In 1978 Dick Jefferson was pastor of Temple Baptist Church, located on 19th Avenue in San Francisco. I had heard about him at Simpson because he had done something rather extraordinary. He had led the transition of his American Baptist congregation from traditional to charismatic. I had only heard of churches splitting in response to the introduction of spiritual gifts into a congregation. I was interested in the gifts of the spirit and had ambitions to be a pastor. A man who had successfully guided his congregation in this potentially dangerous process was someone I wanted to meet.
The Pastor’s Question
The location of the church was familiar since I passed it on my way home from Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in Mill Valley. When Diane and I were looking for a new church, we settled on Temple Baptist. I sat in Pastor Jefferson’s office about once a month, talking over whatever was bothering me. One afternoon, after quite a few of these conversations, he asked me, “Ron, what do you want from me?”
I said quickly, “I don’t have much of a relationship with my dad. I think I need you to be like a father.” He nodded, murmuring his acceptance of my response. I was not expecting the question, and was mildly surprised by how quickly I replied. The answer actually felt just a little on the glib side.
The Best Sermon I Ever Heard
One of his sermons had a strong impact on me. He spoke about the church at Corinth. I don’t remember what he said, but what I do remember is how I responded to it. It was an excellent sermon, and struck me as profoundly insightful. I admired that sermon and thought, “I want people to feel like this when I preach.”
In subsequent years I became a real fan of Ecclesiastes. When I read Ecclesiastes 4:4 — “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor” — I realized that my admiration of this one sermon had, for my preaching, set the bar high and provided a powerful motivation. I had heard hundreds of expository sermons, sermons filled with information, some entertaining, but most were filled with fundamentalist fire. Now I wanted to move people the way Pastor Jefferson had moved me: with insight, understanding, and fidelity to scripture. Or, to put it another way, I wanted to be admired.
The Leadership Training Group
In a Bible study we attended I learned that the pastor led a leadership training group. I knew one of the young men in the group, Randy, from Simpson. Tall, with bushy black hair and a black mustache, Randy had been a year ahead of me in college. I didn’t know him well, but he once helped me make a particularly difficult decision.
I asked Pastor Jefferson if I could attend the leadership training group. He told me yes, and that he would discuss it with the group. The following Sunday we talked after church. “Ron, I’m afraid you won’t be able to attend the group. We made a covenant, that the group would have to agree on anyone new joining the group. I’m sorry, but they’re holding me to that agreement. I overstepped my bounds when I said yes.” I was disappointed, but I accepted the bad news graciously.
That Night at Work
That evening, after Diane and I watched The Prisoner, I went to the Holland Oil gas station on the frontage road in Pacifica where I worked the graveyard shift. When the late night business died down I left the pumps and sat on the metal chair in the barren office that faced the islands. Across the street was a car dealership. I began thinking about the news Pastor Jefferson had given me that morning.
As I thought about their refusal to let me join the leadership training group, I stiffened. Sitting completely still, I grew angry. I thought of Randy, the only person in the group other than the pastor who knew me. I sat in stony silence for many minutes. Glaring at the showroom across the street, I imagined shooting out the plate glass windows with a gun, one by one. Glass shattered on the sidewalk after each shot.
Eventually my anger subsided. “I guess the Lord doesn’t have this for me now,” I thought to myself. I soon connected this rejection to my plans to enter the ministry. “How can I really minister to laypeople if I don’t know what it is like to minister as a layman? I need to minister as a layman to know how to equip laypeople for their ministries.”
This was based, of course, on something Paul’s taught, that the work of pastors (indeed, the work of all the official folks in the congregations) is not to do the work of ministry, but to “equip the saints to do the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
One summer during college I told an elderly woman that I was preparing to be a minister. “Really, a minister! What a fine young man you are!” she said with genuine enthusiasm. It only takes a few comments like that to convince a young person of the soundness of a decision to enter the ministry. But Jesus warned us about this kind of recognition.
The scribes and Pharisees . . . love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to be addressed as “Rabbi.”
The kind of recognition and respect I got was something I wanted, something I needed. But when they were threatened, my natural response was quite carnal. Although the “outbursts of wrath” and “selfish ambitions” were completely private, internal, and hidden from public view, they really were “the real me.”
It says in one of the pastoral epistles, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” During this period of my life, I spent a lot of time in Timothy. One of the requirements of an overseer is, however, to be “not violent, but gentle.” (I Timothy 3:1,3)
I’m not telling you something you don’t know. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God sees the heart.” And when I’m really hungry and someone wants my food, I still growl.