In From Jim Lyon

“Let’s go wash the car,” my dad said nonchalantly, but with a hint of command. It was Sunday afternoon, I was a teenager, we hadn’t washed the car together in the driveway for two years. I knew this was more than just “washing the car.” Dad wanted to talk. You know, one of those father-and-son talks. Oh no, not that whole “wait-until-you-get-married” talk again—I get it, Dad, I thought to myself, as if any girls were lined up at my door. Nope, not my problem.

“Okay,” I answered nonchalantly, but with a hint of resignation. I’d really have preferred going downstairs into the “rec room” to read a book. Any book. Maybe even a volume of the encyclopedia. Washing cars was not my thing.

We walked into the garage, picked up the rags and sponges, basins, and all the rest. Out on the sloping driveway that led into the garage of our house-on-the-hillside at the end of the dead-end street was my dad’s car, an Oldsmobile 98. It was huge, tank-like, really: all sea green metal with a black vinyl roof, embroidered dark green upholstery inside, and an eight-track player in the dash. It was pretty cool, in the day, if you were looking for the four-door-sedan-almost-limousine look. I wasn’t.

We made small talk for a few minutes, but then as I reached to wipe the hood clean, Dad moved the conversation to the serious stuff. “I’ve noticed you like the church a lot, that you like to go there, to be involved, to never miss anything. That’s good,” he paused, gauging my expression. I did like church a lot. School was, well, school. I went, I had some friends, I liked it, in a way. But, it wasn’t the driver of my teen years. Church, on the other hand, was where I felt at home, where I seemed to fit in most completely, where my social life was grounded, where I laughed and felt loved the most. The youth group was fun. The people there encouraged me, even when I was unsure of myself. I got to hang around some of the popular crowd there, too and, oh yes, I was very interested in more than one of the girls at church (even if they saw me as more geek than romance).

“I think you should always go to church, Jim,” Dad went on, “it will always steer you right. But, whatever you do,” he stopped and took a deep breath, “don’t become a pastor. It’s a dead-end job, like this street; it can’t take you anywhere you’ll want to go.” He stared at me at once sympathetically and, at the same time, sadly, as if he wished it were not so.

I was quite surprised. I could not have imagined this the subject of our car wash talk. It was not that Dad would discourage me from becoming a pastor—he loved the church, was faithful in ways most members were not, but, in those days, he wasn’t so sure about Jesus. He just loved the people, the routine, the values, and so on. What surprised me was that he feared I was being drawn into the ministry, when I had never ever, not once, even considered it before.

My Dad worked hard; he loved his family; he was generous; he was a man of principle; he admired the pastor (then a towering figure in our lives named Wilbur Skaggs). He poured his life into me and, in this car wash talk, as in all others, he sought to protect me. “Pastors give their lives to do good, to please God, and to build the church. But, they’ll never be paid enough, people will never be satisfied with what they do, and criticism comes with the job way too often. Do good, Jim, give money to the church, honor your pastor, make it a part of your life, but please, please, don’t throw all of your potential away by becoming a pastor; you and the family you someday will raise can have so much more.”

I thought for a moment. “Not to worry, Dad,” I replied confidently, moving to the other side of the black vinyl roof, “I have never wanted to be a pastor. I don’t know what I want to do when I get out of school, exactly. Maybe I’ll go to law school. I think I really might like politics.” Like that would be a whole lot easier and more sensible pursuit.

My dad seemed relieved; he lightened up and began to joke with me. “Yeah, I can see Governor Lyon. But, I’m not so sure politics is the answer, either. Now, law school. Yes, that’s the way to go.”

That was it. The conversation wound down, we rinsed off the car, I went down into the basement and picked up my Isaac Asimov; I was big time into science fiction, then.

Months turned into years; high school gave way to college; my bachelor’s opened the door for me to enter law school. My Dad opened a second business to help foot the grad school bills.

