Thirty-two years ago–that would be the summer of ’76–my wife and I took the children on a Bicentennial vacation up the East Coast. We were combining trips to the Southern Baptist Convention and my first session as a trustee of the Foreign Mission Board with our own personal travels, and decided on a theme for our journeying.
We visited presidential homes. Starting in Columbis, TN, we called on President James Polk. In Nashville, it was President Andy Jackson. In Staunton, VA, Woodrow Wilson was not at home, but we went on in his house anyway. We visited with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and went through the White House (if Jerry Ford was at home, no one was saying). Later, we drove north and saw the hometown of Calvin Coolidge, Hyde Park where FDR came from and returned to, and in New Hampshire, the home of Franklin Pierce. I think that’s all.
This time, I’m making pretty much the same journey, except this is not about presidents, but calling on some of my preacher friends. Of course, the main idea is to visit our grandchildren in Charlotte, NC and in Laconia, NH, but it’s a great opportunity to see some old friends.
If any of the preacher-friends I’ve visited are reading this, they can relax. I’m not telling a thing. What happens in McDonalds stays in McDonalds (or the Waffle House in Spartanburg or Nordstrom’s Cafe in Charlotte). Still, the experience is proving to be quite a blessing to me personally.
I’m always surprised on encountering ministers who never connect with their colleagues in the Lord’s work, for whatever reason. That might be a good subject to pursue for a future article here–why so many pastors are loners.
My brother Ron pastored a church that had aligned itself with an independent Baptist group for a number of years. He attended the various national gatherings of those pastors, and told me something I’ve never forgotten. “Most of them are independent because they’r so headstrong they can’t get along with anybody!” Ron is a great tease, so I’m not sure how strongly he wants to associate himself with that remark, but he reads this and can speak for himself. It is, however, a truism applying to a lot of our guys.
I asked a pastor, “Why do most pastors have so few friends in the ministry?” He didn’t hesitate. “It’s insecurity. They’re afraid they’ll be found out.”
Wow. Is that true? If it is, it’s a sad commentary that we who have such a great charge from the Lord and are the focus of such tremendous expectations and burdens from the church community would try to go it alone. (Alone? I know, I know, the Lord is with us. But reading the Bible, we see the Lord never sent disciples out alone.)
One of my pastor friends is in his second year at his present church. He said, “My predecessor did very little actual pastoring, so when I came in, I really gave that a lot of attention.” He smiled and added, “Problem is, now they expect me to continue at that same rate and it’s about to kill me!”
Expectations of church members can be killers. Pastors need to take the leadership here and help the congregation to direct their expectations toward the Lord, and thus free up the minister to do what he can, but not everything he possibly can. He has a family to lead and his own health to take care of.
One of the great blessings of my life has been my relationship with other pastors. From my earliest childhood, I have adored the pastor. When I became one, I felt it was the greatest honor the Lord could ever have given. In seminary, I made friends with people like Bobby Hood and Hugh Martin and Frank Bishop with whom I am still in contact. In my first pastorate following seminary, the neighboring pastors–Joe Walker and James Richardson to name two–became my dearest brothers.
Most of the church moves I’ve made over the years resulted from a recommendation from some colleague whom I’ve known. An outsider–or a pastor from a denomination using another system–would use the term ‘crony-ism,” meaning friends taking care of friends. But it ain’t so. I have many friends I’ve never recommended anywhere. And the ones I’ve recommended to positions, I’m confident it’s been under the Lord’s leadership.
Peter said Satan walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5). We’ve all seen enough nature shows to know the lion is looking for the isolated prey, one too old or sickly or headstrong to keep up with the others.
If Satan’s plan is to divide our ministers, in many cases he can check that off his list because we’ve done it to ourselves.
What a shame.
When our proposed trip to South Dakota fell through–Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law from Seattle had to cancel because of their health issues–I told her we’re keeping the schedule and going on vacation. With health problems of her own, she suggested I go see our grandchildren. The three in New Hampshire, particularly, see precious little of us and us them. So, that’s how it came about. I’m alone and missing my wife, but frankly, am enjoying the trip.
The challenge of such a vacation is to make myself relax while still achieving some 500 miles a day by car. Not figured out just yet how to pull that off.
I’ve decided there is an epidemic of tail-gating in this nation. On freeways of eight lanes, traffic whizzing by at 70 miles an hour or more, people still pull right up to your bumper before passing you. And it’s that way everywhere. Whatever are people thinking. If they are.
As I put the Greg Iles novel into the CD player, halfway through the first disc, I realized I had already read this book. But the reader made it come alive so well, I stayed with the program. Three days later, I’ve finished with the 15th disc and loved it. Now, I’m working on “The Hoax” by Clifford Irving, his account of faking a Howard Hughes autobiography some years back. The good thing there is I can fast forward some of the more tedious parts.
Don’t worry, Mom. I have some Bible studies and prayer conferences on CD also, and so it’s not all crime novels. But a good part of it is. Sure helps the miles to whiz by.
Thursday night through Sunday night, Laconia, New Hampshire with Leah, 18, Jessica, 17, and JoAnne, 10. Oh yeah, and their Mom, our daughter Carla. I can’t wait.