Where have you been? Some have been asking me this question. On March 13, my best friend in ministry died. Dr. Jerry McKinney was more than a friend. He was a pastor who grasped the significance of the missional church and had become the most encouraging supporter of our work through Missional Church Center. Further, Jerry was old enough and wise enough to have become a father figure to me. When we visited, whether in person or more frequently by phone, our conversations were lengthy, deep, and transparent.
Jerry was an avid reader; in fact we became acquainted after he had read and resonated with the content of Shaped by God’s Heart: the Passion and Practices of Missional Churches. From the pastor’s study at Putnam City Baptist Church he called me to enquire about meeting. I will never forget the morning he drove from Oklahoma City to meet me at my Dallas office. I knew shortly after we met that I was in the presence of a critical thinker whose greatest hunger was to know God intimately and lead disciples to follow Him faithfully.
It was my privilege to share the message at Jerry’s memorial service there in the sanctuary where he had stood to teach God’s message. Only two months before, on January 21, Jerry had invited a group of men together to consider the development of an Advisory and Support team for our Missional Church Center ministry. It was in Jerry’s words, “to help take the ministry to the next level.”
I never saw him again after that meeting. My schedule carried me over the next six weeks to various states. I did not know that his cancer, multiple-myeloma, had grown resistant to the experimental medications that had worked to abate symptoms and spread of the horrible disease. Then, he was hospitalized and not able to have visitors. His family created a blog so that those who loved Jerry and the family could be aware of the daily, sometimes hourly, changes in his condition.
I did not know that the final hug we shared on January 21 would be our last. That our prayers together that day would be the last time we would speak to our Father together.
Where have I been? One answer to that question, an accurate one, would be, “I have been fulfilling the commitments to ministry that I had made prior to Jerry’s death.” I have continued to research and prepare to speak to the best of my ability. I have prepared proposals for churches that are in “critical condition” and who desperately need to find a vision pathway toward the future. I have worked on creation of tools to help the staff of an association of churches to more effectively identify churches with common issues, so that they can more effectively assist those churches toward health in God’s mission.
Where have I been? “On the back porch with Jesus,” would be another correct response. I had determined at the beginning of this year that in my personal time with God I would delve into the Gospels, spending a year listening to the words of Jesus. That is what I have been doing. Just today, I read each of the synoptic Gospels account of the Transfiguration of Christ. I watched Peter go from the confessing “rock” to the restricting “stumbling-block.” I keep hearing Jesus say, “He who has ears to hear, let Him hear.” Today, I heard the Father say, “This is My Son. Listen to Him.”
Where have I been? I might answer, “Away from the pen and keyboard.” My capacity to write has been stifled. I have not posted on Facebook or Twitter. I have been unable to complete the proposal for the book on which I am working. While I continue to compile research, I have failed to make progress in the body of writing. There is a gap in my personal journal, even though I was reading and being enriched in the Word, I found no way to record what I was hearing and observing.
Where have I been? I have been in a fog of grief. At first I was totally oblivious to what was going on in my soul. There was an emptiness for which I found no resolve. Over a period of months, I realized that I was “in a funk.” Now, the fog of that experience has begun to lift. Please don’t misunderstand; I never sensed that Jesus abandoned me. I still connected with friends and family. I still laughed. But after the laughter, my soul still felt empty.
You can say, “Buck up man…you are a child of God. You shouldn’t go through such experiences.” “You should have greater maturity in Christ than that!” You can say what you wish. I simply know where I have been. And even if it seemed to the entire world a most unproductive place, I would beg to differ. Something in side of me is different; different in a good way. I do not know where I may be tomorrow. But on this side of the experience, I know that where I have been has been a good place.
After Jesus death, Peter said, I am going fishing. Across the years, I have read that as an abdication of his responsibility as a disciple following Jesus’ death and resurrection. I perceived Peter negatively, running away when the tough times came. Now I think that in the absence of his best friend, he needed a comfortable place where he could heal. For one who was raised as a fisherman, the sea was that place.
All of us have times when we need to get away; times when little is demanded of us. Times when we can retreat to a place that is comfortable. I guess that is where I have been…fishing. Not literally; but figuratively. I have withdrawn for a period of time until the pain began to recede and the way forward began to appear.
Where I am is a good place.