Tradition is a good way to pass along meaningful aspects of the faith from one generation to the next. Tradition is bad way to build idols out of things that in the end don’t matter. Tradition is a pastor killer. Sometimes tradition is as plain to see as Goliath. It is 9 feet tall and dares you to fight him. Some pastors give it a shot. Unfortunately these brave souls do not enjoy the fate of David and they are crushed in a very short time. For others tradition is a stealth assassin. The shepherd is completely unaware of its existence and unwittingly provokes it to anger. I fell into the latter category. I had angered tradition and he was about to come out of the closet.

Strike one came with a phone call from a well known Tennessee Evangelist. The churches of the Cumberland County Association had committed to simultaneous revivals. I knew that much, but no one told me that the Association had a deal with the collective of the TBC Evangelists. Each of them cleared that particular week of their October calendar so they could be in Cumberland County. Because I was not privy to this information I called one of my early ministry heroes, Ron Bishop (at the time an independent Baptist), to come an preach at LRBC. What I did not realize was how fortunate we were to already have a certain TBC evangelist scheduled. The particular evangelist, who shall remain unnamed, called to let me know. I was not allowed to say much in the conversation. In fact the conversation was more of a monologue than an actual conversation. It was sort of like being scolded by your granny. Though I tried to apologize and explain to him that I was new and had no idea of his coming he rudely interrupted me and told me that he would rather go to another church in our county than come to LRBC. He made me mad. I told him that sounded like a good deal to me and I suggested that he do as he said and move along. As long as I was in Tennessee I never heard from him again. Ironically, for the last 9 years of my ministry here at Ridgecrest I have gotten his newsletter every quarter along with a promo telling me how great a blessing it would be for him to come and preach. My brother, you may have forgotten me, but I will never forget you. Call me sometime :) !

Strike two came with Vacation Bible School. I have established the fact that the church had little to no money. With VBS looming on the horizon several of the church leaders suggested that we have a one day VBS and use an alternative curriculum. Most people don’t know this but Lifeway publishes high quality VBS material. Cost wise it is the Cadillac of curriculum. Little do people know that Lifeway also publishes an alternative for about 100 bucks. It has a lot less flair and the whole thing comes in a small box. I suggested we use it to save money and that it could be easily adopted to the one day format. The problem was that the association office held a VBS store every year that offered the churches material at a discount. I knew about the store, but it was still out of our price range. Little did I know that it was a tradition for the church to buy their material from the association office. Innocently, I thought that buying the material from the association or elsewhere was like choosing to buy something at Wal-Mart because it was $30 cheaper than Target. I thought you had a choice. I had no idea it was tradition.

Strike three came with taking the youth group to Charlotte. The conference was put on by Tim Lee, a heroic war veteran with a powerful testimony. Tim Lee is an evangelist. He is not a Southern Baptist evangelist per se, he is just an evangelist. He is widely known. The church that hosted the conference was in independent Baptist church. I should remind you, this was also Shannon’s home church. For the gatekeeper of tradition at LRBC this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. While I was in Charlotte the gatekeeper held meetings with the association leadership and had called several lay leaders in the church accusing me of desiring to pull LRBC from the Southern Baptist Convention. If this was my desire, it was the first I had heard of it. As I stated in a previous post, one of the most difficult things about being a pastor is that people read your mind but do not allow you to write the script. The accusations were so bad and ridiculous that the gatekeeper was even calling for Shannon to be re-baptized because she had been baptized in an independent Baptist church. Adding fuel to the fire was that both of us were students at Tennessee Temple University, you guessed it, and independent Baptist university. I found out later that the gatekeeper was so angry that he would stand in the parking lot on Sunday mornings and tell visitors that they needed to go somewhere else because they didn’t want to come to church here.

Shannon, suffering from homesickness, fielded all of this on her own and not wanting to diminish what God was doing in our youth group, had to hold it in for two more days. And, by the way, because it had rained hard that week, the church nursery and hallways flooded.

Riding a spiritual high coming back from Charlotte I had no idea of the hornet’s nest that awaited me in Crossville. When I got home Shannon shared the news with me. We cried like babies. Yet tradition would require that we grow up in the ministry quickly, the hard way.


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