING PASTORS

Three senior pastors of megachurches.

And in just a six month period, three moral failures.

Believe it or not, it just happened in Orlando, Florida.

Isaac Hunter, lead pastor of Summit church, resigned in December after admitting to an affair with a staff member. Sam Hinn, pastor of The Gathering Place Worship Center, stepped down in January after admitting to a relationship with a member of the congregation. Then, just a few weeks ago, David Loveless resigned from Discovery Church after admitting to having an affair.

Three megachurch pastors in a single city all resign within a six-month period for extramarital affairs.

Sorry, but “wow.”

The inevitable question? “Why do so many senior leaders give in to sexual temptation?” Because it’s not just these three but many more like them in cities around the country and around the world.

Here are three reasons that come to this fellow pastor’s mind:

1. Emotional Depletion

Many pastors are running on empty emotional tanks. You might have thought I would say “spiritual” tanks, but it’s the emotional fuel gauge that gets us.

A few years ago, my wife Susan and I were part of a mentoring retreat with about a dozen couples, all well-known leaders of large and thriving churches. We started off with an open-ended question: “What are your key issues right now?”

As we went around the room, the recurring answer in each of their lives was “emotional survival.” We shared our stories about the hits and hurts that come our way in ministry as occupational hazards, and how they tear away at our souls, sapping our enthusiasm, our creativity and our missional stamina. We were open about how they leave us creating dreams of finding ourselves on a beach with a parasol in our drink – permanently.

The emotional hits and hurts that come from ministry are legion: failed expectations, hard work, continual output in terms of teaching and leadership, always “on display” as a public figure, the stress of finances – both personally and in the church – the unexpected departure of staff, the pain of letters/emails that criticize your ministry, the pressure of people who want to redefine the vision, mission, or orientation of the church, the relentless torrent of expectations, and the agony of making mistakes.

But the heart of the drain is also our passion: people. We are shepherds, and to push the metaphor, sheep are messy. Unruly. Cantankerous. Smelly. They can be a chore to care for. And they can hurt you more than you could imagine. In particular, through the relational defections of those you trusted, and the crushing crises from those who throw you into crisis mode.

Why does this matter?

When you hurt, if you don’t find something God-honoring to fill your tanks with, you’ll find something that isn’t God-honoring. Or at the very least, you’ll be vulnerable to something that isn’t. I am convinced it’s why pastors struggle with not only pornography, but enter into affairs.

They are emotionally depleted, and therefore, vulnerable.

2. The Lack of Sexual Fences

A second reason why so many give in to temptation is because few leaders build the sexual fences around their life that are necessary for protection.

For example, fences around their thought life in relation to such things as pornography through accountability software or computer placement. Then there are the fences needed in terms of raw interaction with people, such as the need to:

Watch out how and when you are alone with someone of the opposite sex;

…watch how you touch people – being careful with your hugs and lingering touches;

…watch out how you interact with people – not visiting someone alone, at home, of the opposite sex;

…watch out for that long lunch alone together, or staying late and working together on the project.

This is just common sense, but very few build common-sense fences.

And here’s the last 5 percent: even those with fences are tempted to rationalize taking them down when they find themselves attracted to someone. Or their spouse does something (or doesn’t) that they can point to that they feel justifies them looking around at those that might act differently. Suddenly we start looking at fences as for the weak, the immature, the unjustified; we tell ourselves we can handle it, or even deserve it.

It’s often the last moment before the fall.

3. Spiritual Deception

The third reason so many pastors, particularly of large churches, fall prey to affairs is a deep infection of spiritual deception.

Why is our immune system so weak?

Let me tell you something that you may have never heard before: Ministry is spiritually hazardous to your soul. If you haven’t found that out by now, you will.

First, it is because you are constantly doing “spiritual” things, and it is easy to confuse those things with actually being spiritual. For example, you are constantly in the Bible, studying it, in order to prepare a talk. It’s easy to confuse this with reading and studying the Bible devotionally for your own soul.

You’re not.

You are praying – in services, during meetings, at pot lucks – and it is easy to think you are leading a life of personal, private prayer.

You’re not.

You are planning worship, leading worship, attending worship, and it is easy to believe you, yourself, are actually worshipping.

Chances are, you’re not.

When you are in ministry, it is easy to confuse doing things for God with spending time with God; to confuse activity with intimacy; to mistake the trappings of spirituality for being spiritual.

Another reason why ministry is hazardous to your soul is because you are constantly being put on a spiritual pedestal and treated as if you are the fourth member of the Trinity. In truth, they have no idea whether you have spent any time alone with God in reflection and prayer over the last six weeks; they do not know what you are viewing online; they do not know whether you treat your wife with tenderness and dignity.

They just afford you a high level of spirituality.

Here’s where it gets really toxic: you can begin to bask in this spiritual adulation and start to believe your own press reports. Soon the estimation of others about your spiritual life becomes your own.

This is why most train-wrecks in ministry are not as sudden and “out of the blue” as they seem. Most leaders who end up in a moral ditch were veering off of the road for some time. Their empty spiritual life simply became manifest, or caught up with them, or took its toll.

You can only run on empty for so long.

I had a defining moment on this in my life when I was around thirty-years old. A well-known leader fell; one who had been a role model for my life. I was devastated. But more than that, I was scared. If it could happen to him, then I was a pushover.

It didn’t help my anxieties that I was in a spiritual state exactly as I have described: confusing doing things for God and time with God; accepting other’s estimation of my spiritual life in a way that made it easy to bypass a true assessment of where I stood; I was like a cut-flower that looked good on the outside, but would, in time, wilt dreadfully.

I remember so clearly the awareness that I could fall; that no one would ever own my spiritual life but me; and that I needed to realize that the public side of my life was meaningless – only the private side mattered. This was not flowing from a position of strength; it was flowing from a deep awareness of weakness.

So the gun went off.

I began to rise early in the morning for prayer and to read the Bible. I began to take monthly retreats to a bed-and-breakfast in the mountains for a more lengthy immersion in order to read devotional works, pray, experience silence and solitude, and to journal. I entered into a two-year, intense mentoring relationship with a man who had many more years on me in terms of age, marriage and ministry. There was more, but you get the idea: I was going to be a public and private worshiper; I was going to be a student of the Bible for my talks and for my soul; I was going to pray for others to hear, and for an audience of one.

I hope you hear my heart on this. It’s not to boast, it’s to confess. I have to do these to survive.

Maybe you do, too.

Or maybe…you need to start.

James Emery White

Sources

“Discovery Church pastor resigns after admitting to affair,” Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 2013, read online.

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary (Baker).

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

READY FOR CHANGE IN THE NEW YEAR?

Did you make New Year Resolutions for 2013? According to a study based on those who made resolutions at the beginning of last year, a word of congratulations is in order for you! Because, by just making some resolutions you are already ahead of the 55% of Americans who did not make any at all. And, by writing them down, you are ten times more likely to reach your goals. Also, if you were able to keep them beyond the first week, then you have already done better than the 25% who failed to do so. If my math is almost correct, then that makes you part of an elite group of only 36% of Americans who made and kept their New Year resolutions for more than a week. And, the longer you keep them, the more elite you become!

But, have you told anyone what they are? I actually read some research the other day that said you have a better chance of achieving your resolutions if you do not tell anyone! Apparently, when you tell them to someone, you receive just enough sense of gratification from doing so that a little bit of edge is taken off your motivation to actually carry them out. Sounds somewhat reasonable- maybe. Yet, by telling someone what they are it would seem you also significantly raise the bar of accountability- surely more than enough to make up for what you would lose. Then again, I’m certainly no expert.

However, I CAN tell you one thing for certain- the accountability for change that I have found by participating in CPR groups has been a powerful encouragement for me. So much so, that I do not consider it an option in my life. So, let me encourage you. Join or start a CPR group in your area this year. If any of your resolutions has to do with making a change of any kind in your life, I assure you that life change happens best for pastors in a CPR group!

I want to re-post a link to a vimeo that will encourage you. CPR was not around when this pastor needed it the most, but… well, just watch it! Here it is…

Testimony of a Pastor’s Wife (Mine!)

