Posted tagged ‘pastoring’

Richie Bibelheimer…38 Years Later!

July 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 30, 2017


A couple of weeks ago I was at church camp as…well, I’m not sure what my title position was! I think I was the “Whatever Person.” When someone said “whatever” it was my responsibility, unless it was a high school girl being flippant and obnoxious when she said the word!

So…as the Whatever Supervisor I was able to float from session to session. At our camp week we have elementary, middle school, and high school camps going on at the same time, so I roamed around making sure things were going okay.

The surprise of the week was reconnecting with an old seminary classmate of mine named Richie Bibelheimer. When I heard that name as the pastor for the middle school camp I knew it was my old seminary classmate. I mean…how many Richie Bibelheimer’s can there be, right? It took me a year of seminary just to learn how to pronounce it, and now 38 years later our paths were crossing again!

Here’s the thing about seeing someone 38 years after the last time you saw him! Your picture of him is still the one from 1979! You still remember him from the era of leisure suits, thinner waistlines, and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

He walked right past me at dinner Sunday night in the camp dining hall. After he passed he called my name clothed in question form. “Bill? Bill Wolfe?” I turned and looked at the white-haired senior citizen who had just passed me by. “Richie, is that you?”


“Good Lord! Richie Bibelheimer!” There’s one thing about seeing someone almost four decades removed! You don’t want to come right out and say it, but you’re thinking it! “Man, do you look old!”

And the thing is, he’s thinking the same thing about you! The last time you saw each other you were in your mid-twenties. You could still jump and run like a gazelle, you had all your hair, and you didn’t have to travel with a pharmacy everywhere. Now your knees hurt, your face sports a couple of age spots, and the only thing progressive about you are the lens in your glasses.

Time keeps going even when we slowly journey through each day, and all of a sudden you meet an old friend and you realize just how far you’ve journeyed since your last conversation.

The other side of that is our reluctance to think that people change, that they will always be who they were back in the day…some obnoxious, some attractive, some hard to figure out, and some who seem to have it all together. People change, however, despite our tendency to firmly implant them in a distant past understanding. The physical changes are easy to see, despite the attempts to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. It’s the inner changes, the emotional upheaval, and the chaos of life that get blanketed from our view. The double chin is easier to see than the broken marriage. The wrinkled face is much more evident than the loss of a child a decade earlier.

Richie and I looked at one another, came to grips with the march of Father Time upon our lives, and enjoyed the blessing of renewed friendship…38 years later as a Whatever Supervisor and a Middle School Camp Pastor.

Getting Comfortable With Disappointment

April 4, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 4, 2017


Recently I interviewed for a head coaching position at a high school in our area. They were looking to hire someone for the Girl’s Varsity Basketball team. In talking to the athletic director of the school I’ve coached at for the past four years, three of which were as the Girl’s JV coach, he thought I was a perfect fit for the position. In fact, the school’s chief administrator had called him to talk about me.

The interview was okay, but it felt a bit impersonal, kind of like the two people interviewing me were just going through the process.  A week later I received an email thanking me for interviewing, but they were not moving me on in the process. I was disappointed, mainly because it DID look like a situation that I would have been a good fit for.

It was the fourth varsity coaching position I’ve interviewed for in the past few years, and I’m 0 for 4! One of the four I probably wasn’t ready for…and they are on their third coach since that took place four years ago, but the other three I thought I would have fit well into.

I can look at that recent disappointment and pout like a two year old, or go into a personal cocoon for a while…or I can get comfortable with it!

I remember when I was pastoring in Michigan, and pastoring at a church that was wonderful to my family and me, that a search committee showed up in church one Sunday. About a month later Carol and I went and met with the committee in the suburban Detroit community they were located. The interview went well, and one of the committee members even said, probably to the horror of the chairperson, “Why do we even have to interview the other person? This is our guy right here!” We left there thinking that we’d be relocating in a couple of months…and then a couple of weeks later we got the call that they had chosen the other candidate. Once again we were disappointed, but I chose to look at the upside…that we were still a part of a great church family where I ended up pastoring for 15 years.

Disappointment is a part of the life journey for each one of us, but sometimes disappointment clouds over the blessings of where we are in the present. In terms of my coaching I’m still blessed to coach three different middle school teams- one football and two basketball. One of those school basketball teams I’ve now coached for 16 years!

