“God Doesn’t Answer Prayer.”
That’s what my friend Pastor Jeff McCrory heard himself say to his small group Bible Study. “My hurt was talking,” he recalls.
We know that the Bible says things like, “Call to me and I will answer…” (Jeremiah 33:3) But sometimes it feels like God is not responding to our prayers. “Why have you hidden your face from me, O Lord,” the Psalmist prays. (13:1)
“My wife and I felt kicked in the gut, beaten up, and left in the gutter,” Jeff says.
A few people with power in his church turned against him and had him removed from their pastorate. Sadly, it’s a story I’ve heard many times. In fact, 78% of pastors say they were forced to resign from their church at least once. (See “Pastor Stress Statistics.”)
Pastor Jeff Needed to be Pastored
So Jeff and Barb called on Kristi and me for help. In counseling, spiritual direction groups, and retreats they began to heal emotionally and to re-build their trust in God.
Sometimes the only way to re-discover the power of prayer is to ask someone to listen to your story and give you empathy.
In the meantime, a year after being terminated, Jeff was still unemployed. Despite decades of experience leading large churches, a PhD in theology, being an adjunct seminary professor, and having an extensive professional network he couldn’t find another ministry job.
He applied for thirty different ministry positions and kept being rejected.
“No one wanted a 58-year old pastor who had been set aside. What was I going to do? We had taken a border in our home to stay afloat. I was down to looking for a job as a boat mechanic in the harbor.”
The Little Brown Church Was Dying
Then he got a call asking him to pastor “Little Brown,” a Presbyterian church in the inner city of Long Beach, CA with twelve people. Twelve.
It seemed the only thing keeping this church alive was their historic building dating back to 1905. Why would Jeff pastor this church? “They were hurting and so was I,” he recalls.
We grow in prayer and intimacy with God when we follow the call of Jesus to love those in need.
So every Sunday Jeff stood in the pulpit in front of 388 empty seats and kept his focus on loving the twelve people who were there.
“Jesus would do this if he were you,” I smiled.
One Sunday in his sermon he mentioned adultery and a woman shouted out, “That’s right, Jeff! Preach it!” as she jabbed her husband. After the sermon she told Jeff that her husband had been having sex with her brother.
“Urban Long Beach is raw and real,” Jeff says.
The Presbytery was going to shut down the church and sell the building. Many churches have left urban blight to find greener pastures in the suburbs. But Jeff said, “Let’s pray.”
Then he and I talked about him walking with Jesus through the Little Brown neighborhood. Dr. Jeff calls this “visual exegesis.”
He put Galatians 5:25 into practice: “Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
“The Lord Jesus opened my eyes to all sorts of people who needed his touch. I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, ‘This is where you belong.’”
Much to Jeff’s surprise, he found himself in an opportunity to put into practice the spiritual direction and soul care training he’d just completed with Soul Shepherding, Inc.
It was time to take a risk and Venture on God — big time!
Jeff Turned Little Brown Outward to be an Urban Mission Hub
The Lord kept connecting him with the leaders of diverse ministries in Long Beach who wanted to use Little Brown: a Catholic Latino church, a ministry to at risk women and children, an outreach to the homeless, another outreach to seniors, an art and spiritual direction ministry to hipsters, and others.
“You’re not a landlord — they need you to pastor them,” I told Jeff.
Jeff discerned that Little Brown was not to be a “church” but an urban mission station, bringing the love of Christ to the poor and needy in their city. So he told his little congregation that their Sunday service was being discontinued and in it’s place they could participate in an inner city ministry.
One little Korean woman from the original church took up Jeff on his offer. She began meeting with him for prayer. After some months she started “Loving Light Church” at Little Brown!
Little Brown didn’t die — it became the Little Brown Mission Hub!
We’re thankful to have Jeff McCrory as one of the 18 Soul Shepherding Associates that we’ve trained to care for pastors and other leaders. To contact and or support Jeff you can connect with him here.