The spouses of pastors often find themselves in a more isolated world of hurt than the pastors themselves. Thus, the need for CPR for spouses is just as great. If you are interested in helping to start CPR for spouses of pastors in your area, please complete the “survey” you can link to on this page that will let us know of your interest.

My wife, Julie, recognized the need in her own life and courageously chose not to wait for a spouse group to come available at the time, but travelled the 12 Step journey with a group of ladies connected to our church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry. I asked her for permission to share her testimony here with you and she graciously agreed. I trust it will bless and encourage you as it has others.

Blessings!

Hess

“Hi. I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with being an adult child of family dysfunction. My name is Julie.

As long as I can remember my family went to church. My uncle was the pastor, my father was a deacon and my mother was the Sunday school secretary of our small neighborhood church. I loved church so much; I would pretend and play “church” just like I would play “school” or “dolls”. Church attendance was an activity I never questioned. We were there whenever the doors were open. I’m thankful for the opportunities I had as a child learning truths from the Bible that my aunt taught me in Sunday school. My interest and love for music was encouraged and nurtured in my church. Even though it was small, my church was an extended family that loved me very much.

At home, though, we lived out secrets that were never mentioned at church. On one side of the coin was a family who were founders and pillars of a church and on the other side were secrets of verbal abuse, affairs, sexual abuse, lies, alcohol and drug abuse.

Growing up I never would have labeled my family as dysfunctional. I knew deep down we had issues as a family but how does a person know what is or isn’t normal when dysfunction is all they’ve ever been around? We were who we were! Don’t get me wrong. There were some happy times; we had fun family times on the lake water skiing and fishing; through the years, relatives from out of town would often visit and stay with us in our home; my mother DAILY prepared a delicious home cooked meal for us and mother and daddy were my biggest supporters in my piano lessons. In fact, my dad would lie on the couch and listen to me play the piano for hours! But as I have discovered in recovery, we were a poster family of dysfunction.

And, I pretty much did everything I could to keep anyone at school from knowing much about my home. I was evasive. I didn’t want friends to come over to my house because I would never know when my father would be yelling at my mother, criticizing her or belittling her. When he wasn’t doing that he was usually quiet. Embarrassingly quiet. My mother would hardly ever respond back to my father and when she did, daddy would reprimand her as if she was a child.

My mother was a stay at home mom, pretty much sacrificing her personality and identity. She seemed to deny herself from hobbies and friendships. She still made sure, though, she did not deny herself of getting her hair done every Friday at 11AM! During the week, between her beauty shop appointments, mother would wrap her hair up in toilet paper to protect her teased hair! She had such a fun personality under all her toilet paper. I remember, though, being terribly frustrated, even as a little girl at mother. I felt like she could be so much more than what she was. She was bright, beautiful and fun loving, yet, she seemed so suppressed or locked up.

I recall a time I was in the car with my mother when we had been doing errands. We were near my father’s workplace. We passed by my father’s truck. He was driving and sitting right next to him under his arm was another woman. My mother didn’t say a single word. She kept driving. I didn’t say anything, either. There was another day around that same time period when I was with my mother and she drove by a house where my father’s truck was parked. Even at a young age, I knew that my dad should not have been at that house. I was so sad because I could tell my mother was heartbroken. I recollect another memory in my father’s upholstery shop, which was in the basement of our home. I loved hanging around him and making pillows on his sewing machine. I opened the basement door of the shop and obviously surprised my dad with his “female helper”. To my knowledge there was never any type of confrontation on the issue of my father’s obvious problem with affairs. It was a mute subject. It was one of many secrets in our family that was swept under the rug.

My parents weren’t the only ones to keep secrets. I learned early that keeping secrets was the way we functioned. One of my secrets was that a boy that lived one block from our house sexually abused me as a child. He was my brother’s friend. When the neighborhood boys would play ball or army he would stay behind and visit with me. Of course, I loved the attention. I was only seven years old. The boy was in junior high school and it was fun to be included. There was a neighborhood tree house that had been built across the street from our home. We would meet alone in the tree house when all the other kids were away playing. He would show me pictures from magazines and books that young innocent eyes should have never been exposed to. He introduced me to situations I wasn’t prepared or able to handle at a young age. He would assure me it was all right. By never telling my parents about what happened in the tree

house I set myself up for a lifetime of lying and avoidance of truth.

