Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On Leaving a Ministry

I haven't left a ministry I've held less than two years since I was fired from Central Church of Christ in Anita, Iowa. Anita was my second student ministry and first full-time ministry. The year I spent in full-time ministry in Anita wasn't that great and I was about to resign when the elders, realizing I was looking around, decided I needed to go so they would have time to get someone in town so they could drive school bus (and make a living) when school started in the fall. Parting was "not sweet sorrow".

God led us to Mankato, Kansas, where we fell in love with the people and they loved us in return. We made lifelong friends, some of whom are now with the Lord, during our three years in north central Kansas. After the first year, the Mankato church gladly shared me with the church in Superior, Nebraska, and I preached for both congregations every week. Mankato was, and still is, a very small county seat town but it was home to many wonderful people. The Catholic priest in Mankato became my best friend and we had some great times together bowling in league, buying cars, and sitting at Boogart's grocery drinking coffee and talking theology.

Over the years, I've had some interesting and challenging ministries. A year with Manhattan Christian College prepared me in many ways for teaching. Three and a half years in Great Bend, Kansas, beginning immediately after that church experienced a terrible three-way split. Working with that congregation challenged me beyond measure as I tried to apply God's Word in ways that would heal. God blessed the efforts with nearly 90 additions and the return of many who split off from the church. In time, however, the stress got to me and I had serious allergic reactions which the stress enhanced.

Earl Heal from the Orchard Mesa Christian Church in Grand Junction came to interview us for a ministry with them. We moved to Colorado in 1973 and remained their until 1985. After a few months on Orchard Mesa, Earl, who was Intermountain Bible College's Academic Dean, began moving me into the college. I taught Church History and other classes at IBC through its best years and some of its worst and stuck with it until the college closed in 1985.

With the help of Dr. James North, I was called to Westwood-Cheviot Church of Christ where I worked with Brad Walden and Fred Speckert. The church reached its highest attendance points (about 600) during Brad's ministry. But Delores (my wife) and I missed the west and I missed teaching, so after our son graduated from high school we accepted an invitation from First Church of Christ in Boise to follow Kenneth Beckman's 37 year ministry. I was also asked to teach the history classes at Boise Bible College.

After eight years in the church and the classroom, God fulfilled one of my lifelong ambitions -- to be minister with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. When I graduated from college back in the "stone age," Canton was the largest Christian Church in the world with a Bible School of more than 1,000. I always joked about being the minister there, but God let me become a minister there. During my time in Canton, Dr. North also gave me opportunity to teach graduate history classes in the graduate school of Cincinnati Christian University. Once the school called Dr. Cherok, they no longer needed me but kept me in their adjunct professor list for some time.

I arrived in Canton just as that great church was beginning its turnaround. During my nine years in Canton, attendances went from just over 800 to more than 2,200. It was exciting to be part of that church's turnaround, but everyone on staff at that time acknowledges it was God who did it. In fact, none of us had ever served in a congregation of more than 300 (or so) until that time, so it certainly wasn't because of our tremendous expertise.

As I neared my 60s, I began to think I should be "put out to pastor" (pasture). So many churches were calling younger men, I thought others might consider my useful days limited. It was a depressing thought, but one many my age wrestle with. I began to think I should consider other opportunities if they came along and one did from First Christian Church in Sun City. After jumping through all the hoops, I began a ministry with them in February 2003. I immediately discovered that working in a one-generational (senior) church was both draining and fulfilling. It was fulfilling because we fell in love with the people. It was draining because it hurts to watch people you've come to love and appreciate succumb to God's specific punishment for sin--death!

It was also draining because, as one might expect, so many were locked into mid-twentieth century thinking. The church's organizational structure is overly complicated requiring a law degree to understand it and fulfill every jot and tittle. Unfortunate events that transpired over a decade ago left indelible marks on the congregation creating an atmosphere of distruct and suspicion. One individual who had been a leader has an overbearing and bullying personality and is suspicious of anyone who thinks differently than he does. The stress and pressure of dealing with his outbursts, inappropriate congregational involvement in leadership issues, and other stressors were beginning to get to me.

Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call from Christ's Church of the Valley asking if I would be interested in a position with them. You could have knocked me over with a feather! CCV is a true mega-church with attendances of over 10,000 each weekend. They wanted me to work with their Senior Adult Ministry, their Christian Life Institute (or Training U), and lead Class 300, their session promoting service and involvement. After visiting with friends and others, I decided not to take the position. A week later, a "explosion" occurred at First Christian because the individual mentioned in the previous paragraph was not asked to serve in leadership in 2006. Charges were made against the present elders, accusations leveled against them, and my stress increased. I began to wonder if God was trying to tell me something. I e-mailed friends, including some at CCV, asking them to pray for me. CCV then came back and asked me to reconsider their invitation. After attending their Class 100, we determined that we might have something to offer them and we (Delores and I) accepted. I will begin a ministry with CCV January 1.

It was not an easy decision, believe me! We wrestled long and hard with the possibilities. If I felt too old for a congregation of 2,200, would I fit into a congregation of 10,000? Well, I decided that only God knows for sure! You can put out all the fleeces in the world, but you have to make decisions based on those and many other factors. In short, you consider all the options, look for the pros and cons, then step out on faith! Just as God didn't part the water of the Jordan River until the Hebrew priests stepped into the river, God won't bless until a believer puts his trust in God and steps out.


Anonymous said...

How do you reconcile CCV's position on baptism with yours?

You believe (as i read on this blog) that baptism is for the remission of sins. CCV's statement of faith does not clearly state that.

Aren't you being a hypocrite and a sellout? Or have you had a change of a theological heart?

Michael Hines said...

I am aware of the supposed difference. After talking with the leadership at CCV, I do not see a major divergence of opinion. Our Restoration Forefathers took various positions on this subject. Campbell, writing in the Lunenburg Letter correspondence in 1837, took what I believe to be a weaker position than I.

Bob Russell, who is generally well thought of in the movement, took the position that baptism was part of the salvation process but declined to state clearly it was for the remission of sins. CCV leadership has voiced the same position.

Unless we are ready to move into the ultraism of a Dr. John Thomas, who required reimmersion for everyone seeking fellowship, we must recognize that there are a variety of expressions of this important doctrine. I do not intend to cease teaching or believing what I have written. I do not, however, have to become narrow, sectarian, or divisive about it.

My good friend Carl Ketcherside, who is with the Lord, taught that even though Baptists didn't know the purpose of baptism, God did.

I knew when I signed on with CCV, there would be those who would consider my stated views on baptism to be at variance with CCV's supposed stance. Let me say, however, that a supposed stance does not necessarily reflect the actual stance.

I have not had a change of theology nor do I think I am being a hypocrite. (Well, maybe I am but not in this -- at least I hope not.) I do think, however, that I reflect the position of the Restoration Movement. Our movement isn't just about baptism! It is about understanding the difference between what is essential and those areas where liberty should be permitted. Christ is an essential. Baptism for the remission of sins, in my view, is essential. But even Campbell varied his approach to the issue.

I decided a long time ago I would not compromise my convictions for any position or opportunity. I reserve the right to teach what I believe the Bible teaches. It is my job to teach the Word, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to work through the Word to bring people to right understanding. I learned in the classroom long ago that I can hold forth the Word, but I can't force anyone to believe it ... or say it like I do. I prefer to "speak where Scripture speaks" and "use Bible names for Bible things." That's always been my way whether in Canton (where the staff expressed the importance of baptism in a variety of ways), at First Christian here in Sun City, or wherever I am.

You, my friend, may think of me as you wish. God alone knows my motives, the circumstances, and the reasons for my decisions. I choose not to limit my fellowship now, and I never have. I may disagree, and I will present my view, but I hope that in the process I am not disagreeable in the process.

answer-man said...
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