Friday, February 27, 2009

The Pastor and the Aristocrat

Confessions of a Bi Vocational Preacher

The Greatest Compliment I Have Ever Received

It was December of 1992. My wife and I were trying to get a work started in Kansas City, Missouri in the Westport area. This midtown inner city work was meeting in a storefront lodge hall. I was working a third shift job full time to support my family. The romance of church planting had long since faded for this 32 year-old kid preacher. It was a good time, but a lonely time for both of us. Its times like these that one really begins to question one's own credibility.

In December my wife's grandfather died on his 79th birthday. They called him "Sug;" short for "Sugar," because of his sweet disposition. "Sug" Welker truly was one of the sweetest men I have ever met.

We went to the visitation the night before the service. We entered the family room. My wife began to make her way around the room, renewing acquaintances with relatives seldom seen, except in such venues as funerals and weddings. There was a muddled hum to the room dulled by the plush carpet. People were talking in cheerful but subdued tones. Occasional laughter would swell from the conversation, but quickly subside.

Being in an unfamiliar setting, I quietly made my way to an one empty arm chair parked along the wall. Seated next to me in a plush wing back Queen Ann was a very lovely woman in her mid seventies. Her age had not overcome her style or grace. An elegant woman, she extended her hand to me in a poised greeting.

"Good evening young man. Were you kin to Mr. Welker?"

"No Ma'am, I'm married to his granddaughter."

"I see." she said. "I am Mrs. Haslett; Mary Quinn Haslett." I remember that name. Mary Quinn Haslett was a born and bred, dyed in the wool southern aristocrat. Her name was a household word among the high society of Kansas City. Her husband, Dr. Haslett, had been school superintendent during the 50's and 60's. Her son Steve stood across the room from us occasionally glancing a smile in our direction. He was a tall man; very distinguished. He was married to my wife's aunt Judy. Steve was now the academic dean of a major university.

"What do you do, young man?"

"I'm a pastor of a church in Westport. Its a new work we've begun recently." She began to tell me about her membership at the United Methodist Church, her relationship with the Lord since a young girl and then about her son. I have no idea why this well-to-do, high class lady was opening up to an upstart like me. But, open up she did.

"There is something that concerns me, Reverend." she said. "When my son graduated from school and went off to Europe on a Rhodes Scholarship, we were very pleased. Then he attended Yale, and did his graduate studies at Harvard. By the time he had his PhD. something had changed in Steve. He had left behind that simple faith I taught him to have."

I could hear the sadness in her voice. Did I hear this correctly? Her son, a Rhodes scholar, graduate of both Harvard and Yale, an academic dean of a major university, and she is sad about how he turned out? Yes, because he had left his simple faith. As I was taking all this in, she broke my thoughts with a question.

"Reverend Cannon, how big is your congregation?" Honestly, I didn't want to answer. I did not want to divulge to this socialite the nature of this little store front church.

"Well Mrs. Haslett .... about twenty."

"Where is your congregation?"

"Actually we are meeting in a store front on Westport road; the old lodge hall there." It got worse.

"How does a congregation that size support a minister?"

"They can't, Mrs. Haslett. I have to work a job to support us until the church can." There was a long pause. I had no idea how this old money, blue hair Truman democrat would respond to such circumstances. That was when she said it; the greatest compliment I've ever received. She leaned over and placed one hand on my forearm and clasped my hand with the other.

"Now, that's a real pastor." I was amazed and encouraged by that simple statement. I believe the Lord wanted me to see something that night in the heart of a lady who had it all, but knew what mattered. I will never forget my brush with high society and what I learned about the riches of my "simple faith."

Thank you, Mary Quinn Haslett.

Just a thought. Thank you for reading

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Buddie

Buddie Night

On Thursday nights my beloved bride is working until 7:00 pm. She is a clerk at the Palmer Chiropractic College's Outreach Clinic. She works every night until 7:00. Thursday night is also the night our daughter Wendy has a late class at Scott Community College.

So on Thursday night, it's just me and my remarkable grandson, Elisha Mark Robinson. Elisha and "Pops" spend every Thursday night together eating burgers and fries.

I love being a grand parent. I have never met a grandparent who did not like the job. Elisha is our oldest grandchild. We have a granddaughter in Arkansas and another grandson on the way in Missouri. I think I pray for them with more passion than for anyone else. I pray for my children as they face the overwhelming task of parenthood. I pray they are able to draw on what we tried to instill in them.

I try to encourage them without criticism. I try not to smirk when my children have to deal with some of the treatment they once dealt to me. I have pronounced "THE CURSE" on every one of my children. If you ask any of them they could tell you what "THE CURSE" is. Many parent have resorted to it...

"I hope you have one just like you."

That is "THE CURSE." Because of it, my son refuses to have children; at least for now. However, I think he and his wife would have beautiful children.

I remember the Scripture in Psalm 71:17, 18:
"O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come."

