[This is a work of fiction.*]
Vernon noticed the arrangement of the room. As manager of a regional chain of restaurants, he was used to reading the way a meeting was set up and evaluating peoples’ attitudes.
It was hard to be precise about the five men sitting across from him. He saw eagerness and uncertainty in nearly equal measures. He was surprised to notice some fear and hostility as well. He didn’t see any reason for it. These five men could decide on their own who they would invite to be pastor of this church, and there was no threat he could hold over them. Not that he wanted to!
“Vernon,” said the chairman. “It’s OK if I call you Vernon, isn’t it?”
“Sure Mr. Wilson,” said Vernon. “You knew me when I was in the nursery around here!” He chuckled, both because he was relaxed, and because he wanted the members of the board to relax.
“OK, Vernon, I think I’ll get right to the point. We’re wondering why someone like you, who hasn’t been to church for over 10 years, thinks he is qualified to become pastor of this church.”
Vernon was surprised. “I think we’re working under some misapprehension here. I thought you had invited me here because you were considering asking me!”
“So you didn’t send us your resume? You didn’t ask Mrs. Thompson to deliver it to us?”
“No, I didn’t . . .”
“Well, then there is a misapprehension!”
“I was going to say,” Vernon continued, “that your mentioning Mrs. Thompson explains what happened. She visited me the other day and told me she believed God was still calling me to be a pastor. Then she discussed her son’s resume, and … I’m not quite sure how it happened … but she walked away with mine as an example. When you called, I assumed she’d talked you into inviting me to talk.”
Everyone was grinning now, even Gerald Adams, the senior member of the church, who was known never to smile. It was just a slight grin, but he clearly was amused by how they all had been had.
“So, do we actually have anything to talk about?” said both Vernon and Tom Wilson at nearly the same time.
The silence that resulted had a couple of board members laughing, while a couple of others were trying to restore dignity to the meeting.
“Well, Mr. Wilson . . . ”
“Call me Tom,” said Tom Wilson.
“OK Tom,” continued Vernon. “I think I need to answer your question. The reason I think you should consider inviting me to be pastor of this church is that I agree with Mrs. Thompson. I believe God is calling me here, and it’s time for me to quit sailing for Tarshish.”
It took some of the men a few moments to get the reference, but to their credit, they did.
Tom appeared to be trying to gather his thoughts. “That’s a good answer, and I admit I hoped you’d give a good answer. We could really use someone with your skills to try to revive this church. We just don’t have the numbers we had when you were a child.”
He paused again for a long time, but Vernon could tell that he wasn’t finished. Finally, he continued. “Here’s the problem. I know that you’re smart enough about finances to know you’d take a pay cut to take this position. With an MBA on top of your M.Div, no doubt you could command a much larger salary than we could offer even if you went to pastor at another church.”
“I won’t be taking a salary.” Tom’s words stopped all sound in the room.
“No salary?” asked Tom.
“How are you going to live?”
“I’m actually going to demand much more than a salary.”
“Just what do you mean?”
“Do you mind if I give you a fairly long explanation? I’d like to make clear what it is I’ll provide and what I’m going to ask of you. I also want you to understand why.”
“Take your time,” said Tom.
“You may regret that!” Vernon paused a moment, making sure he had everyone’s attention. He was used to doing this sort of thing to rooms full of management trainees, but it was hard for him to do it with these men who had been the pillars of the church in his youth. They were the people he had learned to respect as a child and young person. You might not like them, but you didn’t ignore them.
“Some of what I’m going to say is going to sound insulting, but I’m asking you to hear me out.” He wouldn’t have said that to management trainees. He just would have given them the facts, and then used a combination of good humor and biting challenge to bring them up to standards.
“If I looked at this church as a branch of my company,” he continued, “I would have to rate it as a failure. I’d probably suggest closing it down and opening another store serving the same market. The reason is that this particular branch has a reputation to live down, and employees are stuck in a losing way of doing business.”
“As evidence, let me point out that your membership is half what it was when I last attended your church. The Board of Elders has only one new member, and the average age has gone up by 10 years in those same ten years. Finally, though you’re searching for a pastor, you have only had one interview, and he decided he didn’t want the job.”
“You’re wondering how I know all this. I know it because I’m a businessman, and I find such things out from habit. I’m thorough. I looked at my old church as I would have looked at a business.”
