I literally grew up in church. Born in 1955 at Fort Riley, Kansas, my parents had me dedicated in small Baptist church in Junction City while my Dad was in the Army. I never knew a time between then and high school graduation when we were not in church every time the doors opened. Dad served as a deacon; Mom sang in the choir, helped cook and serve church dinners. In the late ‘50s, we helped build and open a new church in Illinois. I remember glazing windows, and even shoveled a small amount of gravel for the new parking lot. I was 4 years old.
In that church, I gave my life to Jesus Christ when I was six.
In 1966, Dad had reconnected with an Army buddy, and we moved to the small Missouri town where his family lived. And as always, one of the first things we did was to join a local church. I sang in the youth choir.
One Sunday when I was 12 years old, our pastor spoke of his own calling. He had been sitting in a church service, he said, and saw a mother with a newborn baby. That arrested his attention, and he heard that still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12) saying, "You've been a Christian for years, yet you've contributed no more to My kingdom than that baby."
As he told that story, I began to cry. I didn't understand why but had the thought "That's just like me." Without any specific instruction, I just knew it was real. I had no thoughts about how or when it might happen, but I knew.
And of course, being the stubborn person that I am, I began to bargain with God. I told him that I'd be a music minister, but I certainly wouldn't preach. The thought of public speaking frightened me. And I'd NEVER be a pastor, I said. I just knew it wasn’t for me.
I told the pastor what I believed I’d heard but didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. As it turned out, nothing happened for a quite a while.
But a few years later, the county association of churches decided to form a group of young lay pastors. The idea was to take all those who showed signs of a true calling, provide them with some guidance and training, and make them available to fill in for vacationing pastors, when needed. So local pastors announced the formation of the group and asked if anyone wanted to be a part of it. Our church had recently hired a new pastor, and when he asked whether anyone wanted to a part of it, my hand went up without any conscious decision on my part. In all honesty, I looked up in amazement and wondered how it got there.
But even more surprising to me was neither my parents, the pastor or the deacons ever once questioned that fact that I volunteered. Prior to that moment, I still hadn't ever told anyone except my parents and the previous pastor what had happened to me.
The upshot was that roughly 12 young men wanted to take part. After the group had met a couple of times, we were invited to address the gathering of all the Baptist ministers in that county.
No pressure, right?
Some of the guys were more polished than others. I was decidedly not polished and had never done any public speaking to a group larger than a Sunday School class. My remarks were mercifully brief. Still, the comments made afterward to me were encouraging.
As part of that early training, we were encouraged to volunteer as camp counselors at the county’s Baptist Youth Camp. That summer, a revival broke out one evening while I was in attendance. Later I was asked to go along with one of the older guys – Jerry – who was to preach one Sunday at a small church as a fill-in for a vacationing pastor. Jerry asked me to come along and tell the congregation what had happened.
At the appropriate time, Jerry gave me the pulpit. I opened my mouth to speak, and that’s the last thing I remember about it. I have no idea what I said, but when I was done there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
It was my first experience with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and had no idea what had happened. But Jerry told me it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen.
During my senior year, I received a few invitations to fill in at various churches. But graduation was pending, and I’d already decided to enlist in the Navy. In a pattern which I’ve repeated over and over in life, I broke with the traditional path.