“Do you wear blue jeans?”
That was it. That was my brilliant question to ask in the candidate forum for the new pastor for the First Church of God in Clarksville, Tennessee.At the time I asked the question of the candidate, I was one of the youth leaders, the guy who mowed the church lawn, and who changed the sign. I had become in the mind of some “the church mouse” as I had worked and found my way around everything at the church’s building. It seemed like I was there nearly all the time. This was an awkward season for First Church. The long time, well-loved pastor Gene Lanham was retiring (or so he thought) and the congregation was looking to find a new pastor. The transition schedule was like you might expect for the President of the United States. We, as a congregation, were filtering through candidates, and then voting accordingly, while expecting that Bro. Lanham’s last Sunday would be followed by the next pastor’s first Monday.
The candidate was like most pastoral candidates, different than the previous guy. Bro. Lanham was like a grandfather; the candidate was a young 30-something father of two. Bro. Lahham was comfortable and easy going; the candidate quick and intense. Bro. Lanham was walking on the journey; the candidate was a crusader.
If you know much about me, you can likely see why I would have been drawn to the candidate.
So, as the congregation assembled to ask questions in the open forum for the candidate, I couldn’t think of anything particularly deep or theological. My question was practical. Looking back on it, the question was theological. At the heart, I was asking the candidate “are you like me?”
A few days later, we voted yes, and that fall, Steven Williams became my new pastor.
Steve Williams in 2014 picture from Facebook
Steve was my first glimpse of what it looked like to be a pastor and a dad at the same time. Stephanie and Luke were young kids. I don’t think Luke had quite started school. Luke was a bit of a challenge at times. I remember him going pee outside the church’s office one day because he was too impatient to wait for the restroom to become available. I also remember Steve having to step down in the middle of a sermon, escort Luke to the lobby, and then return a few awkward moments later to finish the sermon. The tears in Luke’s eyes indicated that Steve had quickly switched from pastor to dad back to pastor.
Steve was a crusader. He was passionate about the Church of God Reformation Movement. He ran a publishing company out of the church’s attic where we would reprint and ship classic Church of God writings by the likes of FG Smith, Lily McCutchen, Arlo Newell, and others. He was also heavily involved in the conservative association of ministers known as Pastors’ Fellowship. Steve’s publishing company worked closely with Pastors’ Fellowship to distribute the early teachings of the movement.
Steve was a fiery preacher. His passion for truth and commitment to the teachings of the church came through again and again. Steve also loved Bus Ministry. He introduced that chaos to our congregation and I gladly jumped in. Steve wanted to see a men’s ministry happening to compliment the Women of the Church of God (WCG) that met regularly. I was glad to see this take off. We needed a college-age Sunday School class, after all we had an emerging group of 20-somethings; so I stepped in to offer to lead it. An opening came in the Children’s Church; Steve tagged me to lead it. Needless to say, if there was an opportunity, Steve knew he could ask and I would likely say “yes.”
Steve saw a willingness to serve in me. He challenged me to consider going to Bible College to get a degree so that I could professionally serve in the church. He encouraged me to head off to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) instead of floundering around at the state university in town.
I knew Steve to be hard charging, passionate, and motivating. He pushed me out of the comfort of Clarksville, Tennessee, and into the adventures that I would experience because I went to Oklahoma City and Mid-America Bible College.
After I left in the summer of 1997, things with First Church and Steve began to change. The passionate charging ahead began to wear folks down. Steve’s marriage was hurting too. Near the end of my first year at Mid-America, Steve discovered his wife had been having an affair. It was heart breaking for everyone. Steve resigned and moved.
Steve has since remarried, become a grandad, and is still a crusader. Steve was my pastor who challenged me to go.
Oh, yes, Steve did wear blue jeans.
Steve having fun in recent days, much like we did in Clarksville together. (picture from Facebook)