“Here’s the problem: When I looked at this church as a business, it looks terrible. Hopeless. No point. I can’t live on any salary you could reasonably offer me. It’s not even close. I couldn’t live on your entire church budget. That has a great deal to do with choices I’ve made since I left seminary, but I’m stuck with the results of those choices.”
“You’re all good men, and I believe you love the Lord. That’s why you’re still sitting there while I’m telling you things are hopeless. When I had all the numbers together I decided that I wouldn’t bother to talk to you, because there was no point. But I couldn’t shake that sense that I was being called.”
“So I started to pray. Then I started to read. I read the gospel of Mark. I read 1 Corinthians. I read Ephesians. I read Philippians. Finally I went back to Ephesians 4. Then I had my answer.”
“But before I could call you and talk to you, you called me. Mrs. Thompson was busy helping God out!”
“So what is this solution?” asked Tom.
“First, let me ask you a question you’re not going to like. Why is it that I see five men before me, but the entire work of the church is being done by the women?”
“What do you mean?” broke in Gerald Adams. “You aren’t suggesting we should have women on the Board of Elders, are you?”
“Well, I work with women on committees in my business all the time, and it works out quite well. But no, I was actually planning to challenge you with something much harder.”
“What is that?” asked Tom.
“I’m challenging you to bring your level of service up to your level of leadership. You will need to work according to Mark 10:44: ‘… whoever will be first among you will be servant of all.’”
“How many of you have visited one of the church shut-ins during the last week?”
“My wife does that,” muttered one man.
“Good for her! But do you think God wants those visits done only by the women? What about Mr. Jefferson. He’s 93 years old, but he can still carry on a pretty good conversation if you pay attention. I went to visit him yesterday, just so I could see what it feels like. I’m sure he appreciates the older ladies of the church bringing him flowers, but he’d really love a conversation with one of you men.”
The business evaluation had been something they could take easily. They knew it all, and this, Vernon was someone they had known as a child. They could pretend to be grading him on his work. Now he was under their skin and it was making them angry.
“I know this is not what you want to hear, but if the men of this church joined the women in visiting people in need, it would make a tremendous difference in this community. More importantly, it would make a tremendous difference to each one of you. Why? Because you would be doing what Jesus told you to!”
“But let me ask you another question. How many of you have spoken to someone else about your faith during the last week?” He paused. “Nobody? You are believers. I know you are. You do work out there in the real world. I know you do. So what is the problem? Do you not think the gospel is important?”
“And before you get too angry, let me confess that I didn’t share with anyone either. I can talk about being a backslider at the time, but I still believed; I was just frustrated with the church. I guess I didn’t think it was that important either.”
“So here’s what I’m going to propose. I think you’re angry enough to throw me out of here. But I also know that you’re honest men and that you know your Bibles.”
“I’ll become pastor of this church. But I will do it part time and for no salary. I’ve been supplementing my income by consulting and teaching seminars. I’m going to give that part up. Instead, I’m going to teach right here at this church.”
“But there’s a condition. Every person in this room is going to become a servant along with me. I’m going to operate according to Ephesians 4:11-13. I’m going to equip. You’re going to equip. We’re all going to be teachers. But as we lead we’re also going to be servants.”
“From what I hear you really believe I have been called to do this. I believe I have been called. You wanted a pastor to do all that visiting, to reach the people of the community, and to bring in young people. You’re going to do all that, and I’m going to teach you how.”
“Now you can throw me out, and continue on the path to stagnation and death, or you can choose to answer the call to ministry–as a church.”
Vernon sat there and looked from one to another of the men. He waited for them to respond, to tell him to leave. If they did that, he could go with a clear conscience. But he felt in his heart, more desperately than he had when applying for his first job, the desire to have them say “yes.”
Finally a voice broke the silence. It was Gerald Adams.
“Son,” he said, “you have made me madder than I have been in at least 20 years. I could go whip your butt as a disrespectful, arrogant young pup.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “Problem is, Jesus did say what you said he did, and you’re right. So mad as I am–and I’m still mad!–I want you to be our pastor.”
It only took moments for the rest of the men to agree. After all, nobody argued with Gerald Adams. Jesus, maybe, but not Gerald.
In a story dealing with theological issues, no character represents my own view. My short stories are intended to raise and discuss issues, not provide answers to theological questions.
**This story came to me while I was editing The Jesus Paradigm by David Alan Black, just released by my company, but Dr. Black is not to be blamed for my ideas or attitudes.