Monday, September 11, 2006

A Day In Gainesville -- The Five Year Pass


Last Tuesday (September 5, 2006), I was invited by Pastor J. B. Sims from Foley, Alabama, to go to Gainesville, Florida. The whole reason for the trip was to spend a half-day with Pastor Jeff Arnold, who pastors the Pentecostals of Gainesville. Bro. Sims and Bro. Arnold have been friends for quite a number of years. During his early ministry days, Bro. Sims would drive from Tallahassee to Gainesville to see Bro. Arnold on a fairly routine basis.

We managed to get up a lot earlier than normal to make the trip. Bro. Sims left Foley around 3:30 AM and I left Dothan around 6 AM and we met in Marianna, Florida and rode together the rest of the way. We went by their church and took a brief tour before meeting Bro. Arnold at Sonny’s BBQ. Before the day was over, I had driven 500 miles and Bro. Sims had driven and ridden around 800 miles. However, after the day had concluded we both decided that it had been very much worth the early rising and the drive.

I have secured Bro. Arnold’s permission to write about some of the things that he talked with us about on that day. What you will have to remember that the things that Bro. Arnold shared with us were spoken by him but all of what he said has to be processed through my own thoughts and words. So the disclaimer is this: If something may seem out of sorts as it shows up on this blog, it is not his fault, it is my own process of reporting it. I did have a micro-cassette recorder in my car but did not bring it into Sonny’s so what Bro. Arnold shared with us was reduced to some index cards and my weak memory.

One of the things that he told us about was what he called the “five year pass.” Bro. Arnold told us that when he came to Gainesville that the first five years were perhaps his most difficult (outside of an incredibly challenging building program). Prior to pastoring, Bro. Arnold had been an evangelist for eight years and had been basing out of south Florida. Memory fails me as to exactly how he was introduced to the fact that Gainesville needed a pastor.

However, he did go and preach and in the process of being voted in, some opposition started rising in his life. The opposition actually was coming from a district board member and it threatened to get a little difficult. It appeared that this district board member did not want him to take this church. Bro. Arnold said that he really begin to have some problems with this because he thought that it frankly was some political maneuvering to box him out of pastoring.

He took a little side route on this thought and said that at the time the problem was not the district board official but with his own perception. Bro. Arnold said he really thought that this man was trying to axe him. What he did not understand was that this man was actually trying to protect him from a difficult situation that was brewing in the church. Bro. Arnold said that now looking back 20 plus years, he realized that this elder really at heart loved him. He knew that Bro. Arnold was about to get a tiger by the tail. He was concerned with Bro. Arnold’s spiritual well being and knew that whoever went in would face a fight. Bro. Arnold said that many thought the church needed a seasoned man instead of a “rookie.”

Bro. Arnold cautioned us about how crucial it is that our perception is during times of ministry transition. He said the ultimately a ministry is going to be deemed successful on two counts:

1. Did you stay connected to the Source (God)?

2. Did you live out your Purpose (God’s intent and design for your life)?

He told us that one of the most challenging things about the purpose of your life is that we fall to the sway of the seducing spirit of the devil which usually works to distract us. The danger of distraction is that it alters our perception of the “big picture.” When we lose perception, we will lose focus. When you lose your focus, you can easily get disconnected from the source. At that point, you will become like a very harmless and laughable Samson.

He said that his perception became altered of what this man was really trying to do to him. As the years passed, Bro. Arnold said that this man became one of his biggest supporters and closest friends. Bro. Arnold said that in later years that this district official told him that there were things that he could not tell him at the time because of his official position. Bro. Arnold again cautioned us to be careful as to how we looked at those who opposed us because it very well could be that they are trying to look out for our better interests and the salvation of our own souls. Bro. Arnold spoke positively of district boards and men who are in places of leadership. This is a little amazing considering that after he preached “Refuge from Despair” at Because of the Times, that he took a very significant flailing from 13 district boards. I am going to use that situation that he told us about for another post. It will be massively encouraging to you to know that every story has two sides.

Despite all of this political opposition, Bro. Arnold was voted in as pastor and he said that his pastoral theology began in earnest. Bro. Arnold said that the never had the opportunity to attend a Bible college or seminary and a lot of his pastoring in those early years was spent begging in one direction and yelling in another direction. He would beg God to show him the way and he would spend the rest of his time yelling at the devil.