I have two older brothers. Paul, who is now deceased, and Steve. Paul was our “Bubba”. We called him that with much love, admiration and endearment. He was very charismatic, fun loving and a leader who carried more responsibility for his family than he probably should have. I’m sure he knew the secrets, too. As I reflect back on the past, I believe Bubba tried to smooth over many rough times by talking to my mother on the phone when my father was stoic and cold or angry and volatile toward her. Bubba was the one that would provide a peaceful place by encouraging me to have my friends over to his and my sister in law’s home because he knew the chaos of yelling either by my dad towards my mom or my other brother, Steve, towards my mom. He and my sister in law would be the ones to attend most of my extra curricular school activities. I remember my friends would think that they were my parents. There were times I wish I had lived with them instead of my own home. Bubba would also bale Steve out of many situations so mother and daddy wouldn’t be bothered or get upset with “who knows what all” Steve was involved with.

Steve was someone who could have possibly benefitted from adolescent counseling or

therapy, but it just wasn’t the thing to do in the sixties and early seventies. Honestly, even if it was, I believe my parents would have been too prideful to pursue help of that nature. Remember…our family kept secrets. Steve was not one to engage with others socially. He was a loner. I believe he probably had a low self-esteem as a child and adolescent. Steve fulfilled his deep, deep void of loneliness with alcohol, drugs and pornography. My parents never held him accountable to much of anything. It was as if they had their heads buried in the ground unable to face the truth that Steve needed help. The sad story is Steve is now a 58-year-old homeless man who is still addicted to drugs, alcohol and pornography searching for something or someone to fill his void.

When my husband, Hess, began to talk about a ministry called, “Celebrate Recovery” I wondered if this might be something God could use to help my brother, Steve. When I heard the life transforming testimonies given by people involved with Celebrate Recovery it gave me hope for him.

So, I began my first CR step study in 2008 thinking it would give me the tools to deal with my brother. However, I did not complete my first step study. Guess when I quit? If you said during the 4th step you are correct! When we got to the personal inventory part, it was too personal! Of course, after quitting I was ashamed and felt really unspiritual because I, the pastor’s wife, could not finish a step study. I was also prideful blaming the reasons for not completing the study on my very busy schedule filled with commitments I had convinced myself were much more important than a CR step study. Instead of getting real I was staying busy.

I started another step study in September 2010, and knew without a doubt that after the first lesson, the CR step study was for me. My brother, Steve’s, issues were out in the open and obvious to everyone. But my issues were hidden. Secrets buried for many, many years. I realized after the first lesson (the second time around) I had been living in denial for a long, long time. I realized I needed recovery from habits that were embarrassing and shameful. I needed healing from hurts that I had been stuffing way deep down inside. My hang-ups were forming all around me and I was literally getting to the point that I was becoming irreversibly hardened to the idea of God ever being able to change me for His purpose. After the first lesson in September 2010, my prayer to God was, ‘O.K. God. It is now or never. I can’t wear my mask of ‘pastor’s wife’ anymore. This is the raw me. I’m going to be honest. I choose to be transparent. I know honesty is the only way we are going to get anywhere. I don’t want this to be like all of the other Bible studies, conferences or trainings I’ve gone to in the past. I want this to work. If it doesn’t, I think I’m done.’

In the first lesson of the step study it says that we are “as sick as our secrets”. I grew up in a family with many secrets and I learned in childhood and adolescence how to keep my own. These secrets included misusing alcohol during high school. Alcohol was readily available among my friends. I also discovered I could order alcohol in certain restaurants without being carded. And with my impulsive nature, I had no boundaries as far as knowing when to stop drinking. I was involved in wrong relationships and I found myself lying to anyone and everyone to cover up my impulsive and compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately I carried the damaging habits of my lies, my impulsiveness and compulsiveness into adult life as well. Where it has been most damaging has been in my marriage. I would often lie or be evasive with Hess, particularly in relationship to our money. I also chose to be isolated from others because I feared anyone knowing that I had struggles. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was not perfect, which is so prideful. I thought I could not allow anyone, including my family, know how sick I was because of my secrets. So, I wore a mask at church, work and at home…a mask of a person that was non-challant and happy go lucky. At times, though, I could not maintain that mask, especially at home. I would often erupt in unexplained anger and rage with Hess and the girls. My daughters would sometimes refer to me as the “Incredible Hulk” although there was nothing incredible about it.

