Staying the Course #49

I was shocked when, after only 18 months in Presbytery, I, a Yankee, was voted to be one of the two ministers from Nashville Presbytery to serve as a delegate to the meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, US. How did this happen? From a human perspective, my guess is that it was because every pastor and many church members throughout Presbytery knew my name.

I had worked with others to plan and lead two very well attended, “successful” retreats for the Presbytery’s high school students. When young people come home excited about their great retreat in a beautiful Tennessee state park pastors and parents are grateful. One of these retreats was at Easter time, and the young people returned to their homes telling how they had re-enacted the crucifixion, and how they were moved to tears as they realized what Jesus Christ had done for them….Parents and Pastors literally thank the Lord. Someone is getting to the hearts of “our kids.”

Those who attended Presbytery knew I was theologically conservative, but refused to be involved in church politics. It was quickly known that I was willing to listen to others, give my perspective and to vote according to what I believed was right. Pastors and layman alike respect this, even when your thinking is different than theirs.

Three months later I accepted the call for me to become the Associate Pastor of Christ Church of Oak Brook, IL. With the decision finalized, I notified the Executive Secretary that I would be moving outside of the bounds of Nashville Presbytery and requested he notify Presbytery and the elected alternate delegate to the meeting of the General Assembly. I also asked if he would seek permission for me to “labor outside of the boundaries of Presbytery”. This request could easily be denied as CCOB is an independent church with a “congregational” form of government.

When several “conservative” members of Presbytery heard what I had done I was “visited” and told that I really should go to the meeting – conservatives in the church were counting on my vote. In my heart I knew I had done what was right – this was why Presbyteries elect an alternate delegate.

At their next meeting, Presbytery granted my request and I was able to keep my ordination status within the PCUS, and was able to continue putting church matched retirement money into the Presbyterian Minister’s Annuity Fund.

Three years later we moved from Illinois to Texas where I became the Director of Sky Ranch – a ministry that was building a new camp/conference facility in East Texas. When we had moved, I called the Chairman of the Ministerial Credentials Committee of Presbytery, a Dallas pastor, and introduced myself as the new Director of Sky Ranch. I said I would like to become a member of Dallas Presbytery. He invited me to his office and in the course of the conversation he asked me if Young Life would be renting the Sky Ranch facility for weekend retreats. I confirmed that this was true.

He then bluntly told me that, as long as he was Chairman of the Ministerial Credentials Committee, I would never be able to become a member of Dallas Presbytery. I was stunned! He went on to say that Young Life had taken “his” church’s best high school students for their program. I knew first hand that this was something Young Life worked hard not to do. Because of this pastor’s experiences or thoughts, the Dallas Presbytery door was shut!

I had few alternatives. I wrote a letter to Nashville Presbytery requesting permission to continue “to labor outside of the bounds of Presbytery”. I was on shaky ground as I had only served in Nashville Presbytery for 20 months, and had not been back in 3 years. Again they granted my request – my name still rang true to them.

Our family joined Highland Park Presbyterian Church where the man I served under after I graduated was pastor. This church affiliation enabled me to have credibility with those in the “main-line denominations” and those in the independent Bible churches. I had credibility without spending hours in Presbytery meetings. My hours went to building Sky Ranch.

When we live In Partnership With God, we must do what we believe to be right before Him. God knows our hearts….and though people may not like what we say, most also know our hearts, and respect our courage.

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