Follow by Email

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Almost Perfect Church: Chapter 5- Almost Perfect?

(This is chapter 5. Chapter 1 begins at this link)

Highlights of our “Golden” Years

I understand that some of you may be tempted to skip this section and jump ahead to the “juicy” stuff that came much later.  That’s OK (not that I could stop you anyway!) but if you do I hope you come back and read this section later.  You can’t really understand the end of the story if you skip the middle.  This section provides essential context for all that followed.

We began TA with about 40-50 people (including children).  For the first 18 months we were subsidized by our district and mother church (about $3K/month if I remember correctly).  Like all church planting teams we had high expectations of growth but after 15 months, as the summer of ’92 approached, we were running 60-70 per Sunday and we knew that we would be losing our subsidies in September. Without that money we could not afford to rent the school where we met or pay my salary.

With our very survival in question, the summer of ’92 should have been a time of great anxiety for me but it wasn’t. As I walked out each morning to the “600 acre woods” by my house and sat in the shade and met with God, I KNEW that God was with us and that all would be well.  It wasn’t personal confidence or optimism.  I had PERFECT peace, a gift from God that kept me on course.

That September our attendance suddenly doubled to 125 or so and the increased income completely covered the loss of subsidies!  In the following years we grew to 180, 240, and eventually a high of around 330 per week.

Key Leaders

During our growth years, God proceeded to bless us by bringing key people with key gifts to help us become the church He wanted us to be.  I cannot take time here to acknowledge all of them but I want to mention just a few.  I played a role, the role that God gave me, but others played equally essential roles as God called and gifted them.

Pastor T brought amazing gifts to his roles as our worship leader and youth pastor.  No one has ever done as good a job at consistently leading me into authentic worship Sunday after Sunday as he did.  He was truly anointed for the task.

And a generation of young people, including my own three daughters, are eternally indebted to him for his decade of discipleship of our youth group.  In addition, his commitment to outreach helped us to keep that core part of our mission alive and vibrant.  As will be seen, when he left we lost something crucial in the area of evangelism which my own subsequent efforts were never able to fully compensate for. 

And the friendship that Jeanie and I had, and continue to have, with the T’s and their family, has continued to be a source of joy and encouragement and spiritual stimulation.

Pastor T and I, like any two headstrong, passionate leaders, did not always see eye-to-eye on all issues but on the really important stuff we were of one mind.

Pastor B joined us during our first big growth spurt. It was a season when I was desperately in need of someone dependable to take over all of the logistical details of running a church so that I could be free to preach, pastor and lead.  Pastor B was well-gifted for that role and my own ministry was greatly enhanced by no longer having to tend to all of these details. 

And his wife brought a spirit of kindness, compassion and helpfulness which then spread from her to become part of the culture of TA.

“Time would fail me” if I attempted to mention all the others who super-generously poured their lives, hearts, spirits, time and resources into building this church but they are all worthy of far more public thanks and praise then I gave them.  We sought to honor them/you all in various ways but never as much as we should have. I regret that.

I must however briefly mention my wife, Jeanie, who, besides all the roles she served in the church itself (especially in children’s ministry) was always the behind-the-scenes rock who enabled, through great personal sacrifice, her husband to dedicate so much of his finite time and emotional energy to his service of TA.  My pattern was to work six days a week at TA and on the seventh day I collapsed.  That means that almost all of those honey-do’s and home projects and chores that other men do on Saturdays fell mostly on my wife, in addition to raising three daughters, returning to college and eventually taking a full-time teaching job to help pay for our kids own college and meet our other financial needs.

In addition, throughout most of the 90s, before she went to work, I had to supplement our income to make ends meet by teaching one or two classes per semester at Shasta and/or Simpson Colleges.  That meant that I was usually working seven days a week, putting even more of a burden on her. She also helped keep our income equal to our modest expenses by doing office cleaning.  The sacrifices she has made, lovingly and (mostly) joyfully, for TA, are beyond measure.  All who have been blessed by TA through the years have been blessed by her- whether they knew it or not!

What God Wrought

But how were we really doing?  In God’s eyes?  According to the vision and standards He had given us in His Word?  I confess that as Senior Pastor I tended to look at the church the way a doctor looks at a patient – a quick passing glance at all the healthy parts of the body and  a concentrated worried focus on any unhealthy parts.  But at the same time I knew, during our best years, that TA had largely become the church I had dreamed of years ago, a church I would have been happy to enthusiastically attend and support even if I wasn’t the pastor.

I remember once a group of about 12 young people from YWAM called and asked if they could spend a Saturday night in our building as they passed through town. They had been on the road for a long time, visiting and ministering in churches along the way and they stayed for our Sunday morning service before hitting the road.

After the service the leaders of the group approached me, barely able to contain themselves.  “How do you do it?” they implored.  I didn’t know what they meant.  “We’ve been to dozens of churches and something amazing is happening here that we long for but almost never see.  How do you do it?”

I didn’t think that this Sunday was really much different than any other and I don’t remember how I answered but I remember how the question really opened my eyes afresh to the beautiful things that God was doing in our midst.

Many others gave similar testimonies and we knew it ourselves: God was doing a wonderful work in our midst during this era.

No comments: