My dad understood sacrifice. When he first made the decision to plant a church in southeast Huntsville, Alabama, there were many logical factors that could have prevented it from happening. At the time, he was in his thirteenth year as minister of music at a moderate-sized church also in southeast Huntsville. He had a daughter just married and one entering her final year of college. He also had a son who was in high school. There were responsibilities there, and this was certainly not a time to branch into the unknown.
But the call to plant would not leave him. The area he was targeting had thousands of people, but only two small churches were there that had experienced no growth. He was told that it was socio-economically depressed and that the church would never be able to sustain itself. There would be no significant funding for the plant at first. He moved forward anyway.
He started out as a bi-vocational minister, selling office supplies by day and doing full-time ministry at all other hours. My dad has never been averse to work. He hates having idle time on his hands. He poured himself into his church plant. He would drive around the targeted area making note of houses for sale so that when they sold, he could connect with new owners. This practice continued as Huntsville began to heavily develop that area. As entire subdivisions would go up, Dad would drive around, making note of when the houses were occupied. And then visits were made…lots of visits.
My dad was PERSONAL in his ministry. Everyone mattered. Everyone had a story. And he had every story memorized. His church is thriving today because of his ability to connect with all kinds of people from all walks of life. I know he will be missed by his church family. I also know the difference for him between a resignation and a retirement. He was very careful to tell us all that he would not be retiring from ministry.
Much of our experience in church planting has been the same. We made the decision to move to Vermont despite logic, despite leaving all family behind, despite comfort. We were uncertain where funding would come from or where we would plant. In fact, we really didn’t know what we were doing. I could write a book on how to make mistakes in church planting, because I’m pretty sure we’ve made them all.
But we also have connected with people. Our church family IS our family and it hurts not to be around them right now. They are loving us and praying for us through our sabbatical, and I can feel it. Tomorrow will be our first Sunday away from them during this sabbatical, and I am already tense about it. Not because of worry over jobs needing to be done, but because there are necks I want to hug and stories I want to hear.
My dad, I’m sure, is feeling the same way.
The lesson to pull out of all this: I am thankful for the legacy Dad leaves to me. It is impacting lives in Vermont indirectly as he goes on to impact lives directly in Alabama.