Disappointment can hit us like a prom date rejection, or we can look around at where our path may be redirected. Perhaps our wants are not what God needs! I can look at my latest coaching position rejection and believe that they made a mistake, but I’ve been able to release it and move on. And sometimes…sometimes…the flaws of the position aren’t able to be seen by our starry eyes until we get a distance away from it. That happened in regards to the Michigan church. Some things happened in the next few years in that congregation that were unsettling. In fact, I felt kind of sorry for the person they DID call to come there and be their pastor.

What trumpets in my soul is the fact that I follow a God who desires to bless my life, not shower me with hailstorms of disappointment. My ways are not his ways, and, like an open bag of Hershey’s chocolate bars, my wants are not what he knows I need!

One Year Retired!!!

January 22, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 22, 2017


On January 17, 2016 I spoke for the last time at Highland Park Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, the church I pastored for sixteen and a half years. I went from a long-time pastor to a has-been pastor.

A week after I graduated from Northern Baptist Seminary in June of 1979 I began a position as Minister of Christian Education and Youth at First Baptist Church in Davison, Michigan. For the next thirty-six and a half years I ministered and pastored in churches of Michigan and Colorado.

And then it was time!

This last year has been awesome, not because I’m just sitting around each day watching my toe nails grow! My passions have always been “coaching” and “creating.” Pastoring and coaching have a number of elements that are similar. Creating and sermon-writing are like twin sisters. This past year has enabled me to do a lot more creating, blog-writing…working on a novel…thinking…pondering…conversing. And I’ve also been able to coach middle school football and basketball, coach a struggling small-town church as it navigates the future, and, most recently, coach roomfuls of 7th Graders in the discovery of Social Studies.

I headed into retirement thinking that I would golf more, work on my slice, hone my putting game. Instead, I actually golfed 7 holes all last summer. Yes, 7! A fog bank rolled in on us as we were getting to the 7th green, and then we couldn’t even see the 8th hole!

I headed into retirement thinking that I would read a lot of those theological books that look impressive on my book shelves but have been harvesting dust. (Pause) They are still harvesting dust. I’ve read a lot this past year, but not very much theology. I discovered a new treasure- the public library! Not a week goes by that I don’t go there at least a couple of times. I’m reading history and mystery! Carol has been pleased by the decreasing number of Amazon packages delivered to our front door. I’m currently reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the outbreak of World War 1, Ken Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, and John Sandford’s Escape Clause. I just finished J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, that resonated a lot with my family’s Eastern Kentucky roots.

We headed into retirement thinking that we would travel more, and we have: road trips to Phoenix and Ohio, and a week in Hawaii; an upcoming family trip to San Diego and heading up a mission work team to British Columbia this summer.

Retirement has really been more a refocus. Carol tells people that I am now much more relaxed and less stressed. I enjoy traveling out to Simla and worshiping with the 20 folk at First Baptist Church. They have helped me fall in love with the church again.

Carol and I get to watch and be with the grandkids more. On Saturday nights I’m not worried about the Sunday sermon. This past week I sat on the couch with the two oldest “GK’s” and watched “The Secret Life of Pets” together. It was awesome to laugh with them about different parts of the film. They are a delightful trio…with their two-year old sister.

The hardest part of this past year has been the separation from many of the dear relationships I had with people of my former congregation. As a long-term pastor I’ve tried to keep my distance as the church navigated the journey ahead of them. There is a journey of loss for everyone involved, the congregation and the former pastor and pastor’s wife. I miss the Saturday morning men’s bible study group and the Thursday morning Ageless Wonders bible study. I’ve kept my distance from the Buddy Basketball program I started 14 years ago. Others have picked it up and continued it. I miss the conversation amongst the older saints, and I miss the group of young guys that I “coached” for several years in dialogue about their families and faith.

Retirement is about missing some things and moving on to others. I think the first year of ours have been done well. Thankfully we still have our health. Thankfully I can still talk to my dad every Sunday night on the phone. Thankfully I still have a couple of support groups that help keep me grounded and healthy. Thankfully Carol and I don’t get on each other’s nerves very often. (If Sister Wives is on TV I just leave the room! She did tape my snoring one night on her iPhone and sent the scene to me the next morning while I was substitute teaching. I just want to say, however,  that the film footage was very grainy, so it probably would not hold up in court as evidence!)

