Malcolm Tyree

A collection of thoughts on things that matter

Archive for the tag “Pastor Appreciation Month”

Pastor Appreciation Month: Cliff Sanders

College can be an intimidating place. You walk into a lecture hall, the podium up front has a microphone and there’s a large screen on the wall for a series of points to a lecture. The professor starts up, “Ahem!”
Profs with a hoary head of gray hair, goatees, and spectacles tend to capture the imagination of their students. When the prof has a commanding presence and leads you to see a subject or an idea in a different way, it’s really easy for the student to fall into awe of the prof. You can almost see the prof as beyond human. That is until you have lunch with them.

When I went to Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University) in the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a required course for all traditional students at MBC; Biblical Life & Witness. The professor was in his mid 40’s and loved tweaking with the minds of the incoming Freshmen. Unbeknownst to me or my classmates, we were about to embark on an upheaval of the way we perceived God and ourselves.

 

picture of Cliff Sanders

Cliff Sanders, D. Min. (photo from Facebook)

 Cliff Sanders was my professor at MBC. In my time as a student, I had seven course with Cliff; 21 undergraduate hours. From Introduction to Old and New Testament and Biblical Life & Witness to the three inductive Bible study method classes and How to Teach the Bible, Cliff shaped (warped) my mind into a new way of viewing the sitz im laben of the scripture stories and how to draw out practical applications for today.

I admired Cliff and thought one day I might be like him; a college professor shaping young minds. Cliff had served as a pastor prior to coming to MBC and carried with him real world thinking as well as what I perceived to be a solid rational thinking about how to interpret the Bible. With his Masters of Divinity and efforts at earning his Doctorate in Ministry, I found myself looking at Cliff and wondering what it would be like to be him.

Part of what drew me to Cliff was his willingness to go beyond the classroom and lecture hall. Cliff would eat lunch with the common folk. Nearly everyday, Cliff would hold court at a table in the cafeteria. Carefully wrapping his salt and pepper shakers with a napkin as he seasoned the “delicacy” of the day, Cliff would joke, laugh, talk smack, and engage students, staff, and faculty around the table. It was at those many roundtable lunches with Cliff that I first experience the power of eating together to form community.

Even though Cliff was working on his doctorate, he was more than willing to have lunch with 18-22 year old punk, know it alls, like me. He welcomed us to the table and treated us as equals. He did not come across as “better than us.” Sure, Cliff would brag a bit too much about the Texas Longhorns in the room filled with fans of SEC teams or that University just south of the campus; mocking the fight song “Boomer Sooner” in a horrid cry. I am sure the cafeteria staff was glad to see the table empty of Cliff and his fans because it meant the room would quiet down and they could finally close up for the day. But as a member of the table, I miss those lunches.

Cliff carried such influence for me, that I went a step further in my gluttonous learning from him. I asked Cliff to provide pre-marital counseling for me and Christy. He was quick to sit us down and tell Christy how difficult it was going to be for her. He recounted stories of how he could see similarities between me and him, and therefore knew some of the challenges we might have. Cliff shared how he had to learn to love his wife, Becky. He was straightforward with me about how I would have to be intentional not to “forget” Christy in my daily life.

Though Cliff was not formally my pastor, he was one of my pastors during my years at MBC. 

I was honored to serve at MBC alongside Cliff when I graduated and worked in the Campus Ministries office. I remember being a part of the faculty and staff prayer time each week as we would pray with one another. I watched Cliff wrestle with Becky’s cancer battle. I was allowed to see my professor as vulnerable and transparent. We had grown beyond the loud antics of lunch and the debates in the classroom to the place of colleagues, friends, sharing life together. 

In many ways, my relationship with Cliff has helped me move from being intimidated by God to seeing that I am welcomed at his table, for lunch, prayer, and friendship.

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Pastor Appreciation Month: Steve Williams

“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.

 

picture of Steve Williams

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 sliding

Steve having fun in recent days, much like we did in Clarksville together. (picture from Facebook)

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