Eleven Plus Two
It was mid September when I preached in view of a call at Lantana Road. To “preach in view of a call” in Baptist life means that you are going to preach for the entire congregation and barring you don’t pass out or renounce Christ from the pulpit they are going to vote you in. I had a few weeks to prepare a sermon. I delivered it. Jesus remained the Son of God. I remained conscious, but I would have to wait a week for the vote. That week in Cartersville, mowing grass and waiting, seemed as if it lasted a month.
Lots of things run through your mind while you are mowing grass. Buddhists meditate. Baptists mow grass. I have had some deep thoughts on a mower. That week of waiting in Cartersville made my mind wander from how awesome of a pastor I was going to be, to how much the people were going to love me, to how happy I would be to quit mowing grass at a golf course and finally begin serving as pastor of a church. Apparently I didn’t get the entire “humility” memo God was trying to send me on the back of a mower. In my mind the vote was merely a formality. Who in their right mind would vote against me? I was so confident in the vote that I told Jenny I would not come unless I received a 100% vote. To this day I am not proud of that moment. There was no good reason to make that demand. It was pompous and stupid. The only explanation I have is that I was prideful and insecure, two beasts that often dance together. My struggle with them will become a repetitive theme throughout my story.
The Sunday of the vote I rushed home quickly from morning worship at Atco and waited by the phone. To add to the torture Crossville is in the Central Time Zone, an entire, excruciating, hour behind Cartersville in the Eastern Time Zone. I sat on my couch, which at the time was a hand me down from another century. It had brown cushions with accents of orange and a polished wood frame. The thing horrified my mother, but it worked for me. I walked to the creek behind my house. I sat on my 5x5 front porch and stared at Mr. Gunn’s Ostriches. They had no idea what I was going through. The Ostrich is a rude bird that cannot sympathize with human emotion. We never got along. Early in the afternoon the phone finally rang. It was Jenny, chair of the pulpit committee.
I expected to hear, “The vote was unanimous, we all believe you will be one of the greatest pastors who has ever lived. Could you please be here in a couple of hours, we can’t live another minute until you arrive.” Instead I heard, “Brian, the vote was 56-11, do you want to come?”
Pride and insecurity began to dance.
I went from thinking no one in their right mind would vote against me to barely getting the 75% of the vote needed for the recommendation to pass. There were only two ways to process what I had just heard. Either there were 11 people in Crossville, TN who were not in their right mind, or it was me who was not in my right mind. The truth of the matter was that both of us were wrong.
The two times that I had preached at LRBC there were barely 40 people there, now there were 77. In most Baptist Churches there are way more members than there are people who actually attend. Some come for Easter. Some come for Christmas. They all come when there is a vote. According to the story I was told, a godly layman who had served the church well as interim desired the job. He was well respected in the church, but when he was not considered for the role of permanent pastor he gathered sympathizers to vote against the motion to call me. He did not know me. He had never met me. He was not there when I preached. The 11 votes had nothing to do with me, but pride and insecurity had me convinced that the 11 were all about me.
It has taken me many years to realize that pride and insecurity play cruel tricks. They are deceivers, illusionists by trade who make the man in the mirror appear as if he is the only one on the planet that gives a reflection.
The problem was that at the time I had no idea how great a grip pride and insecurity had on me. They were so deeply entrenched in my soul I did not know they existed. I still wrestle with them, but now I know they are there. If there was anything positive about the 11 it was that God used them to expose another 2 in me. They also taught me that believing God is more powerful than believing everyone thinks you’re wonderful.
I told Jenny that even though I was discouraged by the vote I knew God had called me to Lantana Road. I accepted the call. My first Sunday there would be October 13, 1996. I was 23 years old.
I said goodbye to the wonderful people of Atco Baptist Church. Uncle Roy rented a short U-haul and used his packing skills to pack what little I had into something even smaller. I left the ugly wooden couch. My mother was glad. I said goodbye to Mr. Gunn and his rude Ostriches. I headed for Crossville. Pride and insecurity rode shotgun.
I was finally off the mower, but I still had much to learn.