Monday, September 28, 2009

"Bathroom Evangelism"

Several days ago, my brother-in-law and I sat at dinner with our wives, sharing memories of all the ways our kids created to embarrass us when he reminded me of my son's unique contribution to the family. For lack of a better way to define it, my wife and I called it "bathroom evangelism." Any time our family went out to a local restaurant, our son found the need to visit the men's room without fail. Naturally, I attended to my Daddy-duty and took him. As soon as we passed through the door, my one and only son felt a rush of inspiration and broke forth in song. Not just any song, mind you, but "Amazing Grace," all four verses, at the top of his lungs. Why he did this is beyond me. All I can say is that the effects were, well, interesting. Any other five-year-olds present with their dads were totally mystified by the pint-sized soloist. Probably, they were envious that they had not thought of such an ingenious way to embarrass their own fathers. The men did not say anything. Usually they left in a hurry. I rationalized that they were under conviction, but then I'll never know for sure. No one offered a comment, or felt an apparent urge to join in singing, or offered money for voice lessons for my son. Most of all, they did not offer - or threaten - anything to make him stop singing. Surely they must have been under conviction, or maybe they were just music critics. Either way, they got the word, and a testimony was given if under somewhat unorthodox circumstances. But then, God moves in mysterious ways.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dad's Secret Weapon, Part Two

Every pastor has had the experience of watching people either freeze up or flee in panic once they hear the preacher is at the door. I remember one occasion when the visiting evangelist and I arrived at home just after the family returned from the grocery store. We watched as they carted their bags into the house, then we knocked on the front door and waited. No one came. After an embarrassing long wait, I went around the house and discovered the family had sneaked out the back door and gone to the neighbors to avoid us.
There are situations I cannot enter and people I cannot reach. When that reality began to sink in, I faced a very real question: How do I gain access to these people? Enter the secret weapon. My kids, two daughters and a son, have gone with me on visitation from the time they could hold a gospel tract. They learned first hand the difficulties and the victories of talking to people about spiritual issues. As a result, they learned to talk to people about the Lord as well, and they became effective at reaching people I could never approach. Kids do not have titles such as "reverend" or "doctor." They also have no fear. They will talk to people that most adults would just as soon leave alone. Kids do not make value judgments that adults use to deprive themselves of opportunities. They look past the things that stop us cold ("His hair is too long;" "He's wearing chains;" "There are things sticking out of his face;" and "What did she do to her hair?"). They invite their friends, and their friends, because they are friends, respond.
Frankly, my kids accomplished more at getting certain people into church than I ever could. Now that our kids are grown and gone on with their lives, I've lost my secret weapon. My wife and I are too old for more kids, and I need help. Maybe I can borrow the grandkids.

Dad's Secret Weapon, Part One

When it comes to visiting prospects and handling problem situations, I freely confess to being sneaky and underhanded. There have been any number of times when I have found myself in awkward, unintended predicaments, or caught in an ambush. After being burned enough times to finally get the message, I resolved to pull out the one surefire secret weapon I had in my arsenal, and it has never failed - my kids.
As soon as our first daughter was old enough to be carted out of visitation, I asked her to go with me and made it a big deal. She quickly agreed and became "Daddy's little sidekick" - a title she has retained to this day through a husband and three grandchildren. I'd had enough of inadvertently greeting young ladies at the door who were dressed in (ahem) indiscreet ways. I needed cover (Well, they did too), and my daughter fit the bill. No one could claim that I was up to no good with my ever-observant child tagging along. There were other benefits as well. Irate people who would have carried my head on a platter did not want to explode in front of a little girl. Gossips didn't want to talk. People who would have misbehaved or made all sorts of accusations against me did not want to risk having a perfectly believable witness around.
People who were otherwise inaccessible opened their doors. I discovered a very useful truth for the ministry. Kids make the visits much easier. Thereafter, I made it a point to take all our kids with me on visitation (one at a time, of course), or whenever I needed cover. They never failed to be a help. As a byproduct, they also learned how to talk to people about the Lord. I highly recommend to all preachers that they pull out their own secret weapons. It's a great reason to have kids. If your wife has any questions, just tell her this preacher said you needed someone to go with you on visitation.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Preachers Have to be Shared

There is never enough time for everyone. Even in my postage stamp-sized church, I am amazed at how hard it is to give everyone enough time and attention. There is always someone falling through the cracks of my attention. There is always someone asking for time, asking a question, or tugging me in another direction. Situations like that can be stressful. One of the most difficult facts that a pastor's family - especially the wife - faces is that the preacher has to be shared. There are times when the pastor's wife has to let go. There are times when he is going to be called away. There are going to be plans interrupted. There are going to be awkward situations. There are going to be times when the pastor's wife is left alone, and that can't be helped. It comes with the job.
On the other hand, since most pastors know what we are getting into, we have to do what we can to make time for the family - especially the wife - and make up for the time we miss. That is every bit as hard a lesson to learn as the truth about sharing. I am reminded of a missionary I met several years ago. He and his family were being recalled from the field on account of serious family problems. The largest problem was that this particular missionary had spent so much time with his church that he was virtually estranged from his family. It was a sad situation. The man confessed to me, "I thought if I took care of my church, God would take care of my family." Not that way. God can provide in lots of ways, and He does, but God cannot be a husband to a wife, or a dad to the kids. If it is true that the family must share the preacher with the church, it's equally true that the church must learn to share the preacher with his family. After all, he is their pastor too. It comes with the job.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Bless the Dog!"

