Perils of Ministry

Doors opened for employment opportunities that appeared to move Sam toward his goal of owning a successful business. Inevitably the jobs turned sour. He found himself surrounded by co-workers who seem satisfied. But he could not shake the growing conviction that he was not where he belonged.

Throughout his early twenties Sam spent much time in prayer and meditation in a quest to discern God’s will. The answer came when an illness confined him to bed rest. Free from earthly distractions, Sam discerned his calling to be a pastor. His first thought. Ridiculous! His second thought. Angie will never agree. As his resistance to God’s will grew weaker, Sam grew stronger. Before he returned to work, he decided to tell Angie what God had revealed to him.

“Angie, I’m feeling better and will be returning to work soon, but I need to tell you something first.”

“Before you do, I need to tell you something,” said Angie. I have been praying for a long time. I feel like God is calling us into the ministry.”

Angie’s confirmation convinced Sam that God had called him to be a pastor. He made arrangements to attend a Baptist College to prepare for ministry. His church had committed to help with the cost. His future as a Baptist pastor appeared settled until his mother-in-law challenged his beliefs about the Holy Spirit.

In the 1980’s the Charismatic Renewal peaked. Angie’s mother began attending a charismatic Bible study and sharing the things she learned with Sam. The Pentecostal heritage his grandparents laid made him receptive, but Baptist doctrines about the Holy Spirit and tongues left him skeptical. Initially, he politely told her he was not interested and did not want to hear about it. She ignored his request and continued to press the issue.

One night, Sam had enough. “Standard Baptist lines against tongues are not working”, he said to Angie, “I am tired of being dragged into these debates and not knowing what to say. I am not going back to visit your mother until I have the answers to rescue her from this heresy.”

Sam embarked on a diligent study of the Holy Spirit and tongues beginning in Acts. His study revealed that speaking in tongues continued after the Day of Pentecost. Believers spoke in tongues in Samaria. Years later, Priscilla and Aquila spoke in tongues. Many years later, believers were still speaking in tongues, and Paul wrote that he spoke in tongues more than all of them. Even closer to home, Sam knew that his grandparents had spoken in tongues.

 The growing conviction that speaking in tongues was a central part of the gospel troubled Sam. He made an appointment with his pastor to discuss his dilemma. “I know you have been to the Baptist Seminary. I need you to give me the smoking gun, the big bomb to drop on this doctrine.”

The pastor opened his Bible to 1 Corinthians 13 and read, “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; …. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away (1 Corinthians 13:8-10 KJV). “We believe these verses mean when the cannon of the Bible is presented to humanity the baptism in the Holy Spirit and tongues will go away.”

“Are you kidding me,” said Sam. “That’s it. That’s all you have. Excuse me, but don’t we all know that when that which is perfect is come is a reference to the second coming of Christ. I don’t need to go to Bible college for somebody to tell me that. I don’t understand.”

 The pastor snapped his Bible shut. “It seems to me it would be better for you and for us if you started attending a Pentecostal church.”

 “I didn’t come here to start a problem. I came for help and now you are uninviting me to a church I am a member of!”

 “It seems you don’t fit here anymore.”

 In that moment Sam realized he had blindly accepted doctrine without investigating its veracity. He had a dozen scriptures that agreed with his mother-in-law’s belief. His pastor had only offered one misinterpretation of a passage. Sam knew his pastor was right. He did not fit in the Baptist church anymore.

 Sam and Angie found a Pentecostal church to visit. The boisterous worship with people yelling, running and shaking terrified him. They left in the middle of the worship service. Sam opted for the calmer atmospheres of Charismatic Conferences where he received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.

 Sam and his wife eventually settled in Tabernacle Baptist Church, one of South Carolina’s largest charismatic churches. At the time, its pastor was a leading spokesman for the Charismatic movement, which emphasized speaking in tongues, prophecy and faith healing.

