One day in mid-May 1980, I received a call late on a Saturday night at my home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a booming bedroom community outside of Tulsa. I had already gone to bed anticipating a busy Sunday at church where Dana and I were serving as the Associate Pastor of Student Ministries of First Baptist Church, B.A. The caller on the other end of the line introduced himself with a rich, deep, baritone voice as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Houston. I was really taken aback. Instinctively, I covered the phone with my hand, and whispered to Dana, “It’s Ed Young! Calling me!!” Actually, it turned out to be Dr. John Bisagno. WOW! Even better!
That phone call ended with an invitation to visit Houston on Memorial Day weekend and consider an offer to move to the city and help Dr. Bisagno pastor 3,000 single adults. Dana and I accepted the challenge to move that August and take on the assignment. As they say, “The rest is history.” We spent three years in the fastest growing city in America, at the peak of the oil boom and “Urban Cowboy” culture. It was wild and crazy. Houston had three times the population of San Antonio, and the same number of freeway miles. It was terminally infected with road rage, and “Love Ya Blue” fever. It seems everyone in Houston was from somewhere else. A native Houstonian was a rare as a four leaf clover in a parking lot. Folksy, cowboy hat wearing coach “Bum” Phillips led the NFL, Houston Oilers, and his down home witticisms were always an inspiration. For the uninformed, the Tennessee Titans have their roots in a team once cheered as the Houston Oilers. Miss Ya Blue.
There were 750,000 single adults living in Houston in 1980, and we had a ton of them at HFBC. I don’t know what I thought singles ministry would be like, but it involved alot of counseling. The most surprising aspect of all was that it involved a boatload of PRE-MARITAL counseling. The church employed three full time wedding coordinators, and held weddings every weekend. We conducted over 300 weddings a year, and they were often scheduled in rapid fire processions on Saturdays at 10AM, 2PM and 6PM. You get alot of single adults under one roof and you are going to have alot of weddings. Go figure.
Typically, we would have 10-15 singles a week join the church and baptize over 200 of them a year. Not bad for one staff member, and a part-time secretary. I often pointed out to the finance committee that every one of them had a job, and the 1,000 single adults attending Sunday School each week had the same stewardship punch as a church of 2,000 married adults. It never did any good. We were offered the least desired Sunday School space, and denied every request for additional assistance. With all the weddings, we were constantly having to reconfigure our leadership team. The turnover was enormous, but it was a huge boost to the attendance in the Married Young Adult area. After three years of burning the candle at both ends, I had 21 ulcers and a very weary body. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the pace for much longer.
Dana and I led a weekly service for Single Adults on Friday night in the chapel. It started at 8PM and we called it “8’s Thee Place.” Later it morphed into the more aggressive brand, “Single Hearted.” This was our mission statement regarding the ministry: Single Hearted: Marked by sincerity and unity of purpose. The purpose of the ministry was to develop churchmen. We were focused on developing people you could count on, not just people you could count. While other ministries in town dealt with the touchy, feely, group hug, and gave singles dating tips, and advice on changing their oil or balancing their checkbook, we pointed them to the Word of God and prayer. Still works. Always will. Nuff said.
We were blessed to be associated with some of the finest people in the world. When we arrived in Houston, Henry and Wilma Hansen adopted us into their family. They treated our six month old daughter, Ashley, as if she was one of their own. Henry was director of our oldest single adult department. He was one of the greatest deacons to ever serve at HFBC, and he was a dear friend to me. Henry went home to be with the Lord not too long ago, but Wilma is still an active member of HFBC. She still sits in the same place in church each Sunday, just one seat over, and she still helps them count the offering. She is the original church lady. Dana and I easily found her in her place when we attended worship on August 7, 2011.
Following the worship service, Steve and Donna Bell hosted us for a reunion luncheon at a Mexican restaurant not far from HFBC. For four hours we were immersed in a steady stream of blasts from the past. It had been almost 28 years since we had seen one another, and although most of the other parts of our bodies had been rearranged, our hearts were all in the right place. It was a memorable time filled with laughter, tears, hugs, stories, and ALOT of pictures of children and grand children. It was a sensory overload of emotion and energy.
I was able to give a brief update of The Response, and thank them for their pastor’s participation in the event. Greg Matte is doing a great job leading HFBC into the 21st Century. It did not surprise me to learn that Dr. Bisagno is his greatest cheerleader, and when he is in town he sits right up front to show his support for his pastor.
The Single Adults of HFBC were the first to put out a welcome mat for our youngest daughter, Allyson. She was born 28 years ago this month, the day before Hurricane Alicia hit. It was great getting to introduce her to people who have loved her from the day she was born. Donna and Steve, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am sorry it has taken us so long to get back to Houston. Dana and I look forward to doing this again, real soon.
Following the reunion, Dana and I headed to Katy, Texas to reconnect with Ray and Nancy Lewis. Ray was a deacon at HFBC, and the director of one of my youngest Single Adult departments back in 1980-83. His calm, quiet demeanor was always a great balance to my youthful, wild-eyed intensity. Ray is now 84 years of age, but I still feel my blood pressure lower when I am in his presence. Ray walked by my side faithfully for three years, and guided me away from more than one land mine. He is a pastor’s friend, and his wise counsel was always a welcome relief to me. Dana was not sure the Lewises had forgiven us for taking Allyson off to Arizona. When she was only a month old, we moved to take on the pastorate of First Southern Baptist Church of Tempe. It was a long way from Ray and Nancy. Fortunately Allyson was with us when we arrived, and they let us in the house. We spent a very short hour reconnecting the love lines, and having prayer out on their patio before we headed back to Fort Worth.
The reunion we experienced in Houston is a foretaste of what God has in store for us in Heaven. Good friends are never really separated by time and space. When they get together after a long separation from one another, they just pick up where they left off in their last conversation. Love relationships are like that. They are seamless and solid, strengthened by a God-given bond that cannot be broken. We are grateful for the little taste of Heaven we were able to enjoy this past weekend. Thanks Donna and Steve for your kindness and hospitality. FYI: Next time does the hotel have to be right next door to the Galleria? Just sayin’.
Until we meet again…TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!
copyright, Gary and Dana Miller, TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! Ministries
For over 40 years, Gary and Dana Miller have invested their lives in the pastoral ministry of churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Georgia. Gary and Dana believe the hope of the world is the local church, and the strength of the church is sustained by praying people.
They have taught extensively on the role of prayer in spiritual awakening, counseled people to build strong marriages by equipping husbands and wives to pray together and have ministered internationally in Hong Kong, Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Switzerland through their TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! Prayer Conferences.
Gary and Dana live in Fort Worth, Texas and have been married for 40 years. They are parents of two grown daughters, Ashley and Allyson.