2013 begins for me with the funeral of a man who played a larger role in my life than I anticipated. Frank Zimmerman was the first minister I worked with full time in Auburn, NE. He passed away last week after a lifetime of faithful service that has been a great example for me and many others. There is so much about Frank that I wish I could say, but I’ll try to limit myself to a couple aspects of Frank’s life that I want to continue to emulate. (Also, a lot to say about a small town church that’s paying attention to the possibilities of technology, allowing me and a couple dozen others to be ‘there’ via the webcast, even though we can’t be there.)
My life in full time youth ministry began because someone took a chance on a kid that didn’t know what he was doing. I’d learned all kinds of things in class, and had a tiny bit of experience through an internship and a weekend ministry, but doing youth ministry all day, every day was a whole new world. And I’d never spent a minute there until someone took a chance and invited me into that world.
It started with a phone call that I answered at home in Loveland, CO. In a way that I came to know as a trademark of his low baritone voice, I heard Frank draw out his “Hello…” with a hint of question in his voice, before he introduced himself and asked if I’d come interview for the open youth ministry position at the Auburn Christian Church. Frank was the pastor there in Auburn, and had been for a long time, I found out. Longer than I’ve been alive, as a matter of fact! In a world where it seems that some churches can chew up and spit out preachers, and some preachers seem to install a back door on their first day in ministry so they can make a quick exit, a bond was forged between this pastor and the church that marked them both in ways that last well beyond the 40 years of Frank’s employment there.
He was the definition of a pillar to the small community in SE Nebraska. Whether it was a community event or just walking around town, I quickly recognized that Frank’s influence reached beyond the church membership list into just about every family in town in some way or another. After over 30 years in the same small town, he was known by just about everyone, and knew most of them by name, as well as where they fit in the tight-knit network of area families. He knew the histories of houses and families and friendships, of businesses and buildings and organizations. He was a chaplain to the whole town and the surrounding farm families as much as he was a preacher at a congregation in that town. He also knew certain passages of Scripture that were special to just about all of them, or passages they needed to hear in a moment of comfort or guidance or correction.
I was a recent Bible College graduate that knew how to find stuff in the Bible – and just about nothing else. But after we interviewed and met some people, Frank and the youth ministry team asked us to come work with them anyway. Despite my lack of experience, they took a chance. They saw some glimmer of potential there that they thought, just maybe, God could do something with. Thanks, Frank (and the rest of the Auburn Christian Church) for taking a chance on me. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to lay the foundation for my life in ministry. I learned so much in my years with you.
I wonder… as 2013 begins, who will you take a chance on this year? Who can you invest in this year, to jumpstart the potential you see in them? Get in touch with them this week and let them know what you see and that you’d like to help. And take a minute to thank someone who’s taken a chance on you.