Year two of retirement began with a long-term substitute teaching position. What a hoot! Getting to spend most of each day with 120 7th Graders in a portable classroom! I could write a book!

Oh…I’m already writing a book!

I could write another book! Perhaps that will come in Retirement Year Three!

The BMW’s

June 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 26, 2016


We all need others. I recognize that there are those who approach life with a mindset that says no one can do anything as well as they can, but even those people, swimming in arrogance and perfectionism, need others.

There are those who join us in our journey who are pivotal in keeping us on the path. Being a pastor is a highly stressful calling, because pastors lead churches that almost always have some people that no one else would put up with. Pastors have people who would complain about Jesus’ beard if they were given a chance. Pastors also have people who are on the other end of the spectrum- people who are the salt of the earth, wonderful and encouraging.

In my years of ministry in Michigan I had two other pastors who came alongside me, and I alongside them. We called ourselves “The BMW Group!” Since we were pastoring churches in the Lansing, Michigan area where Oldsmobile was located, the BMW letters did not indicate the cars we drove. Instead it stood for Bayes, Moore, and Wolfe. Tom Bayes was pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Lansing; Chuck Moore was pastor of Charlotte First Baptist, just a few miles outside of the city; and I was pastor of Mason First Baptist, also located just a few miles outside of town.

Bayes, Moore, Wolfe…BMW!

For about seven years we would meet every other Wednesday for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the south side of the city. We’d laugh, share, moan, talk about people who made our lives miserable, seek advice from one another, and chew on lunch. In those years we became best friends amongst all the pastors we knew. Almost twenty years later I still see Tom and Chuck as my best pastor buds!

And the interesting thing is that each of us was so different theologically. Tom was fairly liberal in his views, Chuck leaned to the right, and I was the moderate. That’s pretty much where each of us still is, but our friendship provides a solid base for dialogue. When you are committed to the journey, and you know that the other two are also committed to the journey, you can disagree on what are the important things to pack in the suitcase, and how to pack them.

Today Chuck pastors a church in the Dayton, Ohio area, I’m in Colorado Springs, and Tom is finishing up an intentional interim pastorate in Gastonia, North Carolina. We’re figuring out when and where the three of us can meet up for a couple of days of fellowship, laughter, and just being together.

Our closest friends are not always the ones who live closest to us. Our closest friends are the ones we can place a call to at a moment’s notice and know that they will be there to converse with, or just to listen.

We all need others. Even Jesus needed others. He had the twelve, and even in the midst of the twelve he had the three…his closest confidants!

I miss my buds. There are plenty of people on the bus headed to “Good Riddance!”, but there are just a few who bless us with their presence, with their conversations, and lift us up and keep us going.

I’ll climb in my Honda Accord in a few minutes to drive to the little church east of the city to speak, but I’ll be thinking about my BMW!

Who is a part of your BMW?

Finding My Place: When a Pastor Retires To…”

April 9, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 9, 2016


Today marks the one hundredth day of retirement for me after thirty-six and a half years of church pastoral ministry. One hundred days! In my later years of ministry I was feeling the loss of energy and finding it hard to get recharged on Monday for another week of ministry and activity. I’ll be honest! I looked forward to retirement. When I announced my retirement date about one hundred days beforehand I began the countdown.

In many ways beginning this new phase of my life has been enjoyable. I enjoy the freedom of deciding whether I will or will not do a certain task. For example, in recent weeks I’ve started substitute teaching and if I don’t feel like taking a position on a certain day I don’t. The freedom is a breath of fresh air.

But the greener grass on the other side of the pasture has some challenges hidden in it! In my backyard there is a certain soft spot in the grass that I frequently step in when I’m mowing the lawn. It is well hidden and not deep enough to cause me to turn an ankle, but enough of a depth to sometimes make me lose my balance.

That’s a picture of how it is for a pastor who retires. There is the expected steps as he/she walks through the challenges of ministry, the fulfilling of the roles of being a pastor…and then there is the slipping step of retiring. Who am I in that moment of surprising imbalance and uncertainty?

