A Better Way
The little white church on College Avenue had been much more alive tonight than on most Sunday mornings. It was Wednesday night, but we have been having church all week. Our preacher, Leonard, sang bass in the gospel quartet, the Kingâ€™s Men. Huebner and I were deacons in the church, and we had been trying to get the elders to go along with Leonardâ€™s idea of having the rest of the quartet join with Leonard and have a revival at Socorro Christian Church. As often times is the case, a church born with a silver spoon in their mouth is spoiled and lazy; that described the Socorro Christian Church. Dr. Cecil C. Crawford had been the founding pastor of the church. He taught humanities at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Under his tutorage, the church grew, built a debt free building, and became my home church when I arrived as a freshman at the School of Mines.
After several years, and Doc Crawford doing his best to make me a preacher, Crawford was offered the job of head of the department of Philosophy at Texas Western School of Mines, now known as UTEP. Upon accepting that position, we at Socorro Christian were for the first time seeking a minister that we would have to pay a salary. This was a stretch for the church; not that they did not have the money, they just had never been taught to give it to the Lord. We had hired a preacher boy that could not find a church between Joplin, Missouri, and Socorro, New Mexico, and we were having our revival.
We hired him because he would come be our preacher for $10.00 a week, not because he was a good preacher. This was a shock for us; we had a classic orator in Crawford, and now had a minister that sang a great bass. He had to pump gas at a highway 85 station, and that was ten hours a day. That wiped him out physically, and he had no energy left to do any church work except to preach on Sundays. It was not long until George Howell, Jim Whisennutt, and the other elders were sorry about their decision. Leonard could put a jackhammer operator to sleep on the job. Fred Huebner worked for Santa Fe Railroad, and one of my jobs was manager/driver for Santa Fe Trail Transportation Company; we shared the same depot.
The elders had for the past six months turned down Leonardâ€™s request for the others of the quartet to come and have a revival for us. They would come for expenses; that was estimated to be about $75.00, â€œBut what if they would blow a tire, that would be another $25.00â€, on and on ad-nauseous. This day Fred walked into my office and sat down, â€œHerb, how much money can you lay on the table tonight to help Leonard to have his revival?â€ I checked my wallet; I had just sold a shipment of semi precious stones wholesale. â€œI can put $50.00 on the table tonight.â€ â€œGreat,â€ Fred said, â€œI can put a $100.00, and that will be more than enough for Leonard to have his revival.â€ We both looked at it as Leonardâ€™s revival, not feeling that we would be the ones blessed and changed. We were right in the middle of the revival and it was going great. The Kingâ€™s Men were great, the singing was the best we had ever had, and the young evangelist that sang baritone for the quartet kept me on the edge of my seat.
I had grown up in South Bay Christian Church with an excellent Bible preacher that wore a tuxedo every Sunday when preaching. The adults loved him, and I am not sure I remember learning anything under his ministry. It is quite possible that was because I was always sitting on the back row paying attention to the girls. Doctor Crawford wowed me, and I was always seeking a scientific explanation to his sermons.
Charlie was married, had a baby girl that came along with his wife. Melba and Leonardâ€™s wife also had babies, and man we hit if off. Besides that, Charlie was a dynamo, and explosive preacher; as I said, he had me on the edge of my seat each service beginning on Sunday, and now I had a proposition for him. I thought it was brilliant.
Our home was just a hundred feet from the church on College Avenue. Melba and I had bought it from the builder that had a heart attack, and we bought it ready to move into, but none of the finish work was done. We had finished it to suit ourselves and were very proud of it. This Wednesday night, we all gathered at our home for an after the revival supper. Melba was making a famous Mexican meal for our Missouri and Oklahoma guests. While the girls were busy cutting onions and all the makings, the other guys were resting on the couch and big chairs, and I invited Charlie to go for a walk in our yard with me. I was ready to spring the trap.
After complimenting Charlie on his preaching, and making sure I was right, that he had one more year at Ozark Bible College, I told him my plan. It made so much sense to me. I began slowly and apologetically.
â€œCharlie, I love Leonard and his wife, but our church is getting smaller since he came. The boy just canâ€™t preach. He does not have enough energy to have a church program in the evening after working all day. Charlie we need preachers like you to take these small churches and help them grow. You are a great preacher.â€ Charlie never took his eyes off me all the time I was talking, nodding his head up and down in agreement with me. I was sure I was winning. I could just see Charlie coming and being our minister.
