By Rich Doebler,
It started on Iglehart Avenue, when BCF was known as Bethel Temple. Sharon and I found our way there while attending North Central Bible College now known as North Central University).
We loved Pastor Lloyd Jacobsen's preaching, which was both practical and inspiring. We enjoyed the touch of class provided by his wife, Janna. On Saturdays we canvassed neighborhoods, and on Sundays we sent out buses to pick up children. Those were exciting times.
One day Lloyd asked us if we’d do something for “opening exercises” (remember those?) for Sunday school. We hauled in a refrigerator box and out came a puppet (Sharon’s creation). “Wally and Sharon” became a weekly feature as Wally’s antics and goofy personality entertained—and taught lessons.
We didn’t know it then, but Lloyd was grooming us for full-time ministry. The puppet and opening exercises were just the beginning.
When Lloyd asked if I’d teach a Sunday school class, I thought, Finally! Someone sees what I can do. After all, I’m a college student of theology. He probably wants me to take on one of the more challenging classes.
He burst my bubble almost immediately. “We have a class of third-grade girls who need a teacher,” Lloyd explained. Girls? Third-graders? I didn’t see that
coming. Lloyd pressed on. “Let me show you the classroom,” he said.
Calling it a “classroom” was a bit of a stretch. It was more like a large closet, tucked away behind the sanctuary platform. It had no windows and only one door, if you could call it a “door.” It was only about five feet high, and I had to stoop to walk through it. At the same time, I had to lift my feet over the threshold, about a foot above the floor.
You needed to be flexible to enter that “classroom”—bowing your head while simultaneously avoiding a “stumbling block.” And once you got inside, it felt pretty cramped. I’m not even sure the room met zoning requirements, but in those days we did what we had to do.
In time I saw that early “classroom” experience as a metaphor to define “ministry”: Ministry requires flexibility—stooping and humbling ourselves in order to serve. Ministry is not a place to stroke our ego or gain recognition. Ministry is service, not self-promotion. It’s giving yourself away. Ministry requires humility. Like Jesus, we don’t expect to be served, but to serve—to give ourselves for others (Matt. 20:28, NIV).
Lloyd modeled ministry to us. He also gave more assignments. After Bible College, I was offered a good position in research at a publishing company. Lloyd countered by offering a 2-day per week church job paying $12.50 per day. Later, he steered us toward full-time ministry, introducing us to a Fellowship church led by Pastor Virgil Rasmussen (who had a sixth-grade son named Steve).
After serving as a youth pastor (with Sharon the part-time church secretary), we moved to the Texas Panhandle where I became pastor to cowboys, farmers, and their families. Seven years later it was back to the Twin Cities, where we launched a new church in the western suburbs. Life was crazy. Our three children were all under the age of three, and our days were filled with kids, church, and side jobs to make ends meet.
Our next move took us to the Chicago suburbs where I became an associate editor at Christianity Today, directing a study Bible project (the Quest Study Bible, published by Zondervan) and editing a pastors’ journal called Leadership. At the same time, Sharon became director of children’s ministries at a large, growing suburban church.
A few years later, though, I felt the itch to return to church ministry. So when the church in Cloquet (where I’d been youth pastor 20 years prior) asked me to become their senior pastor, I did. Sharon became children’s director, leading Sunday and midweek programs, placing over 90 volunteers each week. God blessed the church, and in time it grew to three services each weekend. After 18 years of fruitful and rewarding ministry, I “retired” to the Twin Cities.
But then Pastor Steve asked Sharon to consider directing the children’s ministries at Bethel. It was like déjà vu all over again.
We began ministry together as “Sharon and Wally,” learning humility and service as essentials for ministry. Now we’re doing it again at the same church—Sharon ministering to kids with a puppet named Git, a dog living on the streets of St. Paul, running from the dog catcher and getting into various forms of mischief.
From beginning to end, ministry is about being flexible—about stooping and humbling ourselves, bending to put others first, and giving ourselves to God’s purposes.
There’s no better way to live!