March 6th, 1988, started out as a normal Sunday. Of course that meant running around looking for socks, hair brushes, kids clothes, etc. You know, the normal routine when trying to get the family up and off to church. The van arrived, like usual; we all ran, half-dressed, to catch it, like usual; we laughed, talked, joked, sang, etc., just like we always did. You know, the normal trip to church. Upon arrival, everything went as usual. Sunday School classes were presented as usual; the worship service, song service, prayer service, etc., all went like usual. But when it came time for the morning message, the pastor announced that he needed to make a special announcement first. He then called the church officers to the pulpit. This included my wife, who was church clerk. I was getting concerned by this time, as this announcement must have some major significance. No one else seemed concerned. In fact, some seemed to view this announcement with amusement, as they were smiling and some even snickering under their breath. Could it be that I'm the only one who doesn't know what's going on here? The pastor took his place behind the pulpit with all the church officers at his back. "Robert Rindfuss", he intoned. "Would you come forward and stand before me please?" ME?!? WhadidIdo? Slowly I stood and walked down the center aisle to stand at the foot of the pulpit. He then stepped from behind the pulpit and stood beside me. With a slight mist visible in his eyes he made the following statement. "Robert Rindfuss, having watched you closely for the past several months, and having had several opportunities to hear you deliver God's word to us, we, the congregation of Cottage Grove Baptist Church, have hereby agreed that you have given evidence that God has called you into the Gospel Ministry and have hereby unanimously voted to license you into the ministry of Jesus Christ." He then handed me a ministerial license and shook my hand while everyone else applauded. I don't remember much of it because I was in total shock. I've only been a Christian a little over 6 months and suddenly I'm a licensed minister of the Southern Baptist Convention!?! But...But...But...! I've got no training, no knowledge, no diplomas or degrees or nothing! Don't I have to go to seminary or something? I'm not ready for this. I'm not a... I don't have a... I can't... I was totally dumbfounded. No wonder these guys had seemed so 'odd' before. They were all in on this together. And I was the only one who knew nothing about it. I just couldn't believe they had done this and I suspected nothing. (Boy, am I dense or what?) I couldn't believe that I was a licensed minister, either. Never in all my life had I expected such an honor. It didn't take long for reality to set in and for me to realize the implications of what had just happened. I had just received a major career change. I could now legally marry people. I had been called into full-time service for the Lord. I was now a recognized preacher. Praise God, I couldn't believe it. Was I worthy of it? Could I do it? Was I the right man for this? Why did I have this feeling that things would never be the same again?
And from that point on, things never were the same. I had many people ask me how I could be a minister without any training (a point which bothered me as well), so I prayed about it and received the following as an answer.
"But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him." -1 John 2:27
I came to understand that I had received my training the same way the Apostle Paul had
received his, from the Holy Spirit of God that resides in me. It was that Spirit that had been
guiding me and the situations around me to bring me to usefulness in God's kingdom. And He
continued to guide and lead me to higher and higher goals.
Due to lack of funds and a dwindling congregation, Cottage Grove church was forced to close in December of 1988. I continued on in the ministry, working and ministering wherever and whenever I could. My wife, sons and I joined a new church and served in every way we could. We ran a successful bus ministry, sometimes hauling 30 or more people to church in our little 17 passenger van/converted-school-bus that we bought from the local school district for $600.00. We continued our work at the food pantries and would sometimes load up the van/bus with groceries and take them to low income apartment complexes and give it away free of charge. It gave us a great way to meet people and spread the Gospel at the same time. We continued on working, teaching and preaching in every way we could and, the whole time, we were learning, absorbing and maturing. This process continued for several years until the Lord decided I was ready for the next big step.
One day in November of 1990, my mentor called me and asked if I could help him out and fill
in for him at a church where he was supposed to guest preach. He had overbooked himself
and was supposed to be at two places at the same time. Of course I agreed, seeing as I love to
preach more than I love to eat (and, man, do I love to eat). The church was only 3 blocks
away from where Cottage Grove church had been. I had heard of it but had never visited
there. I went and preached as agreed and met a group of lovely, solid, strong Christians who
really love the Lord and are strong in their faith. I liked them and I guess they must have
liked me because about a month later they called me and asked if I would guest preach again.
