Monday, February 28, 2011


I suppose I have broken the first rule of a blogger: I haven't blogged in several days. Oops! I hope you all are still there and will read!

Anyway, I thought I'd take a pause from my Early Days series and share with you something precious to me. Over the past several years, I have been working on a family photo project. I visited relatives. I scanned hundreds of family photos. I got on ebay and bought an old reel-to-reel tape recorder/player to digitize old church and family recordings. Finally, I sat down and assembled a few videos featuring my families' photos and music. The work is not complete. I have enough photos on my dad's side of the family ready to finish a fourth video. I haven't even stared my mothers side. Nor, have I even begun scanning the hundreds, if not thousands, of family photos from my parents. Most of what you are seeing in the compilations are what I have scanned from my aunts and cousins. So, I thought I would pause and share my work on this project with you, today.

There are a zillion things I should be working on. For instance, my masters' thesis. But, I figured out why this was so important to me this week. Today would be my dad's 82nd birthday. So, I suppose that is what boosted this up on the priority list. Volume I starts and ends with a song, "Old Time Memories," I wrote, produced and recorded several years ago in Nashville. And, it contains audio of my parents, aunt and uncle singing. Each volume is just under 15 minutes. So, I hope you enjoy the presentation. 

Gibson/Pruitt Family, Through the Years, Volume I

Gibson/Pruitt Family, Through the Years, Volume II

Gibson/Pruitt Family, Through the Years, Volume III

Gibson/Pruitt Family, Through the Years, Volume IV

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Early Days (Chapter 3)

Jerry, Pam, Mike & Grandparents Rice

I am one of 27 cousins, counting both mom’s and dad’s side of my family. I was probably closest to Pam and Jerry on mom’s side. Pam was three years older than me and Jerry was about seven years older. And, I was probably closest to Karen on dad’s side. Karen is forever the oldest by 28 days! Yeah, I love to say that! 

Karen and Mike

I suppose it was on top of White Oak Mountain that I first experienced exposure to death. My Grandpa Gibson died in 1964, when I was just four years old. He had a condition called black lung and died of a heart attack at the age of 63. At that time, he seemed so old to me. But, I now realize how young he really was when he was taken from us.

I remember going to Tennessee when he died. The funeral home brought grandpa’s body to the house for the wake. They took down grandma’s bed and put grandpa’s casket in its place. Grandma had a walk-through bedroom. One door went into the living room. The other door went into another bedroom. That’s the bedroom I slept in. I was so young and I didn’t really understand everything going on. All I knew was my grandpa was dead. He was in a box they called a casket. And, he was lying just on the other side of the wall of my bed where I was sleeping. That was such a frightening experience for me.

Grandpa's Casket at Home
I remember walking up to the casket with my older cousins. They encouraged me to touch grandpa’s hand. I didn’t want to. But, I did. It was so cold. I’ll never forget that experience. And, until grandma sold the old home place, I could still envision grandpa lying in that casket in her bedroom. Mom and dad did not let me go to grandpa’s funeral. They were afraid it would be too much for me to handle. Isn’t that almost funny? They let me sleep on the other side of the wall where grandpa was lying in state. But, they were afraid the funeral might be too much for me.

Probably the most pleasant memories of my childhood were related to going to church. When I was about a year old, mom and dad started attending Dayton Gospel Temple. The church was located on the corner of Cass and Clay Streets, in Dayton, in the Oregon District. In the early 1960’s, this was still a pretty safe part of town. It was just starting to show the signs of decay that manifested itself in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Of course, now it is a trendy place to live.

Rev. Keith & Betty Hume
Our pastors were Rev. Keith and Betty Hume. Pastor Hume was somewhat short in stature, but tall in spirit and a handsome man. Sister Hume was one of the most beautiful ladies I have ever met. And, at eighty-plus years old, she still is. Sister Hume sang and played the piano and the organ. I was Sister Hume’s number one fan.

Our church was a historic building in a historic part of town. It had the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. It had been built by the German Reformed Church in the 1800’s. The windows looked like very detailed oil paintings. I can remember sitting on those old, beautiful, hand carved pews. I remember the morning sun coming through those gorgeous windows. The eastern windows were scenes of the River of Jordan and the surrounding olive trees. The light was so bright you could hardly look at them.

Window From Gospel Temple / Urban Krag
c. 2009, Patricia D. Ryan
I remember the sounds during Sunday school. The building had three stories. And, it had virtually no individual rooms. It was all open space with portable fabric dividers. You could hear dozens of teachers teaching. All of their voices blended together in one glorious explosion of sound.

I remember the congregational singing. The organ and piano were the only instruments on hand. Sister Hume played the organ and Mother Hume (Pastor Hume’s mother) usually led the singing. I can still hear the echo of all that sound reverberating off those walls. In the background, you could hear the pops and cracks of the old radiator steam heat in the winter.