Charlie turned to me and said, â€œHerb, that makes a lot of sense. Small churches need a good preacher or they will not grow; in fact, they will die on the vine. I am not coming to New Mexico, but tell me, how long has God been telling you all of this, and when are you going to give in and come to Ozark, and then you can become the hotshot minister for these new and small churches in the west?â€
I was in shock; this was not turning out like I had planned it. Melba was calling us to supper. The talk around the table about college, the ministry, what Leonard could do to have more energy, and the kids took up the evening until almost 11 PM. I had to be up at 6 AM and Melba had to be to work by midnight. As Charlie walked out the door he turned to me and said, â€œAll you have to do is come forward tomorrow night, and you and Melba can dedicate your lives to a specialized ministry of â€˜tent making.â€â€™ It was the first time I had heard that term.
Melba went to work, and I tossed and turned all night long. The next day, I tossed the freight and had the good disposition of a pregnant bear with the mumps and a burr in her paw. That night I sat back in my pew, and had my arms folded. I wasnâ€™t going to listen, but every word that Charlie said burned into my heart and mind. The quartet closed with, â€œIs Your All On the Alter of Sacrifice laid?â€ I went home sullen and mad, â€œWhy would Charlie think that I should give up my plans to be a millionaire, to be a â€œtent makingâ€ minister? Melba and I are going to have our home paid for by our 4th wedding anniversary, we planned to buy a new car or pickup for the business and our son was growing up; â€œno way, man! Besides I had a good job and a growing geology semi-precious and lapidary businessâ€
The next day, I had to make the Magdalena run and I had time behind the wheel without worrying about traffic. I began to realize that the west was full of areas that could never afford much more than a $10.00 a week minister, and as such those churches would flounder or just exist. Just maybe Melba and I were the ones that could pull that off, and maybe we could reach people for Christ that would never be reached any other way. I had been the chaplain for the scout camps the summer before my senior high school year. Crawford had me preaching as soon as I arrived; I kind of liked it and missed it now that I was so busy making money. I talked to Melba after work and before the Friday night revival service. We were going to wrap it all up with a dinner on the grounds Sunday noon. We didnâ€™t have long to make up our minds. As Melba always did, she said, â€œletâ€™s pray.â€
They did it to me again that night; the closing hymn was, Is Your All on the Alter. I reached over and took Melbaâ€™s hand, and we walked down the aisle and into an exciting future.
That night I chose to be bi-vocational, and knew I was wired to work 18 to 20 hours a day without being in danger of burnout. My choices were expensive. Melba and I poured over catalogs from Phillips University where my cousins had gone and Mother and Dad wanted me to go. Charlie had sent us catalogs from Ozark Bible College and I really didnâ€™t know of any other colleges that would train me. It was clear that with my NMIMT hours that I could get a preaching degree from Philips in less than four semesters. At Ozark, and they had all the courses that I wanted, it would take five years to get the graduate degree that I wanted. I had chosen the School of Mines in Socorro because it was the best school I could afford and that would have me. Now, I was going to do the same; Melba and I were going to Ozark. Of course the monthly letters from Doctor Crawford encouraging me to go to Ozark didnâ€™t hurt the cause. My mother was angry over my choice and decided to drive 800 miles one way to talk me out of Ozark, â€œThat unaccredited, backwoods preacher training school.â€ Mother and dad arrived on a Saturday morning and stood in the front yard; they would not come into the house. Mother was the spokesman, â€œYour great, great, great grandfather was baptized by Barton W Stone, and he would turn over in his grave if he were here today and knew your choice.â€
â€œNo,â€ I countered, â€œIf they were here today, they both would chose Ozark.â€ That was the straw that broke the camelâ€™s back, or the relationship, and it took years to get it back. It was the spring concert choir at Ozark and some great friends that were the glue that put it all back together. They never really understood me at Ozark, even if I ran a business that kept a couple of dozen students in enough money to stay in school and become the parents of missionaries and ministers around the world. â€œTent makingâ€ was for guys that were failures as ministers, not the top graduating male of the class of 1962 with a Bth. degree. Don Earl Boatman asked me how he was going to explain it to all the large supporting churches that wanted to hire the top graduate of Ozark, and I was going to New Mexico to preach to a handful in a shed.
No matter if it were Paul the Apostle that lead the way as a â€œtent maker,â€ in fact gave it the name since his trade was tent making, or the top Bth male graduate at Ozark, â€œtent makersâ€ are looked down on and considered somehow failures or less than important ministers in the field. It is not the only way, it is not the easiest way; it is in many cases the better way.
