After four pastorate experiences, the “new and different” call came, this time to help in development, translated “fund raising,” considered by many friends and fellow pastors as a lesser call. The location was my alma mater, the divinity school I had attended, which included a four-year accredited college situated in a suburb north of Chicago. Why was I selected for this unusual position? The schools were facing a major financial crisis, and were looking for help.
My supposedly unique qualifications were three-fold, according to the headhunter who had traveled across the country to meet with me:
· I was a graduate of both an accredited college and this divinity school; · I had sufficient years of pastoral experience, giving me credibility with a vast majority of our current donor constituency; · And, I had nearly ten years’ experience in the business world.
I still think that they knew I was one of few with those three prerequisites, so they simply said, “Go get Bishop!” To be honest, I was somewhat proud they had chosen me, but my ego didn’t get to soar too high because I really doubted if any of my fellow pastors would have had a history similar to mine. The need was considered urgent. My new youth pastor was a loyal graduate of the school, and he also urged me to go, making the decision less stressful for me, since he had only recently joined my staff.
My new work would call for perseverance—the ability to get turned down, get back up, and try again to “close the sale.” When I finally arrived at the location after a difficult moving process, my first surprise was to discover I was not working directly with the president of the schools, but a vice president with his own unique ideas for training me.
My first assignment was to write proposals requesting grant money from charitable foundations. However, after a series of rewrites and “wordsmithing,” overseen and critiqued by my new boss, none of the proposals got to the point of being submitted.
I soon became frustrated, and I must admit my self-esteem began to dwindle. Only one course of action seemed viable to me—establish my own agenda within the system and work it. Otherwise, my short tenure would soon end with the regrettable and oft heard question, “Whatever happened to good old Al?”
A program called matched giving, in which corporations would match an individual’s gift to the school with the same or larger amount, was something I could grasp and run with. While management belittled the idea as hardly enough to make any impact, it did pay rewards. . .visibly! In one case, we purchased a beautiful pipe organ for the chapel with the matched funds of one donor over a period of three years.
I’ll never forget my first breakthrough preparing a proposal for a major grant. After our president had been turned away from a meeting with one major foundation, he mentioned to me that he had been told they only approve requests in which their gift will complete a project.
We had been hoping to refurbish the administration building, so I developed a total campus beautification proposal which included, among other items, an administrative building upgrade for $90,000. They awarded us the grant, and we received an additional $60,000 from another foundation. Both our president and my boss acknowledged my creative idea and effort. I grew to understand the heart and the various “mind-sets” of these charitable organizations. It often seemed like I was solving a mystery.
I began to develop relationships with the officers inside their management. This made larger and repeated gifts from these foundations more likely in the future. Over the next fifteen years, much larger grants from a number of foundations were received. One additional joy was the pleasure of seeing the son of the president of one of those foundations enroll in our divinity school.
This book of vignettes came to birth not because of my new call, but as a result of many relaxed conversations with the faculty about my former pastoral days. These professors were outstanding teachers, authors, scholars, and conference speakers, but most had little or no “front-line” pastoral experience. Each time we traveled together or met socially, someone like the late Dr. Warren S. Benson, Vice President of Trinity International University and professor of Christian Education, would remark, “Al, you ought to write a book! Share your unique on-the-job experiences. Talk about the practical problem that we never have time to deal with in the classroom. Maybe we could use some of them as case studies.”
So here I am, thirty-five years later, never having written more than letters, sermons, and proposals, finally deciding that their recommendation was one I should pursue before all the stories die with me.
I do not know the name of the sage who penned my favorite contemporary proverb, but here it is: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans for your life.”
Briefly, the chronology of my ministerial experience goes from a youth pastorate during my seminary years to three full-time senior pastorates, followed by nearly twenty years in development work before retirement. At that point, I began a period of five interim pastorates and ten years in part-time pastoral care ministry, concluded nearly four years ago.
The purpose in putting together this series of stories about the actual realities of ministry is not easily put into a few words. There will be exhortation, challenge, discernment, spiritual priorities, self-evaluation, and much more. Perhaps two unusual goals for contemplation should not be overlooked:
1. To shore up any who might become disheartened by their first couple of pastoral or spiritual “set backs” which bring on, or reveal, what I call “slot-machine faith,” the kind of faith that reasons, “I did everything right. God knows I tried! How did this happen?” or “I guess this isn’t for me. Maybe God made a mistake.”
2. Conversely, to bring back down to reality any who might have inflated or Pollyannaish dreams of megachurch ascendancy and reputation simply because they have a “vision” for it. Dreams and visions can be wonderful, but their realization in ministry depends on God’s purpose as well as a mixture of your ambition, gifts, ability, and humility.
I do not mean to be cynical in any way, but I do recall three of Jesus’ twelve handpicked disciples coming down off the most tremendous “high” anyone can possibly imagine. They had been witnesses to a three-way conversation between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus concerning the destiny of Jesus. They had seen the visitation of God upon the Messiah. Then, upon descending the Mount, they came upon a young lad whose father sought deliverance for his son, and the disciples were helpless. After Jesus healed the child, they asked, “How come? Why can’t we do that?”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the incident and the answer Jesus gave them. Luke, however, adds a very significant comment about the motivational priority that was prevalent that day within the “charter members” of the church of Jesus Christ. In chapter 9, verse 36, He reveals that “an argument arose among them as to who should be the greatest.” That sounds a lot like “feet of clay” doesn’t it?
I personally recall a large ministerial meeting which took place around 1960 when Billy Graham was beginning to be blessed with astounding results in evangelism. He appeared on a conference platform unannounced and, as soon as the audience became aware of him, they stood to their feet and loudly applauded. He held up his hands to stop them and as the hush fell on the audience he pleaded: “Men, let me tell you something. Do you want to ruin my ministry? You can! Just keep this up. How much adulation can one man handle?” Note well: “The servant is not above his master” (Luke 6:40).
There are bits of humor from time to time in these tales that I related, and sad to say, some of it is really not funny at all. But that is life as it is: human nature in the house of God. While all the illustrations do resemble actual cases, the names and settings have been changed to protect those involved. Please be sure to pick up one piece of my personal philosophy which has helped carry me through the years, especially in difficult times. I take my personal call from God very seriously. I also try never to take myself too seriously at all.
And let’s face it, maybe it’s true that you can’t win ‘em all, but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying. Jesus said, “But for this cause came I into the world” (John 18:37), and His apostle Paul echoed, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3:14).
It is my sincere hope that you will enjoy a few chuckles, learn a few valuable concepts, avoid all of my errors, and excuse my poor judgment. As you will observe, much of this is not presented in seminary courses or textbooks; therefore, it must be learned “on the job.” If you take yourself too seriously, you will often miss out on the unusual blessings that can occur on your way to heaven—times of sadness, lessons through suffering, periods of joy and spiritual highlights—all of which can in some way or another be used by our Lord for His glory—if we don’t get in the way! Thus, the subtitle of the book remains: A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to Heaven!