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From Congregation to Community


Books always find me, some more than once.


As I continue to push deeper into my soul, sharing with full transparency any takeaways, even spiritual uncertainties precipitated by my engagement in multiple sectors, this is my sincere attempt at fulfilling a challenge heard from within my spirit during a recent communion service, "Will you do this in my Name."


I heard those words while sensing my reluctance of late to fully disclose my thoughts. I surrendered, and then within days Frankl's book was gifted to me.


As I reread it, I gained renewed awareness of how a country once known as ground zero in Luther's Reformation could stoop to commit such atrocities as Auschwitz. I now feel more compelled given the bizarre politics of our day!


So I continue this series of posts, each flowing as if written before, likely just as my morning coffee brews, having perculated deep in my soul throughout the night. I am still uncertain of how or where this will end.


As mentioned before, I came to Christ in my dad's living room on January 3, 1973. I walked into his house late one night unexpectedly. Just as I opened the front door and walked into the small hallway of my parent's home, I recall hearing him as he seemed to be talking to someone about me. That seemed odd for that time of night, so I opened the Living Room door only to notice that he was kneeling at the couch praying for me by name. Within minutes, I had experienced a most radical spiritual encounter unlike any other yet experienced. It seemed as if my whole personality changed in that room that very night.


Given that change, both the principal where I was teaching and the English teacher across the hall took notice. I would later marry the English teacher. The principal soon suggested that I consider attending a Friday morning interdenominational prayer breakfast with him. The Methodist church which he attended had begun the weekly event at a nearby Holiday Inn. He shared that he too had experienced an encounter with the Lord some months before.


Within weeks of attending he started leaving the meeting early to open school, and I found myself in charge. This was my first leadership experience apart from my public school classroom.


The breakfast grew and soon we began a monthly dinner as well on Saturdays at the local YMCA, for the benefit of those who could not make the breakfast meet.


By then, my wife and a fellow teacher were hosting scores of kids in the evening in a gathering called, The God Squad. Those were amazing days and though we often were invited to share in local churches, we were members of no one church.


That would soon end when one evening an Assemblies of God pastor who had visited the prayer breakfast and knew we were unaffiliated paid us a visit. My wife excused herself from the meeting and I listened to his story, eventually accepting an invitation to attend his church the next Sunday. I never intended to attend, I just needed to bring closure to his home visit.


Once he left and I shared the conversation, my wife who was raised Missouri synod Lutheran and had also come to Christ just months after myself, by then about one year earlier, let me know that she was not interested in the invitation, nor appreciative of the pastor's unannounced visit to out home.


However, she told me that as a Christian, I should keep my word! After some begging, she agreed to attend with me but only once. We did, the service was very similar to churches in which I was raised. From her perspective, well her exact words were, "that place is a circus!"


We did not return the next Sunday, instead I agreed to visit the local First Lutheran, which to me was a little stiffer than what I called church.


Several month latter I was introduced to a charismatic Presbyterian by way of the Full Gospel Businessmen's movement. I invited him to share at our monthly dinner at the YMCA. He accepted and when he arrived he was in full clergy dress; what I now know as a black cassock with stole and metal chained crucifix. My wife readily appreciated his attire and yes, his story was spellbinding for the both of us!


The Assemblies of God pastor immediately secured him for a one week revival. Remember this is in the 70's!


The first night I had a meeting scheduled, as by now I was in leadership with the local educators' association. However, my wife and the fellow God Squad sponsor went to the meeting.


That night when my wife returned from church, I was taking my shower before bed. She suddendly ripped open the shower curtain in the small bathroom of our first home, and with hands lifted in praise said, "Don't touch me, it might go away."


The next night I went and thus my congregational journey began along with my now charismatic Lutheran wife.


We continued our work in the community parallel with a growing engagement within that one church. I was soon involved at the state and national level. So now the honeymoon was literally over with my time divided between the classroom, the church and the community, particularly with several nonprofits that had engaged our lives.


The pastor who originally "recruited" us retired and the new pastor was quite different in his approach. As well, we now had a young daughter, which began to require that I give attention to our future, given that our salaries as teachers limited both our personal life as well as a mounting pressure to contribute more to community initiatives in which we were involved.


By the way, much of the passion behind our lives had been fostered by our desire to live and love as we had begun to understand by way of the scriptures, and which by then for years had patterned our lives. I was a little taken back by how siloed our lives were becoming as we were more and more drawn into leadership within our church and its denomination with fewer community encounters such as experienced early on in our walk with Christ. What did we know, we just followed the advice of our elders.


In 1983, I began conversations about my next steps as both a ministry leader and an educator. I was advised by a trusted mentor to inquire about a field based program being offered back in my hometown, which focused on community education and various resource development strategies to include grantsmanhip and foundations.


This fit a "Word from the Lord" given to me back in 1978 as I prayed about the gap I saw between our early congregational engagement and the diminishing impact from moments experienced in my early years, before we joined any one congregation.


In one memorable moment I had prayed the following: "If a creature can give the Creator permission, I give you permission to do whatever is necessary in my life to impact cities" my reference driven by what I was reading in the Book of Acts. The immediate response I heard was, "Wherever I send you, seek that city, if not this one the next, I'll give you a city."


I completed the aforementioned masters degree in 1985 and was immediately hired by the city school system within the same county in which I had been teaching. Ironically, if our first home had not been located just inside the city limits, that position would never have been possible as residency was a requirement. It seemed God was answering my prayer and His promise.


In my new role, basically a community relations position, I soon had opportunity for affecting educational opportunities across the community. By then, I had participated in the construction of a new facility for our home church, and as is often the case, the facility sat vacant except for mostly Sundays and Wednesdays.


I decided to ask our pastor, with whom I also served as an unpaid assistant, my wife also then church treasurer, about possbly using of the facility for an adult education initiative. He began to share his feelings about my growing distraction from church responsibilities. His exact words, "You need to settle down and serve God." I was stunned!


Within weeks I resigned after a couple conversations with a pastor in my hometown who was experiencing tremendous growth, and only 30 minutes away. We would drive the distance while we recovered.


My focus then turned totally toward the community, followed by my enrollment in another post graduate degree program in order to secure my superintendents certification. I recieved a promotion, we built a new home and life returned to normal for a few years as we anticipated retirement at age 50!


Our involvement in the "next city" ahain, my hometown deepened considerably, and the senior pastor soon inquired about any interest I might have in coming on board. In two years, I would take an early retirement, we sold our new home and moved back to my hometown.


Time for another break until tomorrow.



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