Hey everybody –
I thought I should probably give you a bit of history so you’ll know more about my heart and my history – all of which serve as foundational material for who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish through Discipleship DNA and this blog.
Outside of about 2 ½ years in Colorado and Florida, South Dakota has been my home for my entire life. I was born and raised in western South Dakota, growing up on some of the Indian reservations there. I currently live in Aberdeen, SD, having migrated to the eastern part of the state when I started college at South Dakota State University (Go Jackrabbits!!) in Brookings, SD in the fall of 1982.
I was raised Catholic, and was stronger about that during high school, although like a lot of people, I felt God was mainly for Sundays and Wednesdays, and the weekends were for partying. I was never much of a partyer, getting drunk and stoned only occasionally. I tried my darndest to chase girls, but truth be told, I was too much of a geek; and despite the best efforts of my much cooler stepbrothers, was never successful at it (for which I thank God now).
My parents split when I was about 12, and I bounced between them a couple of times before settling in with my dad, stepmother, and 5 new step-siblings (I’m the oldest of 4 biological siblings, having 2 brothers and a sister.).
Dad worked for the federal government, which meant getting moved around every so often. Between those moves and my parents’ divorce, I went to 10 different schools growing up, with 3 of those during the first semester of my 9th grade year. I graduated from Todd County High School in Mission, SD (Go Falcons!!) in 1982. Here’s my senior picture:
Yeah, I know. Quite a change. But that’s what ministry and 12 kids will do for you…
I came to Christ while a freshman at SDSU (Go Jacks!! Oh wait – did I already say that?). A guy on my dorm floor name Stuart took me to a concert by a Christian comedian and I gave my life to Jesus that night.
The next morning, Stuart met with me to discuss my decision from the night before and gave me some Scripture to memorize about the assurance of my salvation – 1 John 5:11-12. He started discipling me, and later introduced me to the ministry of the Navigators where I served as a student, being discipled by great guys and learning how to disciple others as well.
I found a great church in town to attend, getting baptized and serving as a student and later as a layman.
I met my wife, Debra, in college, although we didn’t really notice each other until I was graduated and living with two college buddies. It took her sister to get us together, because I was too stupid to notice…
We got married in February of 1988, and moved to Colorado and then Florida, before getting smart enough to move back to South Dakota, where I became active again at my church, leading the occasional Sunday School class, directing the choir, and starting a men’s group to pray for pastors.
It was during one of those prayer sessions that God spoke to my heart calling me to full-time ministry. One thing led to another, and I became the pastor of Aberdeen Wesleyan Church, in Aberdeen, SD in August of 2001. I was in my mid-30s, with a wife and 5 kiddos at the time.
The small salary of the church was not going to be enough to support my family, so I knew right away that working outside the church was in the cards. I got various jobs in retail to help with that. At the church I was doing everything a small church pastor does, which is pretty much…everything. There was a great Youth leader, so he could handle that, which was great because I was NOT good at that. I didn’t have the patience for it at all. And someone also led the singing most Sundays.
We had some really great people who not only helped with the work, but also supported me when I felt I had to push for changes that would allow us to be more relevant and effective to the community around us. They took a few bullets for me in the process, and I’ll always be grateful to them. They genuinely loved Jesus and other people. And they loved me and my family. During the hard times, they were my rock.
We made some progress in outreach, and after a few missteps on my part, we started gaining some traction. We became better known in the community, and we started seeing some growth, with some of it coming as a result of our outreach efforts and some positive press from the local newspaper. We did “40 Days of Purpose,” which was very successful in terms of getting our name out there and working in the hearts of some of our people.
We made some updates in the worship service and the worship space, eventually adding video projection and a computer to run it so we didn’t have to print out the worship choruses in the bulletin anymore, which we did after getting rid of the overhead projector (It caught on fire when a guest preacher was using it during a service not long after I started…). When the organ finally died, we didn’t replace it. We put in a baptistery so we could emphasize the importance of a public declaration for Christ. We had tall banners put up that reflected the concepts from The Purpose Driven Church.