Sam enrolled in the churches Bible college. Upon his graduation, the church hired Sam as Director of the Ministry of Helps. Sam over saw sixty-nine areas of ministry from nursery to grounds maintenance. His duties included recruiting and training volunteers. He also taught at the Bible College.

 Sam had the satisfaction and happiness he desired for the first time since accepting his calling. He felt blessed to belong to a great church. Fuller Theological Institute had given the church an award for being one of the fastest growing churches in the southeast. Sam had witnessed the blind receiving their sight, the deaf hearing for the first time, people delivered from life controlling addictions and physical healings.  Numerous churches were planted overseas. His church formed a new denomination; Apostolic Churches International (ACI). Pastors from all over the world attended its first conference. Three hundred churches from India joined ACI as well as churches from North and South America and New England.

Sam’s perfect world crumbled when he learned his lived an immoral life. The church staff and board of elders confronted him. He refused to deny or confess the allegations were true. They offered to send him to a ministry in Florida for rehabilitation. They would continue to pay his salary and maintain his home in his absence. When the ministry deemed him fit to return to his duties, they promised to reinstate him as senior pastor.

The disgraced pastor went to Florida, but he did not stay long. Two months later, he returned to announce Jesus had appeared to him. He claimed Jesus told him that he chose him for ministry knowing he was flawed. The sin of stepping down from his Apostolic calling was greater than the sexual sins he committed. He took over the church, and they became a national scandal. 

 Grieved by his pastor’s behavior, which he could not support, Sam prayed daily for God’s timing to leave. He could not walk out on the Bible College students, and the congregation he served and loved. Instead of receiving a time to leave, he heard God say, “Stay.”

 Sam’s life became like David’s in the house of King Saul. He never knew what would happen from day to day. Through it all the staff and elders remained faithful. They banded together for strength and strived to buffer the congregation as much as possible from their wayward pastor’s rants and irrational behavior.

 One Saturday morning, as Sam prayed for God to release him from the church, the Holy Spirit spoke, “Get ready. He is going to fire you.”

 The following Monday, the pastor stormed into the office and barked, “Sam come here.” Sam sat in silence as the pastor accused him of turning the Bible College students against him. Sam had made himself uncomfortable with the extent he challenged the students to be loyal, but knew it would be pointless to argue.

“You are fired,” said the pastor, “I don’t need you anymore. But you can’t leave until December 18th.  You can’t tell anyone that I fired you, and you have to do your job until then.” Sam agreed to the terms wishing the termination had been immediate. He returned to his desk to endure another three months.

 Shortly after the meeting, the local newspaper began running front page articles about the police investigation of their pastor. The police had started following the pastor when they learned he had been meeting strangers at Interstate rest areas to engage in homosexual acts. Someone in the police department began leaking information to the newspaper. When the pastor’s sins came to light the loosely committed people instantly left the church. The committed were shaken and began falling away. Even the hard core committed were nervous.

 During a mid-week service, a church member approached Sam with a message from the Lord. “The Lord said for me to tell you that soon someone will try to get you to do the opposite of what I have already told to do. You know what to do. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it.”

Three days later, the pastor asked Sam to take a ride with him. They were riding aimlessly around town when the pastor began crying. “I feel terrible. I talked so mean to you and fired you. You have been loyal to me. You are still doing a good job and not one person has come to me and said that you told them anything. I should not have fired you. Please stay.”

 “Pastor I love you enough to tell you that you are dead wrong about everything you have been doing. You need to repent and ask God to forgive you. I am not staying, and will leave on December 18 as you requested.”

 The experience taught Sam a valuable lesson about independent organizations. There is no accountability and no one to intervene when church leadership fails. When the pastor fired Sam, he contacted the Assemblies of God and started the application process to transfer his ministry license. When the pastor asked him to stay, he had completed all the requirements and was waiting to receive his credentials in the mail. On December 18 Sam walked out of the church without looking back.

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