- 1999 11 Nov
"I brought you in here to tell you that you are not turning out to be a good youth pastor, and that from this point on it's either shape up or ship out," Pastor Roger told me.
I remember the exact words clearly. I was 21 years old. Cindy had given birth to our first son, Joel. Roger Houtsma was the senior pastor at Trinity Church in Sacramento where I had been the youth pastor . . . at least until now. Cindy and I had moved out of our house ministry, away from our families, and we were striking out on our own. This was our first step towards establishing our own lives, and my presence in the ministry. We were living in a house owned by the church. We were trying our best to do the Lord's will; but apparently I hadn't been cutting the mustard as youth pastor. The exuberant and whirlwind-like quality of the Lord's work had been replaced by drudgery. Pastor Roger was a man I greatly respected, and he understood the situation me and my family were in, both spiritually and financially. I sat there in his office-the virtual holy of holies-and listened. That was all I could do, even though my mind was already frantically trying to find other alternatives for keeping my family alive and healthy.
"That's what I called you in here to tell you," he repeated. "But as I was praying about it the Lord spoke to me and said, 'I haven't put it in Bob's heart to be a youth pastor.'"
That was certainly true. From the start I had resisted many of the duties of youth pastoring, especially "following up" which required me to visit junior highers in their homes in order to attract them to our Sunday meetings. I found this aspect of the job demeaning because the young kids more often than not continued to watch television as I talked to them. When the stack of cards bearing names and addresses of youths I needed to visit landed on my desk each week, I groaned inwardly-and probably outwardly as well.
As Roger said these words I found myself nodding in agreement. The Lord hadn't put youth pastoring in my heart to do, and hearing someone I admired say the same thing was a relief.
But what he said next overwhelmed me in a way that I will never forget.
"Bob," he said. "If you could do anything you wanted-anything at all-what would you do?"
It was one of those questions that lifted me out of my day-to-day thoughts into a timeless state of contemplation about my life's purpose. It sank like a stone into the bottom of my heart. What did I want to do? Me-Bob Kilpatrick. What was it that I was created for? What was God's purpose for my life? I had assumed up until then that I was supposed to keep spreading the gospel as I had been before, in the energetic but haphazard way. It had never crossed my mind that some day I would have to actually plan out what I would do, or settle on a specific career. The idea of a career was anathema to me, because it connoted all of the things I didn't want: A colorless job in some boring institution, and a life void of all excitement, full of conformity and stasis.
For five more minutes or so Roger and I carried on conversation, but I was spinning inside, trying to come up with an answer. It wasn't an occasion where I could say something dismissive or glib or whimsical. And I couldn't just say I would rely on where the wind blew me next, even though that had been the character of my entire life up until that point. I now had a family to take care of. And they needed to take priority over my taste for adventure. I realized that this was a very important question that needed a serious answer-an answer that would help me to understand what God wanted from this enthusiastic but undirected young man. Finally, minutes later, I felt that I could give Roger an honest response.
"I think I know the answer to your question," I told him. "If I could do whatever I wanted, I would write songs about Jesus and sing them to people."
I sat there, relieved that I had arrived at an answer, but also astonished at my own certainty.
"Well, maybe that's what God has for you," Roger told me.
I left that office in hope. For three days afterwards I fasted and prayed about the direction of my life. I discussed it with Cindy. But nothing was magically revealed to me then that hadn't already been revealed to me at the moment in Roger's office when God forced me to look inward. I knew that my answer to Roger's question had been right. When I had spoken those words they seemed to resonate to the very center of the universe, and everything around me said, "Yes. That is what you were made for." It had what J.B. Phillips calls the ring of truth.
So I set out to be in the music ministry. I knew how to play the guitar and had already written several songs. I had played with groups on college campuses and in coffee houses, and performed alone, though all of this was for the benefit of the audience and I had never made money at it.
I thought about my approach and worked out a game plan. I wanted to perform for church congregations (or any group that would listen) and tell them the good news about Jesus Christ. I figured I would sing songs and accompany myself on the guitar, and then speak in between songs.
