Influence

On the way to Spartanburg, South Carolina this past Sunday to preach, I had the ability to listen to my new worship CD, The Best of Revival Worship (which I highly recommend). The album was literally a “best of” revival worship from the past several years, spanning the best of powerful worship artists Lindell Cooley, Darrell Evans, Eric Nuzum Thomason, and my personal and reigning favorite, Irish worship leader Robin Mark. The CD is a powerful testament to the songs of revival, sharing the true heart and purpose of revival in and of their contents. I will never, ever forget the first time I heard some of those songs. I can still see the congregation the first time we ever sang Robin Mark’s “Revival” and when they broke into cheers upon hearing Eric Nuzum Thomason’s “Prepare The Way.” In listening to them, I was transported back to another place and time. The year was 1999. The major thing everyone was buzzing about was Y2K and the fear of the end of the world. We heard a lot of teaching about the rapture, about the end times, about what was impending and coming. The Christian scene was abuzz with the revival at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Brownsville, Florida and the Toronto Revival at the Toronto Airport Church in Toronto, Canada. Nobody thought enough about them yet to critique them, being too interested in what was going on to think there may be issues behind them. People still got dressed up to go to church. We still spoke in tongues. I’d never heard of the five-fold, let alone the apostleship. I hadn’t been called to be an apostle yet. There was so much yet to be explored, and so much still unknown.

Living Water Faith Fellowship in Oneonta, New York, was just where it was at: It was where I was born again February 14, 1999. It was where I was first filled with the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues. It was where I started the process to my own healing in my life. It was where God spoke to me, reached out to me, taught me so much. In the scope of the world, it was nothing compared to bigger churches. There were maybe 200 members total back then, but we rocked the house down every week. It was an important place to be, for so many reasons: perhaps to me, it was most important because it’s where the Lord sent me my true spiritual father in the faith, Pastor Kenny. In the literal sense of the term, he was my “originator” in faith, teaching, and leadership. I’m not even really sure he knew my name as his hands were so constantly full. I never had private instruction with him as his teaching was so good, I didn’t need it. I talked with him several times, so he knew me by sight and would know and recognize me immediately – even after I lost the weight, started dying my hair, started to walk in better health, got older, and wasn’t there every week. Even though he didn’t know me that well in the natural, he knew me by the Spirit. As my pastor, I didn’t know him well in the natural, but I too knew him by the Spirit.

Pastor Kenny was the third pastor of the church. Being the successor to the pastor before him was not an easy undertaking. The church had a history of schism each time a pastoral change was made. His experience in this vain was no different. When the former pastor returned to start another new church, he led half of the church along with him. Others resisted the changes and told stories. Despite everything that happened, Pastor Kenny continued on, battled with the people and did his best to keep the church together. He was the epitome of a pastor: caring, interested in the people, an excellent teacher. To this day, my BPN profile lists him as one of my favorite preachers. His practical, easygoing style made the Word of God easy and enjoyable to understand. My mom and I still have cassette tapes of his teachings, coveted and treasured, all these years later.

For me to say this is a big deal because I wasn’t very teachable in those days. I’d had a scathingly bad experience with the prior pastor, who was, quite honestly, a jerk. He was a former Hollywood screenwriter who acted like he did the congregants a favor with his presence. More than once, we went head-to-head over various matters and he was unkind, unloving, and unpastoral. I was searching, looking for something as I tried to find my place in ministry, and the former pastor didn’t help me to get there. He was not a witness, and I was not the only person who thought so; I was just the only person who said so. Despite the fact that he was condescending and insulting, he was who the majority of the congregation wanted. His announced departure in October 1999 hit the church hard and came as a surprise. It was an even bigger surprise when Pastor Kenny was announced as the successor. I don’t think the majority of the congregation ever recovered from the loss of the former pastor, as evidenced when the former pastor returned to take half the congregation with him. The rest disintegrated into other groups, angry and dissatisfied over one thing or another. I never understood why.

Pastor Kenny modeled a grace I don’t think I ever could have in his situation. The people of this church eventually turned their backs on me, too, but I didn’t handle it nearly as well as he did. In watching him through this time, I learned how to be a leader. Even after God called me on to ministry work and out of that church every week, I would visit from time to time. He lauded both me and my mom for always being supportive and encouraging of the work in the face of what was going on. I was so devastated when I learned Pastor Kenny was leaving the congregation in 2010, literally driven out of the city by the unsupportive congregation. I knew what that felt like, to stand in the face of emptiness, feeling like you’ve had no impact or relevance whatsoever. He left the city much like I did: one day he was just gone. He left his house on the market and returned to wherever he went, never to be heard from again. Last I knew he was not even pastoring anymore. To me, especially in light of my work now as a leader in the church, it is travesty, especially given bad leaders who ran rampant in that area continue to do so. And, despite my best efforts to try and locate him, I have been unable to do so.

What I didn’t know then is what seems so relevant now. None of us knew back then what I was called to do in ministry. We didn’t have a clue the day he first laid hands on me what would become the turnaround later on. The hours of teaching and effort were not a waste, because I was listening. If nobody else in that room got it, there is so much relevance in Pastor Kenny’s ministry because he can claim something so many can’t: Pastor Kenny birthed an apostle. In my life and my work, he spiritually formed and birthed the leader I became today. He taught me how to wait on God and how when God calls you in it’s time to go in, and when He calls you out, it’s time to go out. Had I not learned from him that leaders can be good, can be strong, and can be graceful in the face of opposition, I don’t know where I would be today.

I know that, as a leader, I have plenty of days where I question the influence I have on others. Sometimes it seems like such an uphill battle in this world. The church is a radically different place than it was in 1999; it is even radically different than it was two, three, or four years ago. As we turn, turn, and turn again, sometimes it feels like the church is moving further away from some things and closer to others. At other times, it seems like the church is just moving out of control all together. It grieves me so deeply to watch people’s lives spiral away from God’s will, especially when bad leadership is the culprit. It breaks my heart to see people fail to appreciate the gift God sends to them in good leaders, and to feel the frustration of watching people surround themselves with teachers who they know are in error just because they say what they want to hear.

On days when I question my sphere of influence, I will forever remember Pastor Kenny. He didn’t reach the majority of that 200-member church as is evidenced by what they did to him, but he did reach me. His influence on my life was profound and deep, and led to a whole other ministry, the one that became my own, that continues to change lives and impact both this nation and people all over the world. Whether he pastors today or not is irrelevant to the legacy he created: he has a part in this work, in this ministry, in my faith, and in my life. I might not have been the majority, but the impact has led to something more powerful than any one of us could have ever imagined. The same is true for each of us. We never know who we are rearing up in the faith, who we are teaching, or who they will go on to become one day within the Kingdom. Even though we may feel unimportant, irrelevant, or minor in the light of bigger ministries and teachers that may seem larger than life…every contribution we make is one to be counted. We are impacting lives, bringing forth change, and yes, birthing things by the power of God even if it doesn’t feel like it, see it, or we can’t recognize it at this point in time.

So this one is for you, Pastor Kenny, wherever you are. You were appreciated and your legacy has not been forgotten. As the song says, “Thank you for giving to the Lord/I am a life that was changed.” You are sorely missed, and deeply loved, and it is my hope that, somehow, some way, you can read this and recognize just how important you were as my pastor in the life of this apostle.

(c) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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