There is the usual, accepted way of doing things. Then there is God’s way. And as often as not, they are not the same.
When I came to the church, I had preached here several times before anyone even asked me for a resume’. When my wife and I got one together and gave it to the deacons, I was surprised one Sunday morning to walk into the sanctuary just before the service and see three or four little old ladies intently reading a copy of it.
But I’m glad we got to know each other before you ever saw my resume’. I think it was better that way. For that matter, I’m glad my family and I got to know the church in person instead of reading a description of it. Some intangible things you just can’t put down on paper.
Someone—I honestly think it was Kermit the Frog in A Muppet Christmas Carol—said, “Life is made of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” And God has a way of arranging those meetings and partings to suit His own purposes.
A few months ago, we had many meetings in our church, and we became acquainted with many, mostly younger families, who began attending our church services. Those meetings came about because of some previous partings, which were difficult, even painful, and it probably wouldn’t honor God much to talk much about them. Some things are best to let go of, and to be released into the care and providence of God.
But God has a way of making good things come out of our hard experiences, in His time. And it has been with humbled, astonished, and incredibly grateful hearts that we have been getting to know all these young families.
Among these families was a young minister named Bobby Ludlow, with his wife Allison and their four children. To my consternation, I missed meeting him the first time he came. The next Sunday I printed out “BOBBY LUDLOW” on a card and held it up as I walked through the narthex. He saw it and laughed, and that was the first time we met. We made arrangements to have lunch together that next week.
I have a cartoon on the bulletin board in my study. It’s from the old Hagar the Horrible syndicated strip. It shows the Viking Hagar talking to his doctor. There are several arrows sticking out of Hagar’s back, and a small axe stuck in his helmet. The doctor asks him, “Hagar, why do you stay in such a business?” Hagar responds, “It’s the only thing I’m good at.” In all honesty, pastors often don’t feel like they are very good at doing ministry. But it is what God has called us to, and our calling keeps us nailed in place, despite the axes and arrows. That cartoon kind of summarizes what pastors often talk about when they are together.
I’ve had several lunches with Bobby since then, and spent some hours working alongside him at the church. Sometimes we’ve carried on a conversation. Sometimes we’ve just worked together in companionable silence. But I can tell you truthfully: the more I get to know Bobby, the more I like him.
Bobby has a Bachelor’s degree in Bible from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. He also has a Master’s degree in church ministry from Bob Jones Seminary. He has served in family and children’s ministry in churches in South Carolina and Indiana, and Bobby has developed his own three-year children’s curriculum. It is based on the idea of catechism, an ancient practice that goes back to the earliest days of church history. The idea is to have children repeat (or echo back) the truths of the Gospel in order to teach and ground them in the Christian faith. When Bobby first showed me his program, called Bible Explorers, I was blown away. It is professionally done. In fact, it looks like it came from a major Christian publisher. I told him if I knew anybody in Christian publishing, I would have already called them and told them about his curriculum. It deserves to be printed and promoted to every Bible-believing church in our nation. In fact, I think with very little work it could become the basis for a doctoral thesis on how to teach the Christian faith to children.
Over the years, we have allowed Weight Watchers, soccer teams, and even a softball organization to make use of our church facilities. The deacons and I talked about it, and we invited these young families to use our facilities to teach their children using Bobby’s Bible Explorers material. And to our great joy, they have been doing just that. I know I’m not the only one who has wept at the sound of children echoing through these hallways again. They had a need that we could fill. And we so very much have desired to see these buildings filled with families and children, and the joyful chaos of teaching the Gospel to them with games and songs and Bible verses. It seems to me, and to many others, that we need each other.
There is another aspect to this. Bobby has a gift and a calling to minister to children and families. Up to this point he has done this in the capacity of associate pastor. Lately he has also felt an awakened desire to preach in the capacity of a senior pastor. (I told him that never goes away.) So, Bobby and Alison have been seeking God’s will for their next place of service. Added into this mix is a perfectly understandable desire on their part for their small children to be closer to at least one set of grandparents. So, they have been seeking God’s will as to when and how that might happen. So far, no doors have opened for them yet.
They also have a house to prepare to sell. And in today’s market, God only knows how long that might take. When it is ready, it could sell in a week, or it might take a year. And in the meantime, they need a way to support their family.
And we need someone to help us minister to these young families and their children.
I don’t keep close tabs on our church finances. I’m not spiritual enough. But I’m told that our offerings have increased dramatically since all the young families have been attending…certainly enough to support another pastor and his family. The last thing we want to do is say. ‘Wow, now we have enough money to fix the crack in the ceiling, replace the carpet, or redo the landscaping!’ It’s not that those things don’t need to be done, at some point. They do need to be done. But they aren’t going anywhere. They will still be there when we get around to them. But it seems to me that right now the top priority is ministering to these young families and teaching the Gospel of Jesus to their children.
We are presuming nothing. Everything might change tomorrow. But we are sincerely trying to do our best to know what God is doing right now, and what He would have us do to join Him in what He is doing. Bobby Ludlow and his family have a need that we can fill. And our church certainly has a need that Bobby and his family can fill. It seems to many of us that, at least for the present time, we need each other.
I have promised Bobby and Allison both that I wouldn’t try to “twist their arms” about anything. The only question worth asking and answering is “What does God want?” And I have told the Ludlows that, wherever they end up, they are going to be an incredible blessing to that church.
But for now, they are here. And for my part, I would like to have Bobby and his family be part of our church for as long as we can have them. We are praying that God would use Bobby to lay the foundation for our church’s children’s ministry for the next generation. We are hoping that God would use Bobby to set things up for others to take over when the time comes. (And I personally have floated the idea of cloning, but Allison doesn’t seem too excited about that.)
All of this is why the Deacons and I want to present Bobby Ludlow to the church to come on staff as our children and family ministry director. As least until, in the will of God, we come to cnother parting.
We just pray that it will be such a good parting, with a fellowship in the bonds of Christian love that will remain unaffected by time and distance.
Because the only question worth asking is “What does God want?” Now we want to ask the church to help us seek the answer to that question together.
Soli Deo Gloria!