Unless you live in a cave, you know that Sunday, February 9, was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. CBS aired a salute to The Beatles in honor of that anniversary last night. Wow! I loved it. The Beatles are my favorite band of all time. So how can I join the celebration and offer my tribute? Here’s what I decided. I would try to mingle my passions for ministry, the church, writing, and The Beatles by telling a minister story into which I’ve woven the titles of 62 Beatles’ songs. The Beatles had a few cover songs in their history, but I’m only including in this story the titles of songs written by John, Paul, and George.
Now if you like The Beatles, I encourage you to see how many of the 60 titles you can find in the story. While a title or two may show up a couple of times, I’m only counting it once. You ready? Go for it, and let me know how you do?
His name is Lennon McCartney. People call him Len for short. And this is the story of a day in the life of this faithful pastor. And not just any day, but his first day on the job as the new pastor of the Little Faith Baptist Church in a small, rural town in the south.
But first a little background. Pastor Len had served a rather large suburban congregation for a number of years. The church grew by leaps and bounds under his ministry. He loved the work. But it was demanding: 12 hour days sometimes followed by phone calls and emergencies he had to tend to into the wee hours. He had a hard day’s night more times than he could count. Len more or less let his congregation know that they could call him any time at all. To his wife Prudence and their daughter, Julia, it seemed like Len was working eight days a week. Len was going so much that their conversations weren’t much more than “Hello, goodbye.” Even Len felt like the congregation expected him to be here, there, and everywhere. It started taking a toll on him—sleeplessness, irritability, he’d find himself weeping at the littlest things. But there was just something in him that drove him to go even harder.
The people who loved him noticed first. His mother talked to him often. She first noticed signs of burnout when she visited him on his birthday. But she could even tell through their conversations on the phone that something was wrong. “I’ve got a feeling all is not well with you, Len,” she said. To which Len replied, “I feel fine.” Mom wasn’t buying it: “A mother should know when something’s wrong with her son. You’re working way too hard. You’re neglecting your family. You can’t do that. Prudence is trying to be as patient and understanding as she can. She loves you, but if you don’t get your priorities straight, you’re going to lose that girl.” But Len wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, and he still couldn’t admit or understand the helter skelter emotions that were rumbling in his soul …
Until one day when it all came to a head. Feeling neglected by her dad, his little child was acting out for his attention at home. His wife wasn’t happy with him either. They followed him to his car that morning, “Can’t you spare just a few more minutes to have breakfast with your family before you go to work?” He made quick eye contact with Prudence, “Please, don’t bother me right now,” he said to them as he slammed the door to his car. He cranked the engine. His tires squealed as he backed out of the driveway, nearly plowing over their mailbox. And off he raced to church. “Maybe I can get a little peace and quiet at the office,” he thought to himself. But as he walked toward his office he heard the noise of a handyman inside fixing a hole in the wall made by an angry husband during a marriage counseling session two days before. Len remembered that angry husband’s words before he left in a huff: “This ain’t working Brother Len. And I’m counting on you to fix this marriage. Don’t let me down!” Len felt he had let him down.
So Len stopped in his tracks. His head drooped. His shoulders slumped. Tears welled up in his eyes. And he whispered the only prayer he could say in that broken moment, “Help.” Then he crumpled to the floor in the office hallway and sobbed like a baby. A couple of the staff members heard him. They didn’t know what to do. The youth minister sat down beside him, and then another staff member knelt down, and then another, as the secretaries looked on from down the hall. “Call Dr. Robert,” the youth minister said to a watching secretary. Len raised his arm, composed himself a bit, and said, “No. Just please help me get home.” Len reached in his pocket and handed his keys to his associate, “Would you drive my car? I don’t think I’m up to it.”
One of the church secretaries alertly called Prudence about what was going on. She met Len in the driveway and threw her arms around him, mingling her tears with his. The associate took their daughter Julia for ice cream so Len and Prudence could have some time alone. They sat next to one another on their worn green sofa—its fraying edges something of an image of Len’s fraying soul. They sat in silence. “Please, hold my hand,” he said. “I want to hold your hand.” She gave him her hand, and he collapsed into her lap. “Hold me tight,” he begged. So she held him and rocked him on that couch. “Cry, baby, cry,” she whispered. “Let it go. Let it out.”
“Dear Prudence,” he whispered, “I’m so tired. I’m down. I don’t think I can do this anymore. I don’t feel like a pastor. I can’t carry that weight anymore. I feel lost. I feel like a real nowhere man these days. I feel like I’m a loser. What am I going to do?”
“You mean, ‘What are we going to do?’” she corrected him. “I’m in this with you. We’ll come together, the two of us, and we can work it out.”
“Really?” Len said with a hopeful look in his eyes. “After all I’ve put you through, will you really stick with me in this?”
“Yes” she said as she stroked his head. “I will. And it’s going to be all right, Len. God is with us. God will see us through.”
