Surprised & Grateful

By Andy McQuitty

Nobody ever knows for sure what the future holds, least of all in church ministry. The senior pastorate is notoriously known for short stints. But Alice and I had a good feeling about IBC. Despite warnings from friends, we accepted the call and came. Lambs to the slaughter? Some thought so. We were either too naïve, too young, or too idealistic to take them seriously. All we knew was that IBC seemed like a place where we could connect and minister well and it was the only opportunity before us. When Pat Knight told us she wanted us there for the next 25 years, we laughed and said OK. It was a nice thought, encouraging and all, but c’mon. Maybe Pat knew something I didn’t. I’m surprised...and grateful.The church had been through some hard times in those days. Just before the previous Christmas, they had felt the need to terminate their pastor and associate pastor. A couple of years before that, the church had gone through a major split. As a young associate pastor at Northeast Bible Church in Garland, I vividly remember hearing of IBC’s firing of their senior staff right when Christmas carols were being played on the radio. “God help the poor guy who pastors that church next!” I said to my friend, Ray Pritchard. Evidently, Ray wasn’t the only person who heard my words. God did as well, and he has a mischievous sense of humor.

The learning curve during those early days at 2700 West Finley Road was steep. I was 32 years old, and the guys on the elder board used to rib me mercilessly about how green I was. “Nobody’s worth their salt until they’re 35,” they used to say. I figured I was in for about three years’ worth of initiation. In a way, I was. When I came to IBC, I had never ever preached two weekends in a row. I truly wondered if I’d be able to get sermons prepared and pastor at the same time. I had to learn to read a spreadsheet and, with Skip Bennett and Dave Sinclair, “triage” the bills to determine on Monday morning what the previous day’s offering would allow us to pay. We were a small and struggling church.

But what faith so many at IBC had! I remember a particularly low-attended Sunday when I’d finished preaching and was visiting with Doug Hotchkiss. I had wondered how long we could keep going with so few people. And I had made so many mistakes that I wondered if I’d last a year. That’s when Doug asked if I’d thought about what staff I would hire because the day was coming when I’d need them. I was amazed, just wanting us to be able to keep the few staff we had, including me! That 20 years later we’d have over 80 on staff at IBC boggles my mind. Maybe Doug knew something I didn’t. I’m surprised, and grateful!

God’s saints in those days at our church had names like Betty Slackney and Gene Brown and Rick Knight and Mickey Lee and Bill Nickell and Buist Fanning and Jo Dennis and Pat Downey and Florence Jarrell and a host of others who many at IBC today may not know, but owe. Scores of brave, faithful people weathered one storm after another without bailing. I’m convinced that IBC prospers today because of their investment of blood, sweat and tears in staying the course through thick and thin.

The extent of IBC’s technology in those days was an IBM Selectric typewriter and a mimeograph machine. Today, my children don’t know what either of those is. I remember what a big deal it was when a few of us went to the bank and I personally co-signed a loan for $16,000 to purchase our first Apple computer system. We went from “mimeographing” the bulletin by hand to desktop publishing in one fell swoop. We were on top of the world! In those days, little things loomed large. At the Finley campus, our parking lot butted up against the backyards of several homes, one of which sported a very scary, barking Doberman that scared away our visitors. I’m convinced that one of our smartest church growth strategies was building a wood fence that put old Fido out of sight.

Another was IBC’s first construction project under my watch-a sign. On Finley Road, we were across the street from a Nazarene church that had a large church sign. We had none. Here’s how we directed people to IBC: “Find the Nazarene Church and then cross the street!” Not too smart. People would follow the first part of the directions, but not the second! So we raised money, trusted God, and built the finest church sign you ever saw-even had a cool planter at the base and was internally lit. Our entire congregation held hands and made a circle of dedication when that sign was completed. You’d of thought we’d built the Taj Majal.

One evening I came in for a board meeting, and the guys had a huge cattle salt lick with a salt shaker on top for me. It was my birthday, and their card read, “Finally worth his salt.” I was surprised, but grateful! On February 3, 1991, I rolled out a message on Sunday morning titled “Purpose: Letting the ‘Why’ Drive the ‘Wherefore’.” I based the sermon on 1 Peter 2.9,10: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light...” How would IBC “proclaim” Jesus’ excellencies? I didn’t know for sure. But I did let myself dream out loud in eight statements that must have been from God because they’ve been largely fulfilled in ensuing years at IBC. The first of those encapsulate the spirit of them all:

I dream of a church where...The Gospel is the underlying theme; where grace is accepted, valued, extended; where the salvation of souls is the norm, not the exception; where self-discipline and holiness of life spring, not from guilty compulsion, but from grateful servanthood; where joy and hope reign. Where love for people springs from love for God; where joy and gratefulness to God permeate the air; where God’s people are one in spirit; where service is considered a privilege and not a pain.

We set out with no specific picture in mind of what IBC would look like in 20 years. Instead, we had a vision for the kind of place IBC would be, and trusted that good things would result. People took that dream and ran with it. I doubt any of us from those early days could have imagined the specific things IBC is doing around the world in these days. But I think all of us recognize IBC today as the church we loved way back then. It’s bigger, but the heart is the same-people who love God and each other and who seek to build The Kingdom together while breathing the air of gospel, joy and grace. I’m surprised, and grateful!

