I experienced twelve wonderful years of pastoral ministry during my time as a youth pastor and as a very young senior pastor. People asked me was it a difficult decision to leave the pastorate in St. Paul to take a position with the American Association of Christian Schools in 1978. I always responded that I never made a decision to leave the church; instead God just led me along.
Let me explain. In the mid 1970s I challenged the people of Faith to consider establishing a Christian school in our church facilities. We studied, planned, and prayed as a church; and then took a secret ballot vote that was 100% for launching the school. To seek guidance and mutual protection we aligned with the fledgling baby organization of the Minnesota Association of Christian Schools.
I’ve described in an earlier post entitled Political Grace how the Lord thrust me into the political arena as an unschooled legislative liaison for MACS. And how, by His grace, I developed a deep personal relationship with two politicians who were bold believers and witnesses for Christ in the Minnesota legislature. I crammed an informal post-graduate course in government relations and religious liberty into two years.
This whirlwind of experience landed me in the place where my former boss, Bud Weniger, asked me to help him with the new responsibilities he had acquired administering AACS. That process was a slow step by step journey that was God’s plan all along. I had no other choice than to follow His guidance each step of the way. Now I see that it was all a part of His grace journey for me, and for our whole family.
So, in July of 1978 we found ourselves in the first home we were able to buy, and back in Normal, Illinois. It was just a few days after we arrived that I received a phone call from a dear friend of mine, Pastor Bob Kelley, who was on the board of the Tennessee Association of Christian Schools. Bob said, “Gerry, we are in a meeting, and the TACS board is considering pulling out of the AACS.” He went on to say that he stuck up for me saying, “Gerry Carlson has just been hired. I know him. Let’s give him a chance to see what he can do.” Boy, that was pressure right from the git-go.
At the time AACS had about 600 member schools scattered around the country that were mostly attached to 17 autonomous state organizations. However, AACS’ service and communication to the schools and state organizations was limited and undeveloped at that point. Folks were paying dues and feeling like they weren’t getting much for their money. My task was to get on the stick — and serve the state associations and schools. A new friend, Jerry Tetreau, said at the time: “Yesterday would be soon enough.”
Over the ten years we served with AACS I traveled to most every state and several Canadian Provinces promoting, organizing, communicating, and building relationships with people. I loved it! During that time I met hundreds of dedicated, talented, and godly servants of Christ in the Christian school movement. According to my records I took 280 trips and traveled about 325,000 miles by air and car. When we left AACS in 1988 there were over 1,600 member schools and 40 state associations. It was an exciting time and regularly I fielded questions from secular news reporters about the dynamic growth of Christian education.
Little did I know that on one of my first trips I would meet Charles Walker, the guy who made the Tennessee Association tick, and he would become our daughter Kristy’s father-in-law many years later. Connie and I sit in our Florida Room every morning in Maranatha Village and marvel how yielding to God’s leading in the 70s landed us in our present home and place of ministry. We are still able to serve and follow the Lord on our Grace Journey.
In my next installment of Grace Journey I will write about some of the triumphs and trials, blessings and burdens of the Christian School movement.