Chapter 15: Shepherding Struggling Flocks

Shepherding Struggling Flocks

"See What You Can Do"

The Open Bible Church in Wichita, Kansas, became our next place of service. This was a Mennonite Brethren mission church located in the poorer section of town. The building was in a good, working-class housing development, but just across the street was a sort of slum area. It was difficult to draw people from both communities.

The Mennonite Brethren Conference had a fund operated by the Conference Board of Trustees, from which churches could borrow money to build new facilities. This has since become the Mennonite Brethren Foundation. This fund enables churches that are building new facilities to borrow without having to rely on banks or other commercial lending institutions. This congregation had not been able to make its loan payments nor its improvement taxes to the city for two years. The outlook was bleak. Just before our arriving there, the Home Missions Board cleaned up the back payments and told us, "Here it is, see what you can do." They were also willing to give some subsidy to the church for a time.

So, we started to work. God blessed the work, and in time all these things changed. When we first came, we didn't have a home. We rented a house, but renting was never our preference. The church lot was large enough to accommodate a residence; all they lacked was the financing to build it.

I researched how much it would cost to build the kind of house we would want, and how much the payments would be. It was just about the same amount we were paying for rent—$100 per month! So I made a proposal to the congregation: our family would, with our own money, build a house on the church lot. We would make the payments out of my salary until such time that we left the congregation. In that case, we would turn the house over to the church. They could then continue to make payments to us until the balance was paid.

They were agreeable to that. The Conference representatives checked the plan carefully and said they couldn't see anything wrong with it. "You can't do better than that," they told the leaders of the church. The necessary papers were signed. We had the privilege of designing our own house and having it built just the way we wanted it: a nice three- bedroom, two-bath home with a full basement.

In order to finance the building of this house for ourselves, we borrowed on our farm—something we had thought we would never do. But given the circumstances, we felt it was the right thing to do. By trusting God, all went well and we enjoyed doing it.
God granted us eight years of service in Wichita. Our congregation grew: doubled, tripled, and nearly quadrupled in membership. It became necessary to add another wing to the church building. So now we had another building project, which was completed without difficulty.
Our Sons Become Men

For Paul, the move to Wichita meant yet another change of high schools. We offered to arrange for him to stay and finish in Enid, but he wanted to come with us. He attended Wichita South High School and was able to graduate in the upper five percent of his class, which entitled him to a scholarship at Tabor College. With it, he joined Jim at Tabor College.

Jim was a senior by now. After graduation from college, he went back to California, while we continued to serve in Wichita.

In 1965, Paul graduated from Tabor College. For the last two summers he worked for Canada Dry Bottling Company, where Jim had worked before him. He matriculated to the University of Kansas Medical School, Kansas City. Even after his first year, he still continued to drive a truck for Canada Dry during the summer.
New Horizons

During that same summer it was my privilege to go on a six-week study tour to Europe and the Near East. I had always wanted to do this, and my family encouraged me to go as a means of broadening my ministry. The tour group consisted of twenty-one ministers and was sponsored by the Central Baptist Seminary of Kansas City. It proved to be a very enriching and beneficial experience in my ministry, as I had hoped it would be.

At the end of eight years of service, we felt that we had completed our work in Wichita and should move on. We were next called to Weatherford, Oklahoma, to another struggling church. Although it was only one block away from Southwestern College, the church wasn't growing. In fact, it had become stagnant. Its facilities were old and outdated.
Nevertheless, when they called us to come and serve them, I felt it must be of the Lord, so we went there to do what we could. God blessed that work also. Shortly after we came, I asked whether they had any plans to improve their facilities to provide a better ministry and reach out to new people in the community.

They said yes, but they didn't know what, when, or where. Some were interested in building on the same lot; others wanted to relocate. Again it became my task to start thinking and leading in these matters. I suggested that the trustees do some research to find out how much space would be needed for building and parking.
A "Far out ''Idea

They soon discovered that their lot was too small for any worthwhile expansion. Thus, the congregation decided to relocate. We sold the old place at a good price, the location was good for business, and were able to buy another property on the outskirts of town that was sufficient for building a bigger, better facility.

It was so "far out" that some people asked, "What can you accomplish way out there in the wheat fields?" Fortunately, this church had some wise leadership. With vision, they selected the site and prepared an ambitious plan for the new building. Again, we felt God's definite leading to build a facility that was much larger than what was needed at that time. Some people said, "What are you going to do with so much extra space? You'll be rattling around in there." But God blessed the work.

