In August of 1998 a young intern walked into the office of the president of Circle Urban Ministries of Chicago and let him have it. It was a week or so into his internship and he did not feel he was getting his money’s worth. ”I’ve uprooted my life and drug my family 300 miles for this!?!” was his mindset that particular day and he really didn’t care who knew. At some point in the rant he shared “I’ve seen you at Promisekeepers, and I know you are a big wig in the denomination, but I’m not impressed with you national guys. You’ve got the same Holy Spirit I got!” It was one of many rants that president would have to endure over the next 13 years from the young man.
The young man was in a stage in life where he attacked viciously anybody he felt who had a superficial understanding of faith. He had good reason to do so. He was coming off an intense episode of “church abuse” where for 3 years he and his wife served their heart out for a leader, only to realize said leader was manipulating them for his own personal gain. When it became apparent the manipulation no longer could happen, the young leader was slandered throughout his hometown. The intern’s former boss actively tried to destroy the young man’s ministry career. It was an attack of narcissism to the Nth degree.
So now it was on – with everybody in established leadership. The young leader was wounded, and like a wounded animal his major mode of engagement was attack. He perceived established leaders to have no deep commitment to change the racial and social class status quo, and believed they possessed no deep thoughts. They were only in ministry for the notoriety, he thought. He saw Christian leaders (particularly nationally known ones) as having a colossal problem of possessing a faith not worth having.
At the end of the office rant the intern demanded more of the president’s time! The president calmly said he would do what he could. The intern said that wasn’t good enough. ”You need to meet with me because I’m worth it” the intern said, very arrogantly. The president looked the intern dead in the eye and said “Ok. We’ll see if you are as good as you think you are.”
The president helped the intern lick his church abuse wounds. Over the next 2 years the young man learned from the president that faith meant a life lived in solidarity in Christ in all things, not a mental assent to the teachings of Jesus. He learned to focus his ministry on productive good deeds for others, not trying to make a name for himself.
While other prominent leaders focused on Ephesians 2:8-9 and made an idol over the “not by works” phrase within the context of a myopic focus on heaven, the president instilled in the intern that a right prayer prayed is not enough to go to heaven. And while you are on earth waiting to go there, there is plenty of work to do. He taught the young man never conclude from those verses that one didn’t have to do anything. Just read the next verse.
When that intern left in 2000 the president kept his door open as the young man planted a church in Cincinnati based on the lessons he learned in Chicago. The president worked tirelessly behind the scenes within his denomination to platform the former intern, having him serve on all kinds of boards the former intern shouldn’t have been on. And when the young man predictably blew up board meetings the mentor cleaned up his messes quietly behind the scenes and instructed his former intern gently on how to handle things in the future.
Maybe the most important lesson the president taught his former intern was how to handle life when it comes undone. He gave him a theology of failure. The former intern watched him handle one family and ministry crisis after another with grace, dignity, and truth. The young man watched the president go through several dark nights of the soul and emerge with an even stronger faith.
The president for over 30 years held his denomination’s feet to the fire concerning reconciliation, compassion, and justice issues. Most of the urban ministries within the denomination has a direct tie to Circle Urban. He constantly agitated the national leadership to not contain all old white males, and to care for justice issues. Over the years the leadership listened, first by hiring one of the president’s former staff. They then hired another ethnic leader. But the president was not satisfied. ”You need someone of color at the highest level. You’re not serious until you do that” he told them.
So his denomination listened to the president, who in 2007 recommended they hire the young man who in 1998 had called him a shallow national leader. The young leader is not so young anymore and to the core of his soul realizes that he stands on the president’s shoulders. And he is eternally grateful.
I have met many Christians over the course of my life. Sadly, I’d say half of them have a shallow faith totally centered on escaping judgement. In other words they just want their fire insurance, or they see God as an ecclesiastical genie in a lamp to rub in the midst of a crisis. Maybe only 5% of the Christians I know I would honestly say I have modeled my life after. These are people who have a genuine faith worth having and have shared that faith generously. At the top of the list is Glen Kehrein, former president of Circle Urban Ministries and present resident of heaven.
Thanks Glen Kehrein for the gift of you. You will be greatly missed.