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What Happened When Chuck Swindoll Left

images[9]Ever heard of Dale Burke?

He wrote a book on leadership, but he may be even more famous for the person he followed in pastoral ministry. Dale is the pastor who in 1993 followed Chuck Swindoll as Senior Pastor at Fullerton Evangelical Free Church. Some readers may be unfamiliar with Chuck, but many will know that he is the longtime radio preacher for the radio program Insight for Living. I always liked Chuck Swindoll and through the years found myself blessed by his ministry many times. Back in the day when Christian radio stations played James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and other talk programs (along with a smattering of Christian Contemporary Music by Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Carmen, et. al.), Swindoll was probably the biggest radio preacher of that golden age.

But I bring this up because I find it fascinating what happened to Fullerton E. Free when Chuck left after more than 20 years of ministry.  I can only speak for the first year, and I’m not sure how I heard this (maybe a contact in the Free Church) but I always found it interesting. The skinny (as my aging brain remembers) that I once heard was that when the famous preacher Chuck Swindoll left Fullerton, attendance dropped by 1,000, a huge hit even for a mega church seeing attendance in the 6,000 range.

Ah, yes, but the next statistic was even more interesting to me:

Giving didn’t go down at all.

1,000 people leave…and giving stays the same? What does that tell you? Allow this non-statistician to hazard a guess – my amateur interpretation of the data tells me that the mature people were primarily there for Jesus, not Chuck, and they stayed and kept giving. The more immature people on the other hand – they were followers of a celebrity pastor and weren’t giving anything anyway.  They left and financially…the church didn’t feel a thing (All this is initial. I think there may have been issues down the road for the church as if often the case when well-known pastors leave).

Why bring this up? Well, the Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about immature believers and celebrity pastors, and he wrote about them in 1 Corinthians 3…

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:4-7 (ESV)

Paul sums up this section with a not-to-be-forgotten truth: it is God who gives the growth, whether in an individual’s spiritual life, or in a church’s statistics. And if God is the One who causes things to grow, then all of us (both full-time vocational ministers like me…and volunteers) are only planting and watering, and even that we are doing only by His power and strength. Therefore, He is ultimately the only one we should ever look to for spiritual sustenance, though we recognize He uses undershepherds.  But ultimately, the Lord is the only One who ever deserves praise.

And yet, in this midst of this truth, we do well to remember our extremely high calling – the Lord says we are His fellow workers (verse 9). It is a high privilege, to be sure, but again, tempered with the truth which Paul reminds us toward the end of the chapter:

“So,” he will say in verse 21, “Let no one boast in men.”

What, after all, was even the great Apostle Paul? According to himself – he was just a servant through whom they had believed. Amen.

For Friday, May 8: 1 Corinthians 4

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Day I Heard the Voice of God

There aren’t a lot of days in my life I can say that I know God sent a message intended just for me.  But there are a few. This is one of them…

It was the fall of 1998.  We were living in Lake Forest, Illinois, and I had spent the year interviewing for senior/solo pastor positions.  I was asked to interview for the position at Waupun Evangelical Free Church (Edgewood).  It had been a busy year with trips to visit churches in California, North Dakota (two different churches), Maryland, and Arkansas. We actually had a lot of fun traveling the country, and three of those churches had offered me their position, but we didn’t sense any of them were quite right.  However, all of those churches were solo pastorates.  This Waupun thing was not – there was an Associate Pastor (Mike Giebink) – and it was the largest of all the churches I had interviewed with at that point (the statistic I received at the time was 225 people).

That first interview (by phone) with the people in Waupun was scheduled on Monday evening, October 12.  On the morning of the 12th, I took a prayer walk to talk to the Lord.

I was nervous.  Not only was it the largest church I had interviewed with, but there was an associate staff person, and they were heading into a building campaign.  I knew that I was weak in administration, and I doubted my qualifications. So I told the Lord about my concerns.  I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember what he said.  As I was walking, some semi-obscure verses from the book of Numbers popped into my mind that I had memorized some time before:

Joshua, son of Nun, and Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes, and said to the entire Israelite assembly: “The Land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into the land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord, and do not be afraid of the people of the Land, for we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them.” – Numbers 14:6 – 9 (NASB)

Well, that was all it took.  I was buoyant and encouraged as I headed back to our home, realizing that even if I doubted my abilities in pastoring the church in Waupun, the Lord could give grace and bring it about.

I went inside to look over the information that the church had sent, and I turned on the CD player to put on some Michael W. Smith.  At first, however, I got the radio; it was Chuck Swindoll preaching in his Insight for Living broadcast (I liked Chuck, but wasn’t in the habit of listening to him). The message was set at Dallas Seminary, and he was speaking to pastors or future pastors…from Numbers 14.  When he got to the few verses God had just brought to my mind, he actually read them, and I got down on my knees there in the kitchen at 770 W. Westleigh in Lake Forest…and began to cry.  There were four guys set to interview that night, but I had an advantage over them – I already knew the outcome.

We were going to Waupun.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Prayer, Uncategorized

 

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