Pastoring Jesus People

 Chapter 43

The Church of the Open Door’s composition varied, but a substantial part of the membership was in the range of twenty to thirty-something with not much on either side of that. Coming on the heels of the free love counterculture, one could only expect that the Church of the Open Door would be impacted by the sex, drugs, and rock and roll mentality. Within a relatively short time, however, ordinary middle class folks filtered in. After all, we were the edgy, Spirit-filled, controversial new church with a band and everything.

There were a number of pastors leading the church, even some with a seminary education, such as Mike Riley, Roger Hoffman, Jim Smith, and others. (I was the only one who had been a pastor, but I was far from knowing what I was doing.) Beyond them were many more we considered to be “elders,” who were responsible for various aspects of the activities. Our monthly leadership meetings grew so large we had to rent banquet rooms in large restaurants to accommodate everyone.

It was a complicated operation. There were the Christian houses, the bookstores, the Bible studies in the schools, the Tuesday night Bible studies, the Sunday evening “body life” meetings, the evangelism efforts, and pastoral care. Throughout the seventies I kept up a regular schedule for the Marin Christian Counseling Center. In addition, Love in Action, the ex-gay ministry, was going gangbusters. 

After the Novato, San Francisco, Petaluma, and Pt. Reyes churches began, there were even more demands on my time. Each church had its problems, normal problems for sure, but they were time consuming and stressful. Our churches were developing their own particular styles of worship, traditions, and ministries. The leadership was 146 

largely theologically untrained, and none of them had much exposure to a congregation that was charismatic in orientation. 

My pastoring skills were minimal, and I left that important work of visiting the sick, checking in with congregants, and lending an ear and a hand into their lives to the Christian house leaders, the Tuesday night Bible study teachers, and the Sunday evening Body Life leaders. My job, as I saw it, was to be a teacher of the Bible and a preacher of the Gospel. My organizational ability was marginal but passable. I spent most of my time studying, writing (during the seventies I wrote fifteen books, only five of which were published), and counseling. It was clear to everyone that I depended on others to do the bulk of the pastoral ministry. 

The Shepherding Movement, as I explained in detail in the previous chapter, posed the greatest difficulty I experienced in the 1970s. At first I was on board, an ardent fan, but as time wore on I saw the downsides of it and began to pull away. Most of the other leaders in our little church planting enterprise differed from me, and a tension developed that separated us. These differences meant that I became isolated from the kind of fellowship I needed. 

Fast Forward to the Present 

Now several decades removed, I must admit that the events of those days still cross my mind. The relationships with the other pastors and elders were mostly never mended, except in a superficial manner. By way of compensation or distraction, I decided to pursue a doctoral program at a Presbyterian seminary and thus began to distance myself from those who were connected with Golden Gate Seminary and the leaders of the churches of the Open Door. I did this deliberately, but the pain never went away, although it is now little more than an unpleasant memory. 

Surprisingly, now that these memoirs are being prepared and I have had reason to contact many of the old gang, relationships are being restored. Frankly, I would never have attempted any book about the JPM if it had not been for Katie. For years she has been after me to get my story out, and only last year did I agree to it. And I have to admit it has been painful; going over that history and the good and the bad of it has at times gotten to me emotionally. Nearing the end of the process now, I am glad it is all happening. Before me is the hope that what is presented here will help others in coming years to understand the light and dark sides of awakenings and revivals. 

One thing more seems to fit into this chapter and that has to do with the counsel Moishe Rosen had given me during the early years of the JPM. He advocated my pursuing higher academic degrees with a view to being a teacher in a Bible college or seminary. He also warned against beginning a church, thinking that would be a distraction from the kinds of ministry we were engaged in, ministries that were obviously bearing much fruit. Rosen’s vision was for a para-church ministry that focused on evangelism. And this vision was, of course, realized in Jews for Jesus. Moishe never intended to found a church. He felt that people who were reached through Jews for Jesus would find their way into churches as a matter of course. 

I did not necessarily ignore his counsel; it simply did not work out that way. To a considerable degree, after going through all that I have, I wish I could have been able to abide by it. Now, however, I’m ambivalent, because I still pastor a church and enjoy the work. Along with having the opportunity to preach and teach, I also get to do the writing I love so much. Perhaps it is that Miller Avenue Baptist Church is an anomaly and is far less stressful and disappointing than the years of Church of the Open Door in San Rafael. I may make some folks unhappy with what I have just written, but this is the truth.

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