Images flash across my mind when I remember how all this has played out. I think of Opal Core, now in Heaven, grilling me when I visited her in the hospital when she was in her eighties. “So Andy, what’s with all these changes at IBC?” We had introduced dramatic sketches, contemporary music, and less formal dress to our services. “Opal, I think we need to do this to relate better to the young people that we’re trying to reach.” Silence. Then Opal asks, “Will it work?” I smile. “Don’t know, Opal, but I sure do think so.” Then Opal smiles and gives me the blessing of IBC’s reigning matriarch. “Then let’s do it.” For several years afterward, Opal could be seen sitting middle center in IBC’s worship services, surrounded by young people, beaming and clapping her hands to the rock beat which she never did really cotton to. She’d pass me in the crowded hallways and whisper, “It’s working...” and squeeze my arm. At her funeral, we released balloons to celebrate this young-at-heart saint’s home-going; her unselfish and forward looking spirit set many free to experience joy who will never know her name this side of glory.

People. It’s always people that God uses to lead, to inspire, to move his work forward. Rex Greenstreet is also in Heaven now, but he is one that God used to form the ethos and spirit of IBC. A quadriplegic from a diving accident as a young man, Rex lived in a wheelchair, a formally angry man redeemed by Christ’s love and dedicated to loving others in Christ’s name. For over 20 years, Rex personally called every visitor to IBC, welcoming and directing and advising and helping them. That same ministry takes many people to accomplish today at IBC and is aptly called “The Greenstreet Ministry.” When my Elizabeth was only six, she used to push Rex to his brown van after church and operate the buttons to lift him in. All the children loved Rex. All the adults loved Rex. I loved Rex, and sorely miss him to this day. His infectious smile, his servant’s heart, his irrepressible joy from a wheelchair. O God, how do you make such noble people? I’m surprised, but grateful.

Since we’ve never felt especially beholding to religious legalisms in building IBC, our way has often been marked by trial and error, a few home-runs, but a whole lot of strikeouts. I’ve learned that it doesn’t just take forward looking, courageous leaders to build a church. It also takes a very longsuffering congregation! Thanks Lord for the dear, dear people of IBC who have endured so much wackiness over the years. Thanks that, when Tonya Mehne pulled out a gun in our very first dramatic sketch in a worship service, they didn’t all run screaming from the room. Thanks that, when IBC’s old-fashioned electric organ and hymnals and choir robes mysteriously disappeared one Saturday night never to be found again, they didn’t have me arrested. Thanks that, when we made the executive decision to paint the old sanctuary on Finley Road green to cover up the knot holes in the paneling, they didn’t turn us over to Martha Stewart.

Thanks that, when we launched our short-term IBC mission trips by taking nine innocents to Haiti where they encountered medical crises, sailboats as transportation, and voodoo doctors, they made it back with an appetite for more! Thanks that, when we showed a larger than life photo in services of Da Vinci’s anatomically correct statue of David, they didn’t bring up the staff on vice charges. Thanks that, when IBC’s senior pastor was twice arrested and thrown in jail for protesting at abortion clinics, they didn’t give up on him, even though one time he barely got bailed out in time to introduce IBC’s guest speaker that day, Dr. Don Campbell, then president of Dallas Theological Seminary. And thanks that, when we made a racy video encouraging couples to come to evening services by finding other things to do on Sunday morning before getting out of bed and I had to say “I’m sorry!” before the whole church, they accepted the apology.

It’s been a lot for people to put up with, this IBC phenomenon. From the days on Finley Road when we owned three houses behind the church that we used for ministry, we had challenges. One of the houses was dedicated to youth ministry and we built the mother of all decks on the back for kids to congregate. Soon we had kids, lots of them, most of them not nice church kids. After youth meetings our parking lot was strewn with cigarette butts and beer cans. Thanks IBC that you saw these, not as reasons to shut ministry down, but to be encouraged that kids who needed Jesus were being reached! Thanks too that when our very first outdoor concert on Finley Road got shut down by the Irving police because neighbors complained of noise, you didn’t get cold feet about concerts. We went on to host Whiteheart, Jeff Moore and the Distance, The Newsboys, DC Talk, and even the Dixie Chicks (those groups date us, but hey, this is a retrospective after all!). Thanks for undertaking the extremely inconvenient task of uprooting and moving the whole church kit and caboodle to Las Colinas in 1996, and then of building and dedicating needed new facilities in 2002. No rest for the weary! But you never balked. I’m surprised, but grateful.

I am personally responsible for virtually nothing that makes IBC the truly remarkable church that it is today. I feel like a fortunate hitchhiker who managed to thumb his way aboard an operation that was staffed with talented leaders, blessed with passionate people, and directed by a gracious God. I love IBC’s Sonshine Pals and One Parent Plus Kids ministries, but I didn’t think of them. I’m blessed by the Parenting Alone ministry, Water is Basic, and Less is More, but these weren’t my brainchildren. I love the candles, the art wall, the baptistery, The Mo, and The Tubes, but many people brought these ideas to reality. I didn’t come up with Men’s Fraternity, WE, Celebrate Recovery, Bridges, Chatter, The Alcove, Bible Communities, The Boiler Room, or Tapestry, but I thank God for them and the people who make them life-changing ministries in the lives of so many. It’s amazing to see what great people with great love for a great God can accomplish with great effort. I’m reminded of an old D.L. Moody line, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a person whose life is completely sold out to him.” I think I have an idea, Mr. Moody. I’m surprised, but grateful!

I never wanted to be a pastor when I was growing up. I resisted because as a PK myself, I’d never had roots in a community, and that’s not the life I wanted for my own family. When the Lord made it clear that being a pastor was what I had to do, like it or not, I said OK, but would he please grant me one request? Would He let me stay in one place where I can minister well and do it with my friends? Over these years, my three daughters and two sons were dedicated and baptized at IBC, the only church home they’ve ever known. IBC is my first and only senior pastorate. 20 years down the road, I think God’s answer was “yes.”

I’m surprised...and grateful.

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