The Dancing Bear Pub is located a few blocks from the Baylor campus. It’s name is a humorous nod to the much publicized story that dancing was outlawed at Baylor until the mid 1990’s, and that the school’s mascot is a bear. As casual, social drinking became more accepted among Baptists, and as Baylor began attracting more students and professors who didn’t grow up with stigmas associated with alcohol, “The Pub” opened in 2007 and was a welcome addition to the Waco social scene. It has become a regular hang out for graduate and seminary students, and at various times has been the official “unofficial” hang out for UBC’ers who are not undergrads. I have had as many significant conversations about the life of UBC at The Pub as I have at the building on 17th and Dutton.
When Ben, our Community Pastor, invited me for a beer at The Pub in late 2009, I wasn’t prepared for how significant a conversation that would be.
He was leaving UBC and wanted me to know before it became public knowledge. At the end of the coming spring, he and his wife Jamie were planning to move to Portland, hoping to bring some UBC’ers along to begin an intentional Christian community. He would do chaplain work with a professional soccer team and piece together other positions here and there. It was an exciting opportunity and seemed to be a perfect fit, albeit one I never saw coming. I assumed Ben was a “lifer” at UBC, as did most of us in the core of the church.
As I’ve shared previously, Ben and I always had a complicated friendship from the beginning. We loved each other and always enjoyed the other’s company. Over the years we had spent hundreds of hours playing video games in his office, gone to countless movies with Kyle in the middle of a workday, and numerous times met for coffee or beer to talk about our lives. He was an integral part of my community, and one of the reasons I felt so connected to UBC.
At the same time, Ben had been “in the room” for every major decision concerning the life of the church, many that I questioned and was frustrated and hurt by. Without inside knowledge of how the Leadership Team worked, I often assumed that he deferred to the strongest voice on staff (David,) and blindly advocated positions and decisions that he didn’t agree with. In subsequent years I would discover that there was only a sliver of truth in this, and that I had not given Ben enough credit for the tricky navigation he had to maneuver while on staff.
Regardless, I was genuinely sad Ben was leaving. He and Jamie had always been… there, fully present in ways no one else had, regardless of how much I disagreed with him on issues surrounding the church. I knew, though, that he would thrive in Portland. (He has.)
Had Ben’s departure occurred years earlier, I would have left the conversation with him at The Pub with hope and expectation that a door to a pastoral role at UBC had opened for me to walk through. But this was a different time and I assumed that door had closed years ago.
I had no reason to believe that if the church was going to replace Ben, they wouldn’t do it the same way they had done every time before—Unilaterally choosing someone without any input from the congregation. If for some off-chance reason I were the person they offered the position to, I would have been a hypocrite for being the beneficiary of the very system I had critiqued so many times before. And whether this happened, or if some sort of legitimate process was put in place, I surely had burned too many bridges to ever be considered. Who wants to hire their biggest critic?
But then, a surprise. Just a few days after Ben announced his departure, the Leadership Team at UBC announced they not only would be hiring a replacement for Ben, but a second Community Pastor position was opening up as well, to fill in the gaps left by John Mark’s leaving the year before. And they didn’t just announce that these positions would be filled, they also stated there would be a process, an actual public search for the candidates who would fill these positions.
In most free churches, and especially those with even a hint of Baptist sensibilities, this is the norm when a pastoral position comes open. The church announces there is an open position, and everyone qualified for the role has an opportunity to send in a resume and, perhaps, visit with people from the church to see if it is a good fit. It’s so routine that it is hardly worth mentioning.
For UBC, it was revolutionary.
So I had a choice to make.
The best-case scenario was that I apply for one of the newly created positions and am chosen, having the honor to serve the community that had nurtured me for so long, in a position that I (and others) felt I was made for. It would be something I could do, hopefully, until the day I retired. It was my dream job.
The worst-case scenario was that I would apply and not be chosen for the position, causing me to believe, however unreasonable it may have been to think this, that the community I loved dearly had rejected me.
I did what I always do when I have a monumental choice to make—I prayed, then called in the experts on my life, my friends, for guidance. Each of them affirmed what I was already feeling, that if it worked out, it would be the most incredible opportunity of my life. If it didn’t, I would be devastated.
They all said I should do it.
Two of my good friends from seminary, Jake and Bill, were especially enthusiastic and encouraging. We were working together in Baylor’s Spiritual Life department, and had a standing dinner every week after staff meeting to talk about our lives. In addition to being major advocates for me and my decision to apply for the Community Pastor position, they had one looming, cautionary question to ask. It was a question that could make or break my chances of getting the job: Did David, the sole remaining founding pastor, know what I thought about his work and how it related to, and affected, UBC?