"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Glimpses of Grace 3: The Pastor Who Came to Stay

     A succession of pastors tried to fill Pastor Dave's massive pulpit over the next years. One of them determined to stick it out five years--before he fled.
     Pastor Dave was a hard act to follow. We made it harder. We didn't want another preacher. We wanted Pastor Dave. We were grieving.
    Our pastoral search team sought from coast to coast for a man who could preach with the magnetism of a Dave Hocking. Finally, in 1990, they found one they thought met that high standard. He was pastoring a church with only a handful of parishioners, all of which (we were told) he had led to faith in Christ himself!
     He came to us in 1990. He gave sermons that mesmerized and drew us in with a relevant hook taken from something happening in news, sports, entertainment, or books. Lots of books. Meaty books. Thought-provoking books.
     We turned our backs on him. His name was Louie but we insisted on calling him Pastor Lou. We didn't like any change he made. The risers for the choir behind the pulpit and the modest shin-lengthed blue choir robes disappeared. In fact the choir disappeared. Instead of the piano and organ there were guitars and drums. I would overhear little old ladies in the church bathroom and at luncheons murmuring and complaining about the choice of music, shaking their heads over the dearth of "good old hymns." Some of them took to pointedly coming into the service late, after the songs.
     Institutions and ministries disappeared: The Bible Institute Dave had started and which had trained men and women busy with secular jobs as well as inner-city pastors without the time or money to attend seminary. Day Camp, which had drawn whole families to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our most effective and popular "sou"-pastors, adult Bible teachers, the head of Women's Ministries--all gone. In an announcement by the elders, without congregational vote, the financial lifelines we had promised our foreign missionaries were severed.
     Years later Pastor Lou told my husband and me he had nothing to do with those decisions. "The Board of Elders made them," he said, "and wouldn't let me say so."
     Anger and resentment against Lou grew. He and the elders kept urging us to let the past go and move into the future. If they had acknowledged that some of the past--most of the past--had been good, that God had been moving mightily in many lives, it would have helped. Or maybe it wouldn't have. To me, the ultimate insult was a slide show put together for the 80th anniversary of the church in 1993. The only slide of David Hocking showed him in a tall chef's hat at a barbecue with a spatula in his hand and a goofy smile on his face.
     I started praying for the church--and so, I'm sure, did a lot of others. I saw that we were stiff-necked and stuck in pride over our "glory years," that we were tearing the church apart with our inability to forgive Lou for not being Dave. So I began praying "in the opposite spirit." I prayed for HUGS: Humility, Unity, and Gratitude.    
     Five years later, he was still with us and things were getting a little better. Ten years and the church was starting to grow again. We were developing new programs, sending out new missionaries, reaching out to help our community in practical ways. One Sunday, Lou admitted to the congregation that it hadn't been easy. "I was so discouraged I nearly gave up," he told us. "People wanted me to put the furniture back the way Pastor Dave had it. And there were piranhas attacking everything I taught."
    But he stayed. In spite of us, he stayed. And he has been with us now for 21 years, seven years longer than Pastor Dave.

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