It was early November of 1985 and I was moving what few books I had from my associate pastor’s office to the senior pastor’s office. This small church with a big heart had chosen to take a risk on a young associate pastor who had never been a senior pastor, and didn’t have one sentence on my resume that remotely indicated being qualified for the job.
I was 26 years old.
The few books I had were mostly related to my love for music and they reflected my preferred career path in the world of Christian and church music. It was embarrassing to have two shelves of books in an office with more bookshelves than I’d ever seen--from the ceiling to the floor. It was a small but well-appointed office with beautiful custom woodwork.
The divorce of my parents was now two months old and somewhere in my dad’s move from Ohio to California, a large box of his books had landed in my garage. It occurred to me that the books in that box might fill another shelf or two--as if that would convince anyone I was smarter than I was.
A quick call to my dad provided the answer I’d hoped for. He told me to put that box of books on my shelves, and on his next visit to Oklahoma City, he said he would browse them to see if there were any he might want to take back to his new office on the west coast. My dad never removed any of those books from my shelves, and in fact, he found ways to keep filling my shelves with good books.
The large box in my garage was moved to the office and I eagerly began to place those books on my shelves. The first book to land in my hands, the first book out of the box, was entitled I Stand By The Door. My dad had written his name in it in the late sixties. It was evident that he had spent a great deal of time in this book.
So, with only one book removed from the box, I sat down and started reading it. To this day I remember thinking: "I'm supposed to read this book today.” It became and still remains my ministry playbook. It was the last book packed into that box and the first one I removed.
Just as God had planned it.
Dad had no way of knowing when he packed that box and put that one book in last that it was part of God’s plan to use it to light the fire of ministry in me. No one could have predicted that I’d read that book many times over the years, and certainly no one could have known I’d be writing about it thirty-three years later in my blog.
The book is I Stand By The Door by Sam Shoemaker. It was as if this book had been written for me and about me. Little did I know that three years later, I would come to know the name Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who came to Christ under the preaching of Sam Shoemaker.
As I sat in my new office, I began to turn the pages of the book, browse the table of contents, and then, before I could even get to the foreword, I found the premise for the book:
I Stand By The Door
An Apologia For My Life
by Samuel Moor Shoemaker
The first thing I had to do was find out the meaning of the word “apologia.” The dictionary defines it as: “a work written as an explanation or justification of one’s convictions.”
So, let me give you a glimpse of Sam’s explanation of his convictions:
I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world--
It’s the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it...
So I stand by the door.
This is it! When I read it, I thought: this is what I’m supposed to do.
My role as a pastor will be to stand by the door. I want to stand by the door and help other people find the door to God! These words put clarity and definition to my own passion in ministry.
I was frustrated because the people not in the church didn’t know how to get in and the people in the church didn’t know how to let them in, or frankly, didn’t want to let them in. Many good church-going people do not realize they are actually blocking the door.
It is so tempting to “go way inside the church” and stay there. Enjoy the fellowship. Enjoy the teaching. Enjoy the music. Gripe about the country. Talk of a political solution to the world’s ills, condemn those who are sinners. Put your lists of “don’ts” on the front door so those who do those things won’t bother to come in.
These days, there are congregations that might welcome you if you are socially, politically, and culturally aligned with them. Never mind Jesus.
We have made Jesus so hard to find. I still think there are “many still outside who crave to know where the door is, but all they find is a wall where a door ought to be.”
There is another reason I stand by the door. Some people get part way in and become afraid...these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia, and want to get out. “Let me out!” they cry. And the people way inside only terrify them more. I admire people who go way in. But I wish they would not forget how it was before they got in.
Somewhere in my journey since that November day in 1985, I realized I had a choice as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor of a church: I could either lead with the message of all that was wrong with sinners, or I could hold out the hope of unconditional love and forgiveness offered in Christ.
I chose the latter.
My amazing church family chose the same. To this day, I still find some of my greatest joy by the door.