Wednesday, January 21, 2015
“You may have your diploma from a seminary, been ordained by a Bishop, or been commissioned by a denomination but ONLY God can “call” a person and bless his or her ministry .” ― John Paul Warren
One of my first pastorates in the United Methodist Church had had the congregation split and decimated when the pastor who was beloved by the congregation left his wife for another man and moved to another state. I ignored the problem, focused on the healing power of the love of Christ, and preached and lived loving and serving others. Four years later, the church’s membership had quadrupled and it was an active and vital church once more. From there I was sent to a church in Arkansas where the pastor had torn up his United Methodist credentials, started a non-denominational church and took half the members, almost all the money, and the books and records of the church. Within three years, following the same path I followed with my first church, this church had tripled its membership and was once again an active and vital church. At the same time I served a second small church (membership about 20) as part of my two-church appointment. The second church wanted me to evangelize, and I tripled its membership in less than a year and was fired. The people I brought to the church were new Christians and energetic and hopeful. They were also poor and Hispanic. I was told by the Chair of the Administrative board as they were firing me that they didn’t mind new members as long as there were just like them. Ah, what can you do? By this time, I was seen as a healing pastor and so was not sent to prosperous churches. My next appointment was to a church where the membership loved the pastor, the choir director, the secretary, and the chair of the Administrative Board which is a rare occurrence. However, the pastor divorced his wife (the choir director) to marry the church secretary (who had to divorce her husband, the chair of the Administrative Board). Naturally, they sent for me. I met with a group of members before I accepted the appointment and told them I was not a “regular” pastor and would call them to become more like Christ and to focus their actions on helping and loving one another and those outside the church who were in need. They welcomed me, and in two years, we were having to have two services a Sunday and were voted the Church of the Year in our size category. They won the Church of the Year award, not because they had grown in size but because they spent more of their budget on the poor and needy both domestic and foreign. The food pantry they started is still running and bigger than ever twenty years later. Following the kinds of pastors that I did made me much more understanding of the less-than-Christian actions of clergy. Some become ministers as a job choice, some because of other family members, some to carry out personal agendas, and some, sadly only some, are called by God to serve as pastors and shepherds for those who are struggling with living as Christians in a very non-Christian world. When we first came here on our first mission trip we had gifts of money and school supplies and toiletries and the like for the churches and their members. Three of the four churches were delighted and put the money and things to good use. One of the four pastors, stole the money, the three suitcases full of stuff, and fled back to his village in Kenya never to be seen again. I was not surprised having had the experiences of the pastors I had followed in the U.S. It has happened again here. A man we thought was exceptional and had ben elected as a bishop (but had not been consecrated) stole money from the church, stole from members and neighbors of the church, lied to the leaders of the church, married a woman with some money, and two days ago called Bishop Festo and said that he was no longer a Methodist pastor and was going to be running schools and concentrating all his efforts on making money. Had I not known by immediately following pastors who had been untrue to their positions of responsibility, it might have surprised me, but it didn’t. What surprises and pleases me is that we have pastors like Reverend Festus (Festo) who is now Bishop Festo. With no money except his own from his small farm, he started and built one of our bigger churches and one of only six that actually have buildings. He then started six more churches in a forty-kilometer radius and every one of those churches continues to grow. I was present for the first service of one of those at the village of Kabainja and baptized 82 people that morning who went from being baptized directly to Karen who laid hands on them and blessed them. That church now has 150 people with 60 children attending every Sunday and meeting under a tree with tarps providing shade and protection from the rain. For every one that disappoints us, there are five who glow from within because of the Holy Spirit that dwells within them and guides and blesses them. We have grown from four churches to 26 now (seven with preschools that Karen has helped to begin and trained the teachers) and from 200 members to almost 5,000. Of course, we have had pastors who disappointed us and turned their backs on their flocks as they were more interested in money than with serving God. There is not a single person reading this who does not know of a pastor or servant of God who has disappointed and some who even went to jail. The pastorate has many who should not be pastors, but it always has those who have been truly “called” by God, and everyone reading this knows at least one of those as well. God uses some of the strangest people to carry on His work, but He seems to know what He is doing, and I have learned long ago not to judge because as Christ said, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” and “it is by their fruit that ye shall know them.” Amen. You are blessed if you have pastors and leaders who were called and answered the call of God and not the call of something else. We were called here and so cannot be defeated. We may be disappointed by the actions of others, but we forgive and go on because the harvest here is plentiful and true laborers are few.