Life has not slowed down for Tom Rempel. As a retired pastor, you can find him meeting with a pastor or young leader for coffee, guest speaking on a Sunday to help a local church, or teaching at a leader’s conference. He wants to help the Church. He thinks about it, plans for it, acts upon it, and prays for it. Having been in ministry for over 50 years, he kind of knows a thing or two.
Tom grew up as a pastor’s kid in western Nebraska. He met his wife, Linda, a pastor’s daughter, while they were in junior high. They married while still in high school. They were a good match and shared several things in common. One was that she did not want to be a pastor‘s wife and Tom did not want to be a pastor. Through his extended family and his father as an evangelist and bible teacher, Tom knew about God and heard the Gospel but wasn’t convinced if it was true.
Having been married for a few years and working in a grocery store in rural Nebraska, Tom had a conviction that then led to a new trajectory. “I remember saying to Linda,” Tom shared, “ I think I want go back to college…specifically to bible college. I wanted to know if the Bible is true. Linda and I and our son moved to Denver in 1971 and started school with a class on inductive bible studies in the Gospel of John. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by my need of a Savior. At this time, I was working as a shopping mall janitor. After work I would come home at night, and would sit and weep, devastated by my lost condition. That October in 1971, God graciously saved me. Linda would say she was married to one man one day, and a different man the next without getting a divorce in between. God used the word to convict and draw me to Him.”
Since then, Tom and Linda have raised a family, served in four different churches, with the last 40 years being in Lincoln. Twenty-nine years after establishing and leading Faith Bible Church, they are now stepping into a new season of life. As Tom reflects on all that God has done, several principles, values, and lessons come to mind. Now, Tom’s conviction and burden is to pass on that wisdom to today’s church leaders. Here are just four he shares with our Family.
1. Don’t Forget Word and Spirit
“This last year and a half,” Tom described, “I’ve been preaching all over and I am amazed at the impact of church growth has had over three decades. My concern is that corporate models are prioritized over theological models. I have read the leadership books and have witnessed when we spend our time on vision but little time in God’s Word. The last few years of pastoring, it seemed we had developed the idea that we could accomplish a whole agenda and not open the Bible. We would have elder meetings and lead deacon meetings without contemplating the Word. There’s a role for the business side for sure, but there must be a priority order and it’s got to be first God’s Word.”
“There’s also got to be a genuine radical dependence on the Lord and the commitment to prayer. I’ve witnessed this these past eight years in my relationship with the Citylight Family of Churches. Warren Wiersbe once said, “If you can explain how it happened, it wasn’t God.” I see this at Citylight and the other churches…they acknowledge that they are feeble, frail and impotent to make any difference for eternity. BUT GOD. We can’t lose that. My prayer is that the Church embraces the scripture as final authority on all matters of practice and that those who lead use the Bible and prayer for everything, accept advice only from those who use the bible for everything, and that they only hire their staff who do the same.”
“One last thing, today’s Bible church movement has developed so much biblical illiteracy. We need to restore and retain the commitment that the Word of God is sufficient. We need to be radically dependent on the working power of the Holy Spirit so that we don’t default to the flesh. Once leaders and members get ministry going and on a roll…they must remember that it’s not just outlines for sermons, quieting Sunday school classrooms or planning the worship order that offers thematic flow, but instead that they don’t forget that it is the work of the Spirit of God. John 6 says the flesh accomplished nothing. The church systems, plans, statements, and strategic outlines can all set aside the Holy Spirit. You then have the candlestick removed while no one is noticing that it has happened.”
2. Communicate Clearly Your Non-Negotiables
“The Last decade I have come to understand the value of core values,” Tom said without hesitance. “Sometimes our personal core values are theological or philosophical. God shapes leaders with a set of these “non-negotiables.” When you are clear about those, there can be great pressure applied to let those go. Do not!“
“Not long ago, I read the book Onward by the founder of Starbucks. The board at one time removed him as CEO but then some five years later asked him to return. After he assessed their circumstance, he came to the conclusion that the explanation for the company’s downturn was that they had abandoned their core values. My granddaughter and her husband were attending Moody Bible College and she was working as a barista at the nearby Starbucks. Not long after reading that book, we went to visit her and stopped by that Starbucks. We sat for two hours and watched how they all functioned. You could clearly see all the re-established core values and how they are lived out there. As a minister, you personally must know your core values and you can’t let go of them when pressure is applied.”
3. Know When to Say When
“I wish someone early on had taught me when to say ‘when,’” Tom shrugged with a grin. “I’m so optimistic. I’ll sit with people with scripture and shepherd them. I would tell myself that it’s out of love and concern. I know other pastors would say this too. Here’s the thing, if the person you are pouring into does not want to change, we must invest ourselves somewhere else. This lamb will continue to rebel. I don’t regret when I have done this but instead, regret when I could have put that time into those who truly wanted to grow.”
“There are marks that can be determined ahead of time if they are making progress in the right direction. This can be done by giving them some action steps to take, setting some expectations, and if the next time they have not done those, they are likely not going anywhere. You begin to wonder if they really want help or if you are only making them feel better. That’s all subjective yet measurable. The other mark is for young husbands to learn to listen to the intuition and insight of their wives. Linda has saved me from so many disasters. When decisions failed it was because I didn’t consult with her. Men, consult your wives.”
4. Live Radically By Faith
“I would say in pastoring you can never do ministry without the exercise of your faith,” Tom said in closing. “Larry Crabb once said, “Commit yourself to living a life of wonder.” It is the demonstration of courage as a pastor and ministry leader. To basically be so responsive and obedient to the Holy Spirit and to live with such a radical commitment to it that you can only live by faith. It’s not foolish to live this way. It’s listening to that quiet voice of the Spirit through the Word. God says that this is His plan for us and we must have the courage to take that step regardless of the cost. Most likely, even the people closest to you won’t understand that. That’s the beauty of plurality of leadership. You get to ask those trusted men and women in your life “Have I lost my mind?”
Tom and Linda have lived one amazing story after another with God showing up each time. They would describe themselves as practical people with boots on the ground, seeking to live in obedience to the voice of the Spirit. Having once heard John Piper ask, “What is your one holy ambition?” Tom wrote his down immediately and never takes his eyes off of it….
“Equipping God’s people through God’s Word to do God’s work in God’s world.”
To contact Tom, please email him at tom.rempel2atgmail.com.