I am only 49 years old. That is not old, although the hair is more gray now than any other color. If I could instill one thing on my grandchildren, it would be the love of God. I hope I have the opportunity to live to see His work in the lives of my children's children.
Just a though. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God is a Wise Investor

Wednesday in the Word

God is a Wise Investor!

Right after I became pastor here in Bettendorf, I figured out the churches finances needed some work. Part of my plan to restructure the finances of the church was to refinance at a lower interest rate than we had. I knew we could do better, and we did. But during the process, the banker wanted to meet with me. I went to his office to talk turkey. I sat there as he perused over some documents in a manila file folder. He put down the folder and looked over the desk at me.

"You know" he said as he sat back in his chair, "we are going to need you to sign as the guarantor on this mortgage." I had not planned on tying my credit record to the church. But, in order to get the loan, that is exactly what I had to do.

In explaining the necessity of this action, the banker made a fascinating statement. He said, "For financial purposes, your church is a business. You are the chief operating officer of this fledgling business. Why should I as a banker be willing to invest in your venture if you are not willing to put your own buck on the line?"

As our church goes through another refinancing this month, I thought about that conversation with my banker. I though of the verse over in Luke 19.

For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.
And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Lu 19:21, 22

Can we assume that God is not a wiser Investor than my banker? We want God to do great things in our home, our job, our church. But when it comes down to it, are we willing to invest our time, our talent and our treasure in the things that matter to Him. Its not about getting God involved in our work, it is about getting ourselves involved in His.

Is God willing to answer miraculous prayers, multiply great provision and trust us with the true riches of His Kingdom if we are not willing to put our own buck on the line?

Just a thought. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Confessions of a Bi Vocational Pastor

And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers. Acts 18:3

For the better part of my ministry, I have been bi vocational. I have, because of the size or condition of our church, had to work a secular job to support my family. As a church planter, I knew I would need to do this. However, I must admit that I struggle with it from time to time.

Being a Pastor has its own unique set of issues from the outset. Add to that a second secular job, whether full or part time, and the hill gets a lot steeper. I know there are books out on the subject. If I had time, I might read one of them.

There are several aspects to consider when the pastor is b.v.
  • Fatigue: There never seems to be enough hours in a day or in a night. Sleep deprivation is often an issue. This is a seven-day work schedule. Just finding time for all those "honey-do's" around the house can be a battle.
  • Identity: Sometimes you wonder; "Am I a pastor who drives a forklift, or a forklift driver who pastors a church?"
  • Spiritual struggles: The biggest challenge any Christian faces is the daily walk in prayer and Bible reading. Compound that with the responsibility of a pastor and one can see the difficulty.
  • Envy: The fleshly urge to envy the pastors who enjoy the benefit of a salary can be an issue. Do they know what a blessing they have? Do they take for granted what you are working so hard to achieve? Do the full time pastors I know even think of me as a pastor?
  • Isolation: The b.v. pastor does not have the liberty to go all the fellowships, lunches, revival meetings and Bible conferences. Vacation time, if earned, is needed to go visit relatives or have family time. Therefore, getting our own sword sharpened becomes a need sometimes neglected.
  • Divided loyalties: It is always a challenge to be all your people need you to be and still work a secular job. A pastor may only have ten, fifteen or twenty members, but those members deserve a pastor as much as the people in a church of 200.
  • Family: If a pastor neglects his wife and kids for the ministry, he will eventually lose them both. Long hours cannot be an excuse for a disconnected husband or dad.
  • Pride: "I deserve to be full-time; I've worked hard for it." Pride is you telling God you deserve more than He has given. I do not even think we want to go there.
Let me give a few thoughts that have helped me fight this battle. Note: I did not say I had won the battle. I have just learned some things about fighting it.

First, consider the advantage of the b.v. pastor. I can look the hard-working blue collar factory worker in his weary eyes and tell him, "I know what you're going through." I know what its like to work in an environment where Christianity is not an easy thing to live.

Second, never compare. 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, " For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."
No man can judge the burden of another. One man's position in God's service says nothing about how he stacks up with his peers. That is true in any vocation.

Third, Just because I'm not full-time now does not mean I never will be. This is something I can work for and reach, giving me a real since of accomplishment.

One simple truth keeps me going. I have nothing to prove, and only God to please. I have learned to tell myself that every day. God is so good to me. I'm just glad I get to serve Him at all. I will write more confessions of a b.v. pastor next Tuesday.

Just a thought. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Take out Some Pews & Shake it up a Little!

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1Ti 3:15

Change doesn't come easy for Baptists. "We ain't never done it this way before." and "Its always been this way." is the original Baptist mantra. But sometimes a lack of change leads to complacency. Its like the stain in the carpet. If you see it often enough for long enough, you don't see it any more. When some one new comes in, they see that to which we have become blind.