Ministerial ethics has made me keep some distance from the church I pastored for sixteen years. It’s the right thing to do as the congregation searches for the next pastor, and has some time to figure out who it is. Interim periods are great times for churches to regroup, evaluate, talk, and move ahead. Having the former pastor hovering inhibits that process, kind of like having the dad of a teenager sitting in at a gathering of adolescents! It affects the conversation and is not cool!

So where does that leave me? Truthfully…wandering! A retired pastor enters the woods, but has a hard time finding the path. It is one of those journeys that Google Maps can’t give directions for.

Who is my church? What do I do on Sunday morning? For that matter, what do I do on Saturday night? How do people from my former congregation greet me now…Bill?…Pastor Bill?… Mr. Bill? Is my purpose still the same? What congregation do I become a part of?

Retirement is a time of questions and confusion, and, like a first semester college freshman trying to find his classroom location, I’m trying to find my way.

Scripture doesn’t help that much in this part of the journey. Aaron got taken up to Mount Hor and everybody said “See ya!”, and he died there. I really don’t want to be taken to the top of Pike’s Peak and left for dead!

So I wander to something that is not yet clear and comfortable. It is a redefining travel. It is the soft spot in the lawn that I sink into before finding solid ground again. And it may end up being the most important part of my life journey, because through it I’ll discover who I really am and who I’m not!

Last Sunday…Kinda’

December 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  December 27, 2015


Today was kind of my last Sunday at Highland Park Baptist Church, the congregation I have pastored for the past sixteen and a half years. I say kinda’ my last Sunday because I return on January 17 to speak and then Carol and I will be the main targets at a reception that afternoon.

Today ended with the congregation gathered around us for a time of prayer. It was “reserved emotional!” I say reserved emotional because the dear saints know that there is another Sunday three weeks later that will probably include the opening of the floodgates.

I took notice of several today. Marla Booth was finishing elementary school when I arrived. Now she is married to an awesome man named Austin who I love deeply, and is the mother of two beautiful little girls. Marla has a heart for people and has become more and more passionate about children in underprivileged countries around the world.

Greg and Jordan Davis came to our church several years ago after a brain tumor had been discovered. Greg and I already knew each other from basketball officiating and Timberview Middle School. When he had a couple of seizures and then the tumor was discovered I showed up at the hospital just to check in with him and to ask permission to say a prayer. A few weeks later I entered the sanctuary on a Sunday morning to see their family present for worship. We’ve walked together ever since…through the anxiety of MRI’s…and unexpected seizures…and having to share the news with their daughter that the cancer had returned. Our journeys have been tear-filled and laughter-laced.

Rex and Ann Davis were present today. Rex is 95 and Ann 93. Their days of good health have recently gone by the wayside, but they come to church when they are able. Today Rex took up the offering with the sole purpose of squeezing my finger as I stood in the front row. He is a man of God whose journey has also had a trail of tragedy as part of it. About four years ago I had the funeral of their son, Ed, who was killed in a motorcycle accident trying to avoid a deer on a two-lane mountain road. I’ve considered Rex to be my “Colorado Dad!” Her models what a servant of Christ should be. Recently, he also has had some battles with cancer that have left him a shell of who he was…and I love him deeply!

Chris Oldham was there today! A few years ago she married my area minister after being a part of our church for years and years. She and Mike often are worshiping in other congregations around the state on Sunday, and she followed Mike to be more involved in First Baptist of Colorado Springs, but she has always been an encourager for me. She got me involved in the summer camping program, not to give me something else to do, but to give me some quite moments in the midst of a camp week. Sounds crazy, right? But it has actually been exactly that!

Courtney Gage Ramsey was there. I did the wedding ceremony for her and Steve a few years ago. Now they live a couple of hours away with their three year old son. Her parents, Jack and Ellen, mean so much to me, and I was delighted she came this morning.

And then there was my son, David, who surprised us and came this morning! That was awesome…and I’m getting a little teary-eyed as I sip my decaf and type this. David’s life does not mesh easily with church life. He works as a restaurant chef, and moves in different circles. One of the things I look forward to as I enter retirement is more time with Dave…like this Tuesday night when we go to the Air Force basketball game together. Today was the first time in…years that all three of my children were in a Sunday worship service together. The Christmas Eve when Lizi “Skype’d” in and watched on a front row laptop…doesn’t count.