I again agreed and went back that Sunday. After the service was over, the music minister
approached me and asked to speak to me in private. We stepped into the church office and he
asked me a question that, again, changed my life. His question was, would I be willing to
pastor their church? It turned out that they had been without a regular pastor for almost 10
years. They had had a series of interim pastors but none they had felt lead to call to regular
service. Until me. Again I was totally shocked at the way God had worked, but now I was
getting use to how He does things. I accepted their invitation and started preaching there on a
regular basis the next Sunday. Thanks to God's guidance and the leadership of the Holy
Spirit, I brought the messages and provided a vision for this little, inner-city church. The
church membership began to grow and soon we had built the congregation up to triple it's
original size. We had a dedicated music minister, a youth minister who was really on fire for
kids, my wife, who was ministering to the women in the church and running a telephoneministry (24 hours a day sometimes) and myself. In March of 1991, the church convened an
ordaining council for the purpose of ordaining me as pastor. I was never so nervous in my
life! I had seen a couple of ordination ceremonies but had never taken part in one. And now I
was the object of one. My hands shook the entire time up until the Inquisitor pronounced my
wife and myself "faultless" before the council. Then the tension 'ran' out of me (sort of like
wax runs out of a melting candle). I knew, from that point on, that I didn't want any other
occupation (although I work a secular job as well as pastoring. I'm bi-vocational since the
church doesn't have the money to pay me a regular salary and what money they do have
could best be used elsewhere. But that is just a "job", not a career or vocation). Things
continued to go well for the next year or so. Then the Adversary made a serious attempt to
close us down.
In 1992, things began to go wrong. First, our youth minister discovered that he had a doctrinal problem that he just couldn't reconcile, involving the doctrine of salvation. He just could not bring himself to believe that once you were saved, you are always saved. No amount of Biblical evidence that was presented could convince him otherwise. So he decided that perhaps he could serve better at another church and left us. We regretted seeing him go but he felt he had to. Next our music minister developed cancer and took an indefinite leave of absence. He underwent chemo-therapy and a shunt was placed in his neck. The shunt leaked and the chemicals ruined his vocal chords. This man who had served in area churches all his life and who could bring tears to your eyes with his voice now couldn't sing a note. He became so depressed that he stopped going to church and began to believe that no one cared for him any longer. The Adversary and Deceiver was working harder than ever to destroy not only our church, but the lives of these Godly men as well. But the next blow almost did the trick. In October of 1992, just 4 months after my wife and I renewed our wedding vows in our church in celebration of our 10th anniversary and moved into our new house five blocks from the church, my wife suffered a massive seizure of an unknown type (to this day the doctors still don't know for sure what happened to her that day) and wound up in the hospital in a coma, at the age of 34. The doctors told me that she had a less than 1% chance for improvement or even survival and that she probably wouldn't live for more than a couple of days. Our Christian friends started praying night and day, and (I found out afterwards) that over 100 churches were praying for us by the 2nd day. She continued to survive, confounding the doctors, who still told me that she would get no better. She was in what was described to me as a 'level 4' coma, as far under as a person can go and still live. She responded to nothing. A machine kept her alive. Her vital signs were way down and her blood pressure was way up. She couldn't live this way for long. After 16 days, the doctors came to me and asked for permis- sion to disconnect the respirator. My wife and I had discussed this very thing during our years together and she had told me that, in no uncertain terms, she did not want to be kept alive on a machine. I informed the doctors of this and told them to turn it off. They did the next day and, praise be to Almighty God, her condition improved. Her heart rate went up, her respirations went up, her blood pressure came down and she lived without the machine's help (better than she had with it). A month later the doctor took me aside and told me that he liked the fact that I had strong beliefs and that I came to see her every day but not to get my hopes up very high. She would never get any better. Thanks to tests they had done, they knew that her brain was damaged and said she would never improve. Four days later, after lots of prayers on our part, the doctor again took me aside and told me, "I don't under- stand this but she's better". She began to slowly improve and over the next several months, went from a 'level 4' coma to a 'level 1' coma (or what is called a "near-coma"). She has continued to improve and, as I write this, in fact on the day on which I write this, it has now been three years since the 'incident'. My wife must live in a nursing home because the brain damage makes it impossible for us to care for her at home but the boys and I visit her often and she remains an active part of our lives. And our church and my ministry continue on, too. Despite all the obstacles and tribulations, doubts and losses, we continue to stand in the gap and work and grow, ever in His service.
Addenda - God choose to call Cindy home to Him. What a blessing for her! And He has continued to show us His love and use us and to bless us mightily every day. We can see His hand at work in everything we set out to do. May it always be so. In Jesus name.