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A Life Surrendered, A Journey Still Unknown

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Wow! What a morning at church, yes you heard that right, perhaps a game changer for this near "Done", Both/And, former evangelical, long time churchman, now turned entrepreneur!

You might want to read my earlier morning post first, or just hold that thought until the end, if in my excitement we even get there!

When I first began this journey as a Christ-follower, an unexpected epiphany had occurred in my dad's living room. It was back in 1973, when I simply surrendered my life, one that had gone completely off the rails due to a suicide, followed by an irreconcilable divorce.

Soon others began to witness the change in my life, to include my English teacher friend across the hall. We would later marry, as she too experienced her moment of surrender.

As well, the invitation to a citywide prayer breakfast would eventually open my first leadership opportunity outside the public school classroom. It was in one of those Friday morning breakfasts that I would meet a Pentecostal pastor, though the breakfast was made up mostly of Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans. Other than my dad, he became my first mentor in the faith.

He had cajoled me into attending his church, then shorty afterwards, even further engaged me as an adult Sunday School teacher. I assume my vocation qualified me in his eyes; so, with the help of a denominational "quarterly" as a curriculum guide, and a Scofield Bible given to me by the Student Council which I was responsible for at school, I jumped right in.

That role required me to study scripture, perhaps God's way of discipling this young science teacher. I would soon be offered an opportunity to become the District (statewide) Education Director in our denomination. Through that position, I spent time with perhaps the most impactful of all mentors, Dr. Charles Cookman, then the denomination's superintendent.

That role introduced me to numerous pastors across our state, with the leadership at that time mostly male. I was soon invited to participate in a men's retreat held each year and upon a retirement within that department, I would be asked to step into a new leadership roll as statewide Men's Director. All this fast-tracking was as a volunteer given that I continued my public school classroom responsibilities for income purposes.

The retreat grew in attendance each year, as well as a boys program known as Royal Rangers, which also fell under the department. Because of our growth, as well as funding raised for mission purposes by way of a third program entitled, Light For the Lost, our department was gaining notoriety at the national level. I would soon be asked to serve on a four man national advisory committee.

By then it was 1985, and I was in the last year of a Masters degree, with a concentration in Community Development, studying critical funding strategies such as foundations, and other nonprofit structures. I had plans to fully engage with the denomination upon the completion of my degree, as I had been asked to consider an opportunity as National Men's Director.

Ironically, the day I returned home from my comprehensive exams, a story caught my eye in the local newspaper announcing an opening in the central office of an adjoining school system. I heard as plain as ever, "That's your job!" It was also an opportunity that would not require uprooting my family at a time when my daughter would be entering first grade in that very system.

Those were all pivotal moments in our professional life. However in that interim, I had met an amazing young pastor who was only one year younger than myself, one who I truly admired. I had invited him as guest speaker to the last men's retreat for which I was responsible, given that I would later resign from my denominational roles, given a much more demanding job with the public schools.

He was such an influence on my life that my wife and I would later choose to attend the church he pastored, which required us to drive some thirty miles, after having for thirteen years attended a church which we had helped physically build, and only some 6-8 city blocks from our first home.

If you have been following this series of posts, you might recall that five years after my new position in community realtions with the local school system, I had completed a third degree as a strategic part of my career track toward school superintendent, a position that would finally provide respectable income stream and a fairly secure retirement at age fifty. However during that degree program, I had been asked to come on board as an associate with that same pastor. That position offered no retirement, no medical benefits and a lower pay! Uhmmm?

My pursuit of assignments across our community during my five years as an associate with two superintendents and an amazing team of leaders, seemed appropriate exposure to assure the skillsets necessary to further build out a growing church campus with a mission to minister to an even larger city. Also, I would be back in my hometown!

Its motto at the time was, "The Church that Love Built." That campus also adjoined one of the nation's finest small privat universities. How could we turn that down!

We finally made that decision in 1990, only after having constructed a new home which my wife had designed in order to accomodate the large gatherings she was known for hosting.

By 1993, I was fully engaged in my new role, with the drive and frankly the hours committed sometimes up to twelve or more hours per week. That as many pastors know, was taking a toil on our small family, so we sold the home and paid cash for a much smaller home nearby the church.

We would dedicate our lives to helping with the build-out of an amazing church campus, one well on its way toward the becoming largest and most influential in my hometown.

The move seemed to put us back on track per my calling, though I often wonder, given that after six or seven years of expansion from the original eleven acres to thirty-five, most of it funded by gifts of land, grants or cash donations, the senior pastor resigned.

He had been offered a role with a national leadership initiative outside of any particular denominational structure.

Fortunately, just months earlier, I had launched Master Counsel, Inc. and had secured several consulting contracts, with his blessing, to include again the build out of a Leadership Center for the district office of our denomination.

I would later be offered a role with the same company that recruited the former senior pastor, flattered by his recommendation. Though it would have again provided my small company with national exposure, I declined, as I felt I owed that to my daughter. She by then was enrolled in a local preparatory academy and adjusting well.