He said that the old building was literally in shambles. It seemed like everywhere he turned something was needing repaired, refurbished, or remodeled. It was not long until he discovered that he was going to have to repair a leaking roof. He said that one day he was up on the roof patching the roof and several motorcycles pulled up in the parking lot. He said that they looked like a bunch of washed out hippies full of tattoos and had a regular look of degeneration about them. What he really said was that he thought that the Hell’s Angels had showed up. He said they piled off their bikes and looked up at him and asked him what he was doing. Bro. Arnold said he wanted to ask them back what kind of stupid question that was but he didn’t, he said he just told them that he was the pastor and that the roof was leaking and he was trying to get it fixed so they could have church. He said they just kind of nodded at him and crawled back up on their bikes and roared off.

Bro. Arnold said that he asked the Lord, “You want me to build a church with that sort of folks?” He said the Lord answered him that was exactly what He had in mind. Bro. Arnold said he then told God that He ought to at least send him some folks who could pay their tithes! I don’t recall him saying to us what God said back to him about that.

Bro. Arnold said for the first five years in Gainesville, that every time he turned around he was sending someone to get a bucket so they could cast the devil out of a person in the altars. He said that if he wasn’t literally fighting the devil then he was fighting with people. The first five years liked to have killed him. He said he would preach until his socks would fall down and the people would sit there and watch him. This was terribly frustrating to him.

He talked about having difficult times with musicians who could not get along with each other. He told us about people who would openly oppose him in everything that he tried to do. He told us that outright and obvious immorality by “church” folks was literally flaunted right in his face. They were unrepentant and bold in their opposition of him.

He said that in these early days that one of his closest friends was Patton Williams (who is the current Florida DS). He told us that he would call Bro. Williams on the phone and tell him his woes and church troubles. He said they would sometimes cry together but he said the majority of the times that Bro. Williams had great mirth and enjoyment out of Bro. Arnold’s dilemmas. Bro. Arnold then told us that this was the problem with most of his “friends,” they all seemed to enjoy his dilemmas. I have to confess that while Bro. Arnold was telling all of this, that I and Bro. Sims enjoyed some huge laughs.

He did say that during this time that the district official that he thought had opposed him came to his rescue and was a huge help to him. He said that if anyone was in his corner he knew that this man was. It is important for every young man to have an elder in his life. Elders provide a couple of things for us: Stability and Experience.

Then, Bro. Arnold homed in on the point of all of this little chapter in that three hour time frame. He said that every man has to get his “five year pass.” He said that sometimes the “five year pass” will be variable as far as time is concerned but for him it was five years before things really settled in and he begin to see the progress that he knew that God was trying to accomplish. He told us that if we did not get the five year pass that the test would cycle back around again and each time it came around it would get bigger and more difficult to overcome.

He told us that one of the great difficulties with a lot of modern-day leadership books and seminars is that fail to measure God’s purpose. While they are useful for organizing and perhaps setting goals, he said that basically that all of these tools do is to show you how to build a church without a work of the Spirit. I have to admit that I found myself properly chastised with this. I am firmly coming to believe that organizing, planning, and all that other stuff is a necessity in building a church but at times we are too dependent on these “tools.”

Bro. Arnold did not come out and say what I am about to write, but I did infer this: Far too many pastors/preachers are becoming “bored” with prayer and the ministry of the Word. Bro. Arnold told us that he gets paid to “talk.” He said that he has discovered that when he doesn’t pray and study that his “talks” aren’t real good. He also told us that he has come to understand that there is nothing like a mixture of the Word and Spirit. He said he has watched the Word and Spirit wrestle down some of the devil’s most powerful opposition that presented itself.

He urged us to remember that every man has his “five year pass.” God is looking at what we do with purpose and source in that “five years.”

I will probably spend my next few posts to share with you some of the very helpful things that Bro. Arnold said to us.

1 comment:

TRKelley01 said...

I completely concur with the philosophy of the "five year pass." Unfortunately for us, it's not just a one-time five-year pass, but it is an on-going, periodic five-year pass. You know, I hated the growing pains I experienced as a teenager, and I'm not any more fond of them as a growing Christian. Those I experienced as a teenager enabled me to get beyond midget status. Those I experience in my Christian growth will enable me to become a spiritual giant.

Thanks, and keep up the good work!