Soon houses were being built around the new church. Then new industry settled on that same side of town and the congregation started to grow. When it was surrounded with homes, the church had to enlarge its facilities!

We served there for four and a half years and then it was time to move on again.
Back to California

We returned to the great central valley of California. The state capital in Sacramento is in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, the hub of the agricultural world of my youth.  There we assumed the pastorate of the Florin Community Church, which was also a Mennonite Brethren fellowship. It was in an urban setting, much like Wichita, and we looked upon this as probably the greatest challenge of our ministry, even though here we had a stronger nucleus with which to work.

We did not at all anticipate having to face again the question of relocating the church. We planned to devote ourselves to the spiritual development of the congregation and to an outreach in the community. Only the yard and landscaping needed to be more attractive.

 I encouraged the Trustee Board to undertake this project. Then the treasurer stated that he was not willing to spend that kind of money until the permanence of the location was determined. I was surprised, since the church was only about ten years old, but I suggested that we do a study.

Through this study, we decided that the lot the church owned was too small for much growth. A new location was found and acquired through the good services of a deacon in the congregation, Charles Stein, a real estate broker. A plan for relocation was initiated, but it took some time before it was executed. The selling of existing facilities took some time.

I concentrated mostly on the ministry, and new people were added to the congregation. Still, a period of uncertainty always brings frustration. Plus, some of the new people did not completely conform in their lifestyles to the more conservative views of some of in the congregation. There developed a certain amount of dissatisfaction among the conservative leadership.

It has always been my policy, when I am in a leadership position, to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Now it appeared that I was part of the problem. Therefore, I terminated my service there after three years, in March of 1976. I wanted the congregation to be able to move ahead as they really saw fit, instead of having me there, possibly contributing to slower growth.
"Now What, Lord?"

After this, we waited upon the Lord to see what He would have for us to do. At age 63, I was somewhat hesitant to move to another congregation. Also, I believe that in these changing times, a leader must be contemporary, able to understand people and the problems they wrestle with every day. This becomes more difficult as one grows older. Also, as we had our home in Sacramento, moving did not seem advisable. So we stayed and waited to see how and where God would lead.

Very shortly thereafter, I was contacted by Simpson College, a four-year Christian liberal arts college in San Francisco, to see if I might be interested in teaching part-time at their "off-campus extension" in Sacramento. I was delighted, because I love to teach. I was asked in what area I would like to teach. I replied that I should probably teach philosophy, since I hold a graduate degree in that discipline. However, the college had no need of a philosophy teacher; would I consider theology instead?

This was a great challenge to me. Nevertheless, I accepted the position and found great satisfaction in instructing young people—future ministers and other church workers.

While we were serving in Wichita, there had been a persistent challenge to pursue some studies at the University. But since I had obtained all my formal education as an adult, I had been reluctant to seek more education at that time. However, the Lord impressed upon me the possibility that someday I might miss out on an opportunity for service for God if I did not take hold of the opportunity that was before me: namely, to acquire an advanced degree at the University. At the same time, a degree from a university would validate my college degree from Pacific Bible Institute (Christian College) that was not accredited. Wichita State University offered a course in Religion and Philosophy. I thought I might be able to get a quick and easy degree since I had done studies in both of those areas.

So, at the age of 50, I enrolled as a part-time student at Wichita State University. After the head of the department looked at my transcript he called me and said, you have more "religion" credits than our professors have. Therefore, you will not be able to take any studies in religion, but will need to do all your studies in philosophy.

That ended the idea of a "quick and easy degree." I continued to take three units most semesters while enjoying my pastoral services and teaching a few classes at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.

In June, 1969, at the age of 54, I was awarded a Diploma, Master of Arts. in Philosophy. On the same day, our son Paul received a degree of Doctor of Medicine, at the University of Kansas. I am telling all this to show that God's leading was right. Without a degree from the university, I could not have taught at Simpson College.

In September of that year when we ended our service in Sacramento, we were asked to serve a Wesleyan Church as an interim pastor, on weekends in Grass Valley. That is a quaint, historic place—an old mining town from the days of the Gold Rush in California. Located 55 miles north of Sacramento, it lies along a picturesque main street in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We accepted the invitation and Kathryn and I traveled there every weekend. We certainly enjoyed this ministry, going up on Saturdays, having prayer meetings with the people that evening, holding two services on Sunday, and helping the congregation carry on until they could find a new pastor. Meanwhile, I began to plan a tour of Western Europe and Russia. After ten months, the church did find a pastor, just in time to free us to go.

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