Joe Foltz

Husband l Father l Pastor l Preacher l Writer

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Legacy Complications: A Case Study on My Father

I think a lot about legacy, which might be a bit surprising since I’m only 32. I realized fairly early on in ministry that eventually however many years I serve the churches God calls me to, those years will be represented by my picture on the wall or my name in a book somewhere. Some people might remember a few things about me, but I will probably be mostly forgotten in the lives of those institutions. Ultimately, my legacy will be those lives my ministry touches personally but it primarily will be how I raise my children.

With yesterday being Memorial Day, I was thinking about how our legacies can be complicated after we are gone. If you know me, you probably know that my dad passed away when I was 15 years old. It was July 6, 2000. As I was thinking about Dad yesterday, I was contemplating how his legacy has been complicated since his death by the actions of others.

Dad was a teacher. His teaching career started when he was 20 and he was 50 when he died, and over those thirty years ago, he taught at the three schools he had attended as a student: Jefferson Elementary School, Wells Junior High School, and Oak Glen High School. My dad loved Christmas trees, which is a story for another day, so shortly after he died, a new tree was bought for Oak Glen in memory of my dad. My mom also started a scholarship award in his name for a graduating student. Other than those two things, much of my dad’s legacy as a teacher has been forgotten except for the ways he impacted the lives of his students and colleagues.

Dad was also a “churchman,” if you’ll allow me the use of an old term. After Dad became a Christian, he spent most of the rest of his life in some type of church leadership. The last several years of his life were spent in part-time staff ministry. For the last twelve years of his life, he was the part-time youth pastor in the church I consider my home, New Cumberland Church of the Nazarene. (This was back before there were guidelines about not letting laypeople have the title “pastor” in their job description.)

In the twelve years that Dad served there, the church grew overall, though it did have some statistically rougher years in there as well. (I think you could say that Mom actually had a bigger impact on the church growing than Dad had based on the number of leadership roles she took on over those years, but we’ll save that for a different blog post.) When we were first there, the youth group boomed and for a while, the group had to meet other places in town because there wasn’t a room big enough available in our old church building since the adults were using the sanctuary on Wednesday nights. Many of those first students Dad had in youth group went into ministry or came back home and began to become leaders in our local church.

Even when the church was growing, it was never healthy. As I got older, I started to notice that some people just never treated the pastor very well, even with Dad serving that church through three different senior pastors. After Dad died, I found out that there were times when he wasn’t treated very well and that there had been times where he thought about leaving and finding another assignment, though he ultimately always ended up staying.

Then a few years ago, some of those students from those early years, now well-established lay leaders in that local church, ousted the pastor. If you know Nazarene polity, they called for a special review of the church-pastor relationship and in response to that, the pastor resigned. This happened because they wanted to make the youth pastor at the time the senior pastor. In situations like that, you have to have the unanimous support of the District Advisory Board for that to happen. Instead, the District Advisory Board unanimously rejected that idea. So, these former students of my dad bided their time, and when a new pastor came, they left the church and started their own church.

This is where my thoughts about my dad’s legacy get complicated. I believe the actions of these former students dishonor my dad’s memory because his example was staying even when things were difficult, even when he was being treated in ways he didn’t deserve to be treated. Yet, now, those two churches are larger together than my home church ever was on its own. My hope is that is because of conversion growth rather than transfer growth, but I don’t have any information on that. If my hope is correct, there are people that are in the Kingdom that maybe wouldn’t be in the Kingdom if these few hadn’t split my home church. I struggle to think of that as a good thing since it feels dishonoring to what Dad stood for to me.

Yet, the greatest legacy of Dad isn’t the school or the church, it’s his family. Mom is still faithfully attending that same local church, now nearly 30 years later. Minus some fairly brief hiatuses, she still is the pianist for worship services. One of Dad’s children is a wife, mother, clinical psychologist, and pastor’s wife in suburban Atlanta (and yes, I’ve listed the role of wife twice on purpose). The other is a husband, father, and pastor in rural Kentucky.  Dad has three grandsons with a fourth on the way and two of them look very much like him. They’ll never know Dad but they will be impacted by his legacy because of this family that God has placed them in.

Legacy is a complicated thing. Sometimes those who are the bearers of our legacy tarnish it. When that happens, our hope must be that others will bear our legacies well. That’s a responsibility that I live with. Others have tarnished my father’s legacy. I have to admit it’s been hard for me to forgive that. In a sense, writing this blog post is mostly about me trying to disentangle some of those emotions. Yet, it’s also a reminder of the responsibility that I carry, not simply because I look like Dad but because some people will always view my actions through the man they know raised me. There’s a weight that comes with that. I like to think I carry it well. I’ve always said that Dad was the holiest, most godly man I’ve ever known. My hope and goal is that my boys will be able to say the same of me.

