If You Can Do Anything Else ...
If You Can Do Anything Else …
This story is a little bit of the oral history of my family. From my mother’s side of the family, there is a long line of ministers. My great-great grandfather was a minister, as was my great-grandfather and grandfather. In my mom’s generation, there are many ministers as there are in my generation. Now my own children have entered the ministry. It has been passed on to the next generation.
We do not view ministry as a choice. For most (if not all) of the ministers in my family, we were either doing something else or planning to do something else before we felt that God was leading us into a lifetime of vocational ministry.
I grew up knowing this history and having great respect for it, yet never having a desire to become a minister. My parents supported my brother and me in whatever endeavor we felt like pursuing.
I planned on becoming a dentist. My parents spoke of how high the dental bills were, so I figured they made good money. I was looking forward to making a prosperous living! My plan was to go to a local university for the undergraduate work, living at home to save money. Then I thought I could go to a respected state university dental school just an hour away from home, but still live with family in the area. If things worked out for me, maybe I could begin work with my family’s dentist. Then maybe when he retired he could pass his practice on to me. At least that’s the way I had it figured in my mind.
There was a night when everything changed. When I was fifteen years of age, at the end of a church service, I went to the front and spent quite a bit of time in prayer. I wasn’t really praying about anything in particular, and I heard no voices from the great beyond. But I was praying until almost everyone else had left the church. When I finished praying I turned around, sitting down at the front of the church looking toward the back, and seemingly from nowhere a question flashed through my mind: “What if I am called to preach?”
What am I supposed to do with this? I have my life all planned out. Yes, we have ministers throughout our family, but it wasn’t something I ever considered. I was just looking forward to collecting on those big dental bills and living a financially successful life! “What if I am called to preach?” I couldn’t get away from the question.
I hung around until I had a chance to talk to the pastor. My dad was ready to go home but I said, “I want to talk to the pastor before we leave.” My dad asked what I wanted to talk to him about, but I wasn’t ready to reveal that to family or anyone else just yet.
How do you know?
I went to the pastor’s office and asked him, “How do you know if you’ve been called to preach?” He said, “Randy, when I was your age, I went to my pastor and I asked him, ‘How do you know if you’ve been called to preach?’” To be honest, I didn’t find that very helpful. He then said, “All I can tell you to do is pray. If you pray and ask God what He wants you to do, I believe you will know.”
At that time the church also employed a summer intern pastor. This was a young man still in in college who was getting some experience working at our church, particularly in our student ministry. I had become close to him over the summer, so I also shared what I was thinking with him. He told me that for every big decision he faced, he would fast and pray for a week before making the decision. He encouraged me to do this and told me by the end of the week I would have peace in my heart to know what the Lord wanted me to do.
This was the Sunday night before my sophomore year in high school. I spent that first week fasting and praying, and both my pastor and the intern pastor were right. At the end of the week I had an absolute assurance in my heart that God was calling me to the ministry. No more dental school!
Tell Grandpa …
I grew up 1000 miles away from my grandfather. We would only see him every couple of years on vacations, but there was obviously a great respect for him throughout our family. He had a lifetime of successful ministry, but not without its difficulties. There were times on vacations when we would be able to visit the church he pastored and hear him preach, but these times were all too rare.
He was one of the first people that I wanted to tell about my decision. Having several ministers throughout our family, I guess I was expecting some congratulations. I was expecting encouragement and joy from Granddad about “going into the family business.” That’s not what happened.
When I shared with my grandfather that I was sure God had called me to preach, his response was short and simple.
“If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.”
Wow. I’m not sure I totally understood that at the time. I thought in part it may have been a warning that ministry can be tough. I took it as his way to say if there was anything else you could do for a living and be happy doing it, then the difficulties of ministry would cause you to bail out, quit, give up, not finish what you start; because if you can do something else and be happy, there will be times that you won’t be happy in ministry - so quitting would be a very easy door to walk through.
I guess I still believe that to be what he was trying to say to me in part. But the impact of it becomes more real to me the longer I am in ministry.
Since that time I have talked with one of my cousins in ministry. He was 10 years ahead of me, but he said he had the same experience. He went to our grandfather to tell him of his call to the ministry, and Grandad gave him the same words.
