I have immense appreciation for the amazing crop of new preachers God has added to the church Tulsa force over the years. It's a pretty impressive group of guys. Relating to these men is so different than my earlier days in this city. As I thought back I recalled why it might be I am such a lightening rod (where some want to avoid me) in this town. There could be several reasons.
For one, when I moved to Tulsa I was pretty rough. I was a brash yeller and pounder of sermons. Since I knew myself to be weak, I compensated with the assumption loud meant power. It didn't and most knew, except me. There remain those who wouldn't walk across the street to hear me preach. If were still like that, I wouldn't go either. I was two things back then; (1) Jesus-less, and (2) loud. Many fled from Memorial and I don't know how those who stayed took it.
In addition I recall a key Preachers' Luncheon that permanently separated me from most. The meetings in those days were very dark in spirit. A heaviness of ego-gathering and divisiveness permeated meeting after meeting. Week after week I watched as the area men rolled their eyes/smirked as Marvin Phillips and Ron Swadley walked in. I always wondered if it was from jealousy. Whatever, I finally had enough.
After being in town for three months I was at one of those meetings. Of course we always went around the room to give our reports and announcements. When it came my turn I stood and said, Guys, I moved to town really looking forward to what I heard would be the Preachers' Luncheons. Where I'm from there were no other Church of Christ preachers. But I have to tell you of my disappointment. You men are the rudest, most hateful and divisive group I have ever been around. I don't like this. I'm amazed that this goes on.....and took my seat.
One by one they stood in direct and obstinate rebuke. I gave it and I would take it. They scalded. I'll never forget their serial venom. Finally, an older one named Lee Peters stood and said, Men, we might ought to fess up. We had it out against Terry or whoever moved to Memorial because we don't like the attitude coming out of Memorial (whatever that meant). He's picking up on what we all know is true. He probably has pointed out something necessary. We most likely need to hear what he has had the courage to tell us.
Next, a younger preacher named Jim from Bixby stood and said, Men, until Terry got here I was the newest in the area. I want to tell you that what he just told you is how I have felt all this time. He just told you the truth. I think the meeting sorta ended as I seemed to have lost consciousness or something. From that moment it wasn't good with me and area churches. I probably shouldn't have said it that way. I'm certain I could have said it better....but I still feel that way about those days, said better or not.
And then another thing I think makes me a lightening rod is my teaching that the Holy Spirit operates directly in the Christian's life. This one surprises me more. It is simply in the Word and while that same Word says there is no law against His fruit, I find there is in the Church of Christ...that true church that supposedly takes its stand on where the Bible speaks.
I'm not proud of the first round of upset at the Preachers' Luncheon. I could have been more patient. But this one about the Holy Spirit is going to have to stay. How can we read the New Testament and conclude the Spirit of God does not work among us directly? The words say so.
Finally, this leads me to a great appreciation for the area preachers. It is surely a new crop of Spirit-minded men. From Danny Sidders in Bixby to Elliott Dunn in Sand Springs to Tim Luster at North Sheridan and over to John and Dan at Open Door on out to Tim Pyles at Broken Arrow....what a classy bunch. Judge and Bob and Ron and Tracy and Charlie and Warren are probably the basic old guys like me as far as tenure.....yet we feel renewed in our partnership day by day. But when you add these young pups including Mitch and Greg and Joel and others, it is so encouraging.
I wish I had done several things better. Who doesn't? Some of my blunders will always haunt me. I'll necessarily carry that burden. But I remain electrified at the caliber of young men filling area pulpits in addition to the spirit of us older men who keep hanging in there with attitudes to grow toward one another. Opposition is clearly not a part of the area preachers any longer. Thank you, God, for your patience.