I thought I was successful at wearing a mask. I thought I was getting away with living a lie. I really didn’t think anyone knew but they did. Most of all my family. My denial of who I was and what I had experienced had kept me in the dark for many years. My life was a type of a tornado on the inside just waiting to spew out. In God’s word it says: ‘They cried to the Lord in their troubles, and he rescued them! He led them from their darkness and shadow of death and snapped their chains.’ Psalm 107: 13-14. When I began my step study in 2010, I literally cried out to the Lord and He was faithful to rescue me! He was the only one who could snap the chains of secrets that had been built up in me for years. I realized that I was not God and I admitted to Him that I was powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong things and that my life was unmanageable even though I was in church whenever the doors were open.

Working through the twelve steps and eight principles of Celebrate Recovery has been the tool God continues to use to break the cycle of the insanity created in my life that has been filled with lies and secrets. God is literally giving me the “serenity to accept the things that I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.” I’m so grateful to Him for not giving up on me.

Now when I go to church, I’m not wearing a mask. I am soaking up every sermon preached, every scripture read, every testimony shared, every song that is sung and every bit of fellowship and communication shared with others knowing how fortunate I am to be a part of a community of people that are choosing to live out God’s purpose. I make sure I share any potential “secrets” and confess them either with my sponsor, some of my accountability girlfriends, with my husband or with one (or all) of my daughters.

God didn’t give up on me and I need to tell you He did not give up on my father, either. In 1980, when my father was almost 60 years old, he committed his whole life to Jesus Christ. The same man that was filled with anger and selfishness so many years became a sincere and faithful worshiper of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m so thankful God allowed me to experience the joy of watching my dad grow in His relationship with Jesus before he passed away. As difficult as it is at times, I still have hope for my brother, Steve. I know the Lord wants to meet Steve where he is. I know only God has the power to heal him.

I don’t want to pick the mask back up again. I want to be exactly who God has created me to be. Like the Apostle Paul says in Philippians, ‘Dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing; Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.’

Thank you for letting me share!”

WHAT ABOUT THE SPOUSES???

We’ve talked for some time now about the need for a safe place where pastors can find help and healing for their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. That’s the purpose of CPR (Celebrate Pastors in Recovery). But something we haven’t talked about nearly enough is the need for a safe place where spouses of pastors can find help and healing. The need is just as great, if not more so. The depth of feelings of isolation, loneliness, and fear in the midst of struggles is often greater for spouses than for pastors.

Several years ago an old college friend and his wife were leading a church in the Midwest. They went through a period of time in which they experienced some struggles in their marriage- nothing of an immoral nature, just struggles. She needed a friend in whom she could confide and who would be a prayer partner concerning the need. There was only one woman in the church she felt she could completely trust. That woman was a little older and had been one of the apparent spiritual leaders among the women of the church for many years. One morning, my friend’s wife bared her soul to this church leader as a confidant. Well, you probably know where this story is heading. Turns out, the woman was not trustworthy at all. And it was only a brief time later that other key leaders in the church were made aware of my friends’ struggles. To make a longer story shorter, my friend ended up having to leave that church, both of them tragically broken over the betrayal that had taken place.

