Along with many pastors in 1994, I watched with great curiosity as pastor and author Chuck Swindoll left First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California, after 22 years to become a seminary president. Pastor Chuck's books and broadcasts had provided "insight for living" for my life and "input for preaching" for my sermons. He was then, and remains today, one of my personal heroes and role models for effective, relevant teaching.
Six months later, over lunch with fellow pastors, the discussion turned to the search for his replacement. One pastor spoke for the group: "What idiot would follow Chuck Swindoll?" I shook my head in silent agreement: "Not me." I wasn't looking to make a move, especially to the role of sacrificial lamb!
Fast forward one year to Sunday morning, December 10, 1995. I sat anxiously holding the hand of my wife, Becky, on the front pew of the 5,000-member Fullerton church. I listened as Chuck Swindoll and my mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, challenged the church and me at my installation service. For a moment my mind flashed back to that lunch: "Now I know who the idiot is!" But God had clearly led, and when God leads, it is always best to follow. I had frequently taught my churches that you are safer out on a limb with God than you are seated comfortably under the tree without him.
Welcome to the outer limb.
Blessed by a healthy church
This December I will celebrate my tenth anniversary as the senior pastor in Fullerton. To the surprise of many, I have survived. The church has grown, and we are joyfully tackling the challenges of being a church in the 21st century. Why has it gone so well? A main reason is that First Free Church was and continues to be today a healthy church.
We may not be the model for ...