But, as I sat in Civil Procedure, my mind would race to the church office. I had become involved in the church’s resettlement of Vietnamese refugees. In Property Law, I got lost in the plans I was cooking up for the senior high youth group that week, as I had taken on the high school ministry as the volunteer “youth coordinator.” Any title would do, just don’t call me “youth pastor.” I dreamed of calling the best out of others, of changing the world, of being a voice of life, of leading people to Christ, of making Jesus proud, of being a shepherd.

And so the days went, until one day, after some fits and starts, after a brief stint representing 74,000 people in northwest Seattle in the State House, after a lot of water under the bridge, the Lord made it unmistakably clear to me that He wanted me to be a pastor. The church told me so, too, and asked me to become its senior pastor. Telling my Dad was the hardest conversation of my lifetime.

He had seen it coming, from a long way off. He resisted, at first, but then caved. He loved me. He understood I would never be a lawyer. And, he watched the church love me, breathe into me my calling, and respond to my voice. Eventually, my Dad would give his heart to Jesus, coming to the front of the auditorium on a Sunday morning, after listening to me preach for thirty years.

There are many noble callings in life. I still believe that public service—in politics, in the government—can be the stuff of virtue. John Spellman, a man of deep faith, served Washington State as governor when I held a seat in the House of Representatives. He said in my hearing once that he understood “the clergy to have the highest calling of any profession, but that public service was second unto it.” I listened quietly, wondering.

But, now I know. Serving as a pastor is the highest and most humbling vocation that can be known. The English word pastor is a direct borrow from the Latin word pastor—“shepherd.” If you read the 23rd Psalm in Latin, it says, “The Lord is my pastor.” Pastoring is, fundamentally, shepherding, “guarding, protecting, leading, feeding, tending” a flock. The shepherd’s first responsibility is to work for the safety and health of the flock in his or her care. The flock, of course, in this biblical sense, is the people of God. Jesus is “the Good Shepherd,” who lays down His life for the sheep. We are the sheep of His pasture. He appoints under-shepherds—pastors—to care for those He loves. To pastor as Jesus does is to give everything for the sheep.

No calling can bring greater fulfillment; no calling can require greater courage. No calling can better transform the world for the good; no calling can leave you more vulnerable. No calling carries with it greater responsibility; no calling qualifies for greater reward, in time.

My Dad was right, in some ways, as he cautioned his son about the ministry. Criticism comes with the territory, but so does amazing love. More money will always be available elsewhere, but the wealth of relationships and opportunity to know and be known has no greater avenue. No political office can allow you to touch lives, to inspire, or to lead with more extraordinary effect. No vocation can cause you to walk more closely in the footsteps of Jesus. He must be the subject for every pastor worthy of the name.

Jesus will not call everyone to become a shepherd. Not everyone was invited to be seated at the table of the Twelve. Not all are evangelists or prophets. The Lord has a place for each in His kingdom plan.

But, for those He calls to pastor, to shepherd, do not imagine you will be content doing anything else; do not succumb to a road that appears easier, even as it leads you away from the reason God made you. Do not let even your family’s fears or ambition detour you from the adventure of a lifetime.

There has never been a more opportune time to accept a call to the Christian ministry in the Church of God. This is a Movement, poised to reclaim new ground, to take back what hell has stolen. Our pastors will today and always be at the point, the indispensable shepherds “guarding, protecting, leading, feeding, tending” the flock. Theirs is the first responsibility for making a way, assuming the risk, and setting the course.

Once, after I became a pastor and my head was filled with what my father was convinced were impossible dreams for the church, he pulled me aside and cautioned me, “I know you, Jim; I can’t bear to see you hurt, son. I know you think God can do these things, but they’re not possible. Please don’t walk out in front of people and lead them into a dream that cannot be.” His eyes literally teared up.

I loved my Dad, but I walked forward, anyway, leading my flock in Seattle to the edge of the Red Sea. And the Lord did what no person could do. We witnessed a miracle. Seriously. My Dad stood on the sidelines, amazed. Years later, as I held my Dad’s hand in the hospital, as his life ebbed away, he looked up at me and said, “You did the right thing, son. I am so proud of my son, my pastor.” That’s when my eyes teared up and I remembered the green Oldsmobile 98.

Obey the call. Breathe life. Speak life. Give life. For Jesus’ sake.


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