L.B. McClain

When I became pastor of Lantana Road I was 23 years old, L.B. McClain was 86. He was the oldest member of the congregation and its elder statesman. He was a small man with a large nose, white hair, and piercing eyes. He moved slowly but he was always up to something. He had been a successful business man in Knoxville who after 42 years sold his business and bought a large tract of land in Crossville that was full of natural gas wells. Many times he told me the story of how he had acquired the mineral rights. I never knew what he was talking about. He also told me often that he saved up plenty of money for retirement. The problem was that he lived too long. He had an unmistakable elderly laugh that shook his whole body. It came out of him every time he told me he outlived his money.

L.B.’s day consisted of go somewhere and get something done, visit someone, grow something, and tinker around on some old piece of equipment he owned. I once borrowed his tiller. It was rusted out and held together with wire, but it worked like a new one. This was L.B.’s craft. No machine ever died around L.B. McClain. He was the Messiah of would be junk. After we loaded up the tiller, he asked me what I was going to do with it. I told him I was going to use it to till out an area in our yard where we could plant flowers. He gave me a speech about how strange it was the people would work so hard to grow a garden that grew nothing a man could eat. I felt like a total wimp. He let me use his tiller anyway.

My office at Lantana Road consisted of a metal desk and a folding metal chair. There were no supplies. There was no computer. There were no shelves. It was just a room with a desk and folding metal chair. Already struggling to know what to do, spending time at that office made it even worse. But I was the pastor and pastors are expected to spend some time at the office. Most days I would just take my Bible and read.

One morning L.B. stopped by on his route to go make a difference. He opened my door and said, “Preacher, I want to tell you some things.” When L.B. determined to tell you some things you could count on it taking awhile. I pulled out the other matching folding metal chair. L.B. sat down and he began to talk. I did nothing but listen. This is how most all of my visits with L.B. went. Whenever I would go to their home L.B. would begin to lecture me about something and the conversation would often be interrupted by his wife Lorene, “O’ L.B. would you hush, that’s crazy, Brian, you know he’s crazy.” Then she would stomp off to cook something. Lorene was 100 miles an hour in every direction. She always made me laugh.

Sitting in my office L.B. took off his hat, put it in his lap and began to share with me his story. He told me of his business in Knoxville and how mean a man he used to be until he was saved. L.B.’s eyes often watered and he would use a handkerchief to wipe them. You never really knew if he was crying or if his eye was just watering, it was hard to tell the difference. Whatever L.B. said, he said it with passion and intention. He told me how he moved to Crossville and was a member of Homestead Baptist Church for several years until God gave him a vision to start a new church. L.B. believed that when a church had more than 40 or 50 people in it, it was time to start a new one. I will never forget a year or so later L.B. stopped by to tell me that now that LRBC had 80 it was time to start a new church.

L.B. rehearsed the story about how he begged the preacher at Homestead to start a new church. Knowing L.B. the pastor of Homestead probably obliged so that L.B. would go home. It took more time before L.B. finally gained the support of the association, and scrounged up enough money and men to buy 3 acres on the front corner of a 100 acre lot at the end of Dunbar Road at Lantana Road. He told me how they built the first metal building, then the second, then the block building. L.B. told me every good and bad episode at LRBC from 1983 to present. He even told me why 11 people voted against me. Then came a moment when I knew he was crying.

“Preacher, I know God has great things for this church and that He put it here to reach lots of people. I have prayed for this church for all these years. God is going to answer my prayers.”

My grandmother died when she was 98. She prayed for God to give “her generations” a preacher. L.B. McClain died when he was 97. He prayed for God to grow a church at the corner of Lantana Road and Dunbar. God answered their prayers and what He did for them has forever shaped me. I am forever grateful that both of them lived long enough to see their prayers answered.

We pray too short and too shallow. Our God is not small. If we dare to do so He invites us to pray in such a way that His answers change lives, shape stories, and give new life to struggling congregations. Sitting in an almost empty office, L.B.’s story reinforced to me that if I would stay faithful and preach God’s Word, something great would happen at LRBC; and it did.

Every church needs people who have a vision that is blurred only by their tears and people who pray so fervently that lives are brought together at various points and their stories are forever fused as God answers them.

My first 15 years of ministry were chiseled out by the fervent prayers of two saints of God. Who will pray for my next 15?


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