Pruned by God

Photo by Anna Shvets on

Sam’s position on the staff of a large Charismatic Church ended when the sins of its pastor came to light, and the pastor refused to repent.

“I was on staff at an exciting church that I loved. People called me Pastor Sam. I had respect and thought I was on my way up. Now I was out the door and did not know how to start over,” said Sam. “I went through a very miserable time trying to figure out what God wanted me to do next.”

 Sam left the church a few weeks before Christmas, planning to seek a pastorate at an Assembly of God Church. His father’s business needed help, so he moved back home to regroup and look for a new church. But finding a church willing to accept him as pastor was no simple task.

Confident God had told him to plant a church in Miami, he made an exploratory trip. The section presbyter looked across the table and said, “I don’t know if God has called you to Miami or not. If God wants you in Miami, you won’t be able to stay away. I sense that you need to go home and find something to do.” Sam left the presbyter’s office annoyed that he had made a twelve-hour drive to be rejected.

He returned home discouraged but followed the presbyter’s advice. There were two Assembly of God churches close enough for his family to attend. He chose the one he believed would be the better fit. He met with the pastor to share his credentials and ministry experience, then offered to serve as a volunteer in any capacity: cut grass, clean toilets, run the nursery, teach a Sunday School Class, etc. The pastor looked Sam in the eye and said, “I don’t need your help.”

 Devastated by another rejection, he pursued his last option that he had rejected even though he knew the pastor. Sam did not care for the old school, southern gospel church full of men who wore cowboy boots with mullet hairdos. He could not imagine fitting in, but swallowed his pride and made an appointment with the pastor to give him the same offer. The pastor leaned across the table and said, “Thank God, my prayers have finally been answered.”

Sam bought a pair of cowboy boots and began attending the church. When he saw the pastor’s wife struggling in the nursery, he offered to assist her. She was happy to step aside and let Sam reorganize the nursery. Pleased with the way Sam handled the nursery, the pastor put him in charge of a new believer’s class and then asked him to develop a membership class. Soon the pastor trusted Sam to preach when he was out of town. When the pastor left for a three-week vacation, he left Sam in charge.

Happy again after years of struggling in ministry, Sam changed jobs so he would have more time to volunteer at the church. He had been there three years when he received a call from his sectional presbyter. “Have you heard about the little church that started at the YMCA?”

 “Yes,” Sam replied.

 “The pastor was in an accident and needs someone to fill in.”

 The following Sunday morning, Sam was about to leave for the YMCA when Angie said, “I think we are going to pastor that church.”

 Sam looked at his wife in disbelief. “I will not do that. First, they are not looking for a pastor. Second, I am needed at our church, and I love working there. Third, if I was going to plant a church, I would never do it in the same town where I am already a member of a church. Put that thought out of your mind.”

 Sam had difficulty doing what he told his wife to do. As soon as he walked into the YMCA, he heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “This is where I am bringing you.”

Several months slipped by before the section presbyter called Sam again. “Do you remember the church you preached at in the YMCA? We don’t know what happened, but the pastor left and no one knows where he is. The membership has dwindled to twelve. I advised them to disband and go to the other two churches in town. They insist that God told them you are going to be their pastor.”

Sam resigned his volunteer position at his church and promised he would encourage no one to follow him. A promise he kept. Within a year, his flock grew from 12 to 35. They rented a storefront and renovated it to accommodate their now 130 members. The new location and additional members enabled them to do outreaches: a food bank, clothing bank, sidewalk Sunday school to name a few. God enlarged the congregation and opened a door to buy nineteen acres of land a few miles from the storefront. They built an eighteen-thousand square foot facility.

 Shortly after they moved into the new facility, the church split. Sam struggled for years to keep the peace in a church at war with itself. He stood by the front row with a heavy heart as he waited to preach when he heard the Holy Spirit say, “I like the fruit I’ve gotten from this tree. I am going to prune it severely, so I can get more fruit.” The Spirit’s message did little to relieve the sorrow Sam felt as he wondered who was mad, and who would leave next.

Remaining at the church became dangerous. The multiple death threats he had received almost came to fruition when he was standing in front of the church with his family and bullets whizzed over their heads. Instead of leaving the church, disgruntled people hung around the perimeter, trying to sabotage everything he did. They stalked him, and took shifts camping in the cul-de-sac in front of his house, so they could harass his family.

 Sam had poured twelve years of his life into the church, and he did not want to leave. The spiritual battle that raged ended with Sam’s resignation. His family left deeply wounded and needed time to heal. He knew immediately looking for another pastorate would not be wise. He sold his house and moved to another town. They found a church to attend, and Sam started a business doing decorative concrete work to support his family. He also started a seasonal wholesale business selling fruit smoothie mix to restaurants, convenience stores, and ice cream shops that supplemented his income from the concrete business.

During this time, God spoke to Sam about planting a church in New Orleans. They took an exploratory trip. Sam and his son loved New Orleans, but the big city scared Angie. She loved living in the country and being near family. Both of their parents were slowing with age. She wanted to be near them. Their oldest son, who had lived in New York for years, had recently returned to South Carolina making leaving harder.  She wanted to obey God but struggled with the thought of moving so far away.

Angie prayed God would change her heart to accept his will. God told her in a dream to help the Cajuns, and she saw herself telling people they were moving to Louisiana. Angie woke Sam to tell him about the dream. After that experience, her heart slowly changed to accept God’s new direction for their lives.

While waiting for doors to open in New Orleans, Sam started a marriage ministry. He spoke at several conferences and wrote I Still Do, a sixteen-week devotional for married couples. I Still Do became popular with Christian counselors, but doors to the speaking circuit failed to open.

One day, a pastor of a large church contacted Sam and offered to buy him breakfast. Sam brought his book, thinking God was about to open the door for his marriage ministry to flourish. The pastor looked at the book. “This is very nice,” he said, then pushed the book aside. “What are you doing, Sam?”

“I am waiting on God. He spoke to us about going to New Orleans. I don’t know when or how. Until God gives me direction, I am working and taking care of my family as I prepare myself for what lays ahead.”

“I know what you have done in the past and believe you have too much ability to wait. I have opened campuses of our church around Charleston. I also have one in a rural community that is farm oriented that I can’t find anyone to pastor. Would you be interested?”

“I don’t have a reason not to, as long as you understand when God opens the door for ministry in New Orleans, I am leaving.”

The pastor and Sam visited the church where Sam met twenty angry people. When the patriarch of the family that founded the church and led it for fifty years died, all the congregation left except twenty of his relatives. They were mad that they had to sell the property, mad that they had become a satellite of a big church, and mad that Sam would be their pastor.

Preaching on Sunday was comparable to facing a firing squad. But Sam was no stranger to spiritual battles. Sam and Angie did everything they could to love them. The remnant had too much commitment to the past to move into the future, so they left.

The pastor of the main campus challenged his members to join Sam in planting a new church. Of the three thousand congregation members, six felt led to follow Sam into the new work. Sam’s new church members were the most committed and dedicated people he had ever worked with. They loved God and loved Sam and his family.

One comment

  1. I think a really long post like this would be better broken into 3 shorter parts. Wouk did get people to return fir the rest of the story. I found it interesting but too long and quit about 2/3 s of the way through it.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s