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Sipping Tea and Swatting flies
By Frank Alexander
Let me introduce myself. I pastor an ordinary church in an ordinary town in mid-America. Our town is a bustling metropolis of 2,000.
On Sunday you will find some 100 in our church, Faith Assembly of God. You say that’s not many. Do you reach 5 percent of the population in your city?
I guess I’m an ordinary pastor who is extremely happy where God has placed me. The future for me and my flock can be expressed in one word, exciting.
I have not always felt this way. Let me turn the calendar back.
I was the youngest of five children. Hand-me-downs were a way of life. My parents could not boast the finer things of life, but our home had Christian love.
We attended a large city church. An invisible line divided the more affluent from the other folks. Guess what side we were on.
I dropped out of high school during World War II. (I later acquired a G.E.D.)
After the war was over, I put my wife and 1-year-old son in a Chevy coupe. With all our possessions in a homemade two-wheel trailer, we headed for Bible school. When my GI loan ended, I left Bible school. (By then I thought I had all the answers anyway.)
Our first church was in a sleepy town in west central Illinois. Population: 150.
As far as we were concerned, we had arrived. The Kingdom would never be the same, we felt.
I wish I could tell you the excitement and enthusiasm continued. It did not.
After several more little towns, I was slipping into self-pity. It seemed I had always been on the short end of things. Deprived as a child, educationally hampered, sometimes I felt like a social misfit.
While pastoring in south central Nebraska, I landed in the hospital in a nearby county seat. I thought I had had a mild heart attack; the diagnosis was muscle spasms around my heart.
During convalescence I had time to think. The enemy said, “Here you are in the hospital, and what have you accomplished?”
I can’t explain what happened, but God began to speak to my heart. No neon lights. No thundering voice. No heavenly vision. Just a quiet inner communication that was so assuring.
The Holy Spirit seemed to place a question in my mind: Frank, what can you do that you enjoy doing?
In my spirit I answered, Lord, I love to preach. I’m not profound, but I do love to preach. And I love people. Not only do I love their souls, but I love to sit in their homes and visit with them. I love to hear about their families. I love to share their joys and sorrows. And one other thing, Lord. I love to hammer nails. I’m not an expert carpenter, but I sure have fun trying to be one.
God got through to me that I was in the center of His will and He loved me and He could use me.
I went home to my flock. They voted to build an addition on to the church. You should have seen my hammer fly.
During 5 1/2 years of ministry in this town of 200, with Gods help and my anointed hammer we built a needed addition to the church and a new parsonage.
The people of the community were so excited that we had a standing room-only crowd for the dedication of the church and parsonage. Both are debt free.
Later I learned that my Sunday school of some 70 was above the national average. That boosted my spirits too.
Since my hospital stay I have hammered thousands of nails, preached hundreds of sermons, and loved a lot of beautiful people. I am one of the Lord’s happy, contented small-town pastors.
Several years ago I attended a ministers retreat. The speaker was from a large city church. He said, “Brethren, your calling is the highest. It is from God. You need to spend much time in study and prayer.” (I agreed.)
Then he said, “You do not have time to sit on Aunt Martha’s porch sipping tea and munching on homemade cookies. Yours is a higher calling.”
I nudged the man next to me and whispered, “He wouldn’t last 6 weeks in my town.”
I have found it is not practical to impose this metropolitan philosophy on small town, USA.
The retreat speaker also admonished us always to wear a three-piece suit and a necktie.
I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to walk up to the post office wearing a three-piece suit and necktie, the air pungent with the smell of cow manure from the nearby feed lot, with a half-mile of grain trucks lined up at the local elevator.
I can hear some local, sitting on the bench outside the only hardware store, holler across at me:
“Morning, Preacher. Got a buryin’ today?”
A three-piece suit and necktie just wouldn’t blend in with the surroundings.
I want to share with you some adventures and joys of pastoring in a small town.