I can remember walking into church on Sunday morning. Bill Ackerman rang the church bell. It would pull him off of his feet. I also remember leaving church on Sunday evening. I can still see the warm glow of the church lights shining through the stained glass windows as I peered at them from the outside sidewalk.

Temple Trio 1964
Mom, Peggy Ackerman & Betty Hume
Mom used to sing with Sister Hume and Peggy Ackerman in the Temple Trio. Once a week, Peggy would pick mom and I up and we would go to the Hume’s home and they would practice singing. The Hume’s had a daughter, Melody, who was just a couple of years younger than me. Inevitably, Melody would coerce me into going to her room to play with her toys, which mainly consisted of Barbie dolls. That was pure torture for a three or four year old boy. But, Melody turned out to be quite a beautiful young lady. I didn’t mind, so much, spending time with her when I was in my teens. And, through the beauty of Facebook, Melody, as well as many other of my church friends, are still connected. Not only are we connected, Donna has been able to meet most of them and we are all now friends.

Donna, Mike and Melody
During my early childhood, I developed a great love for music and a deep faith in God. That passion has stayed with me my entire life. Thank you for taking the time to read this very special chapter that is dear to my heart in my Early Days series!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Early Days (Chapter 2)

My grandpa was a very loving soul to me. However, he was quite the headstrong man in his early years. Grandpa’s mother died when he was four years old. By the time he was twelve, he was on his own. So, he was a survivor. Grandpa did not know how to read or write. All he could do was sign his name.             

There was a razor strap always hanging in grandma’s and grandpa’s living room. My parents always told me to be good or grandpa would use that razor strap on my behind. The last time grandpa used that strap on my momma was when she was seventeen years old. He caught her kissing her fiancĂ©, Charlie Cannon (her first husband) goodnight at the door. I guess he unmercifully beat her. As I understand it, mom cried all night long.
Grandma was always kind to me. However, I remember one time when we went to visit. My Uncle Arlen (grandma’s youngest) and his children came to the house. I remember how happy she became, how her face lit up, how she caught Arlen’s kids up in her arms and gave them huge hugs and kisses. I could sense that she cared a lot more for them than she did for me. But, to her defense, they lived in the same city and she saw a lot more of them than she ever did me.
Black Oak Cemetery
In this area of the south, honoring the dead and decorating their graves was a very important part of the culture. Every year, we would go to Sparta for “Decoration Day.” This was held in May, but not on Memorial Day. Mom, her sisters and grandma would make paper flowers and we would take them to the cemetery where my aunts and other family members were buried. We would pack a picnic lunch and stay a good portion of the afternoon at the cemetery.
The Rice Sisters
The cemetery was at Black Oak Church of God. That was the church in which mom and her siblings were raised. It was a simple, clapboard building. It had simple pews and an old upright piano. Whenever we would go to the cemetery, my family would invade the empty church building. Someone would bring a guitar. My Aunt Ilene would play that old, out of tune, piano. And they would sing songs like “Echoes from the Burning Bush,” “The Unclouded Day,” “Let Us Have a Little Talk With Jesus,” and the list goes on.
Pam and Mike
When we would go back to my grandparents’ home, the singing would continue. Dad, mom, Aunt Ilene and Uncle Willard would sing for hours. My cousins and I would play around that old coal stove. I was pretty much the youngest. So, my older cousin, Pam, took pride in being able to beat the snot out of me whenever she got the chance. Of course, I NEVER did anything to warrant it. LOL

The Rice Family: Willard Rice, Ilene Rice, Lorene Rice Gibson & Junior Gibson
We would visit my Grandma and Grandpa Rice about every three months. We would visit my Grandma and Grandpa Gibson about once or twice per year. Grandma and Grandpa Gibson lived on top of White Oak Mountain, just outside of Jellico. At one time, grandpa had owned over one hundred acres. By the time I came along, they had sold the farm off except for three acres.
Grandparents Gibson
Getting to my grandparent’s house on White Oak was quite a trek up the mountain. While taking those steep curves, you could almost see the front end of the car meeting the back end of the car. All the while, we passed huge, loaded coal trucks leaving the mines.
Gibson Homestead

