The Summer of 1991 was the summer that my wife and I, jointly, made the decision that I was going to leave full time ministry. It was a difficult decision, but it was one that we needed to make at the time. Two difficult situations in a row had just worn us out. Now, let me say here — they were two difficult situations, but even in difficult situations we had brothers and sisters that loved us, cared about us, and walked us through. One of the situations we stayed through the difficulty, stayed until it was resolved, and for another year past that. Even with problems, our brethren have always been better to us than we deserve. So, leaving ministry was tough — but it was right, for a lot of different reasons.
For the next 25 years I worked in a wide variety of jobs, involving mostly sales and management. The first 13 years I wandered through 5 jobs, and I spent nearly six years on one of them (gives you an idea of how difficult finding a good fit was). The last 12 years, I was a sales representative for Arkansas Insulation. Most of that time, I loved that job! I loved getting up in the morning and going to work, enjoyed the people I worked with, and the customers that I called on. Yeah, there were tough times, but it was the right place for me at the right time. For 21 of those 25 years, I served as a bi-vocational minister — 15 years for one church, and 6 with another. During that time, I didn’t attend preachers’ meetings, lectureships, workshops, or read any brotherhood periodicals. That was quite a change for someone, that had an almost unhealthy interest in what was happening in our church fellowship. You wanted to know what churches were looking for a preacher — call Bill, he knew (and could probably tell you who had been there, and why he left). So for 25 years, I really didn’t know what was going on. It really was sort of nice.
After retiring from Arkansas Insulation, I re-entered full time ministry in January, 2016. I went to the first preachers’ meeting that I had been to in years (but, I still don’t make but 1 or 2 a year), still read only one brotherhood periodical (The Christian Chronicle), but through Facebook, and various chat boards on it, I know more about what is going on in our brotherhood that I need. The spring of 2016, for one morning I attended the last of the “Tulsa Workshops”, and was astounded at the lack of attendance and interest. Since that time I have attended 4 different lectureships at 4 different locations. People ask me why I do that, and my stock answer is that I want to go somewhere that I know that I won’t agree with everyone. Hearing people that I don’t agree with will make me study and think. What I have found out, is that I don’t know if I FIT anywhere. A couple of places I have been more comfortable than others, but still struggle with the things that I hear.
What bothers me about this is, I have been raised, nurtured, and educated in the churches of Christ; and I don’t know where I am part of the time. I look at Northwest Arkansas, an isolated area from the rest of our fellowship; as we don’t have the fights, aggressiveness, name-calling, and problems between churches that other places seem to have. Granted, historically, almost every church here has had there problems, and some seem to have the same problems over and over. IF we could get all the members of other religious groups that have background in the churches of Christ to return, every congregation would have to, at least, double the size of their facilities to hold them.
So, Tuesday of this week, I received a book that I had ordered: WHY WE STAYED “Honesty and Hope in the Churches of Christ.” Benjamin Williams, minister of the Glenpool (OK) church of Christ, edited this collection of 12 essays; detailing why these 12 writers stayed with the churches of Christ, instead of leaving and going somewhere else. The writers are: Everett Ferguson, Jeremie Beller, Matthew Dowling, Steven C. Hunter, Grant B. Sullivan, Scott Elliott, Benjamin J. Williams, John Mark Hicks, Chris Altrock, Ron Highfield, John Wilson, and Chris Rosser. In the introduction, Williams explains that his hope is that this book will fall midway between Leroy Brownlow’s Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ, and Flavil Yeakley’s Why They Left. I hope that they achieve that, but I am afraid that the people that will read it (and talk about it) will be the ones that are looking for some false doctrine that they can expose. I pray that I am wrong, but from what I see now in our fractured fellowship I doubt it. Of the others, I think that most have not thought of leaving, and the ones that have left (or are considering it) are not interested in reading this. I don’t like to be negative, but I am afraid that I am this time.
Wednesday night, I woke up about 12:45 A.M., wide awake — so I began to read this book, and drink a cup of decaf. When I finally laid back down about 4:00, I had read all but the last 4 chapters. I must admit that the chapter by John Mark Hicks, I read right before I went back to bed, and I was struggling to stay awake. It is my intention to read it again tomorrow.
Let me begin with my one negative feeling about this book. There were only about 5 of the names that I recognized, but after finishing the book today; I’m not sure that all of them have actually wrestled with leaving the churches of Christ. That was the impression I got from the way their chapters came across. It seems as if they were given an assignment, and they wrote an “essay” about the compelling reason they were given for staying. Now, it did seem that there were some that appeared to have struggled with staying, but made the decision to not leave.
There are four chapters, that I want to mention, that really appealed to me. The first one is chapter one “I Stayed for the Restoration Plea“, by Everett Ferguson. According to the editor, Dr. Ferguson was interested in the project, but because of his age was not taking any new writing assignments. But he suggested that if he were to write something, it would be very much like this chapter. This was originally printed as “The Validity of the Restoration Principle” Mission (August,1973) 5-10. If you are familiar with Dr. Ferguson, and his writings, you know that he is very precise, detailed, and logical. You should expect nothing less from this chapter. Jeremie Beller’s chapter, “I Stayed for the Love of Scripture” was very good, and I would encourage every one to read it. My favorite chapter, as far as the narrative, and the ability to weave a story, is Chris Altrock’s chapter titled “I Stayed for the Wedding.” I don’t know Chris, but I am thoroughly impressed with the way that he wrote this chapter, and the emotion that he pulled out of me in the telling of his story. The fourth chapter I want to mention is “I Stayed for the Light” by Ron Highfield. This chapter appealed to me, because so much of his story parallels my own story (up until our college experiences). There is one paragraph that begins on page 144, and then ends on page 145 — that every elder needs to read, and then ask their preacher if it is right.
I highly recommend this book. it was published March 25, 2018, so be one of the first to read it. I would hope that you read it to be enlightened, educated, and informed. It is my prayer that you don’t read it looking for something to use against someone. I got my copy from Amazon, and it cost me $10.95, or you can get it on your Kindle for $5.99. If you are concerned about the future of the churches of Christ, I would encourage you to read it.