There is the retired couple across the street from the parsonage. The highlight of the husband’s day is to sit on his front porch, watch folks go by, and swat flies. I go over sometimes and help him swat flies. I even sip a little tea.
The important thing is I have an opportunity to let Christ’s love shine through me.
Then there are the neighbors west of us. They are devout Catholics. Both are in their 80s but still active. Several times a week I have coffee with them. When our son was going through a time of indecision and frustration, the neighbor lady assured me she was saying a prayer for him every day. When things worked out beautifully for our son and his family, her response was, “You see, God heard my prayer.”
Let me tell you about Riley. Four years ago his daughter, visiting from another town, brought him to church. Riley was one of our town’s heavier drinkers. That Sunday morning he gave his heart to God, and now he is my right-hand man.
Retired from a cement plant, Riley goes every morning to the park to walk his dog. There he picks up aluminum cans for our van fund. Then he goes with me in my pickup to deliver these cans to the collection point. He faithfully attends church. The men he worked with are amazed at the change in his life.
Last winter we had a heavy snowfall. I put on warm clothes and boots, threw my shovel in the pickup, went around town, and scooped the walks of 16 widows and physically handicapped people. I reaped many home-baked goodies from that adventure.
I remember we called a business meeting to consider building a much-needed addition to the church. The vote was a unanimous yes. I said, “Now, before we adjourn, are there any questions?”
Don, a husky young farmer who had recently been saved, spoke up. “Yeah, Pastor. I have a question. When do we start?”
Monday evening he was there with his tractor. We dug the footings. No building permit. No city code. We didn’t sell bonds. Just lots of hard but exhilarating work.
Bill was a colorful character. He was over 6 feet tall, always in overalls and a striped railroader’s cap. Bill would sit in his lumberyard giving orders to his help and advice to anyone who came by. He was also the largest landowner in the county.
One Saturday evening I stopped to give Bill the final $300 check for material we had bought for building the parsonage. He accepted it and then said, “Preacher, now I got something for you.” He reached into his overall bib pocket, pulled out his billfold, and handed me a check for $4,300. The check was made out to our church.
He never attended church, but he said, “That ought to buy my way into heaven, hadn’t it?”
When I said it didn’t work that way, he growled, “Well, give it back then.”
Then he laughed one of his ground-shaking laughs. He let me keep the check (which bought pews and carpeting). In his next breath he informed me he had set up a $40,000 trust fund for the church. A few years later when he died, we were informed he had added another $45,000 in his will.
In his last hours I tried to lead Bill to Christ. I wish 1 could tell you I know he made peace with God. We will have to leave that in God’s hands. But I do know that Bill, in spite of his gruff and sometimes impatient ways, saw people who had enthusiasm for their Lord and His church. He wanted to be a part, and he did so in the only way he knew how.
Recently I arose at 3:30 a.m. and drove 116 miles to Kansas City to the hospital to be with Ralph. He was to have surgery that morning. Ralph’s wife, daughter, and grandchildren attend our church. In the 5 years I have pastored there, he has never attended a service. Not even a Christmas program. When I visit in the home, Ralph is always warm and friendly. He loves to share vegetables from his garden.
When I walked into his hospital room, his face lit up. I prayed a simple prayer with him — that God would watch over him physically and spiritually. When I finished, I noticed he was fighting back tears. I stood outside the door to give the nurse room to wheel his bed through the door. As they came to where I was standing, Ralph looked up at the nurse and said, “This fella here is my pastor.” I smiled. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. The assurance I felt many years ago while lying in that hospital room suddenly rekindled in my heart. I am called of God. God needs me. All the Rileys, Bills, Ralphs, and yes, my neighbors need me for the Kingdom’s sake.
God, please help me keep my calling and enthusiasm alive.
If you can find our little town on your map, come see us. I’ll take you by Aunt Martha’s, and we will sit on the front porch and sip tea and eat some of her delicious homemade cookies. You will be blessed.