Grandma and Grandpa Gibson had what seemed to be a very large house to me back then. Grandpa had built it when dad was around six years old. Upon completion, they moved out of the coal mining camp into their new home. Originally, it was a three-room house. But, grandpa kept adding on to it. By the time I was born, it had a huge kitchen. A basement had been dug. It had central coal heat. It had four bedrooms with a total of five double beds. When the entire family visited, we used every one of those beds. Plus, we used the roll-away beds, the sofa and the sofa sleeper. 
Behind the house set a small block building. That was grandpa’s office. In addition to being an electrician, he owned the mining company. He had a huge building we called the shop. The shop held all of the coal mining cars and equipment. Behind all of these out buildings was grandma’s garden. Behind the garden was the chicken coop. To me, this was a really big chicken coop. It probably measured at least 20 feet by 40 feet. By the time I came along, the chickens were long gone. But, my cousins and I would go back and play in the abandoned building. All the time, we were scared to death that a rattle snake or copperhead may join us.
Cousin and General Store
The house set on a hill across from an old-fashioned general store. You know, just like the one you would see while watching “The Waltons.” Some of my fondest memories were when Grandma Gibson would take me by the hand. We would walk down the hill from the house. She would look both ways to make sure a speeding car or a coal truck wasn’t passing by. Then, we would cross the highway and go to the general store. I remember the store’s owner being so kind to grandma. He would say, “Hello, Ms. Gibson. Who do you have there? Is that Junior’s boy? What can we get for you?” Grandma knew that I loved banana flavored popsicles. So, that is what we would get and go home. She always kept the deepfreeze stocked with banana popsicles.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Early Days (Chapter 1)

I am beginning a new blog series entitled, "The Early Days." This work was originally published in 2006, as a requirement for my undergrad degree at Antioch University McGregor. I am offering this to my readers because I believe in order to understand where we are going, we must understand where we have been. So, if you are a follower, it is my hope that sharing with you my roots will give you some insight as to what has made me the man I am, today.

I am Michael David Gibson. This is the story of my early childhood. It is a discovery of who I was. It is a search for the influences that have made me the man I am today. What influence did my family have on me? What influence did society have on me? What influence did human nature have on me?

A Star is Born! :)

I was born Wednesday, September 30, 1959, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. My parents were Roscoe Gibson, Jr. and Lorene Gibson. I was my father’s first and only child. My mother had another child by a previous marriage: my half-brother and only sibling, Charles Denny Cannon. I lovingly called my big brother “Brother” until I was in my teens and forced myself to break the habit. Funny to reflect, I have never really known what to call him since then: Chuck or Denny. Perhaps he should still be just “Brother.”

Dad and Mom - 1958

As I grew, I realized that my parents were a little older than the parents of most of my friends. Dad was thirty years old when I was born. And, mom was thirty-one. They both had been married before they met. And, they had both been victims of painful divorces.

Mom and dad were born and raised in Appalachia. My dad was born in a coal mining camp in Anthras, Tennessee. Anthras is a small community nestled in the mountains about fourteen miles east of Jellico, near the Tennessee and Kentucky state border. My grandpa Gibson was an electrician in the coal mines. I have heard dad talk about his own work in the coal mines when he was a young man. One day he was in the mine eating lunch. He momentarily got up from the rock upon which he was sitting, leaving his lunch pail behind. And, lo and behold, as soon as he got up, a huge boulder fell from the roof and landed right where he had been sitting. When he turned around and saw his lunch pail crushed under the rock, he left the mines - never to return. On his way out, he met grandpa at the entrance. Grandpa asked him where he was going. Dad said, “I’m leaving and I won’t be back.” Grandpa simply replied, “Good.”

Great Grandparents Daniels

Mom was born and raised in Sparta, Tennessee. Sparta can be found in the Cumberland Mountains Basin. My grandparents, Dillard and Lizzie Ann Rice, were sharecroppers. Mom has shown me several homesteads where they lived and raised tobacco. It is safe to say that mom’s upbringing was of a poorer economy than that of dad’s. To pass the time, she and her siblings learned to play the guitar and sing. The musical influence in their lives came through mom’s maternal grandmother, Grandma Daniels. Grandma Daniels was a circuit music teacher. She traveled to the neighboring communities around Sparta and White County and taught music. Mom always said that Grandma Daniels looked like, acted like and had the same fire as the character “Granny” on the Beverly Hillbillies.

The roots of my Appalachian heritage are strong roots. My earliest memories include being in the back seat of our 1953 Ford traversing winding country roads traveling from Dayton to Tennessee. Those earliest trips in my life were made before the interstate system was complete. A memorable highlight of those long drives was being able to stop and eat at a restaurant chain called Jerry’s. It was very similar to the Big Boy chain. I remember always getting a coloring sheet with crayons while I waited for my food.

Donna, Grandparents Rice & Me

Another fond memory of mine was traveling to my maternal grandparents’ house in Sparta. In their early retirement, Grandma and Grandpa Rice had bought a small house in town. In my earliest memories, they did not have an indoor bathroom. I remember being taken down “the path” to the outhouse. Man, did it ever stink in there! Grandma and grandpa had a five-room house. The only heat in that house in the wintertime was an old coal stove. The living room, where the stove set, got unbelievably hot. Then, you would go to another room and freeze. Whenever I would go to bed at Grandma Rice’s house, I would crawl under a stack of at least five homemade patchwork quilts; along with a cousin, or two.

