Finding The Way, Part 2by Dan Stolebarger, Director of Koinonia Institute
This article is the second in a series of what will be my Doctoral Dissertation to Louisiana Baptist University. It is my personal pilgrimage of where I have been, where I am at, and where I hope to go! In other words, it is my journey and my attempt to find The Way... If you missed Part 1, see the November issue.
“Fifth and E” (American Baptist Church)
Ken Pagaard was the son of missionaries and grew up in Swaziland, Africa. But after graduating from seminary, he was ready to walk away from the ministry. During this crisis in ministry, he visited an Episcopalian church in Houston, Texas, named the Church of the Redeemer.
The head pastor’s name was Graham Pulkingham and their church had a communal aspect connected with its ministry. Acts 2:42 was the basis for the community and this aspect captivated Ken.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
As Ken began to embrace this doctrine, it spoke to the issue of his crisis of faith. Ken had the conviction that what he was experiencing in the “traditional church” was not what he was reading in the New Testament. For Ken, there had to be something more and his experience in Houston reawakened him to the “revolutionary” aspect of the church that we read about in the Book of Acts. Ken began to share his new convictions with the church leadership at his church (First Baptist Church in Chula Vista, CA) and started opening up his home. Within the first few months, other leaders in the church began to do the same and then the Holy Spirit began to focus on the concept of a common purse.
Ken decided to take a cut in pay and he suggested to the church leadership that all staff members should be paid a set figure per dependent, whether it was the senior pastor or the church custodian. This formula meant that if the custodian had more dependents, then he would make more money! This was revolutionary and definitely impacted my life, because what I was looking at was in opposition to the “system” as well.
Over the years in “Community” (as it came to be known), I learned many valuable lessons and sometimes I wonder whether or not my life will intersect once again with this lifestyle.
Community offered me the opportunity to travel more than I had ever traveled in my life. In some ways I became Ken’s “Timothy,” and wherever he traveled he brought me along. In the ’70s this Christian communal movement was on the “cutting edge” and Ken, being a “mainline” Baptist, was very much sought after.
There were many things that I admired about Ken, one being his passion for the Scriptures and the other being his integrity. Community living was difficult; we had to share rooms, and sometimes one room would have two triple bunks in them! For many years I lived with six guys in our room. We adopted the poverty-level standard for our lifestyle and, at that time, after we turned in our weekly paycheck, we all received five dollars “allowance” for entertainment.
All of our basic needs were met and by accepting the “poverty level” as our standard of living, we were able to free up members in our households to be full-time ministers. In my early years in Community, I worked the graveyard shift at Rohr Industries, an aircraft manufacturer. After a few years of working at Rohr and leading the House of Abba, our weekly coffeehouse, the elders of the church believed it was time for me to pursue my “formal” education. The Community freed me up to go to Junior College, then on to Point Loma College, where I earned my Bachelors degree, and finally on to Bethel West Seminary, where I earned my Masters of Divinity degree and was ordained by the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest.
Let me be candid that my road to ordination was not a smooth one. Many times I stumbled as a young Christian and had my times of “falling away.” I left Community a couple of times only to return after a short season of disillusionment with the world and what I felt it had to offer.
One incident that I feel is monumental and is probably one of the reasons I am where I am today had to do with one of those “falling away” seasons. I had left Community and after a month or so of running from God, I came back to the Church and made my way into Ken’s office. I experienced the same fate as the prodigal when he returned to his father!
That weekend the church was having a Winter Retreat and Ken insisted that I come along. At one of the sessions Ken asked me to come and speak. When I approached the stage, one of the elders of the church stood and questioned in front of the congregation if I should be allowed to share.
The moment was thick with emotion and I said, “No problem” and headed outside. Little did I realize until afterward that Ken stood up and said: “If we, as a Body, cannot receive back our prodigals and become a redemptive community, then I will offer my resignation at this time!” This event was monumental! I returned and since that time have not “looked back”!
