|West Park Alliance Church|
As the interview began, I felt completely overwhelmed. These people were solid in the Lord with a real heart for serving Him. And here I was with, what one elder admitted to me later, a less than impressive resume. Why in the world would they call me to be there pastor? I knew that if this was to happen it would only be because God was arranging it. To top it off, the church was on the verge of selling their building and ready to begin a rebuilding, "re-planting" season. Could I oversee this sale? Could I oversee a possible building project? In the middle of feeling inadequate, I was also feeling a love and burden for this church. We left the interview feeling pretty good about how it went, but still feeling like it was a long shot. I was overjoyed when the call came in that they wanted me to come and candidate the following weekend!
We came back the next Saturday and had dinner with the head elder and his wife - a wonderful couple. Next, we had a "get together" with all the members of the Governing Board, along with the wives. I was given the gift of a photo album of the all the families in the church so I could start putting names to faces. The next morning, I would preach during the worship service.
That night, we stayed in a nearby hotel. I was a nervous wreck. I was feeling an overwhelming sense of my need for the Lord to work through me. The service seemed to have gone well. After the service, we had a potluck meal in the fellowship hall, followed by a time where I fielded questions from the people of the church.
After we left, we were told that the church would be praying about the decision. I was in Toledo when the call came through that the elders needed additional time to fast and pray over the decision. I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not. All I knew was I didn't know how I would handle being rejected. Not because of my pride, but because in this short window, my wife and I had developed a quick love for these people. We would miss them terribly. A week later, the call came offering me the position of serving as their pastor.
Saying goodbye to Black River was hard. Even though things were shaky, we still loved the people. But we were so excited about the new door that God had opened. It was during this same time that we were wrapping up our studies at Ashland Seminary. I had been invited to preach during one of the seminary chapels and received an overwhelming confirmation and "send off" to the new church from students and faculty members. I was especially blessed by the affirming words spoken by Terry Wardle as he introduced me as the morning speaker.
|Garnett School in Fairview Park|
These were exciting and challenging days. There was a desperate sense of need. We knew if God did not do something, we would die out in the wilderness. We found ourselves needing to be creative in ministry and outreach. This was good and bad at the same time. In that moment, and out of desperation, I found myself hearing all kinds of advice on what we needed to do to build the church. None of it was bad. But some of it wasn't dripping with the anointing of the Spirit. This left me, in 2004 nearing a breaking point. One elder later told me that he feared I was ready to resign. I'm not sure if I was at that point, but I do know I was questioning my calling. Which, I guess, would have resulted in my resigning. At Black River, I dismissed our struggles as being our location in the middle of nowhere, or people content with how things were. Now I was in Cleveland with people passionate about Jesus. Yet, things were not going as planned/hoped. We were supposed to quickly find a new building and new people would be flooding to us, and we'd be a testimony of a revitalized church. But were were four years into the wilderness and there was only wilderness on the horizon. At this point, I had been a pastor for seven years. The only fruit I was seeing was seven years of declining church attendance. The common denominator was me. But wasn't this the door God had opened? There were so many things that went into my coming here, and even in the church deciding to call another pastor. How could we be at this point? I was desperate. What was I missing? I began a feverish search for the missing piece. I feared that if I couldn't find it, not only would I having to leave the church, I would probably be leaving ministry completely.
What would God do next?
Read Part 11