Sunset Rock, Sparta, TN

I have vivid memories of the visits to Sparta. I can remember driving past Sunset Rock. Sunset Rock is located five miles east of Sparta. The bluff-line stands 75 feet above the highway and on a clear day you can see Sparta nestled in the valley below. Momma told me about being out in an old crank-style pick-up truck with her boyfriend and her little brother, Willard. Unfortunately, they had a minor wreck at Sunset Rock. And for many months after that, mom’s little brother bribed her, threatening to tell grandpa about that accident.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Truth Series - Disclaimer

"The Truth" is a blog series about my 40-year experience of church ministry. I have attempted to be fair, honest and discreet. If you have known me throughout the years, at least in any church capacity, do not make an assumption that you know what denomination, denominational leader, church, pastor, board member, church member or ministry I am discussing on any particular point. No matter how well educated your guess, you will probably not “guess” or “discern” correctly. Quite frankly, it is not anybody’s business “who” did what, when, and to whom.

Next, there are “good” leaders and “not-so-good” leaders. There are “good” churches and “not-so-good” churches. There are “good” people and “not-so-good” people. And, I strongly maintain that there are no absolutes in both the “good” and “not-so-good” categories of anything we are discussing. Everyone I am discussing, including myself, are flawed creatures serving a flawless God in the best way we know possible. I believe most people I have encountered have a true love for God. Through the grace of Christ, I hope maintain a healthy earthly relationship with most and top it all off with an eternity together in Heaven.

Also, I am mature enough to realize that the circumstances I share with you did not occur in a vacuum. There were many dynamics at play. Some things I have experienced I must take complete responsibility for. Others were completely outside of my control. Most experiences more than likely fall somewhere on a sliding scale between the two extremes.

Finally, my purpose in sharing is not to bring discouragement to you in your quest for God, quest for truth and your quest for godly relationships. Keep moving forward. Serve God. Support your church. Support your leaders. Just always proceed as wisely as a serpent and harmless as a dove. Above all else, always guard your heart. With all of that said, I hope you enjoy the series.

The Truth (Chapter 8)

My Conclusion

I have been most impressed by the reception of this series. I am sure there are those who have not appreciated my breaking the "code" of pastoral silence. However, all of the public and private responses have been positive. There are a few other things; actually, a wealth of material I could continue to write on this topic. However, I believe it is time to put it to rest for a season. With that said, let me offer some honest reflection on my history in ministry.

  • I know I am called. Everyone who is a Believer in Christ is called. We are called with, or without, a piece of paper that says we are a "minister." The paper carries an inherent respect of man and allows you the privilege of legally performing marriages. But, it does not make, nor does it break, a calling on anyone's life. By the way, I still have the "paper." 
  • I see my days in vocational ministry ended. By vocational, I mean holding a paid staff or pastoral position. My days as a minister are not ended. For, as long as I belong to Him, that is just the way it is. 
  • I have stopped proclaiming, "I am a Christian!" or, "I am a minister!" I find life just works better without the announcement. Once you proclaim one of those "labels," people expect perfection that will never be found. However, if you just ARE a "Christian," or, a just ARE a "minister," people naturally gravitate toward you, allow you to minister to them, and do not expect perfection. Then, you have a genuine opportunity to lead them to the Savior. I hope you see the difference.
  • Looking back, I see some strategic ministry and professional mis-steps I have made. I would definitely take a few mulligans. But, who wouldn't? And, I have decided not to detail those mis-steps out for you. It would make some feel unloved; like our relationship was not genuine. And, that is just not the case. Even when I have made some possible strategic mistakes in where I have served, God has turned those mistakes into joy by placing people in my life I would not have met, otherwise. So, I do see places in hindsight where I wish I hadn't ended up. But, I also see people shining like jewels in the night whose encounter we shared were not mistakes.
  • There are a few things I wish I could have done better. Regardless of my right, my tiredness or the situation, I wish I had been more patient and gentle with people than I was at times.  I wish I had stood my ground more strongly when it came to matters of principle rather than submitting to the authority of abusers. I wish I could have had more compassion on an individual basis than I displayed, at times. And, I wish I were better at leaving the ninety and nine and going after the one.

As they say, hindsight is twenty/twenty. Even though there are things I wish I could have done better, I did the best I could at the time with what I had to work with. So, I rest in His love, grace and mercy. Some have called me a failure because I "resigned" vocational ministry. I do not see myself as a failure. How can influencing hundreds of lives to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit be failure? How can leading dozens of people to the foot of the cross in salvation be failure? How can laying my hands on the sick and seeing them recover be failure? How can witnessing the joy of joining people together in marriage be failure? How can saying the final words of love and respect over a deceased loved one, bringing comfort and hope to hurting families, be failure? How can holding children in your arms and dedicating them to the Lord be failure? How can starting a work for God, from nothing, be failure? How can taking a broken, hurting congregation and bringing it back to health and stage it to prosper again be failure? No, my friends, those are wondrous, miraculous successes I have been blessed to encounter. And, they are still occurring regardless of my wearing a pastor label, or not.

