Within our first year in Murfreesboro the “Stones River Presbyterian Co-operative District” was up and running – 8 churches were working together to develop a strong ministry for each church and the Presbyterian Student Fellowship of Middle Tennessee State University. The large, old former funeral home had become “the morgue” and home to my office, to the Christian Education (CE) supplies gathered and organized from and for the eight churches, to a large conference table (25 + people), a coffee house, a ceramics lab, two small meeting rooms – and the third floor “pool hall”. It had been an intense year – and it seemed like there was finally time to breath.
And then came the invitation. Clayton Bell, the minister I had worked under when I first graduated from seminary, had recently become senior minister of the 4,000 member Highland Park Presbyterian Church just north of Dallas, Texas. “Would I consider coming to the HPPC to head up their Christian Education program?” Harry Hassel, Sr. pastor of the largest church in the SRPCD said we had his blessing to go…but he hoped we wouldn’t! Sally Jo and I had enjoyed working with and learned much from Clayton, and his wife, Peggy. I do not remember that Sally Jo and I put much energy into the decision. Our answer: No. I have remembered the truth:” every invitation is not a call from God.”
A few months later we were contacted by Christ Church of Oak Brook, IL, an interdenominational church located just West of Chicago. We were asked to come up to the church to meet with the church leaders, learn about the church’s program, and see the facility. We went…at least we would have a few days with our families – both of our parents and three siblings lived within 30 minutes of the church. The people were wonderful and their vision for the church was clear. The program was solid and the facility was, for us, mind blowing. Soon after the church began, the developer of the village of Oak Brook had given the church many acres located at the key intersection, less than a mile from a major highway. Soon after the property was given, the people of the church dug deep into their pockets and the present sanctuary was built – it seated 1200 people. The building was unique and incredibly beautiful – the new congregation wanted to make a statement to the community…and they did! Within ten years about 1000 people were attending weekly. In five months the new CE building with a large fellowship hall would be ready for use. I was asked to become associate pastor, with particular responsibility for Christian Education and the “groups” within the church.
How could we say yes? We had been in Murfreesboro less than two years. It was only now becoming “home” to us. The ministries of the Stones River Presbyterian District were going well. There were outstanding young people in the PSF. Recently I had been voted by Presbytery to become one of their delegates to the General Assembly. Many ministers never get this opportunity. (How this happened, I still do not understand.)
What were our real motives in making the move to become part of the CCOB ministry? The opportunity to live near family? Working with some truly great people? The challenge of developing ministries within a large church? Enjoying the excellent music program and great pipe organ? My office, and my secretary’s office, would not be too shabby!
One question in my mind was “Why was it so easy to say no to HPPC in TX…and difficult to say no to Christ Church of Oak Brook”. We really wanted, almost needed, hand writing on the wall. For us, it did not seem difficult to say and mean: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. The huge challenge was….Lord, which path?!!!!!! The handwriting never came! I do not know how long we talked, prayed, and thought about the decision. We had trusted and knew we could not lean on our own understanding. The Lord knew our hearts. Ultimately the only guidance that we should move was the still, small voice of God’s Holy Spirit. After the decision, God’s gave us his peace. When we had finally decided we should move to Illinois, I remember that emotionally and physically I just shut down.
The opportunities God gives to us, the work He has prepared for us have often been surprises. Our challenge is to remember that the opportunities and the work remain His. We are His servants. Repeatedly God has taken our lives in new directions: a city church in AL, a small country church in CT, an education/student ministry in TN, a large suburban church in IL – and eventually into 30 years of directing camps in TX and NY. Living in Partnership With God has been for us, a wild ride! The challenge for each of us is obedience, not what we think will be the outcome.