I won’t go into detail, but there were some hard issues we dealt with as we worked to be more effective in reaching the community and surrounding area. Even though the building was less than 10 years old when I arrived, there were some who seemed willing to die (or kill) for whatever they felt the most kinship with. And there were traditions that were harder for some than others to part with.
Pretty much every pastor of an established church reading this can relate, right?
One of the biggest battles I had to fight was in the area of pastoral responsibilities. During one of our monthly board meetings, I was told that I should be doing a certain task. I held my Bible out to the person and said, “Show me in here where that is a pastoral responsibility and I’ll hop right on it. But you won’t find it, because it’s not in here. And which of my THREE OTHER JOBS should I quit so I can do that – oh, and are you willing to make up the difference in my pay?”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the most tactful guy when it came to making changes; I was focused on helping the church move forward, and sometimes that happened at the expense of people’s feelings. This caused conflict that a wiser and more experienced pastor would probably have avoided by taking a different route to the needed changes.
Because I wasn’t the most sensitive guy, I also ended up hurting people who were already hurting. A lot of people can sense when someone else is hurting. Not me. I have zero clues unless they tell me. Because of this, I blew people off who needed to talk and pray. Not good.
Even though I reached out to the people I was aware of hurting, it turns out there was more I was unaware of. Rather than approach me in a biblical manner (Matthew 18) so I could apologize and ask for forgiveness, an effort was made by a few people to have me removed as the pastor.
You can imagine that while this was going on, it was hard to get ready for sermons each week and finish up my classwork for ordination knowing that there were people in the congregation who would love nothing more than to see me gone and who couldn’t care less that I was now “Reverend” La Croix.
I was honestly trying my hardest to serve God and the church, and we were seeing God do some things, but in the midst of all that, the conflict ate me up.
Also during this time I regularly BEGGED God to let me out and take me to another church, maybe as a staff pastor. He said no, and showed me a passage from Isaiah 50:4-9 –
The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up. (NIV)
I taped this to my computer monitor. It helped me in the face of being misunderstood and misrepresented, with people working behind the scenes to get me out.
To make a long story even longer…
That fall, everything came to a resolution of sorts. The denominational procedure for voting to retain or remove a pastor was followed, and eventually the furor died down, with some people leaving. I remained another six years, battle-scarred, and a bit wiser.
One day in the fall of 2011 while working on a sermon for a series on discipleship, I felt the Lord telling me that my time as a pastor was coming to an end, and that I would not be serving as a solo or senior pastor again.
The timing was great, because the church was healthier than it had been in a while, there was no conflict that I was aware of, and I wasn’t looking to leave. This gave me more confidence that it was actually the Lord speaking, not my emotional despair crying to get out of a bad situation. I was able to focus on making it easier for the next pastor to come in and help the church move forward.
I went to work for a campus ministry for 2 ½ years before returning full-time to the world of retail, which was what I had done for most of my adult life. My wife and I continued our involvement with the foster care system, eventually adopting 7 kiddos.
Why do I tell you all this? For one reason: to tell you that I get it. I’ve seen the joys and the heartache of pastoral ministry. I’ve gotten to enjoy watching God work in the lives of people as well as watching people work to cause division.
I was able to watch God use an incredibly flawed guy to make a difference as people came to Christ and followed Him as Lord. I’ve seen God in the pit of despair and on the mountaintop.
He was faithful when I failed and He was present in my successes.
I shook my head in wonder as my “best” sermons fell flat and my “worst” sermons impacted people. I saw God move in worship services and across the table as I shared the gospel with someone.
And I am grateful.
I’m grateful to God for allowing me to pastor a church. He used that experience to shape me to be a better person, and maybe better qualified to reach out to you. I wish I could have learned some of the hard lessons from a book or something, but that’s not what happened. God chose to use hard stuff to teach me some hard lessons at times. I believe He’s shaped me to be more like Jesus through it all – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
So what am I doing now? I’m back to being a layman who enjoys serving my pastor and church. I work with new believers and help churches mobilize their laypeople to do the same thing through my company, Discipleship DNA.
This company is my full-time gig, because I want to be able to focus on helping YOU establish a culture where the people in the seats are automatically working to establish new believers and develop long-term discipling relationships that equip others to do the same with other new believers.
And I love it.
I pray God’s blessings on each of you.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)