To be frank, those who call me a failure have fallen off of my "friends" list. I don't need such people in my life. I count it all success. Where I am today, I am because God allowed my path to bring me here. All things have worked together for my good because I love Him and I am called according to His purpose, not theirs. So, be encouraged my friends. Love Him and love people. That is what I have learned it is all about. It is not about "ministries," "buildings," or "programs." In and of themselves, none of those are bad things. But, the most important thing is God and man.

Be blessed!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Truth (Chapter 7)

The Pastor's Spouse

There is nothing more precious to a church than the pastor's spouse ... usually. If you are a member of the congregation, chances are great that they are probably your greatest ally in dealing with the pastor. If you are a staff member, perhaps so, perhaps not. Following are some of the characteristics I have experienced with pastor's spouses. Some pastor's spouses have one of these traits while some have a mix. And, there are those jewels out there who really are as close to perfection as you may think they are. You just really never know until you experience a few situations. And, remember that your pastor, their spouse, their children and their extended family are only human. So, be sure to cover them in prayer when you run across an unhealthy situation. But, here is what you need to be aware of so you can pray and plan your strategy accordingly. Yes, you MUST have a strategy to survive church leadership.

  • The Gossip: Here is a tip. If a pastor's spouse, or anyone else, talks to you about another staff member, a member of the congregation, etc., you can rest assured that they are gossiping about you. If they aren't today, they will be tomorrow.
  • The Good Guy / Bad Guy: This is the spouse that sends you out to do the dirty work for them. If some unpopular decision needs to be carried out, they send a staffer out on the mission. Then, when the staffer has taken the fall for the action, they come behind them playing the good guy and comfort the broken-hearted. All the while, the poor staff member has taken the fall and nobody is aware that the comforter is actually the bad guy.
  • The Jealous One: I have actually seen a church ripped to shreds by a jealous spouse. And, they were so good at deflecting blame I doubt if many, if any, realized they were at the heart of the issue.
  • The Screener: This is the pastor's spouse who insists that staffers bring all questions or concerns to them prior to taking them to the pastor. If they are on your side, then presto, you're in! If they are not on your side, look out. You will probably stand a snowball's chance in "you know where" of accomplishing your mission.

Bottom line, be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. Realize that church work is much more difficult than secular work. This is due to the fact that in addition to dealing with work situations, you are also dealing with hearts and souls. And, most importantly, usually egos the size of Texas. So, tread carefully and prayerfully.

Keep the faith,


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Donna!

On this date, in the year of I'm not sayin', my beautiful wife, Donna, was born. 

Happy birthday, baby! I love you!

The love of my life!

Ta-da! She has arrived!

Donna's dad, Gene, Donna, her Papaw Romie, and sister Kathy

Donna and her step-dad, Vic

The girl I fell in love with!

The girl I married!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Truth (Chapter 6)

Now, Isn't That Special?

I haven't watched a lot of Saturday Night Live through the years. But, I have kept a pulse on it and have my favorite characters. One of which is the Church Lady, portrayed by Dana Carvey. If you don't know by now, the Church Lady exists in every church. I have actually become pretty adept at recognizing her, or sometimes a him, on the spot. In this chapter of "The Truth," I want to just share some highlights of a few of the "special" encounters that I experienced throughout my ministry years.

Church Plants and Leaves
  • In the midst of pioneering our first pastorate, both Donna and I were holding secular jobs in addition to building the church. Additionally, we were caring for Donna's mother who was dying with cancer. During this season, a strapping young and healthy twenty-something-year-old young man who belonged to the church walked up our home's sidewalk and said to me, "Wow, Mike. You need to get out here and clean the leaves out of your gutters."

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire
  • Speaking of church ladies, they usually tend to be the gossips. One Sunday afternoon, after I had preached a sermon about gossip and how damaging it was to the church, I received a visit from a church lady. During a two-hour not-so-pleasant session, at one point she looked at me with a glowing detest in her eyes and said, "When you were preaching, I was so mad at you I could have doused you in gasoline and set you on fire!"

Church Politics and Prayer
  • We traveled thousands of miles and attended an annual convention of the denomination of which we were a member. The denomination had pre-made signs of the cities where they were raising church plants. During the capstone service, they called the church planting pastors up to raise the sign representing their city. The other pastors were called upon to lay hands on the pastors and pray for the church planters, their churches and their cities. Out of thousands in attendance, Donna and I stood alone holding the Dayton, OH sign. Not one pastor prayed for us. We obviously weren't "connected" enough in the political spectrum to warrant their prayers.

