As GCA’s presence on the web continues to grow, people have become naturally curious about me, my background, and my ministerial training. The question usually looks like this: Are you the same guy who used to travel with a rock band? How did you get here?
The ministry of GCA is devoted to the exposition of God’s word — making sure that Christ gets all the glory and God is exalted. But, I also understand that people want to know about the man they’re listening to.
Here’s my basic life story — at least, so far.
Born in Detroit, Mt. Carmel Hospital, Sept. 21, 1955. Dad worked for American Airlines while attending night school pursuing a law degree. I was the second of five kids. Three girls, two boys.
I was 5 when we moved to Irving, TX. (outside Dallas). I was 7 (or thereabouts) when we moved to Elyria, OH. (outside Cleveland) — North Ridgeville, to be exact. I was 10 when my dad accepted a position with the Kroger Co. and we moved to Houston, TX. While we were in Houston, I met the first really influential pastor of my life. Our little Lutheran church met in a high school cafeteria and we were frequently without a pastor as the Lutheran hierarchy shuffled folk around. In retrospect, we must have been a proving ground for up-and-coming ministers as they worked toward larger, more prestigious congregations.
Anyway, when it came time for the annual catechism classes to begin (a two-year process that culminates in the “first communion”), we had no one to conduct the classes. So another Houston-based Lutheran pastor committed to coming over each week to teach the classes. However, because we were small and because of the very defined age groups, I was in a class by myself (insert your own joke here). That pastor, whose name I don’t recall, took a real interest in me and for two years he guided me, encouraged me, and he was the main reason I began saying that when I grew up I was going to be a Lutheran minister. My “first communion” was in his church and it was a very emotional moment in my young life.
At the same time I was becoming a rather adept little drummer. In 7th grade (at T.H. Rogers Junior High, Houston) my music director recognized my percussive abilities and arranged an audition with the Houston All-City Symphony, an orchestra made up of the area’s best high school and college musicians. I passed the audition and suddenly I was their youngest member, hammering away at snare drums, timpani, crash cymbals, and various mallet instruments, like xylophones and chimes.
In the summer of 1969 we toured England, Scotland, and Wales, performed at the Royal Academy of Music, and were part of the ceremonies for the investiture of Charles as the Prince of Wales. On a day off in London, I walked to Hyde Park (we were staying near the Victoria Gardens) and joined the throng to watch the Rolling Stones in concert. That was my first rock concert. Even though I had heard plenty of rock songs on the radio — and mentioned The Who as my favorite rock band in an interview with a local Houston newspaper — I had never witnessed the power and spectacle of a real rock concert. I was hooked.
While I was overseas, my parents moved to Livonia, Mich. So I never got to “go home.” Instead, when we landed in Houston, I was put on another airplane to Detroit. A month later I found myself in the first day of band practice at Dickinson Junior High with kids who were working on the C scale. Yikes. I auditioned for the Michigan Youth Symphony, sponsored by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and found my musical outlet there. But, I was leaning toward jazz and rock as my abilities on the drum set improved.
I spent my high school and college years in Livonia. During those years I was very active at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. So much so that I began teaching 5th-6th grade Sunday School, was an acolyte, and even conducted services in the pastor’s absence, walking the congregation through the liturgy (although an elder would conduct the sermon). But, as my beard grew out and my hair grew longer, murmuring began. Eventually, the Lutherans and I had a falling out.
In my second year of college I was heavily influenced by a Jewish sociology professor who made me essentially a socialist agnostic. He successful undermined every argument I presented in favor of Christianity and I came to realize that the Lutherans had left me woefully under-educated about the Christian faith and they provided me with no tools to present an effective apologetic. So I essentially put my faith on hold.
At the same time, my music career was going great guns. I was playing the best joints in the Detroit area, frequently toured Canada, played as far away as Chicago, and was performing with the Stevenson Jazz Ensemble, opening for the likes of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, the Four Freshman and other touring big-bands. I would attend a semester or two of college and then go on the road for a while with various show-bands, taking me all the way to New Orleans. I’d return home, take more classes, tour more, etc. My major was English and I quit short of my four-year degree. So, when my folks were preparing to move to Cincinnati (home of the the Kroger corporate offices), I decided to move to Los Angeles. I spent the summer of 1976 playing in the house band of a resort in Lake Geneva, WI. And on my 21st birthday, September 21, 1976, I set out for the left coast with two of my high school musician buddies.
The California Years
I was fortunate. I found work pretty quickly and started playing local clubs, auditioning during the day, and playing wherever and whenever I could. In fact, I fell into an audition for Billy Preston and played several local concerts with him — including an afternoon concert in MacArthur park, where I finally understood the lyrics of that song. :-) That connection netted me some session work at A&M studios and suddenly I was a working LA musician.
