Chapter Nine. “Looks like he is going to fire me”
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So, these three ideas are beginning to live in my head. Church as family. A family where everyone contributes when they gather. And, most importantly, Jesus as the head, the leader, the master of ceremonies especially when we gather. But, what in the world would this look like in actual practice?
Remember that, at this time in the late 1980s, I’m the Director of Adult Ministries in a megachurch. Overseeing small groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, adult Sunday School. One of the areas that I was personally involved with was one particular adult Sunday School class. At that time, we had a need to do something for older (40+) singles. So, I started a Sunday School class for this age group. We began with about 15 people.
I explained to them that this class would be a little different from other classes. Rather than just another teaching/lecture experience, we were going to explore this idea of learning to listen to Jesus and see what it would mean for Him to lead the class. My wife, Tamela, was a huge help. Her gift of hospitality helped create a warm, family-like environment. And, her gift of worship often led us into spontaneous worship and praise. (Not things that happened in our standard adult Sunday School classes!)
As this class meet each Sunday morning, a number of things began to occur. People, in addition to older singles, began to show up. Younger singles, married people. It seemed that this was one of the only places in the church where there was both teaching and practice around the idea of listening to Jesus. Apparently others were hungry for this kind of intimacy with the Lord.
The number of people attending this class began to increase. Within six months, we had over 125 people and had to move to a larger room. This was now the largest adult Sunday School class in the church.
Listening to the Lord impacted people on many levels. Some weeks, for instance, He encountered their hearts in such a way that some began to weep. This was unheard of in our church. After all, as Presbyterians, we were God’s “frozen chosen”!
One day, one of the elders asked to meet with me. She explained that crying in a Sunday School class was inappropriate and that I should put a stop to that. I told her that it was Jesus doing this not me. And, besides, I didn’t know how to stop it.
Some time after that, the senior pastor asked to have lunch with me. There, at the restaurant, he said, “So, John, my sense is that your vision for church is different from my vision.”
At this point, I’m starting to feel scared. I’m thinking to myself, “Looks like he is going to fire me.”
To my amazement, he went a different direction. “I know you would never intentionally be divisive. But, I think it would be best if you planted a new church. Take as many people from our church as you can. You can continue in your current position and start meeting with your people on Sunday evenings here at our building. When you are ready, you can launch out. All the money given at your Sunday night meeting will go into an escrow account for your new church. And, we will pay your salary for a year after you leave.
As I left that lunch, I was a jumble of emotions. Stunned and scared. I had never thought about planting a church and had no idea how to do it. At the same time, I was extremely grateful. What a gracious offer the senior pastor was giving me! And, I was intrigued. It seemed that the Lord was giving me complete freedom and an ideal situation to try and live out these new found values. But, how would I do this?
Question to discuss with the Lord and your other friends: When was a time when He put you in a situation that you were totally unprepared for? What emotions did you feel?