“If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.”
My granddad was an extremely well respected minister in his denomination at a very young age. He was a successful evangelist, pastor, and led international ministry trips. He was on the cutting edge of using the technology of his day, including films and radio broadcasts. He rose to a position of leadership over several churches in more than one multi-state area for their denomination. Some people said that he would be the youngest ever to achieve the top leadership post in their denomination.
There was an occasion where a younger minister under the leadership of my grandfather got himself into some difficulty. He was involved in some unethical behavior. My grandfather tried to counsel him, forgive him, mentor him, and restore him to another place of successful ministry. At the next place of ministry for the young man, he continued to involve himself in unethical behavior. Because of this my grandfather found it necessary to begin the denomination’s disciplinary process in hopes of restoration for the young man. As a part of the process there was a leadership board who needed to receive a report.
If I’m going down, I’m taking him with me!
The young man was a close relative of one of the men on the board. This caused a real problem. The young man was heard to say, “If I go down, I’m taking (my Grandad’s name) with me.”
In those days, this particular denomination actually held what was called a “church trial” that mimicked what you would see in a court of law. This young man took everything that he had been involved in, and turned it around as false accusations against my grandfather. He accused Granddad of womanizing and excessive alcohol abuse. He also accused my grandmother of embezzlement. She had sacrificed to go to night school to learn bookkeeping to help the denomination.
There was no evidence for any of these accusations. But because this young man had a relative on the board, the accusations were heard and my grandfather was put “on trial.” What hurt him most was that men he loved, worked with, and who had shared ministry with him, even entertained these accusations they knew to be false.
My grandfather’s son-in-law, who worked closely with him at the time said, “The worst thing he did was to try to help a young man.”
My grandfather resigned his position in the denomination as well as his ordination. He could not continue to minister in an atmosphere of such deceit, disloyalty, brokenness and pain. He joined another ministry group, spent his own money to purchase a church property, and started a local church. He supported a well-known evangelist of the time, financially helping with the services and encouraging his congregation to participate. Another son-in-law and daughter provided music for the services.
At one point in time, this evangelist decided to have services on Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. This was in one of the largest cities in the country. The services were so successful that my grandfather thought it would be a good idea for him to also have services at that time.
One Sunday after morning services, my grandfather was walking down the front steps of the church. The evangelist met him there, accused him of trying to undermine his ministry by having services at the same time, and gave him a right cross - right across the face like you would see in a boxing match.
My grandfather collected himself. Then he said, “Well, the Bible says to turn the other cheek.” And he jutted his jaw out to be hit again. The evangelist attempted to do so, but my grandfather’s deacons prevented him.
My mother was a young girl at the time of these events - late elementary and junior high school years. These memories are indelibly and vividly imprinted in her mind. As a young pastor’s daughter, she witnessed her father both slandered and physically abused. Her older sister was learning shorthand at the time and took copious, detailed notes of the “church trial.” Another aunt still has those notes today.
My brother took a church history course at one of the world’s most prominent seminaries. The course included the history of my grandfather’s denomination. In the back of one of the books for the students to review were listed names of people who served in the same position as my grandfather for various locations all across the country. For several who served and then were either disconnected, dismissed, or resigned from their positions or from the denomination, a reason was listed for their disconnection; but for my grandfather there was no reason given for him to have been disconnected. There was no reason for him to be treated the way he was treated.
When I was in college I often stayed with my grandmother. I saw the letters that she received from the denomination every year apologizing for the way my grandfather was treated, and begging him to return his ministry to their denomination.
After serving in ministry for 35 years, I’ve seen a lot of good … and some bad. I keep my grandfather’s picture in a very conspicuous place on my office wall. I want to remember his experiences. I want to remember his grace. I want to remember his commitment to staying in the ministry in spite of the vicious lies and attacks he had to endure.
And I know why there is nothing else for me to do.
And I know why Granddad said, “If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.”
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
Ephesians 4:1-3 NLT
Don’t be harsh or impatient with an older man. Talk to him as you would your own father, and to the younger men as your brothers. 1st Timothy 5:1 MSG
Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others. 1st Timothy 5:19-20 NLT