Rarely do I address the topic of shepherds among us. But this weekend is Memorial Drive's 50th Anniversary. While it is a great story of ministers and ministries, its history revolves around the make-up of the elders.
Thirty-six years ago this weekend Mary and I traveled to Tulsa to be introduced to the congregation as new preacher and wife. For us, it was fearfully, thrillingly, nerve-racking. I was 29 years old and had been converted seven years earlier while preaching only the last three. It could be said that Memorial Drive was ahead of its time as it had gone green.
In the beginning, there were eight elders. All were nice to me when I did what was expected. Four loved me even when I couldn't keep the complainers of the church pleased (which ultimately meant I was in trouble every week...and I'm not kidding).
The church struggled at many turns. Not until thirty-six years later have I realized these good men had a very flawed motto. Four of the eight reminded me of it often. We may disagree in this room, but when we go out there, we are united.
Much disagreement went on in the elders' meetings; much serious contention. The flaw was the visionary four had to continually dumb down because of the negative four. Ultimately, in each matter, stubbornness ruled. Regardless of talk, we were stifled and stagnant. Our goal was so see there was no trouble.
Cemeteries have no trouble and Jesus refused to stay an entire week in one.
Through the next several years elders were replaced on occasion with new ones. Two more sets gave us the same story; frustration and division.
Finally, God blessed us with shepherd hearts which included one of the original eight. These developed a new model; stay out of the way. These were neither naive nor wimpy. They simply had vision. They believed each member had a calling and a vision which the elders didn't possess. These guys are genius at giving the flock room to try, to succeed or fail, and try again.
Memorial today is robust with energy, joy, and profound productivity. It can be heard on occasion what do the elders do? What they do is live ultra-attentively to the flock. They minister behind and in front of the scenes. Our men intentionally seek the Spirit's input.
As a result, we have more ministries going than shepherds or staff can know about. We have 95% of the church doing 100% of the work.
They added a full-time worship leader when there were no funds.
We had slumped in attendance so badly our children's halls were dark; no children. Our elders added one of our intensely compassionate-for-children women to the staff part-time. There was no money. Later, Linda Scott was so effective we had to add Stacey Kendall to the payroll as another part-timer.
They added a summer youth intern to full-time status when there were no funds.
Our youth man trained him to be a youth minister and after a year, he was our youth guy. His trainer shifted to Minister of Involvement. Over the next four years, I trained him to preach. Today Bobby Smith preaches in Mt. Carmel, IL.
Our elders bought into the idea of adding yet another man as Community Outreach director. There were no funds; but they brought him on board anyway. What a blessing David Combs is today.
While none of us are perfect, we are wowed day by day at the harmony between elders, staff, and members. None of this would work if the elders had wanted to shut us down in the name of logic and reason and bank accounts.
I believe many churches suffer today in trying to find the right preacher. That isn't the first place to look. Checking to see if all of the shepherds are Holy Spirit led would be my first assessment. Memorial Drive is highly blessed by our present four and have been over the past 18 years by a rotation of very Jesus-attentive, sensitive-to-the-Spirit men.
If congregations keep changing preachers over the years, yet remain the same size I would point out the men overseeing the congregation may be a significant factor.