Observing a Holy Lent

Almost four weeks ago, I stood before my new congregation dressed in all black and said the following words from The Book of Common Prayer:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

Lent has been a meaningful time for me since I was first introduced to it as a student at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. It’s become a time where I pause, reset, and begin the journey towards the cross. I have often done what has become traditional for lenten fasting–giving up chocolate, caffeine, or only eating one meal per day. The year I gave up red meat, my wife Audra joined me and by the time Easter came, we were both sick of chicken.

This year, I have spent more of my Lenten time reflecting on the rhythms of my life. I love routine. I always have. It seems it is just part of my personality that I tend to fall into patterns of behavior. The danger is that if I am not careful, I can fall into patterns that are not particularly helpful to my own discipleship.

So, here we are, with only a few weeks left in Lent. Here are the patterns I am working on as I attempt to observe a holy Lent:

I want to be an early riser. This has been hurt in recent days by a bug on my iPhone that I was unaware of, but I am trying to make sure that I am up and going by 6 o’clock each morning. This is mostly so I can spend time with God through prayer and Scripture reading before my sons wake up because once they’re up, there isn’t a whole lot of quiet in our home and in my current assignment, any work I have to do on my computer or utilizing the internet has to be done in our home rather than at my church study.

I want to devote more time to reading the Bible. I recently listened to the “Watchword and Song” podcast with Dan Bohi, and I was impressed when Dan talked about how he devotes a tithe of his day to reading the Bible, so every day, he spends two and a half hours reading the Bible. While I’m not sure I could devote that same amount of time with my other commitments as a pastor and a father but I do sense the need to be a more devoted reader of the word.

I want to spend more time with my congregation. With my personality and gifts, I more easily identify with the pastoral roles of prophet and king. I love to preach and I love to lead. I even love the work of administration. My primary spiritual gifts are teaching and administration. I have always struggled with the pastoral role of priest. One of the ways I am trying to think through this is to think of my days as being divided into threes–mornings are for God, afternoons are for people, and evenings are for my family. This would mean spending more afternoons spending time with the people who call me pastor.

I want to spend more time with pre-Christians. One of the struggles for pastors is that so many demands are put on our time from regular congregational life that if we are not careful and intentional, it can become very easy for us to now have any relationships with people that do not know Jesus yet. I cannot ask my congregation to witness if I am not also doing the work of an evangelist, The solution I see to this problem is to spend some of those mornings with God out in the community. There’s both a local diner and a McDonald’s that I could go to to do some of my administrative tasks and sermon research and preparation.

I want to be healthier. My weight has always been a bit of a struggle but in high school, I was in relatively good shape. However, with the transition to college, I went from being a three-sport athlete to never working out and eating all of my meals at an all-you-can buffet. Instead of gaining the “freshman 15,” I gained the freshman 50. Without sports, I have just struggled to maintain healthy habits. There’s a gym here in town that I want to join and also make the time to actually go to. One of the things I realized on Ash Wednesday is that because of some more recent weight gain, none of my clerical shirts will button around my neck. Time to remedy that.

I want to be a better spiritual leader for my family. There have been different times where my wife and I have done devotions as a couple and other times where we’ve done devotions as a family, but we have never been particularly disciplined in either. I want to do better at leading my family in this. My greatest fear is that I would fail in my duty as a father to disciple my sons. I want them to grow up to love the triune God and the Church and to also know that they are more important to their father than the church is.

I want to be a more disciplined writer. It may be my pride talking but I think I have a voice that can be important if I am willing to use it. In seminary, I always struggled the most in classes that had a grade for participation included. To use an image one of my seminary professors used, I was better at allowing my sponge to fill up than wringing it out in discussion times. As an introvert, I would often be sure of what I wanted to say in a discussion a few minutes after the discussion had moved on from that topic. As an example, I have had this blog domain for years and yet have struggled to make the time to write for it. In the future, I want to spend more time writing.

Having written this all out for the first time, these seem like really big, lofty goals, but this is the type of person I believe God is calling me to be. Yes, there are other goals floating around in my head. I also want to gain the reading knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic that I had in seminary that I’ve allowed to go to the wayside over the years. I want to spend more time this year watching Pirates games and keeping score in a scorebook I bought last season. I want to spend more time hunting and fishing. All those goals seem periphery to the core of who God is calling me to be, while the seven that I’ve outlined above seem essential.

What has observing a holy Lent looked like for you? What kind of person is God shaping you to be?

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