Looking back on the past 50 years, there are so many things that I wish had been taught in college that would have helped me in the work that I have done. There are no megachurch monuments to my years of preaching, and I really feel my best years are ahead of me. However, there are hundreds of Christians that are doing a great job, that just might have been overlooked if I had not been so bull headed and hard driving in a number of different places. My business skills made me a valuable trustee at Intermountain Bible College and then for years as a Regent and trustee of Dallas Christian College. There is the Four Corners Christian Service Camp at Dolores, Colorado, I began and aided Vernon Hollett and David Scates in the formation of Navajo Christian Churches and outreach. I still pray that a new visionary will step up and take the place of David Scates. And that the best years are still ahead for NCC. Even as such, this is a landmark mission work. The New Iberian hospital, school and village evangelism has been a work in progress with my daughter Lori and her family, and it is just beginning to reach its potential. The next generation will see it multiply faster than desert rabbits. Agape is my baby. There are a lot of things that you need to know about â€œtent-makingâ€ ministry.
First it is not for everyone. You need to be wired by God for a work day of 15 hours or longer hours seven days a week. If after 10 hours you need to be in an easy chair taking a nap to rest you up to the place you can make it into the bedroom and go to bed, forget it.
You need to choose a second job that you love. You need to be excited about both ministry and your bi-vocation. Otherwise, you are dragging through one to get to the other, or sloughing off on one, planning the other. A successful Bi-vocational minister needs to love both occupations, love his work day and night, and always looking forward to each work task, and not looking for time off, or holidays as a relief from his work. You have to love both occupations, and be successful in both. You can take a look at my trophy walls to understand what I am talking about. It wasnâ€™t just that I wanted the limelight and honors; I wanted the recognition so that I would have credibility when I spoke of Jesus to my co-workers.
To be a successful bi-vocational minister, you need to know how to have time for your family. Melba and I loved late hour dates. Often I would call her at 10 PM and tell her we were going out, and she never even asked where. It was our night out, and even the kids did not know where we were going. We still love a ten PM hamburger at Sonic, or tacos at Pepeâ€™s. You can figure it out, with nine birth children we had time for each other, and often at the most unusual time and unusual places. But that is another story not meant for a family publication.
There had to be time for the kids as well. We worked together and they were my trainees in everything. They drove with me, flew with me, argued with me, and sat and listened to poetry late at night as I would read to them even when they were in high school. The girls and I went on dates, did the honors assemblies together in the middle of the day, and the boys and I worked together and learned together. And once in a while they passed by daddy early on in their lives.
Dale had learned his lessons well, and upon graduation from High School had saved enough money and had enough credit, he bought his own new car; and not a cheap model. Then suddenly, there was a new lesson for me, a hard one. Just as there was a time to hold close, there was a time to push away. A few months after graduation from High School, Dale was talking about marriage, and he came to me one day; â€œDad, David Taylor has offered me a job and has offered me a hundred more a week base pay than you are paying. Will you meet his offer?â€ I looked at Dale and thought a few minutes; I had poured all my training ability into this very talented young man that was sitting across from me at my desk. He was my shining star, and if he had been anyone else, I would have jumped at the chance to meet my competitionâ€™s offer. I began slowly, almost with a lump in my heart, â€œDale, I have very really taught you everything I know. We can learn some more together as we go along. But, David Taylor is the best competition I have, and he is a third generation dealer that is going to go a long ways. He can teach you a lot over the next few years. For your sake, not mine, I will not meet his offer. In fact, I wonâ€™t come near it.â€ Dale looked shocked, â€œI am worth it,â€ he said, I dropped my head and said, â€œI couldnâ€™t agree more, but for your sake I say no, and pack your iron and go.â€
Melba could not believe that I had said to pack your iron. Dale was not moving, just going across town to work. One thing a bi-vocational minister is always doing, He is planning for the future, not Friday nightâ€™s pizza party.
The thing I did not realize back in the mid-fifties,when planning all of this, is how much influence I would have as a bi-vocational minister that I would not have had as the pastor of a local church and secretary of the Lionâ€™s club. Perhaps it was best expressed in a 24 hour period from a Friday night planning session with German executives of the BMW factory in a meeting in Dallas. I was introduced by a German executive to his superior as a very knowledgeable BMW man, which was the only preacher he knew that wasnâ€™t lazy. I had flown back to Beaumont the next day and was doing my hospital calls on Saturday evening and was in the room of a Baptist deacon that was related by marriage of one of First Christianâ€™s elders. He and his wife introduced me to a relation as a great minister that was an honest car man. I wish I could say that I always lived up to both brags about me. I have to say there were times I was less than I should have been as a car man, and as a minister. Many of the errors that I made were made ignorantly, since I had no mentor to show me the way as a bi-vocational minister.
