So at 22 I came home in every way.
I came back to the city, moved back into the oldies place and went back to my home church in Scarborough. By this time both my brother and my parents had left Maylands and also moved back to Scarborough, so we were all there now.
I had spent the summer holidays in the Philippines playing basketball and had a significant God encounter that rocked my world and 4 years later saw me head off to Bible College to become a missionary.
But the next 9 years were all spent at Scarborough, 4 of it as a member of the church and the next 5 as the Youth pastor. I was old enough now to think more critically about all that was going on around me, and I had developed a passionate interest in leadership and discipleship.
I saw these two qualities fairly lacking in the church by and large and I was disturbed by this. I wanted to do something about it, but I hadn’t quite got out of my zealotry phase, so most of seeking to inspire people and move them often ended up in legalism and then disappointment. And I realise now that it wasn’t so much that leadership was absent, but simply that it didn’t present as highly charged and motivational as I thought it should be.
The church had settled somewhat after the Churchlands exodus and was now a much smaller, conservative evangelical church with few bells and whistles. Peter and Jill Birt had led the church very well and navigated the worship wars diplomatically. Based on my later experience of leadership meetings, I doubt it all sailed as pleasantly ‘below deck’ as it appeared above deck. Pete and Jill left to become missionaries in Indo and much of the energy that had been gained during their time in leadership waned again. In the time between pastors the church lurched a bit and while the stalwarts never twitched, those who came because of the leadership seemed to move on with the leadership. Such is church life so often. Even at this point in my life, I don’t think there is much we can do to negate that. People attach to the primary leaders and their presence or absence makes a difference.
I was in a stage now where I was able to do some more independent thinking, but I hadn’t been raised to do that so it didn’t come naturally. It was a church where you generally towed the line theologically and culturally or you didn’t fit in. No one exiled you maliciously, but if you questioned too much you felt like an outsider or a trouble maker, so it was easier just to ‘believe’. I began to explore more theologically, but within some fairly regulated boundaries. I wasn’t aware of the boundaries then – or if I was I didn’t see them negatively.
John Randall came to lead the church and he came with some ‘fresh ideas’. They hardly sound revolutionary or contestable now, but the idea of moving the evening church service up to the local community centre to be more ‘in the community’ was met with a very mixed response. There was still some ‘house of God’ theology strongly present as well as some clearer thinking but I’ve noticed that often in churches those who think clearly generally seem less firey than those who think dumb things. Sadly it often ends in poor thinking ruling the roost because the better thinkers also don’t want to end up in the theological equivalent of mud wrestling.
In the first 4 years back I was devoted to Phys Ed teaching and my life revolved around my job. I got better at teaching. While at the school I got invited to be a youth pastor at a local pentecostal church – I obviously wasn’t that Baptist… But I said ‘no’. It just felt weird… really… Even though they were great people I found it hard to see myself in the space.
I was still committed to the Scarborough and got a gig leading services occasionally, but I was always nervous doing that. It seemed a massive responsibility. I know I always wore a tie and watched my ps and qs when I led because it had to be done right and it was easy to offend.
There were some who always had a word of encouragement and some who would show their displeasure with facial contortions or as happened on occasions, by walking out during the service if something offended them. As a pastor now, I wonder if anyone confronted those folks and told them to grow up, or if their power and influence gave them too much leeway. I saw some terrible behaviour in my time in that church but having been there since the age of 18 I often felt like a ‘boy’ and unable to adequately confront the kind of power plays and tantrums that were destructive. I don’t know that I ever accepted it as ‘par for the course’, but I didn’t contest it until I became a pastor.
In 1990 I headed off to Perth Bible College and began preparing to be a sports missionary back in the Philippines. But the leadership thing was still strong in me and the church youth ministry was in need of some new leadership. The previous guy had done a great job, but he too had taken off to be a missionary too (ironically to the Philippines…) Thru a series of events, the church approached me and asked if I’d be up for a gig as Youth Pastor working two days a week while I studied. With one year of Bible college up my sleeve I was well prepared… not…
But I said yes anyway, as it really did feel like a God thing. I agreed on the condition that a young woman called Danelle could join me in leading the youth ministry. She was happy, I was happy and the church said yes to it. Within a few weeks we were engaged and I decided that one year of Bible college was plenty and that I’d launch into the pastoring and seek some relief teaching.
So the church that had formed me most significantly now invited me into the leadership realm. I got to see what happened behind that closed doors of deacons meetings, I got to hear the angst and frustration of our senior pastor as he tried to nudge the Titanic away from the iceberg and I got to put my toe in the water of Christian leadership in a paid capacity for the first time.
I’ve been reflecting on how the churches I have been part of ‘formed me’ and shaped me, and you may think that this was my opportunity to do some ‘forming’ and ‘shaping’ of my own. Maybe…
But more about that next time…