Church and Shotguns
  • One Sunday, my elderly father had forgotten his Bible in the car. He went out to get it and a first-time guest was in the parking lot. He looked at them and told them, "I forgot my shotgun. I just came out to get it." Of course, he was referring to his Bible. But, it nearly scared the first-time guest away before they even made it into the building.

Under the Table
  • A faithful member and volunteer in the church approached me asking to be put on the church payroll. The only condition was that we could not pay him, directly. It would have to be reported under his wife's social security number so he would not lose his SSI.

He Was a Great Man, But...
  • My mom passed away a year after we planted our first pastorate. My dad, God love him, was a great supporter of the church. However, he could not bear the thought of living alone and was constantly looking for a wife. What better place to meet a woman than in church? Dad would date ladies both inside and outside of the congregation. Sometimes dad might have two or three women he was dating at the same time, in the same service. It was very interesting watching which one he would actually sit with. Damage controlling dad's dating within the congregation was sometimes overwhelming. At his wake, a church member looked down in his casket and very lovingly and respectfully said, "He was a great man. But, he sure loved his women." We couldn't help but share a chuckle.

Beer or Cigarettes, Anyone?
  • Our first meeting location for our church plant was in the Berry Rooms at the Ervin J. Nutter Center, a major sports arena in Dayton. One Saturday evening there had been a major rock concert in the arena. The next morning, we had church. The arena staff hadn't had much, of any sleep and had not had time to clean the parking lot. So, there were beer cans and cigarette butts all over the place outside. A fellow minister friend came to "support" us and visit service. Much to my disappointment, they called the arena office on Monday morning and vehemently complained that they had to walk over beer cans and cigarette butts to get to service and how unacceptable it was. Our very pleasant relationship with the Nutter Center was negatively impacted because of this attitude and phone call. We soon had to find a new place to host our worship services.

Five Most Dreaded Words
  • The five most dreaded words I ever heard in ministry were, "Pastor, let's go to lunch." That usually meant a complaint session over something I had preached, how I preached, what I should have preached, something I had done, something I hadn't done, or something I should be doing. Hey, at least they usually picked up the tab.

Support Me, I'm a Missionary
  • In the early days of my last pastorate, I was sitting in the office and glanced out the window. A shiny new Cadillac was pulling up to the door. A sharply dressed gentleman comes in and introduces himself as a missionary. He is at home raising funds for his mission. We share a nice conversation. That evening, Donna and I go out to eat at Olive Garden. The same missionary is in line and we asked him to join us. During the dinner, he shared that when he returned to the mission field, he was taking six months to a year off from ministry to build his family a new home. I certainly don't mind a missionary having a nice home. But, it must be nice to have the income and funds available to take a year off of work and end up with a new home.

Hello, I'm Elvis Presley
  • We were having a lot of sound system issues and were really working hard on resolving them. My sound techs had isolated what they believed was the problem. They believed it was the microphone the worship leader was using. So, they proceeded to replace the microphone. Well, this was a retro Shure mic like Elvis used in the 1950's. The worship leader's attitude was, more or less, "If you take my Elvis mic, me and the band are taking our toys and going home."

Those were just some of the ministry highlights. Believe me, there are many more stories that could be told. So, just in case you don't know who the Church Lady is, I've inserted a recent clip from Saturday Night Live for you to become educated. Please note, it may be offensive to some...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Truth (Chapter 5)

Mikey, the Television Star

Now that you have had a good laugh, the title isn’t too far off. During the 1980’s, I served as Music Minister at a large independent Pentecostal church that had a syndicated television and radio broadcast. The telecast was broadcasted several times during the week in the city where we lived. As well, it was broadcasted throughout the southeastern United States. It was rather humorous, at times. I would be walking down the street, through the mall, or at the grocery store and be noticed. People would stop me in the mall and ask, “Hey, haven’t I seen you on television?”  The biggest kick out of this I received was running into Southern Gospel music’s Kirk Talley in the mall. Right away, he knew who I was. This was also during the years that the University of Tennessee produced pro athletes like Willie Gault and Reggie White who also attended our church. I actually got to know these guys, produce and perform the music for both of their weddings.

From a ministry perspective, I learned a lot during this season. The pastor and his wife were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the exemplification of superior pastoral care. I could only hope for, and never achieved, to perform at the level they consistently practiced in this area. Two of the most gracious individuals God ever put into my life. With that said, the years in this ministry were, “the best of times and the worst of times.” When I was asked to join the church/school staff, the pastor had asked me what kind of salary I would require. I put the needs of the church ahead the needs of my family and seriously undercut my salary. I, very naively, thought he would see how ridiculously low I set the mark and raise it. But, he was as shrewd of a business man as he was good at pastoral care. I was locked-in. To add insult to financial misery, my annual increases were only $5 per week for the years I served on fulltime staff. I was basically on-call, 24/7, for anything requiring music. However, if I had to miss office hours for a doctor’s appointment, or a sick day, I was docked. My portfolio consisted of teaching junior high and high school curriculum and music classes (grades K5-12) in a Christian school; I researched, developed and taught intro to computer classes; I prepared and presented two major all school musical/dramatic programs (grades K2-12) per school year; I arranged, produced, conducted and performed live musical arrangements for three distinct services per week, including the telecast/broadcast for live worship, soloists, groups and choir; I accompanied the pastor across the country on evangelistic crusades (I did get additional gratuities for this); I taught approximately 20 children piano per week; I was available for numerous revivals and rallies; and, I provided live music for weddings and funerals. All of this was done for a tidy sum of $12,500 per year. If you adjust that for inflation, it would be about $23,000 in today’s dollars.