Today the cross over musicians, film makers and the like are beginning to get it right. One of the best is Filmmaker Michael Landon Jr. If you are over thirty perhaps you are much more familiar with Michael Landon senior. His broad smile as Little Joe on Bonanza, or paw Ingalls in Little house on the Prairie; or perhaps as the angel Jonathan Smith in Highway to heaven. In all these programs, Jr. was a walk on extra, and did every job behind the camera as he grew up. His daddyâ€™s affair and divorce from his mother threw him for a loop, and he went after drugs and alcohol. Mother got him to church and down the aisle, and he turned it all around and was determined as he married not to make his fatherâ€™s mistakes, but to continue his family friendly movies and writing.
He is a regular church goer, and a strong Christian, as is his whole family. Today, he is the favorite movie maker for Hallmark channel and for Fox Faith movies. He has become the movie maker of Janette Okeâ€™s books of Christian romance with morals and strong men characters. He speaks about his craft, â€œI donâ€™t want to be a bad storyteller. I want to do my work with excellence.â€ His works on Hallmark channel, in the movie theater, and on DVDs is having a greater impact on the morals on the street than a thousand preachers. He knows the value of good art in story telling with a moral without being preachy. In an article in Focus on the family October 2007 magazine, Michael said, â€œI am not sure about the future, but I know who is controlling the future. I am writing another novel due out near the end of this year. But I will not forsake the medium I grew up with.â€ Heâ€™ll continue to bring stories to the screen â€œthat will no doubt reflect my earthly father, and more important, honor my heavenly father.â€
When our Bible Colleges learn that some of the greatest preaching is done in the mediums of the arts, and in the business world, we will see a turn around in our Bible Colleges, and in our ability to reach the world with the gospel. I believe the move toward creating Christian Universities is a move in that direction.
Today, in reaching the secular people on the street, you will find that the cross over musicians in country are having a greater impact than the Christian artists that are constantly singing to the choir.
Since the beginning of Radio there have been crossover musicians. Some used stage names when doing a Christian album. Hank Williams had such an alcohol and drug problem he knew no Christian would buy his religious albums, so he recorded religion under the name Luke the Drifter. I donâ€™t think he fooled many. Stuart Hamblin and Tennessee Ernie Ford were two early crossovers that had a witness for Christ because of a successful professional life; they did not separate their secular from their religious.
One of the main things that I was not taught in college about bi-vocational ministry was that the beauty of being bi-vo was it destroyed the false and non biblical clergy system. As a bi-vo hired minister with part-time pay, not part-time work, you needed to up front explain to elders and deacons that you were on the same team, and they were expected to work as many hours as possible for the church. All of you are full time vocational ministers in the church, and they are not to expect more of you than they expect of themselves. Once that principle and policy is established, go to work and astound them with how much you can do. It is okay if you work hard, and as well as smart, if you have a team following your example and you are good at extending grace where they donâ€™t quite keep up. I had one elder in a dead church that had been nearly closed down by modernism and denominational in-fighting that was a dock foreman for a major company but didnâ€™t know how to read a book, especially the Bible; he had to be taught to read before he could do his ministry as teacher of a teen class. No one ever promised that elders and deacons came prepared for ministry. But, if you go into your relationship as â€œI am the trainer and leader,â€ your elders and deacons are your number one responsibility to train. Spend your first year or two getting them ready, then step back and say â€œsic-um.â€ You will always be in a training situation. New leaders must be constantly trained because trained leaders will be constantly moving on in our society, and death will take the best at times. Let me close with what I think is our challenge for the 21st century.
Our Bible colleges and Christian Universities should be on the lookout for the sharpest and most dynamic young men, cross train them to be bi-vos. Most any of our well trained Christian School grads can handle being on staff of a church where they are one of several or many ministers; they have secretaries, receptionists, people to do the letter writing, coping, and planning. But, it takes a gospel stud to step into a church of 100 or less, that he must do the preaching, teaching, writing, printing, calling, counseling, planning, marrying, burying, and hospital calls. Still have time for his family or become the illustration for all the highly paid, motivational and conference speakers that never get a 2 AM call to rush to the hospital, or have a family that catches them at church just as they are leaving for an anniversary dinner with their wife, and stay two hours to glue them back together with Jesus glue as their wife sits looking at the door. If every church under a hundred actual bodies in the â€œpewsâ€ on Sunday morning, would send their preacher out to get a secular job, the elders and deacons would sign on to do an equal share, that church take 75% of what it was paying the preacher and put that money in missions, Bible Colleges, and community action for the lost and dying. That church, that would most likely in the old pattern stay a church of 100 or less from now on, would blossom, grow and would have to be adding staff in a short time. Providing that minister was wired for it, and trained for it; it is a better way.