Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Dave Foster Tribute: Chasing Francis Series

What a week for Dave Foster to die.

 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 more like the pastor in Chasing Francis.  Like him, I have tried too hard to believe I can mold and market myself into a pastor that everyone will like. What utter foolishness! Each of us has a disposition, specific kinds of experiences, and particular talents and training. If we lack the courage to be who we are, we will fail trying to be someone else. Dave really, really understood that. Dave Foster didn’t want to wear a suit to church. So he didn’t. He wanted to drive a motorcycle. So he did. He preached like God gifted him to preach. He wrote what he wanted to write.  He didn’t take a poll to decide what sort of pastor he should become. He became the pastor God had made Him to be. He allowed people to honestly choose whether they liked him or not and to make a choice.

The pastor in Chasing Francis came home from Italy and told his church what he planed to do with the rest of his life. Then he left it to them to decide whether they wanted to go along with him on the journey. That is what all pastors should do. Life is too short to follow someone else’s script for your life.

So my tribute to Dave Foster is to be myself. I am going to dress in a way that is right for me. I am going to speak in a way that fits my ministry. I am going to teach what I believe. That is the way I will attract those who want to walk with me and repel those who do not.

I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who said that sinners were all cut from the same cloth; but that saints become real individuals. St. Francis was not Billy Graham. John Wesley was not John Calvin. The apostle Paul was not Phillip the Evangelist. When I meet Jesus, he will not be disappointed in me because I was not Francis of Assisi, or Dave Foster, for that matter. However, Jesus will be disappointed if I lacked the courage to become myself.

Last week, Dave tweeted, "To give up your creativity for the promise of security is the height of stupidity." Whether our “security” is financial or the vane pursuit of human favor, surrendering one’s self in the name of ministry is a crime. Dave was right; this should never be done.

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.


ReflectionsByPj said...

I am so proud of you. Best.Post.Ever.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice way to honor your friend.

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." the beloved Dr. Seuss