Even though I considered myself a Christian to some extent, and I assumed God existed and probably liked me, I spent no time in church and didn’t own a Bible.
It was only a matter of a couple years before 707 signed a recording contract and we were on our way into the big time. We recorded four studio albums from 1979 to 1982, toured extensively with the likes of REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent, played the biggest arenas in America, and blew up. By the time the band was over, I was pretty broke and pretty beat up. Here’s the band, playing live on a couple of TV shows. Please note that I DID have hair.
For a while I had an apartment in North Hollywood and another in San Rafael, north of San Francisco. It was while I was in San Rafael, Easter of 1982, that I heard a preacher on television in the middle of the night, preaching on the proof of the resurrection. It was life-altering. After the preacher looked into the camera and said, “Settle it,” I walked outside into the garden in front of my apartment, looked up at the sky, and said, “Checkmate. You win.” I’ve been pursuing the truth of God ever since. Remarkably, that moment was also the beginning of the end of my rock’n’roll career. In retrospect, God’s hand was quite evident.
After the band broke up I returned to Los Angeles and sought out the pastor who preached that message. For a couple of years I attended his church while working in film and TV production. I also worked on recording projects for a variety of artists, both as a drummer and as an engineer/producer. As I grew closer to the church I began playing drums (and later piano) for them. And then I entered their intern program, which I attended for about four years. I became part of their paid staff and worked tirelessly. During that period I read voraciously and learned a tremendous amount about ministry through the internship — both how to and how NOT to. The pastor used to say, “The older I get, the more Calvinistic I become.” That was my introduction to Calvinism. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew he mentioned it occasionally.
It was during my tenure at the church in Southern California that I met and married my wife. My son James was born in 1988 and we did not want to raise him in Southern California.
The Tennessee Years
We had visited Middle Tennessee several times and really liked the area. Plus, at the time, Vanderbilt was courting divinity students and giving away full-ride scholarships to attract good candidates. That sounded attractive. But, once I visited with them and went through their curriculum, it was so decidedly liberal that I walked away.
We arrived in Shelbyville in November of ‘88. We moved into the house where I still reside in February of ‘89 and my daughter Megan was born in June. During that time I essentially swore off church. I was tired of hearing people tell me what the Bible said and what I was supposed to think about it. And it occurred to me that I had never really invested the time to read the Bible through and understand the “big picture” stuff. So that first year in Tennessee was a great learning period. I bought the Bible on tape and every moment in the car or spare moment at home was spent listening to and reading the Bible. And I discovered things in that book that I had never heard anyone speak of — things like predestination, election, foreknowledge, and God doing everything according the good counsel of His own will. It was rather startling — and immensely enlightening.
Eventually, I started listening to preachers again. I visited a few local churches. I saw a few guys on local TV. It was pretty grim, overall. But one Sunday morning I saw a local fellow who caught my attention. What he was saying was in league with what I’d been reading. So the next Sunday I tuned in again and I was surprised to hear him consistently speak of a God who was actually Sovereign. The next Sunday I got in the car and drove 40 miles to Franklin, TN in search of his church. And I spent six years there.
I still remember the first time I walked into the assistant pastor’s office and saw Calvin’s Institutes on his bookshelf. “Oh,” I thought, “this is Calvinism.” It all started to make sense.
The Pastor Years
During those days the church sponsored weekly doctrine classes for those of us who were really serious about this stuff. The pastor met with a handful of us every Tuesday in his office and we worked our way through the details and implications of various theological/doctrinal issues. It was very helpful and I was absorbing every book I could borrow from his library. I became part of their teaching staff. It was also during that period that I spent a year and a half, more or less, as the interim pastor for Grace Church at Dover. That was a vital part of my growth as a teacher/pastor. Every Sunday I had to be ready to preach two different messages, morning and evening. I drove two hours up to Dover in the morning, spent all day up there, and drove two hours home at night — all for the opportunity to preach. When my tenure there was completed I turned my attention back to the church in Franklin, continuing to teach Sunday School, as well as two weekly home meetings and preaching in the pastor’s absence.
It was during those days that I met men like John Reisinger, Barney Johnson, Elder DJ Ward, Oliver Bouie, David Morris, and other preachers from around the country who came to Franklin for various conferences. I was fortunate to get to know them and spend time picking their brains. I continued reading Reformed writers and began really refining my thinking and theology. I also became part of Sound of Grace, writing both for their chat group — debating and defending various aspects of theology — and their online commentary series. In fact, it was that period of writing that became the basis for my Hebrews and Galatians commentaries.
So those were the days when I really delved into theology proper and dug deep. But, there were troubles ahead. I won’t get into all the reasons that I left the church in Franklin, but it became unavoidable. I was careful and purposeful to leave quietly and not cause any internal controversy for them. I wasn’t sure what was next. I began visiting local Nashville churches every Sunday, just looking to see what was going on in the church world. It was depressing. What a mess the confessing evangelical church was (and is).