Despite my confidence, striking off in this new direction initially filled me with humility, despair and doubt as to whether I had misinterpreted the will of God. I tended to be somewhat mystical or "super-spiritual" in my reading of the Bible as a young man. When thinking of how to start my burgeoning music ministry I referred specifically to the passage in the Bible that says that promotion comes not from the east or the west, but from the Lord. From this passage I gathered that I was not supposed to do anything at all to advance myself and my career; rather, I should allow the Holy Spirit to work for me, spurring pastors to spontaneously request my ministry. Maybe God would supernaturally plant my name in their heads while they were praying. A name they had probably never heard of!
At the time, this seemed like the appropriately humble thing to do. After all, I was not in the business to promote myself; I was in it to sing about Jesus. As a result of this sort of planning, the extent of my advertising amounted to four letters written (on unevenly-cut construction paper) to area churches quietly letting them know that I was available for ministry.
Anyone with good business sense knows already what I found out several months later: it didn't work. My super-spiritual ideas stood in the way of my being a willing participant in God's plan for me. I expected God to personally intervene in some miraculous way every time I needed a gig. This super-spiritualism was part and parcel of the times we were living in, and characterized the spiritual environment I had been a part of. Nevertheless, I began to realize that I was burying my talent instead of actively putting it to use.
On top of that, my family was starving. I remember one day in particular when my wife Cindy and I were digging in the couch cushions trying to scrape up 21 cents so we could get our son Joel a hamburger at McDonald's. Cindy and I were subsisting on lentils flavored with a ham bone from which we had already eaten all of the ham. It was at this point that I knew that I had to overcome my pride and start providing for my family in any way I could. Up until then I had harbored the mystical (and also proud) notion that being in the ministry exempted me from normal labor-especially manual labor. I felt blessed above common workers because of my "calling."
Very soon the practical realities caught up with me. It became more and more humiliating to me that I wasn't providing for Cindy and Joel. Finally, I knew I had to reverse the flow of income in any way that I could, even if it meant taking a job that wasn't in the music ministry. With this attitude I went to a Full Gospel Businessmen's meeting in Sacramento hoping to talk with someone about employment. I sat across from a man named Bob Woods who owned a tire shop. After the meeting was over, and I was feeling a great deal of humility, I knew I had to say something to him.
"Bob," I said to him, swallowing the remains of my pride, "I need a job. I don't have any money, and I have a wife and a child to take care of."
He nodded understandingly and without hesitation said, "I happen to be closing down one warehouse and I need a lot of tires moved to a different warehouse. I'll let you do that for me."
I was so thankful for this gracious gesture that I left the meeting all smiles. I went home and told Cindy and we were both thrilled that the direction of our personal money would now be towards us instead of away from us and directly into the hands of landlords and utility companies. It seemed that at the moment I had humbled myself that the Lord rewarded us.
But the Lord also had different things in mind for Cindy and me. Whenever I have doubted my calling into music, the Lord has provided confirmation for me at crucial moments. One of those times was the day after Bob Woods offered me the job at his tire warehouse. I got a call that day from Pastor Earl Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California, a small city 150 miles north of Sacramento.
"Hello, Bob," Earl said to me in his wonderfully mellifluous and deep voice. "I'd like to know if you're interested in being the music pastor here at Bethel Church."
I could not believe that I was being offered a paying position as a music pastor. I quickly agreed to take the job. When Cindy and I found out that it paid $500 a month plus a $50 car allowance we felt like our ship had come in. I remember thinking that we could not possibly spend such a large amount of money, and there was some serious dinnertime discussion of what we would do with the excess.
Bob Woods, far from being disappointed that I could not take his job, was happy for us. His offer had been an act of grace, not of economic need. But the lesson had been invaluable. I had learned that pride in the presence of God will get you nowhere. He wants a willing servant; one who will serve Him in whatever capacity is necessary at the time. At that time it was necessary for me to take on the role of a responsible father, even though this meant that I had to give up the idea that I should only work in the direct ministry. I had become jealous of my own talents, but once I surrendered them to God, he joyfully gave them back to me in an abundance I never could have expected.
Cindy and I moved to Redding, driving our small Datsun car up Interstate 5 with little Joel in the front seat and everything we owned in the back. We felt like this was our introduction to a legitimate and respectable place in the ministry. My confidence was at a high level, and I pictured myself happily providing for the family in my new job with the enormous salary. But, as usual, God had different things in mind. And he knew the desires of my heart better than I did.
You can reach Bob at 916.961.1022 or PO Box 2383, Fair Oaks, CA 95628; firstname.lastname@example.org.