He is in good company of course, this being holy week and all. Still...I talked with him just last Wednesday. That’s the day the eagles, the discussion group to which we both belonged, meets. We have been discussing N. T. Wright’s book, Simply Christian.
Last week, like nearly every other week, Dave and I took the opposite sides of the conversation. He was the Calvinist; I was the Armenian. He was defending the need to express faith in contemporary ways; I was defending the need for roots. He was pushing relevance; I pushing the need for encountering the holy. Last week was nothing different. We have gone down that road many times. Something N. T. Wright said in his book took us there again. Last week though, Dave stopped and said, “This is something I worry about all the time. How do I bring people with whom I am trying to relate into a holy moment in which they meet Christ? I mean, all of us who lead churches must both relate to people and help them find that transcendent encounter with Jesus.”
I admired Dave. Fortunately, I told him so several times. We were just wired differently. We each felt called to emphasize different ingredients of the message we were both called to preach. But we enjoyed one another. We certainly believed in each other.
I’m not sure if Dave ever read Chasing Francis. I just know that he lived it. Like the pastor in the book, Dave was constantly talking about people who were fed up with church but were trying to find Jesus. Dave was drawn to such people. They were also drawn to him. In Chasing Francis, the pastor finally decides to stop marketing himself. He decides to just be who he is. He decides to relate to people who are willing to relate to him; the real him. He realizes that he connects to a woman who just came through the twelve step program better than he does most of the church elders. He stops fighting with his own identity.
Dave didn’t have to go to Italy to discover that. He was himself right here in Franklin, Tennessee. After building a great church, he had the courage to begin again. After just three years, he was leading a new flock of hundreds of people, meeting in a theatre. We often talked about the differences between leading a deeply rooted congregation and one that is just starting out. I pastor a church with a rich history, which is wonderful in so many ways. The downside of heritage however, is the resistance that a deeply rooted congregation can have to making even necessary changes. I talked about this with Dave a few times. “I don’t know what to tell you brother,” he said. “Why don’t you just be who you are? The people who like you will follow you. Those who don’t,’ won’t. What more can you do?”
He made it sound so simple “just be who you are.” He dressed how he wanted to dress. He preached like he wanted to preach. Some liked him. Others didn’t. But his congregation consisted of people who liked what he had to offer. He didn’t keep trying to market himself to those whom he would have never pleased. I admired his grasp of scripture. He loved the Bible. He could always quote chapter and verse to support his ideas. But he was no “Bible thumper,” in the sense of using scripture to abuse or overwhelm people. He wanted to make the Bible come alive by wrapping its message in the language and issues of our times. He worked hard at doing that. He knew who he was. He knew what he was about. Most importantly though, he had enough courage to live and minister his own way. Like David in the Bible who refused armor because he was a slingshot sort of person, Dave Foster understood what worked for him and acted accordingly.
I am taking fresh courage from Dave to do what he did. By God’s grace I will be who I am.
There is no better way to “chase Francis” than that.