Pastor’s spouses, just as much as pastors, desperately need a safe place where they can find healing, too. That’s where CPR groups for spouses can be of critical help. Listen to the following two testimonials I have received in recent weeks from pastor’s spouses who have courageously walked through the 12 steps of Celebrate Recovery in a CPR group for spouses…

Being a pastor’s wife can sometimes demand perfection from this world. I believe it’s easy to feel pressure from this world to be someone we’re not. I am a child of God dealing with sin, striving to accept His grace daily, realizing that the enemy desires for my life to be entangled by his lies, yet my Savior is beckoning me to freedom everyday. And I’m understanding more and more that I cannot do this alone. What a beautiful thing…I don’t have to walk alone, none of us do. My pride, control issues, codependency issues, and performance addictions can destroy me. But with the help of my Heavenly Father, my spouse, accountability team, and others around me, I can strive to walk with freedom with true joy on this earth, as I look forward to being supremely happy with our Father one day. I am grateful… for the Lord’s work in and through this ministry. I am thankful for brokenness, and for a group of women who know me well enough to encourage me, ask me hard questions, pray for me, and love me. I am grateful for a program that is a tool to help find healing and restoration from our Jesus. Praying others will journey through this someday.

Being in the position I was in as a pastor’s wife put me at a disadvantage when it came to discussing the real hard and very deep things that people experience. I felt that I couldn’t share the ugly stuff for fear that people would view me or my husband differently than the position that we held. I needed to look like I held it together at all times. But the truth was that I faced all sorts of struggles and trials… I found that being a part of a CPR step study group for pastor’s wives was truly a blessing. I discovered that my struggles aren’t isolated to just me. We all have stuff! I got to share without feedback or fear. You don’t realize how much vocalizing your heart can also help heal it. It was a wonderful experience to have been a part of that group of women. I no longer believe that I am singled out because I happen to be married to a pastor but I am responsible for allowing God to use my hurts, hang-ups and habits to glorify Himself.

Help spread the word. The need is enormous. We are ready and willing to be of help any way we can in getting CPR groups started for pastors and for spouses. If you are interested or you know someone who may be, complete the 4-question interest survey in the “Connect” box on the right hand side of this page and you’ll receive a confidential reply from us shortly.

HISTORY IN THE SBC

I am and lead a church that is a cooperating member of the Southern Baptist Convention. I grew up in an SBC church. I was there from the first time I pooped in my diapers until I left for college. When I say I was there, I mean every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and many days and nights in between for eighteen years- with the exception of vacation or highly contagious illness. And, I am deeply grateful that for all those years I was blessed to have the same pastor (a miracle of longevity I was unaware of at the time).

It was a great church filled with lots of great people, many of whom God used to shape my life and prepare me for ministry. The only public disagreement I ever witnessed took place during my junior year in college in 1974. I just happened to be home from college on what turned out to be a historic spring Sunday in the life of our church, which was located in the heart of Memphis, TN. On that day, for the first time since the founding of the church in the late 1800’s, African Americans presented themselves for membership.

The typical routine when someone joined in those days was for our pastor to introduce the new member candidates to the congregation immediately after the invitation and to actually vote to receive them. After saying their names, he would ask, “all in favor say, “aye,” and then pause as the 1500+ in unison always said, “aye.” Following that, he would say, “all opposed with like sign.” That phrase was merely a tacked-on afterthought and, without pausing for a response, my pastor typically would continue on with the order of service. But that was not a typical morning.

He had never paused and there had never been a “no” vote… until that Sunday. He still didn’t pause, but in spite of that, for the first time in the 20+ years I had attended, there were a couple of “no” votes- loud ones. Then my pastor did pause. He spoke a brief, kind, but pointed word, and graciously called for an “all opposed” vote again, clearly hoping that this time minds would change and there would be none. Unfortunately, he was wrong. A handful of others became emboldened and there were more harsh “no’s.”

I had never experienced such an air of tension before. Several of the teenagers raced out of the sanctuary into the lobby in shock and in tears. My pastor then seated the family (who had bravely and awkwardly stood there during the proceedings). Many men in that circumstance would have settled for letting the “ayes” have it and moved on, allowing things to fester, but not my pastor, Dr. R. Paul Caudill. He was not willing to settle for ANY opposition. So, before dismissing the congregation, he called for an emergency mandatory meeting of the deacons for that afternoon.

I wish I could have been in that meeting. My understanding is that he simply told the deacons that the church should unreservedly welcome this family into our membership or he could no longer serve as the pastor of a church that would not. In his mind and heart, there was no other choice. For over 35 years he had been beloved by the people and the city. So, there apparently was very little discussion. That said a whole lot not only about him, but also about the character of most of the deacons present as well.

