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.
7 thoughts on “The Christian Education Road”
Interesting! Looking forward to your next installment. Your narrative buttressed what I have long taught (& got it from “the Doc”): God does not call you to pastor, be a Missionary or evangelist: He calls you to serve and He will equip you and place you in His vineyard when and where He chooses; our responsibility is to be surrendered and equipped. I thought at BJ I would end up being and evangelist, but as you say, God has led me step by step to pastor three churches and I could not have been more satisfied in serving. God leads His dear children along. Hope you are all well there.
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Did you pilot that Beechcraft? Ever get to the home of Cessna? Wichita? The church I pastored was a few miles from Beechcraft and Frank Garlock flew me from the Wichita airport to Beechcraft on a windy day; BC was located close to McConnel Airforce base and we had a close encounter of a “different kind!” A memory for sure . Frank just turned 90!
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No, I was never a pilot. Our dad was killed in a Cessna 180 weather caused accident in the Lake of the Woods region of northern Ontario. But 20 years after that I flew into a village 400 miles north of his accident site in a Cessna 180 on skis. I loved flying on the Beech 99 from Bloomington, IL to O’Hare. I would try to sit directly behind the pilot and watch the instruments through the short flight. It was a little hairy back in the re-Reagan days when holding patterns were practiced. It was disconcerting to circle O’Hare in low level 100% cloud environments for 30-45 minutes.
Gerry, was Rod Davis ever pastor of the church you were a member of in NC? Did his father in law Phil Shuler hold meetings there when you were there?
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Yes, Ross Davis was our pastor, Phil held a meeting, filled the pulpit, and became a member of Falls Road during our time in Rocky Mount.
Dr. Carlson, your blog post today brought back many memories for me as I, too, became involved in Christian education in the mid- to late-Seventies, and the people you mentioned were right in the thick of the fight. I have a special regard for the contributions that you and Dr. Walker made to the advancement of the cause of Christian education and consider it a great honor (and education!) having been associated with such giants.
Thank you Dennis. In my next article I’ll give some long range impressions on the past, present, and future of Christian Education. I don’t have the Last word or answers to all of the challenges. But I hope to give an optimistic and realistic perspective. My hope is to generate some helpful conversation and encouragement.