During my ten years in Community I lost someone that I thought I could not live without, but God replaced that void with the love of my life! My wife, Sharon, was also a member of our Community and after God stripped away someone that I would have been “unequally yoked” with, he matched me up with my helpmate and we were blessed with three wonderful sons!
During this time I began to rebuild the broken bridges that occurred with my mom and dad. By the way, when I mentioned last month that on the night that God touched my life, all but one of my friends with me received Christ; the lone holdout was my stepbrother Kent. (Kent was more than a real brother to me!) Even though my family was convinced, because of my lifestyle, that I was involved in some kind of cult, I kept loving them! There is a principle about the faithfulness of God and His promises that I have come to believe in because I have experienced it. In Acts 16:30-32 it says:
He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.
Tragedy hit our family when two major events happened. These events were unwelcome, but God has been faithful to see us through. The first was when my brother was diagnosed with cancer. Kent was a great athlete and after college went on to pursue professional baseball. He went to Chapman University on a baseball scholarship, and after graduating went on to play in the Los Angeles Angels minor league farm system. After a few years of trying but not succeeding in breaking into the Major Leagues, Kent began his coaching career.
As he was getting started, he also worked as a painter. After a couple of years, Kent was always getting sick so he went for a physical. Following a series of tests, he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called mylofibrosis-fatal and incurable. After a series of blood transfusions, Kent lost his life.
This was devastating to the Froede family. During one of my visits to the hospital, Kent asked me about that night so many years back (keep in mind that up to this time he never wanted to talk about Jesus, but now he wanted to know how I could be so sure of my faith). What a precious time that was, alone in the hospital with my brother. That night Kent received Jesus as his Lord and Savior! A few days later he passed away, and I do look forward to the time when we can play catch again together in heaven!
As I look back, I now can see that my dad never recovered from Kent’s death. He carried the grief and pain for about ten years before he too got ill and, after a short battle with a lung infection, passed away. But about a year before his death my dad began attending church and he too came to know Jesus.
In fact one of my greatest memories, when visiting my dad in the hospital, was when he told me that the one thing that he was most proud about was that fact that on the previous Easter he served as a deacon at church. God is faithful and I have seen my “household” come to faith when I thought it could never happen!
Around this time another event took place that rocked my world. My spiritual father “stumbled and fell”! Ken was always on the cutting edge and eventually got involved in the “inner healing” ministry. Because of his all-or-nothing approach, Ken took on some of the most needy and broken women in the church. He felt that if Jesus couldn’t heal and set these women free, then Christianity had “limits.”
Over the next few years, accusations concerning sexual misconduct began to surface. The situation became unbearable and Ken refused to walk away from this ministry. As elders of the church, we reached out to both The Church of the Redeemer and Reba Place Fellowship. Because of our ongoing relationship with Reba Place, the elders of Reba agreed to get involved.
To all of our dismay, Ken refused to submit his ministry and the accusations of sexual misconduct kept coming. Because of Ken’s refusal to submit his ministry and seek redemption and reconciliation, we had no other choice than to remove Ken from the Community and as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chula Vista. The void was enormous.
The elders appointed Dick Hensgen and myself to be “co-pastors.” Dick was older and it was thought that he would keep the “old guard” and the non-community members content and I was the choice for the Community and younger members of the church. At that time, the church was about 400 members with 250 people involved in the communal aspect of the ministry. We soon found out the following Biblical principle stands the test of time:
Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
The next few years were difficult; Ken attended the services and “critiqued” my sermons. At that time with the co-pastorate, I was the designated “preacher” while Dick was the administrative anchor.
Before one year passed, Ken Pagaard died of a heart attack and went to be with the Lord. This left the flock in shambles and the question that nobody wanted to face was … what’s next? Many felt that the foundation that their lives had been anchored to was severed and now they were just adrift at sea.
Life continued on for a few years at First Baptist with Dick and I trying to keep the ship afloat and experiencing the awkwardness of a co-pastorate that oftentimes had “four hands” on the wheel instead of two. The church began to split from within. This could not go on much longer...
Next month, Part 3: “The Main Event-Wrestling with God and Walking with a Limp!”