I’ve been a pastor since 1990. I don’t think I’m a very good pastor. But even though I’ve tendered my resignation to the Lord many times, He has always declined to accept my resignation.
My first church was a disaster. It had had eight pastor changes in the fifteen years of its existence and the people had formed camps. I took the church blissfully ignorant that less than a majority of the voting members had voted me in. I was eventually told that of the nineteen voting members, I received eight votes, another guy received seven votes and the remainder went to a man in the church who threw his own name in.
I had never been a pastor or been on staff anywhere. I became a pastor fresh out of Bible school without any mentoring.
I was a terrible pastor. I did manage to grow the church at first. Well, it wasn’t really growth because all I was doing was drawing a crowd. Crowds are fickle. It take a lot more than a crowd to make a church.
We went from nineteen to over a hundred in attendance when the wheels came off my little red wagon. In the church fight that followed, we lost the worship team and almost everyone who didn’t vote for me the first time out. I lay on my couch bawling my eyes out before God and His Spirit visited me and comforted me. It was my own Gethsemane.
I felt God speak to me and tell me to stand in the gap. I stayed. I went back to work with my dad doing contracting jobs and used my income to keep the church going.
We used CDs for our worship service and I would preach to a dwindling and discouraged few. In the same period my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we lost a baby, and my father-in-law’s house burned to the ground. I stopped taking a salary due to the loss of income and have never drawn a salary in the twenty years since.
I have since concluded that I had allowed myself to become isolated and cutoff from the Body of Christ. Jesus commanded that we go out two by two. Going it alone is a recipe for destruction.
1 Peter 5:8
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. NKJV
Satan cut me off from my support and then tried to eat me. By the grace of God, I survived but I was never the same. For a very long time afterwards, I was spiritually sick. That began to change a few years later when my father died and we closed down the family business. I took a job editing books for a publishing house that was attached to a Bible school. The Word and the fellowship began to heal me.
Then, in 1998, I took a job as chief clerk of the probate court in my county. A few months later, the judge retired and I was appointed to finish his term. I spent the next ten years serving as both a pastor and a judge.
I remember how very tired I was when God put it in my heart to start a church in Cusseta. He wouldn’t let go. He wouldn’t relent. Finally, I agreed. We began a Bible study in a little rental house my wife and I had just bought in 2000.
Being a judge meant I couldn’t even take up an offering without violating the rules of judicial conduct. It severely limited my freedom to be a pastor but I continued to preach. We had a very successful outreach in Cusseta called “Adopt-a-block” and the church in Fort Mitchell was actually showing signs of beginning to grow.
As I considered the church I realized it was time for me to leave. The church was ready to grow and I was too worn out to take it where it needed to go. In 2002, after twelve years, I resigned the church in Fort Mitchell. It has grown wonderfully since and I’m so pleased.
The little house the church in Cusseta was meeting in was way too small. We had 24 chairs which we eventually reduced to 18 because everyone was on top of each other. We always had lots of children in the church and so even though we often had over forty people show up the offerings were never enough to do anything serious with. Without a larger building we always lost the growth.
In 2008, I lost my re-election bid. I started a consulting business that went on for only a couple of years. The economy took a hit and so did I.
In 2010, I shut down the business and decided it was time to focus on the church and build it. I’m not a fast mover though. I took a job in construction and between the hours and being out of town an awful lot, I couldn’t do much. I was laid off in January (thankfully!) and so only in the last six months have I finally been able to focus on the church.
I thought I would start this blog as a means to chronicle what happens from here. So this is where I am now:
I have 20 adults who regularly attend. We are not much larger than we were when we met in the little house. I have a worship team and between them and the rent and utilities, all of our income is used up.
If something were to happen to me right now, the church would fold. That is of course unacceptable. No church should ever be dependent on any single person. I do most everything. I mow the grass, clean the toilets, preach the messages, take up the offerings and pay the bills for the church.
I actually do not have a church. It is a mission. A church could support a pastor. What I have is a building and a small crowd. It is almost as if I am starting a church today from scratch in a rented building.
What is different from before? I have a plan.
I am going to share the plan and the results here. Perhaps others can learn something from me. There are a lot of bivocational ministers in small churches and in small towns like Cusseta. Our town has a thousand households and doesn’t have a single full-time minister. That could be a depressing statistic but it is in just such a place that I believe God calls on us to reject what doesn’t work and find another way.
In the end, the television preachers aren’t responsible for reaching my community with the Gospel—I am. God will hold me accountable.
I am determined to find a way.
Years ago, when I would drive home from Tulsa, I would pass this massive church in the middle of nowhere in a rural county in Alabama. I stopped many times at this church and often wondered how the man of God had built such a big church in such a small place. That church still inspires me. There is a way. I just have to find it.
I title this blog “Free Preacher” because I don’t preach for a paycheck. I work and labor because I love God and His people. I also chose the blog title because I believe that if I do this right, it will liberate the pastor as well.
Ken Van Horn
This article is an introduction to the writer of the Blog.