Another interesting dynamic was my relationship with the rest of the staff. The ministries of the church included church staff, daycare staff, school staff, office staff, custodial staff and pastoral staff. In pay and responsibility, I was more than just a teacher. Believe it or not, they earned about half of what I earned But, I was less than a pastor. As a result, in many scenarios, I did not fit with either. There are many, many, many stories I could share about these years. Some would be positive. Some would be negative. For the purpose of this blog, we will leave it there for now. I will say that during these years, I was still young, impressionable and downright stupid. I consistently put the needs of the church over the needs of my family. After seven years, we left town and returned to Dayton with our marriage and finances damaged nearly beyond repair. It took several years and a combination of counseling, little to no church involvement and a return to the church where I grew up that we received the love, healing and restoration we needed to be restored into church ministry.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Truth (Chapter 4)

Denominational Demons - Part Two

Suggested pre-reading, "The Truth (Chapter 3),"“Denominational Demons - Part One.”

I assumed a terribly hurting congregation in our last pastorate. Due to the fragile financial state of the church, I voluntarily took several pay cuts so the church could continue to keep its doors open and pay its bills. As a result, I had to secure outside employment to minimize the negative impact the low salary was making to our personal budget. My job search took me to an employment agency that placed me in a contract position. Going into the job, the recruiter warned me that I was entering a hostile work environment. Man, was she right! Long story short, despite an offer to renew my contract at the end with a 20% raise, I decided not to continue with the renewal.

As it turned out, one of the recruiters of the employment agency was a friend of my denominational district official. After my refusal to renew the contract, my very positive relationship with the district official deteriorated nearly overnight. After several weeks, the truth was revealed. In a very heated, closed door discussion, the district official accused me of being fired and lying about it. He directed me back to his friend to work the situation out. In no uncertain terms, I responded that was no longer an option. Not only had I been slandered, his friend had broken the basics of employment law by discussing my employment relationship, period. The official begged me to keep him out of whatever I chose to do. To which I replied, "I cannot promise you that. You are the one who put yourself into it."

I had no choice but to go to the employment agency to ensure my employment record was accurate. Of course, it accurately confirmed my story. The company graciously issued a letter of memorandum to my defense which I forwarded to the district official. I was totally exonerated. And, the blabbing recruiter found himself unemployed. However, that was the end of that once very cordial relationship.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Truth (Chapter 3)

Denominational Demons – Part One

Suggested pre-reading, "The Truth (Chapter 2)," "Early Lessons"

Before you get all bent-out-of-shape about the title of this segment, let me clarify that I am not calling any particular denomination, or leader, a demon. Now, let’s move onto our story. 

Donna and I had pioneered a church. Please note, we did not “plant” a church. The difference is a church plant is supported by a mothering church or organization. We “pioneered” a church into existence from nothing. Several months after we started the church, a denomination approached us about joining them. After evaluating the situation, we did. In this denomination’s by-laws, it specifically stated that whenever one of their churches was closed within a city, all proceeds from the liquidation of the assets must be held in escrow to be used in the future by a new congregation within the same city. Several years before we joined this denomination, they had closed a church in our city and liquidated its assets. We were told there was approximately $250K available when we were ready to purchase a facility. Once the church had grown to a state that a permanent facility was feasible, I approached the district leadership of the denomination about securing the designated funds. The response I received read something to the effect of, “Pastor Gibson, we have reviewed your request for the escrowed funds for the Dayton community. Our committee has met and, to be quite frank, releasing those funds to a church plant would be like turning a child lose in a candy store. We are not approving your funding request.”

Subsequently, the denomination amended their by-laws and reapportioned all of the designated city escrowed funds to other agendas. I later found out that the funding designated for Dayton actually went to a northern Ohio ministry entitled, “The Mentoring Mansion.” To add insult to injury, I met a pastor who had successfully secured the funds which had been held in escrow for his community and had built his new congregation a brand new building. I congratulated him on his accomplishment and explained the dilemma we had experienced. He, more or less, called me a liar and stated that the by-laws demanded the escrow funds be used in their designated city and the denomination followed its by-laws. As you can imagine, we never became “buds.” To wrap a nice bow around this situation, I did contact the denomination’s headquarters about what we had experienced. I received a, “Sorry, but we can’t help you, the money is gone,” letter along with a check for $15K to “invest” into our ministry.