Grace Christian Assembly
I was approached by several people who asked if I would be willing to keep teaching. So I began a weekly Bible study, meeting in local hotel conference rooms, on Tuesday evenings (so as not to conflict with any other church meetings). Those meetings eventually moved to my living room.
One thing I was interested in was being able to help some of our attendees financially. But I know of far too many religious meetings that got in trouble with the IRS for taking up collections, opening bank accounts, and not accounting for the tax implications. So, we began the process of establishing ourselves as a 501c3 tax-exempt corporation. During that period we also began looking for a local place to meet since our attendance was outgrowing our meeting space. And we needed a name. So, I went with the most simple, straightforward name I could think of:
Grace — because that’s the essential element in everything we teach
Christian – because we’re Christians
Assembly – because that’s the best translation of the word “ekklesia.”
Little did we know that the word “assembly” would cause confusion. To this day we still have visitors who think we are an Assemblies of God church. Boy, are they surprised! We even have one couple who has been with us for several years, but who avoided us originally because of our name. So, we recently changed our sign to read: Salvation By Grace. That got the word assembly off the sign and it reinforces our website name.
In year 2000, as it was becoming more obvious that our attendees viewed our weekly meetings as their “home church,” we moved our meetings to Sunday morning. And the officers of the GCA corporation concluded that it was time to seek ordination. So, calls were made to David Morris, who spoke with Elder Ward, and my ordination was scheduled for May 5. I had avoided ordination in my previous church settings and internship because I didn’t feel I was ready. And I wanted to be ordained by like-minded men. I was (and am) honored and humbled by the willingness of Elders Morris and Ward to come to Nashville and officiate the ceremony. And, since we had known each other for several years, their assessment of my readiness and orthodoxy was tremendously reassuring.
In 2001 we moved into our current building and we’ve been meeting there ever since, progressively knocking out walls, opening new spaces, and continuing to grow.
The Hard Years
In August of 2001 I had a critical surgery to remove a growth from my duodenum that was pinching off the pancreatic gland and intruding on the bile duct. It was a difficult, involved surgery that resulted in pancreatitis, leading to a week-long stay in the surgical ICU, hovering between this life and the next. In retrospect, I tell people that God decided two things that week: He decided that I was going to live. And He decided that it was going to hurt. He was right on both counts. I was still at home recovering in bed when planes hit buildings in New York. That landmark date resonates with me for more than one reason.
But that was not the most painful and difficult event of the last ten years. That occurred in December of 2003 when I came home to discover that my marriage was at an end. Adjectives do not do justice to how painful that was. I stepped down from the pulpit and walked away from everything I had worked so hard to build. The actual divorce decree was handed down in October of 2004 after it became obvious that all attempts to reconcile were futile.
I make no secret of the fact that I am a divorced pastor. Naturally, some people struggle with that fact. And I understand. I do. I had to make peace with that fact, myself. I am convinced, both through my own study and through the counsel of men much smarter than myself, that the circumstances of my divorce did not disqualify me from the ministry. And fortunately, grace won out. The folk of GCA have embraced me and the intervening years in the life of GCA have been wonderfully blessed and happy years.
These days, I have the best life I could have imagined. The kids and I are thriving. I have a recording studio in my home where I work on various spoken-word and musical projects. I have a beautiful set of Pearl drums (which only the kids ever hear me play), and various musical instruments to hit, strum, and pluck. I get to indulge my theological passions for a living and I am surrounded by people who are remarkably kind and patient with me as I dig deep into the Word. I correspond with people scattered around the globe via our website, email, and Facebook. And I get to preach the Word without making the compromises that so many preachers are forced to make. I’m a blessed guy.
I used to be slightly embarrassed by my lack of formal theological training. I spent many years essentially “proving” myself. In fact, for the first eight years of GCA’s existence I didn’t even take any money for my services. I prioritized the church’s financial stability and well-being. These days, I don’t feel the need to prove myself so much. I think the work speaks for itself. My lack of seminary training is no longer an issue. In fact, at this year’s Men’s Conference in Chattanooga, Dr. Greene said from the pulpit that the only reason seminaries came into being was that the church had failed to do its job. And I agree with that, wholeheartedly. The church’s mission and purpose has always been to train and raise up men and women who know the gospel, who understand sound doctrine, and who can teach and proclaim it. The church was meant to be a source of biblical education. And I am very fortunate in that I had a series of very good church-based teachers. I was raised in the church, I was taught in the church, I was trained in the church, I was ordained in the church, and now I serve the church. And, God willing, I’ll do so until my final breath.
So, that’s the tale thus far.
Grace and peace,