It was a day of gladness and sadness! A day of moving forward while treasuring what has been.

Pastoring Kids and Adults At The Same Time

March 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           March 16, 2015


Our church seems to have a new challenge each week. One week it’s trying to put enough buckets in classrooms to catch the drips coming from the ceiling, which, by the way, is underneath the new roof installed less than two years ago. Two weeks ago it was a financial crisis after a heavy snow Sunday left the offering plate starving for attention.

We’ve had a leaky baptistry, dark dangerous parking lots, a copier on hospice care, burst pipes, a clogged sewer line, dysfunctional families, families dealing with cancer…healed and terminal, inconsistent volunteers, and “confidential meetings.”

Welcome to the church that isn’t small, but not quite medium-sized. We’re kind of like my pants size. I’m not quite 34, but almost swim in a size 36…and try to find size 35? When I do the style looks like something Austin Powers would wear in one of his movies!

One of of the main challenges I have as a pastor these days is pastoring kids…and adults at the same time. Our church includes families of different sizes and configurations, faith backgrounds and no faith backgrounds, single parent families, blended families, shared families, and multi-generational families. We have families that are in and out…and in…and out. I’m reminded of the Benedictine Sisters at a retreat center outside of the city. They are together each and every day, and, as a result, have a certain rhythm to their community life. Establishing rhythm in today’s church is about as easy as figuring out the federal tax forms.

So often as a pastor I identify with Moses trying to lead a bunch of people who keep remembering the golden years of Egyptian slavery.

The longer I pastor the more confident I am in the fact that I don’t know very much. I become more and more sure that I’m halfway between clueless and understanding with the needle ready to flip to either side on a moment’s notice.

I don’t know much, but it makes me consider what the standards are that I must base my pastoring on.

1) Everyone has value! I don’t have to agree with someone’s position or even their actions, but I must see each person as being one of God’s created. The Body of Christ is made up of numerous parts and personalities. A nose smells things differently than an eye…yes, I know an eye does not smell, but neither does a nose see. One should compliment the other, not be in competition or conflict with the other.

  2) Everyone is on a journey! Some of us just move faster than others. Some of us get distracted along the way by family situations, faith crises, the silence of God, the hyperness of life, and the differences in value systems. It’s like being on a road trip and coming upon traffic that is backed up. Suddenly our pace and our itinerary get altered and we get frustrated. I’ve been known to talk in unkind ways to the cars in front of me that are in the same situation as I am. The thing is we’re all going the same direction, just not at the speed I’m used to. Faith journeys are like that. We want to go at our own pace that is not controlled by others.

3) Happiness is not the goal of the church! Sharing the good news, teaching people about the Christian life, and coming alongside people in their walk with the Lord…those are the goals. We substitute happiness for the joy of the Lord. I admit that I get tired of dealing with issues that people have, and when that happens I have a tendency to yield to what will bring happiness in the short term at the expense of joy for the long journey.

4) Disciple, Coach, Mentor! Recognizing that people are at different places in their faith, as a pastor I must remember that some people are to be discipled. That means there needs to be more supervision and direction, more teaching and structure. Disciples are in the making regardless of age, but most of the children in church are in the disciple phase. The foundational beliefs are still being established in their lives. A good percentage of adults are in the coaching phase. That means they need to be instructed and guided as they are walking with the Lord. There is still uncertainty that needs to be addressed, confusion that needs direction. Finally, there are some adults in the faith community who need a mentor, someone that they can go to for clarification as to how to proceed, or someone to share their frustrations and victories with. A mentor is someone who walks alongside. To put it in a different venue, a disciple sits in the front seat and is told how to drive a car as the driver demonstrates; a coach sits in the front passenger seat and directs the person as he is driving the car…in an empty parking lot, and then a street with minimal traffic, and finally a highway with heavy traffic; and a mentor sits in the back seat and watches as the driver handles the driving. Pastoring is changing hats according to who it is I’m talking to.

A church with multiple generations, all dependent on one another…all occupying the same boat…is a challenge. It reminds me of the disciples that Jesus led. They were challenging! The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus pulled his hair out, but I wonder if that was an option he considered.

And yet, that group of men ended up changing the world!