I’m delighted to say that the very next Sunday the family was unanimously received into the church, while the church waved “goodbye” to the handful who had been so vocally negative. They were never missed. If memory correctly serves me, our church was the first “white” church in the city of Memphis to receive a “black” family into its membership. That spring Sunday in 1974 was historic for the First Baptist Church of Memphis. And, yesterday, a summer Wednesday in 2012, was historic for the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC, for the very first time, elected an African American as President. It was a blessed day.

My prayer now is two-fold. I pray that this will open the door for much more diversity in our convention as a whole. And, I pray that Dr. Luter will lead us not only toward more extensive racial reconciliation, but toward reconciliation regarding the rift that was created through the 80’s and 90’s that divided our convention right down the middle. Many good leaders who were no less conservative but had a disdain for the politics of those years, were told, in effect, “you have no place here.” It was prejudice, just of another variety. Most have long since moved on, just grateful for the autonomy of the local church. Many others simply could care less anymore. However, I can’t help but think that an expression of reconciliation would go a long way toward healing long lasting wounds and strengthen our convention.

I’m grateful for Dr. Fred Luter. And, I’m grateful for Dr. R. Paul Caudill and others like him who courageously helped lay the foundation for such a day as this.

WHY DO WE DO IT?

For nine long years I watched a dear friend practically killed himself- and I mean that literally- trying to pastor a church. During that period of time, the church more than doubled in size to an average attendance of about a 1000 (in a town of less than 10,000), the budget tripled, and more baptisms took place in that nine year span than had happened in the previous fifty. The reason he practically killed himself was not so much because of all the hard work, but because there was a dysfunctional group of longstanding “influencers” who were constantly at odds with him. Finally, that small group made it impossible to continue on and my friend was faced with a decision to either split the church and go start a new one- which he could have easily done with several hundred folks; or, simply walk away. Mercifully he walked away. I mean mercifully for him and his family- not the church. It was a wise decision.

The good news that resulted is that within a few short months, my friend moved to another state to pursue his Ph.D. Shortly after enrolling in school, he was called to be the interim pastor of a small, struggling church. Today, he is still the pastor. And God has blessed as that small struggling church has been the fastest growing church in the city for the 16 years he’s been there.

The bad news? The church he left, the church to which he gave his life’s blood for nine years before having to leave, quickly shriveled to a small group of families who struggled to keep the doors open.

Let me ask you a question. What if you knew that the church or ministry you are currently killing yourself to build and grow was going to end up in the tank?

Toward the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, in chapter 31, God reveals something to Moses that almost takes your breath away. Moses has just given his life’s blood for forty years to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land and they are about to enter in. Then, the startling revelation:

Deut. 31:20-21; “ For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. 21And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.”

God’s saying, “Moses, after all you’ve done these past forty years to get them here, let me tell you what is going to happen to these people from here. They’re going to take this land of promise. But, after they fatten up a little, they’re going to forget me. They’re going to follow other gods and turn their backs on me- completely desert the faith. Then, disasters are going to come their way as a result. I even want you to write a song about it.”

The Bible doesn’t say how Moses responded to God’s announcement. On the one hand, it could not have been a complete surprise, given the track record of the Israelites for the previous forty years. But, on the other hand, I wonder how those prophetic words made him feel after all he had done to finally get them to the Promised Land? “For nine years you’re going to practically kill yourself building and growing this church, but shortly after you leave, disasters are coming and there’s not going to be much left to show for it.”

So, how would that make you feel? How do you resist the temptation to become an angry cynic? Why do we do what we do?

I think the commentary on Moses’ life in Hebrews 11:26 is the best answer. “He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” For Moses, the ultimate prize was never the Promised Land or the people. It was the reward of Christ.

Why do we do it? Is fulfillment in ministry finally found in the butts, buildings, baptisms, and budgets? All of which are at risk of being here today and gone tomorrow? Ultimately, like Moses, it comes down to one thing- the faithful pursuit of the reward of Christ. That requires eternal perspective. And, no doubt, that’s why the writer of Hebrews goes on to say in ch. 12, “And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”