And God did. Len resigned the big suburban church. He pulled out of ministry for more than a year. He got counseling. He started to heal. And it was as if one day the fog lifted and the depression cleared. “Good morning, good morning,” Len said to Prudence and Julia. He had a smile on his face and a spring in his step. “I’m getting better. I just know it.” That’s when Prudence decided it was time to break the news to Len, news she hoped would make him happy. “Len, I’m pregnant.”
Len’s eyes got wide as saucers. “Really?” He grabbed Prudence and began to dance her around the room. He twirled her and leaned her into a dip as Julia giggled and their collie looked up from chewing on an old brown shoe in the corner. Prudence said with a gleam in her eye, “Tell me, sir, do you like to dance with all the girls?”
“Nope,” Len replied, “I only want to dance with you. And you know what else? I hope we have another girl. The only thing that could make the day better would be to get a call to pastor another church.” They had talked in counseling about when the time might be right to seek another pastorate. At first, Len said, “I won’t do it again, not a second time.” But as the months passed and as healing grew, Len was ready to get back to being a pastor again. He’d sent his resume out to a few churches. At first he received no reply from most of them. He did hear from a couple. That encouraged him. “I hope it happens soon,” Len said to Prudence.
“God is on the case,” replied Prudence. “I bet it won’t be long.”
And it wasn’t. Within a couple of months Len, Prudence, and Julia moved into the parsonage of the Little Faith Baptist Church in Outback, Arkansas. It was a town known for their strawberries. And instead of the suburbs where it was house after house after house, Outback, Arkansas, looked like strawberry fields forever. Outback, Arkansas, seemed clear across the universe from their suburban home. This was a small church in a small town. Len and Prudence thought there would be less pressure here. This would be a good place to see if Len was up to the pastorate again. A number of the congregation met them on the day of their move. The people brought fried chicken and fresh vegetables. It all tasted so good, but maybe their favorite dish was the wild honey pie. That was the specialty of an aging Russian immigrant, Sveta, who married a serviceman and moved here shortly after the war. When Prudence asked for the recipe, she said that it was an old family recipe she learned back in the U.S.S.R. But she would translate it from Russian to English and share it with her pastor’s wife.
Len walked from the parsonage to the church office on his first day of work. The only other paid staff member was a church secretary. “Good morning,” she said, “I’m Mrs. Rigby, Eleanor Rigby. And you’ve already got a visitor waiting in your office.”
It was the Chairman of Deacons, Jude Harrison. Len stuck out his hand, “Hey, Jude,” he said. “Thanks for giving me your time today.”
“Welcome, pastor. I guess I’m a little early but I know you wanted to see the field and meet some people today, and I was so excited I couldn’t wait to get here.”
“I’m ready,” said Len. “Where do we start?”
“Well, there’s a place downtown we can grab some coffee and a sweet roll and visit with some of the locals. That would be a good place to start. Then I thought we’d go visit the matriarch of the church. She lives out on Penny Lane.”
“What’s her address?” Len asked in an effort to get the lay of the land.
“Well, it’s 910 Penny Lane, but kids keep knocking down her mailbox with her house number on it. So she likes to tell people that her house is the one after 909.” Len smiled. He liked her already.
While they were making the rounds, Len pointed to an isolated house high up on a mountain. “Who lives there?” Len asked. Jude frowned. “That’s mean Mr. Mustard. He hates everybody. People in Outback refer to him as the fool on the hill. We all just try to avoid him, and it works out better for everybody.”
Len enjoyed the day. He enjoyed meeting people, and he enjoyed putting a few books in the shelves of his office bookcase—a beautiful bookcase made from dark, rich Norwegian wood. Late in the day, as he organized his office, he gave quiet thanks to God for the counsel of the deacon chairman. He was able to tell him things that people might be ready to change. And he was also able to point out a particular matter that needed some changing that the people weren’t quite ready for just yet. “We’ll get it changed when the people are ready," he said, "but for now, I recommend you just let it be.” Not anxious to add unneeded stress to his life, letting it be was fine with Len. “Besides, pastor,” said Jude, “when you think about it, when it comes to doing church, all you need is love. Love God, love one another, love the world. That seems like enough.”
And that first pleasant day was the first of many pleasant days for Len and his family. This church didn’t offer the same kind of opportunities as his first church, but they enjoyed the people and the setting and the pace. Len’s family grew. They added a girl and named her Michelle. The church grew. They decided to change their name to the Great Faith Baptist Church. Len even reached out to Mr. Mustard and eventually led him to Jesus and the church. It was a great ministry. God was glorified. Len and his family were satisfied. Len served that church through its up and downs for thirty years. And on his last Sunday as pastor, the church thanked Len and his family for their long and fruitful ministry. Now an old man, Jude Harrison, said to Len, "I still remember what you told us on your very first Sunday. You said, 'I'll follow the Son, and if we all do the same, God just might do a great work here.'" Len then stood in the pulpit. He thanked the church for taking a chance on a burned out young pastor all those years ago. He thanked them for their patience and their love, for the way they cared for his family, and for the way they served God together in Outback and even in other places in the world. “Thank you,” he said, “for making this the best pastorate in my life.”