Our little church auditorium is nice, but esthetically, it had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The decorations were old and out of date. The pews were in three sections. The outer two sections were against the walls on either side. If a lost man was sitting there, he would have to crawl over as many as five people to get to an aisle. My lovely bride called it "uninviting." It was time to do something.

So we did. Without saying a word to the church, I went in this week and took out five of the twenty one pews. I made two side aisles and one large center aisle. (We can still seat 96 people comfortably. And we're not here yet.) We took down some rather archaic fixtures, redid the bulletin boards and missions display, and vois la!

With the soon to come addition of new drapes, our "shake up" will be well underway. We also hope to pad the pews soon. Now, that's inviting.

Sunday was the big surprise for the people. The vast majority absolutely loved the change. It is so much easier just to move around now. No one is ever sitting more than two "excuse me's" away from an aisle. My daughter said it really adds feng shui. I think that means the natural flow of a room.
I think that's a good thing...not sure, but I think so.

When trying to reach your community its not enough to to invite them. Your church must be inviting. When they walk in, does the room tell them they are welcomed there. I am trying to see my church through the eyes of a first time visitor. We live across from a neighborhood where the homes start at $250,000. My "Jerusalem" is a very nice place. Our community needs to see that we are serious about what we are doing. It is not simply about appearance; it is about our testimony. If it the house of God, then what does its condition say about our God or our devotion to Him. Just a thought. Thanks for reading.

Now, about that fellowship hall.....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dear Preachers: Please "Snopes."

Let all things be done decently and in order. (1Co 14:40)

The Internet is an amazing thing. We have so much information right at our finger tips. I have also encountered many preachers who use the Internet to pass along very pertinent information via e-mail.

For instance. There is the story I received about gang members driving around with their headlights off. If you flash your lights at them, they shoot you! Then there was the story of the brave ten year-old girl who shot and killed two home invaders, who happened to be illegal aliens. One of them had a gun on him that he had taken during a previous home invasion and murder. What a brave girl! Good thing she was a champion skeet shooter.

Did you know George Carlin gave a speech about being a patriotic American who was fed up with gun control and lax immigration laws? I read it myself in an e-mail! Well-meaning pastors, and other Christians have kept me informed about some alarming news stories; everything from conspiracies, to government cover ups to Arab terrorists funding the election of Barack Obama. (As if the people who openly supported him didn't scare me enough.)

All of these stories have two things in common. All were sent to my e-mail box by Christian brethren, and secondly, none of them are true. That's right, all these and many more such stories are absolutely false. It never happened. (My favorite is the Russian oil pipe line that drilled down into the heart of the Earth and released the sounds of people screaming in Hell.)

I never cease to be amazed at how otherwise intelligent people believe something just because its in writing. It is called an "Urban Legend." Some stories take a little fact, mix it with a lot of conjecture and somehow, take on a life of their own.

I appeal to my friends out there. Please learn to "Snopes" a story before repeating it. is a web sight devoted to either debunking or verifying unusual or outlandish stories. They have a very good record of keeping very good records on such matters. It will even tell you if a story cannot be verified as true or false.

We old-fashioned fundamentalists suffer enough from accusations of ignorance and alarmism. Lets not add to fire. Lets get the story straight before we pass it along. Just a thought. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What a Difference a Year Makes

Six years ago this week, I was pastoring a growing church of over one hundred members in Kansas City, Missouri. I had my wife and six children living at home in a spacious three-story house. We indulged in leading edge technology. We had our own cell phones and a computer with Internet. Things were hectic and exciting. I was full-time in the ministry, and I loved my life. My plan was to spend the rest of my life as Pastor of Trinity Independent Baptist Church.

Five years ago, February 23rd, I became the pastor of All Seasons Baptist Church; a church with ten drive-in members in Bettendorf, Iowa. I had never heard of Bettendorf, Iowa. We moved into a 900 square foot "parsonage" with my wife and three of my daughters. I took on a secular job to support my family. I lived through below zero temperatures. It still amazes me how much changed in one year. From a human standpoint, I felt my world had been turned upside down.

As I reach this five-year mark here in Iowa, I reflect on the roller coaster ride these years have been. I've seen my precious wife go through near-death illness. I have said good bye to beloved church members who have gone home to be with the Lord. I saw the tragic and sudden death of my sister's husband of thirty years. (He was great man.) My children have all moved away, while one moved back. Its been a full five years.

Today, my wife and I serve our church of about thirty. We live here with one daughter and a wonderful grandson. I'm still working a full-time secular job. We are living an exciting, hectic life; and I love it. I don't know what the next five years will hold, or where I will be. But I have learned, no matter what, there are three things that will never change.

First, I know in five years, God will love me with a never-ending love.

Second, I know God will have a purpose for my life should He tarry His coming, and should I remain on this earth.

Finally, I will always know that God is just, and holy and righteous.

These things will never change. Just a thought. Thanks for reading.