There we were, house sitting with a bunch of teenagers. That would have been enough of a challenge, but some of them were missionary kids as well, so any thing could happen. All appeared to be going rather smoothly until bedtime rolled around and we gathered in one bedroom for prayer. Since Christian kids and missionary kids in particular are generally used to family prayer, that also seemed to be going normally until we came to our son. Our one and only son was, as I recall about the age of either four or impossible, whichever. At any rate, this was the night he chose to prove he was a preacher's son who, like his dad, could launch into a prayer for just about everything in the known universe when occasion called for it. Being so moved, he began praying when his turn came and determined not to finish until he had tried the patience of everyone, and blessed every living creature. Just about the time he had named everyone - so we thought - he interjected one more request: "Bless the dog -." At this point, his mother had had enough. "Don't bless the dog!" she interrupted, thinking, no doubt that if he started naming the animal kingdom, we might never get to bed. At this, he suddenly began wailing in showers of tears, and at the top of his lungs, "I wanna bless the dog!" Pandemonium reigned. To regain order, my wife quickly caved, "All right, you can bless the dog." Like a switch immediately thrown, and a faucet turned off, our pint-sized thunderstorm abruptly calmed, turned to his mother, and politely asked "What's the dog's name?"
We all did our best to contain the well of hilarity dying to erupt within us. With every ounce of self-control we could muster, we held ourselves until the little prayer warrior finished. Then, one more teenager had the nearly impossible job of closing in prayer without losing her composure. When the last "Amen" sounded, pandemonium returned, and it was a good five minutes before we could catch our breath from laughter. I didn't know whether to be proud of my son for insisting on praying or upset for his obvious tantrum. I suspect it was a little of both. When we ask the little ones to pray, anything can happen. I remember hearing of a little girl who asked the blessing on her food by praying: "God is great, God is good. Let us spank Him for our food." She probably blessed her dog too.

Missionary Kids and Other Strange Species, Part Two

Our son-in-law's father was a missionary kid who grew up in Brazil. His parents were pioneers with a long and distinguished ministry on the foreign field. To my knowledge, he never made a credible profession of faith in Christ. The man turned from the gospel, never bothered to attend church, and came to a very sad and lonely end. Missionary kids face many unique difficulties and their stories do not necessarily end well. Before there were computers, e-mail and Facebook, missionary kids came home out of touch and out of date. Their clothes and language were behind the times. Fortunately, missionary families do not have to be quite so disconnected these days. Still, missionary kids are a strange species when compared to families in the average church State- side. One missionary couple we know have reared a family of five in Europe. Nearly all the children were born overseas. As a result, the children do not consider themselves Americans (although they are), and they have a distinctly European cultural mindset. They do not fit in with America, and return to the States only on occasion to visit relatives.
The challenge they have faced is the same for missionary kids everywhere. That is, the fact that they were born to missionary parents in a missionary family does not of itself make the kids missionaries. Sometimes they resent being pressed into service and do not understand why they have to live under difficult circumstances while other kids in other places are enjoying a much more pleasant existence.
When we faced the challenge of having to prepare our own kids for the mission field, we tried to anticipate the difficulties by teaching our kids two facts: 1. That being a missionary was a great adventure. They were going to do things and see things most kids only read about.
2. That being a missionary was a great privilege. The greatest thing we can do in the world is lead a soul to Christ. We never let our kids forget these two facts. We never allowed them to feel as if they were being deprived.
If you know a missionary kid who is feeling left out because of the time they had to spend away, let them know they are the ones with the advantages. The shallow culture they left behind cannot compare with the privileges and opportunities they enjoy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"Nothing's working. Now what?"

There was a time when our family was not only between ministries, we were between everything else - between an income, a home and a future. For reasons beyond our control, we were without a church and living in borrowed quarters. One evening when things seemed the bleakest, I gathered our children around me and said to them, "You are being given a rare opportunity. You get to see what can happen when all you have to depend on is the Lord." God brought us through that particular period in a most gracious way, and we found ourselves on the mission field for the next six years. Sure enough, God did not fail.
As the years have passed and our children have grown, married and gone into their own ministries, there have been times when that conversation has returned. Usually, it has happened when one of our adult children has called to say, "Dad, nothing's working. Now what?" They have found themselves in some predicament in their ministry or some life situation where every solution they have tried has failed. Most of all, God has not worked, or so it seems, so now they are calling Dad. They are not calling to complain, but to find answers. Dad is still the pastor. It is in those precious situations that this dad has been able to assure the kids once again that they are being given a rare opportunity. God still delights to make a point to us, that when we have nothing else on which to depend, He is sufficient. It's a tough but necessary lesson. Someday our kids will have kids under their own roof, and there will be more phone calls: "Dad, nothing's working. Now what?" That is the moment when our own children can pass on what they have learned in the crucible of their own experience, that when "nothing's working," God is working most of all. He doesn't ask or expect us to make sense of what He is doing. He asks only that we trust Him. I know this may seem like a platitude to some people, but the answer to the question is actually very simple. God is working, whether we see Him or not. And if we know that God is working, we know He will take care of the "Now what?". The answer He provides may not be what we expect - that is usually the case - but we know He will always see us through.