A wave came in

"A wave came in" Continued...

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

Q: How was seminary? Gordon-Conwell was a brand new school. There was an energy in the students and in the faculty.

Q: What was the best thing that happened to you there? I met my wife. . . . We got married the last year of seminary.

Q: Toward the end of your seminary time, you sought a call from a church. What was that process like? It is the only time in my life that I have actually been looking for a job-and I hated it. I had no particular denomination or church affiliation. My parents were good German Lutherans but I lost all connection to Lutheranism after I was about 14 or 15. I heard at Gordon-Conwell about the formation of a new denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. I felt like if I got in on the ground floor of the new denomination there would not be a lot of hoops to jump through. The church I became the pastor of in Hopewell, Va., had left the Southern Presbyterian Church just months before.

Q: You are known now for giving excellent sermons. Did you give a tryout sermon in Hopewell? Yeah. I do not think I was any good. They were desperate. I am not kidding. Their pastor had left under a cloud and they were looking for somebody, anybody.

Q: You were somebody. I was anybody. I was not somebody.

Q: You were there nine years. Was it like being a young journalist at a small newspaper who benefits from having to write and write and write? Did you have to preach and preach and preach? Right. We had a Sunday morning sermon, Sunday evening sermon, Wednesday evening sermon. Three different expositions. Also, all the weddings, all the funerals, speaking at the nursing home, all the conferences, the youth retreat, the men's retreat, the women's retreat, everything. I preached 200 different sermons, expositions, each year.

Q: What did you learn about pastoral work? In a small town your pastoring sets up your preaching, whereas in a big town your preaching sets up your pastoring. In a big town, because they like the way you preach, they will then trust you to come and share their troubles with you. In a small town they can tell the difference between loud and soft preaching but that is about it. If they see you being wise and kind and loving, they will trust you to come and listen to your sermons. You had to spend time with them in the nursing home, in the prison, at the funeral home.

Q: You learned about pastoring. If you just go to towns like New York and spend all your time ministering, you never learn to pastor. You just learn how to do public communication. Ultimately, your preaching will be worse if you do not know how to pastor because you have not gotten involved in the hurts of people's lives. I learned a lot from Hopewell and if I had not gone there, I would not know a lot of that. It makes me a much better preacher today, way, way better than if I had never been there.

Q: Let me ask about a harder lesson: How did the diagnosis of thyroid cancer that you received in 2002 affect your thinking? I was told by absolutely everybody, "Thyroid cancer is very treatable, your prognosis is really good." In spite of that fact, you go to prayer in a new and intense way. The chasm is between not having cancer and having it. Anybody who has been diagnosed with cancer, with malignant cancer that could kill you if something does not happen, feels a oneness with everybody else right away. I have had pastoral situations where people say, "Since you have had this, I trust you."

Q: How do you deal as a pastor with people who get death sentences? You wait for them to speak and then you answer the questions they are asking. I have to listen to see where they are struggling, and listen to them several times before I try to give an answer. I take stock of what medicines they need from the biblical cabinet and then see whether or not they respond well. If the discouragement doesn't respond to a particular medicine I will try another one. It is really being very reactive and careful.

Q: Now that you've had two decades at Redeemer, what do you see as your biggest failure? The one I got away with was overworking for about 10 years-actually, I have always overworked-and my children not hating me for it. There was a period there when I easily could have lost their love and respect, but they do not look back on it and remember it that way, which is God's blessing. Looking back on it, I say, "Why in the world did you not hate me for it?" They say, "We do not really know." They probably should have. You chalk that up to God's grace.


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