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News for Friday, January 24, 2014

Opinion — From Both Sides of the Pulpit
Grace Faults of a Hybrid Preacher
By Johnnie C. Godwin
contributing colmnist, B&R

High School English teacher Mrs. Odom’s eyes blazed into mine when she said, “Johnnie, you’re going to be a businessman!” I replied, “No, Ma’am, I’m going to be a preacher!” I had felt and accepted God’s call to preach. Mrs. Odom was military-stern, red-haired, and firm, but cared about me. Our difference of opinion was a standoff at that point, but neither of us gave an inch on evaluating my future career. As it turned out, we were both right.

Paying the price to become a prepared preacher. I entered Baylor University that fall and heard Dr. J. W. Ousley say, “The first duty of those called to preach is to prepare.” I accepted that duty and willingly paid the price involved. The university career counselor told me my degree plan was too narrowly focused on religion and I needed a Plan B to fall back on in case preaching didn’t work out. I rejected that counsel and stayed single-focused on my calling with double majors in religion, Greek, and a minor in speech. I didn’t have a Plan B or want one. For me, God’s Plan A was God’s call to pastor and preach for a lifetime. And I was determined to prepare for that calling and then fulfill it as long as I lived.

Discovering that God’s will is an unfolding drama. In four years, I got a wife, two sons, and a degree. In four more years, I got another degree, another son; and wife Phyllis essentially qualified for most of her Diploma of Theology. In seminary, we had felt called to be foreign missionaries; and our denominational missionary board required two extra years education for the wife to be appointed. A glitch occurred in the appointment process. We got a medical rejection from our mission board that derailed our understanding of God’s will at that time. In eight-plus years of preparation for my calling, I recalled the words of a dying itinerant evangelist: He had said, “I have killed the horse that must carry the gospel.” The mission board didn’t include details in our medical rejection. But, somehow, I always felt that I had probably flunked the psychiatric exam.

Whatever, my next question was, “What next God?” A pastor friend of mine recommended me to pastor a church as pastor that called me. So I began pastoring near the doorsteps of Baylor University, where I had gotten my bachelor’s degree — and had gone on to get two seminary degrees. Puzzled about God’s will but settled, we began pastoring and found joy in it.

During seminary days, I somehow made time to write and actually got published. With some sense of giftedness in writing and encouragement from others, I added “writer” to my sense of God’s calling. Along with pastoring, I began a combination degree in journalism/communications at Baylor. I also did other training in writing. In God’s providence and with unsought referrals, I got invited to write Bible study curriculum for our denomination. And I loved doing that work. After a couple of years of writing, I got an invitation to become an editor in Nashville. Whoa!

Leaving the pastorate seemed kind of like leaving my calling to preach. On the other hand, God’s “Amazing Maze” seemed to be guiding me into another turn of His will. I could still preach, but I would be in an office most of the time. When I got home and gave wife Phyllis news of the invite, she said, “I think you ought to accept it. I feel that’s what God has called you to do.” That floored me. Phyllis can decide, but she’s not usually quickly decisive; and she had never said anything like that to me. Well, Phyllis’ words to me were like words from God’s burning bush. I prayerfully but immediately called to accept the editorial invite.

Becoming a hybrid preacher and businessman. To cut to the chase, I moved to Nashville and had six upwardly mobile career positions over 22 and a half years. The last four of those positions involved my being a manager and businessman. I dealt with budgets, contracts, negotiations, performance reviews, etc. In getting used to a hybrid expression of the unfolding drama of God’s will, I seemed gifted with some skills I had never prepared for. I never took a business course, but I had always had a job. So God’s Spirit must have provided those business gifts. One year my Bible-publishing division’s sales goal was $5 million dollars. Actual sales totaled more than $10 million that year. And results only got better year after year. The credit was not mine at all; rather, it was God’s glory in action. Also, God had provided me a fine, skilled work family that was interwoven in special ways that make for grand teamwork for years to come.

One reason I refer to myself as a hybrid preacher is that I was still answering the call to preach even while answering the call to write and to manage and do other things too. Alongside it all, I got to be interim pastor of one church after another in Middle Tennessee. So I was a hybrid ahead of my time in being a preacher/businessman.

But overnight success turned to downsizing at age 55. Suddenly, along with words of appreciation for my tenure and compensation to console me, I got downsized at age 55. I was cut loose to be like Paul in following God wherever else God wanted me to go. God is always in charge. By the way — as my journey changed again — I did get the chance to go back and tell Mrs. Odom she had been half-right about the businessman part of my journey. I was still a preacher but also a contract-businessman for other publishers. In Christian publishing, I went to Russia, China, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Slovakia — over Europe, Asia, South America, and all over the U.S. In contract work, I headed up indigenous Christian publishing among all those countries I listed. Though rejected earlier as a missionary candidate, God later led me to do more missions than I could ever have envisioned. And, glory be, Phyllis got to go and work with me in all those places too. Because we had our kids early, they were grown and gone on their own. I feel good about God’s Amazing Maze and about trying to say yes to Him at each and every turn in that maze. God always guides me when I exercise faith beyond what I can see.”

So, what about “grace faults of a hybrid preacher?” I was cradle-roll born into the First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas. I got born again there at age seven and baptized as a member. It was there I got called to preach and got prayers and faith support. I loved the Lord’s church then, all the years after that, and now. But a fault I began to notice in myself over the years was that I seemed to be marketing the church more than sharing about God’s grace and telling the story of Jesus. I was inviting folks to church and trying to sell them on how great our church, our pastor, and our programs were. I failed to go out like first-century Christians and tell the folks about salvation by God in Christ’s grace that was free. Though I never seemingly sold the church well, I fault myself in not having given what was free: namely, God’s grace. And I fear the church and many pastors are guilty of my fault. Oh, the church is Christ’s bride. He bought it with His blood (Acts 28:20). It’s vitally important. But receiving God’s free gift of grace is essential for eternal life. So whatever my position or function is in being a hybrid preacher, I’m committed to share God’s amazing grace that no other religion can offer. No other religion has the Christ Event! And only in Christ do we find salvation (Acts 4:12).

 — Copyright © 2014 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author: johnniegodwin@comcast.net.

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