My time was nearly complete. I had reached that place that many 20-somethings dream of: I was in my final semester of college. In looking over my graduation requirements, it turned out that I needed to complete not only the courses I had signed up for, but I also needed one more community service project. Yes, the private Christian college I attended had each of us serve somewhere around 15 hours a semester for six semesters of our enrollment as a graduation requirement. In looking over my records, it turned out that I had satisfactorially completed the requirments of level II and level III service projects, but I was only half way there on a level I project. For those of you who were there during that time or who have known me, I know you are struggling to imagine that I had only partially fulfilled the level I type project. After all, level I is the observation level. I am quick to move from observation to action and this proved true during my years at Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian Universtiy).I was a senior, what was there left for me to observe? Hadn’t I seen it all already? After 21 hours of college credit under Cliff Sanders; multiple hours with professors Greg Robertson and Marvin Middlebrooks; countless hours volunteering on campus; working with a small congregation 20 miles from the college; hadn’t I served and learned enough? What more was there for me to see? Yes, I can be a bit over-confident in my abilities and knowledge.
Fortunately, my good friend, Shannon Smith, was short on the same type of service that I was. We both needed a level I observation style community service project. Shannon was older and smart enough to know when to sit back and take an easier path. He was married and had three kids. The last thing Shannon was looking for was a service project that would eat up too much of his time. So, I signed on board with Shannon and the two of us began our semester of community service level I: observation.
The question remained, what would we observe? We both knew we would be graduating soon and that meant we would be potentially entering into ministry employment, church work. What would it look like to start a new role at a church? What would it be like to be a new pastor? What would some of the transition issues be like? How would a pastor shape his staff? How would the congregation respond? These questions led us to the newest Church of God pastor in Oklahoma City: Brad Kendall.
Brad was in his first months of serving as the new senior pastor for Shartel Church of God. He had come from Indiana after serving as senior pastor there. Brad was well connected in the Church of God. His father, Paul, had been a Church of God pastor. His brother, Gary, and his brother-in-law, Rolland Daniels, were each well respected pastors in the movement. Brad and his wife Kristel had the right pedigree of Church of God heritage and connections.
Shannon and I chose to observe Brad.
We met multiple time throughout that semester trying to get a behind the scenes look at what the transition looked like. We heard about the meetings with the board memebers. We witnessed the hiring of staff and the stuggle of what to do with exisiting staff who were well loved but not fully in alignement with Brad’s style of leadership. We began to grasp how a family would be welcomed into a congregation as its leader.
Brad had a unique style of humor and was big on smiling. He was not quick to dismiss others and really wrestled through the struggle of trying to bring people together. Brad worked long and hard to please others while being faithful to his calling as a minister.
After my semester of community service, my wife and I stayed a part of Shartel and Brad was our pastor. As I wrestled through my search for a place of ministry, Brad was there. He prayed and encouraged us in the process. He knew how hard it was to find a congregation. He knew the challenges before us. As we announced our impending move to Odessa, Texas, Brad celebrated with us. As we packed up, Brad and the Shartel Church, blessed us with a baby shower for our first born who wouldn’t arrive for another 6 months.
Brad was the last pastor I sat under week to week, voluntarily, for 12 years. Since then I have only chosen to sit week to week under two other pastors. Both of those proved to be temporary in arrangement as I would soon be employed in church ministry after listening to each of those men for a short season of six months or less.
Brad is now a chaplian in Texas. I am looking forward to the days where our paths cross in this great state.
One of the things I learned from observing Brad was that there is still more to learn, even when you think you’ve reached the end.