As if the aforementioned money issue weren’t aggravating, illegal and unethical enough, worse things happened with this movement. Donna and I co-pastored in our ministry. One particular day, I had to go to my vocational job when our district leader was scheduled to visit the church. Donna was available and he was made aware that she, not I, would be meeting with him. In the middle of a discussion in the parking lot, he basically told Donna to shut-up. That obviously didn’t work, so, this 6’4” tall man physically put his arms tightly around my 5’ 2” wife, pulled her into his embrace and told her to be quiet. Fortunately, an airman pulled into the parking lot at just the right minute. All of a sudden, the district official let her go, got into his car and left. The airman asked Donna, “Are you ok?” She replied she would be fine. Then he asked, “Who was that a**hole?” When we reported this incident to the district office and requested their assistance in resolving it, we were told, “The Bible says to go to the one who offends you, first. You go back to this gentleman and try to work it out before involving us. It is only fair to him.” So, in other words, this “man” physically abuses my wife and the “spiritual authorities” instructed her to go back to confront her abuser, all under the cloak of “Scripture.” Sorry, it just doesn’t “compute” in my brain.

Please stay tuned for the next blog in the series, “Denominational Demons-Part Two.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Truth (Chapter 2)

Early Lessons

Suggested pre-reading, “Tender Beginnings, (Chapter 1).”

In my previous post, I explained my road into full-time vocational ministry. In this post, I am going to delve deeper into areas I have never completely divulged. I want to preface what I am preparing to share with a few disclaimers. First, if you have known me throughout the years, at least in any church capacity, do not make an assumption that you know what denomination, denominational leader, church, pastor, board member, church member or ministry I am discussing on any particular point. No matter how well educated your guess, you will probably not “guess” or “discern” correctly. Quite frankly, it is not anybody’s business “who” did what, when, and to whom.

Next, there are “good” leaders and “not-so-good” leaders. There are “good” churches and “not-so-good” churches. There are “good” people and “not-so-good” people. And, I strongly maintain that there are no absolutes in both the “good” and “not-so-good” categories of anything we are discussing. Everyone I am discussing, including myself, are flawed creatures serving a flawless God in the best way we know possible. I believe most people I have encountered have a true love for God. Through the grace of Christ, I hope maintain a healthy earthly relationship with most and top it all off with an eternity together in Heaven.

Also, I am mature enough to realize that the circumstances I share with you did not occur in a vacuum. There were many dynamics at play. Some things I have experienced I must take complete responsibility for. Others were completely outside of my control. Most experiences more than likely fall somewhere on a sliding scale between the two extremes.

Finally, my purpose in sharing is not to bring discouragement to you in your quest for God, quest for truth and your quest for godly relationships. Keep moving forward. Serve God. Support your church. Support your leaders. Just always proceed as wisely as a serpent and harmless as a dove. Above all else, always guard your heart. With all of that said, let’s get down to business.

Probably the first rude awakening in my walk into ministry was the realization that church leaders are not perfect. Yes, common sense says they are not perfect. I know I am not perfect. But, I never dreamed how imperfect people whom we place on pedestals could be. I am not speaking in absolutes; there are exceptions to every rule. However, contemporary churches are businesses. As such, church administration involves financial management, marketing, people management, etc. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that pastors are always looking out for your best interest. Nor, expect every decision to be made upon principle. With the structure of the modern assembly, pastors have to look out for the good of the whole. Just realize that might mean that you will probably get hosed somewhere in the process.

I learned this lesson when I was a lad developing my talents. When I started playing the organ in church, the church literally put a keyed lock on the outlet powering the instrument and did not give me access to the key. When my father consulted with the pastor about utilizing me more in service he was told something to the effect of, “I’m sorry Brother Gibson, I cannot do that. The church organist is in a prominent family of five tithers. You are only one tither. I cannot afford to offend them in this matter.” I learned a valuable lesson on principle, or lack thereof, very early on.

Later in my staff experiences I noticed this same trend. Most pastors proudly state that they do not know how much people contribute to the ministry. Do not be deceived. Most pastors keep a pulse on this. To be good leaders, they really have to. There are very subtle cues they receive to know who are heavy givers and those who are not. For instance, I learned through one experience that when I was told, “The Smith family is faithful,” that meant do not honk them off, they are big givers. And, if I honked them off, regardless if I were right, or wrong, I would have to do basically whatever it took to make them happy and keep them in the congregation, even if it were to the detriment of my personal convictions.

Wow, another blog complete and I haven’t left the early wounds which occurred when I was just a child. Please stay tuned for the next blog in the series, “Denominational Demons-Part One.”