Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir: Chapter Five-Continued

    Never withhold affirmation from a baptist preacher. He will twist seven ways to get you to nod your head just once. It can be pathetic to see.

   Perhaps this is just preacher of all varieties. I can only speak for us.

   Perhaps, just maybe, the spur is our origin from a culture of bittersweet, individual, instantaneous salvation, often taking place in a crowded room of persons ready to swoon at our affirmation of salvation. Or, perhaps we are too provincial, as so many argue, weak because we need others to agree with our response in order to validate the inward fears we carry about the validity of our religion. Or, perhaps we just wonder why the eternal God of the universe would bother with us.

   Whatever causes our head swiveling, pretentious smile, we are often, too often, I think, workers in need of an applause line.

   So it was I started to find out about the Christian celebrity circuit, distressing though that may be. More distressing, I began to see the overwhelming need vocational Christian workers have to be patted and petted.

   Don’t ask your local minister what he did today. He is the only fellow in town who will list, from memory, on command, each minute task of his day. He/She needs to have you nod your head sympathetically and say, "You carry a great load."

   One of my laugh lines in preaching somewhere for the first time is to say, "I’ve never done anything useful. I’ve been a preacher all my life."

   We need to feel needed. As generalists in an age of specialization, we may be left with that hollow feeling of uselessness.

   So it was I spent a good portion of my first six months on the job trying to find money for the TEC. I would switch the venue to churches in later years and could never thank First Baptist Church of Arlington and First Baptist Church of Richardson for their willingness to let us turn their churches inside out for a few days without cost to the convention. We went down from $286,000 spent on the convention the year before I came to $96,000 my first year and decreased the amount spent on this two day event more each year. The money just was not there and I spend money only when I have it and not more than I have in hand.

   My wife says I throw nickels around like they were man hole covers.

   A little more of that practice might have saved the day for us in other areas. I just tended my own garden but I tended it with care.

   My pastor’s heart broke more than once as a fellow looked to me for some kind of affirmation. Attendance was down, people were leaving for more contemporary churches with more programs, they were being blamed for everything. I took them to my heart. The greater problem was, for me, I took them everywhere I went. I could not get them out of my mind. They stayed up with me through long, deep nights. I did what pastors do to often. I personalized all their hurts.

   This does not win your points in denominational service. In fact, denominational service may be the last place for a pastor. You are like the swift boat navy in Viet Nam; trying to boat down the middle, getting shot at from both shores.

   A fellow sent me a letter to tell me God only blessed blended worship, so he would not bring his church to the TEC. A fellow sent me a gmail saying the TEC was hopelessly behind the times, needed a real live band, and volunteered his own, for a fee.

   After I finally worked through the prima donnas to the people who would actually come to sing and speak, I was told, "There is no electricity in this, no sizzle. Get some sizzle."

   I had to reply, "I am so sorry about the sizzle. This year I can afford sputter. Maybe next year we can sizzle."

   Develop rhino skin.

   Understand, a really swinging band books for a low of $20,000. That is for one session and they need to dominate that session. You may have to give them veto power over who else appears on the "bill."

   When faced with a seemingly insoluble set of problems I make it a habit to break them down into a smaller set of manageable issues to which I can apply some core values. Bereft of funding, I turned to people I knew and trusted to be largely agenda free.


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