A pastor who pastors a church five years, fifteen years, fifty years may bear the burden of a church that is considered by many to be gasping for life. The “buck” does in most cases stop at the pastor’s desk. But any pastor that pastors a church for five, fifteen or fifty years and enjoys a measure of what appears to be genuine success would be the first to acknowledge that God blessed that ministry not because of what he did, though God’s hand may have been evidently upon his labors, but because of what a faithful team of co-laborers did week after week, month after month, year after year to make that pastor “look good” as it were or more plainly to support the ministry in such a way that the pastor was free to exercise his God-given gifts of “pastor-teacher” and other ministerial skills God may have blessed him with. I surely had a team of that caliber, some working alongside of me for the full forty years that I led as under shepherd the Thompson Road Baptist Church, most of whom are continuing their selfless labors under the able leadership of my successor, Pastor Joel Stevens.
It is something that I must do to the glory of God when I pause, from time to time, to tell something of the “story” of these unsung 21st century heroes of the faith. Most every one of them assured me often of their love for me and my family. They spoke regularly of their prayers for us, asking if there was anything we might need. Their care for us as a family and for me their pastor went far beyond what might have been expected. They were quick to lend a hand in any way possible.
One Saturday night, actually early Sunday morning, I received a call from our security company that there had been a breech of security at the church. We lived next door so I was on site in a matter of minutes. A young man, later discovered to be inebriated, had smashed in a front glass door, gained entrance, quickly threw some of the sound system in our main auditorium into the back of his pick-up truck, then in a “parting shot” detonated a couple of fire extinguishers covering every square inch of the auditorium, pews, carpet and all, with a yellowish powder from the fire extinguishers. He was found a couple of blocks away trying to break into a corner drug store with all of our sound equipment still in the back end of his truck. At 3:00 a.m., Sunday morning, having put an emergency call in to a company that would come out and board up the front door, I called ten or fifteen of those people of whom I spoke earlier, asking them to come with vacuum cleaners and cleaning cloths. We had Sunday school that morning at 9:45 a.m. sitting in pews that were “spic and span.” Every pastor reading this can identify with those kinds of folk, yours merely having different faces and names but the same heart for God and His work.
In this post I want to mention one such co-laborer. He met me in front of the pulpit my first Sunday as Pastor of TRBC on September 9, 1979, and announced that as song leader he operated with one understanding: “Song leaders do not preach, and preachers do not lead singing.” Boy, was I relieved to hear Lonial reestablish those parameters. My two predecessors, Pastor Roy Julian and Pastor Fred Moritz were great preachers and it was with trembling that I stepped into the pulpit that both of them had so ably preached from for a combined total of 16 years or so, and I know Dr. Moritz, at least I was pretty sure, that he was not known for his great singing ministry, so I breathed a sigh of relief, shook Lonial Wire’s hand that felt like a paint brush was molded into it (he was a pro painter, his handiwork still testifies to his skill as seen in some of the ceilings and work that were his at the Indiana Statehouse), and we were the best of friends for the next 31 year until he joined that great heavenly choir of the ages, taking with him his signature song (he made a record or two) “But God Can.” His tenor voice was pretty much inimitable and his song leading like none I have ever seen. He was a pro-painter, but when he announced a number to turn to in the hymnal, he merely smiled a smile as wide as broad street and waved his hands with no apparent pattern and people sang while the rafters shook. It was never difficult to preach after Lonial finished leading the song service, except on Mother’s Day when he would, at my request year after year, sing “Tell Mother I’ll Be There, in answer to her prayer….” Often, I would intersperse the stanzas Lonial sang of that song with a poem about Mother which would begin “There she sits, the dear old mother,” and would in a verbal painted picture tell of the mother who kissed fevered brows, sang lullaby’s that quieted baby’s fears and with wrinkled hands soothed the troubled face of a child who needed that special touch of mother.
Lonial was not always a song leader. He served in the United States Army in the Pacific theatre and was acquainted at one time with General Douglas MacArthur. Maybe during his stint in the service Alcohol and Lonial got very close to each other and it took him to the bottom and left him alone on a dark street. He was not out of His Savior’s reach and was found, saved and transformed by the grace of God. He took courses at Indiana Baptist College when the college, founded by Dr. Ford Porter, was located in downtown Indianapolis. Great teachers such as Dr. Billy Forester, Dr. Leon Mauer and others impacted his life and he dedicated himself to serving Christ Jesus and did so until his homegoing in October of 2010. He was always on the front lines; never met a missionary he did not love and did not want to help (gave a car to one of our missionaries whose car broke down when he was in our church) and was as generous as he was adamant for truth. He gave me a little black book once with some sermon outlines that he had worked up and they were “preachable.” One of them was about Joseph and his coat of many colors and Lonial applied that passage to believers today saying that God, the great Weaver, fashions each of us a coat of many colors, some bright and beautiful swaths and some not so much, but all working together to make us special for Himself because He loves us so.
I wish upon every pastor who leads a flock that God will give you a Lonial and a team of all in volunteers for Jesus that will help you to do better than you are capable of doing and look better than you deserve to look. It’s all by His grace and for His glory “But God Can.”