The local church board was a little stunned by the senior pastor's resignation and took their time searching for a replacement, the first of three senior pastors and several interims over the next couple decades.

We would stay through each transition in the role of a pastoral coach/consultant, and with the last, in a gratis role as a board member. However, the congregation seemed never to return to the momentum which had attracted us.

Just before the last pastoral transition, I had been introduced to a commercial developer looking at the assemblage of multiple properties in the small bedroom community in which I served as mayor. Given that Master Counsel was also a licensed real estate firm, I was able to assemble some thirty acres. Though that rezoning did not go well, the process would launch a client relationship that would engage me in multiple future initiatives.

Meanwhile, the church had carried one large piece of acerage purchased back in '97 that no longer served their ministry needs, and in fact the congregation had reached a point of concern financially. It seemed a shift had begun for churches, with a decline occurring across the nation relative to church attendance and thus income streams.

I soon engaged in conversations with the pastor, elders and the city planning staff as to highest and best use of the excess acerage. Our conclusion, given that we discovered the nearby university to be at 110% occupancy per its portfolio of residential dormitories and given that it was somewhat landlocked, student housing seemed the best use.

We began a plan for assemblage of adjoining properties to compliment the ten acres owned by the church. As well, discussed the possibilities of an equity position by the church, as they had in the 1990's invested in similar initiatives for senior housing and off-site early childhood ventures. However, this was 2015 and the downsizing within churches had already begun to take its toll. The influx of cash from the sale of the property would reduce the financial bleed the church was experiencing.

A previous member of the congregation had earlier purchased four houses in the neighborhood coterminous with the church acerage, a well planned strategy to buffer the church's property from that residential community should we ever develop that property. In our heyday, an extension of our growing K-8 day-school had been in our plans when the ten acres were purchased. The owner of the homes had moved on and was struggling to keep the properties rented. I say struggle because a powerfully political neighborhood association was resistant to the intrusion of student tenants within the subdivisions surrounding the university.

Established families were also reluctant to rent, given that too often the use of alcohol at student parties became a nuisance. With the church now in a downsizing mode, we arranged for the purchase of those homes simultaneous with an option on the larger tract.

During my previous tenure at the church, I had also built relationships with the staff of a parcel that set on the other side of the church's ten acres, a Baptist Association that was owned by some 90 small churches. Those churches were also looking at cost reduction strategies, so much so that an offer was welcomed, though earlier attempts to purchase the site when our church was also at its peak had been twice declined.

We then began to cultivate the university's endorsement, necessary for rezoning and site plan approval for what would eventually become 328 units of student housing, a club house, pool and weight room.

A brilliant move by the developer to gain the needed endorsement from the university was to use the same materials for construction as used on the nearby campus. That would prove to be the icing on the cake as about the time pre-leasing had begun, the university began negotiating a buyout.

Knowing both that the church was struggling and given that as far back as 1993, the university had expressed interest in the church property, my developer made a two phased offer to the church. He would pay off their debt entirely by way of purchase of the excess parking area that adjoined the newly constructed student housing, contingent upon an option to purchase the remaining property over time. Under a best case scenario, he would surround the church entirely with students from a nationally acclaimed university, catalyzing new growth, even possibly reconfiguring the campus if the church were to begin to grow.

From my developer's both/and vantage point, even in a worse case scenario, we could sell the property to the university at an appreciated value, before the option was exercised. The church would then have two options in her recovery, given that talks of relocation had been in the works for with last two senior pastors.

The two phase acquisition would reduce the risk for the developer, but require the church to continue to operate on that site, though in all fairness the current pastor had already expressed a desire for a fresh start closer downtown.

To our surprise in the middle of our negotiations, the church decided on an immediate sale and contacted the university. A deal was soon consumated, ending a thirty year journey with a piece of ground that had seen many God Moments!

The good news seems to be that a new pastor, well matched with the remaining congregation has begun renovation of a smaller commercial facility and it seems the congregation may again be flourishing.

"God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform." Habakkuk 1:5 KJV.

Interestingly enough, that was the text referenced in the sermon preached the last time I would be called to the pulpit as a deacon, to close in prayer. I recall being caught off guard by a sudden weeping from deep inside of me as I prayed, unaware of the shift that would come within a few years and the release of my spirit after thirty years of service.

In church work, be it a reality or an unfortunate glitch in the industry of church, there are moments when for the health of both the congregation and its leader families, a time comes to move on. I had never quite understood that until then.

Just as before, an amazing thing occurred and well before even the closing of the aforementioned deal. The way that happened was also unexpected and an act of grace for this once Pentecostal couple.

However, due to the length of this post, you'll just need to wait until tomorrow!

Oh, perhaps you'll want to read the last few posts in the series in preparation.

Though a little somber, the posts now start to get better, as grace begins her rebound with this old warrior!!

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