The early years
Joleen and I were reared in Christian homes that were, or eventually would be, active clergy involved in ministry. Joleen’s parents are retired full-gospel ministers/missionaries (mother and step-father). Joleen was born in Colby, Kansas on December 28, 1956. She spent most of her childhood moving from town to town in the central United States following her biological father's work.
My father is a retired Methodist minister and my mother a retired teacher. My father was serving the
The Adult Journey
From the beginning of our marriage Joleen and I chose to have a mission statement. The semantics changed, but the spirit that remained through several iterations was “The world will be a better place for us having lived.” We have endeavored to instill this in our children and hope to continue the legacy in our grandchildren.
Before we met we both purposed to make a difference in our world via a career in education. We have been consistently active in our community and church since taking our vows. We married and settled in Quitman, Texas. We were both hired as math and computer science instructors at Rains ISD down the road in Emory, Texas. Church on the Rock, Quitman was our first foray into service in the “church”. We became very active as C.A.R.E. group leaders, and children’s ministry leaders. I played electric bass for the worship team (A Musical Biography). We also ministered heavily in the town of Emory, Texas where we were employed as teachers. The one galvanizing event during our tenure at Rains ISD was a three day period where Joleen and I attended and ministered at five funerals and family visitations due to two separate automobile accidents which effected the school community. Joleen left teaching when she was hired as administrative assistant to the senior pastor.
With the completion of my master’s degree we began seeking God’s will regarding further career moves and pursuing a doctorate. Eventually God lead us to Norfolk, Virginia where I began my doctorate at Regent University and taught at Norfolk Christian School (there is a huge back story to this situation as Joleen was actually the one hired). We joined Azalea Garden Church of God and were active in the young marrieds ministry. I played electric bass for the worship team. After one year Regent University killed the PhD in education leaving me with pursuing a doctorate in ministry (a route we did not, after much prayer, feel lead) if I remained at Regent. Victoria was born during our time at Norfolk.
Upon returning to Texas we lived with Joleen’s youngest brother and his family in Canton, Texas while I continued doctoral studies at East Texas State University. We served in Word of Victory Church in Canton. I played electric bass for the worship team and we assisted in what areas we could in leadership, children, and youth.
We moved to Benjamin, Texas where I accepted my first administrative position. At Benjamin we joined and served in the First Methodist Church but were primarily consumed with rearing our first child. Nathaniel was born during our time at Benjamin. After a couple of years in Benjamin the president of the school board grew tired of the friendships Joleen and I had struck with several local Christian homeschooling families in the area and our very public Christianity. I was ultimately fired in order to free the principal’s position for a beloved coach that had just gotten his principal certification.
We returned to Quitman, Texas and rejoined Church on the Rock. I played electric bass for the worship team and we continued in adult, children, and youth leadership roles. Eventually Joleen and I were team hired to oversee the children’s ministry when I took a final sabbatical to finish the doctorate (A Study of Cooperation between Home Schools and Public and Private, K-12). The Lord began to move us on to other areas and we undertook the training of our children’s ministry successors. They are still at COTR Quitman and the children’s ministry leaders.
I was hired by Trenton ISD in 1995 as Chief Technology Officer. We moved to Commerce, Texas to complete the doctoral dissertation and be near the university. Fortunately, Commerce was within commuting distance to Trenton. We first served in a small full gospel Bible church. We then helped start a small church which ultimately failed. After a time the Lord lead us to serve at First Baptist Church in Commerce, Texas. We became heavily involved at First Baptist serving on numerous standing committees; pastoral search committees, and the church transition team. As was typical I played electric bass on the worship team. Joleen was hired as children’s ministries director. We threw ourselves fully in to this opportunity to serve and often spent 10 to 12 hours a Sunday as AWANA Commanders and overseeing various other children’s ministries under Joleen’s command. God gave Joleen the vision of reaching the lost well beyond the walls of the church by focusing and expanding the churches children’s ministry. She worked tirelessly toward that goal.
During this time period in Commerce we also began to purposely expand our personal ministry efforts beyond the church and school. We served on the board of directors of Sparrow’s Nest Ministries and developed the “Parenting with Purpose®” curriculum. We spent several years refining and teaching “Parenting with Purpose®” to classes of young couples in Greenville, Texas as a ministry of Sparrow's Nest. Board members visited local church groups, made site visits, and taught a variety of bible studies and other classes under the umbrella of Sparrow's Nest to achieve name recognition. The vision of Sparrow's Nest Ministries was to provide Christ based training and mentoring to Women in a crisis pregnancy. The board envisioned a home where the baby could live with the mother and they could eventually be "launched" as a family. Federal regulations would not allow this so Sparrow’s Nest Ministries had to be privately funded. In spite of numerous fund raising efforts including a benefit concert by a Contemporary Christian band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania named FFH (Far From Home). While the fund raising was moderately successful it was always short of what we felt the Lord wanted us to have to move on to the "next phase". Eventually the health challenges of board members or their spouses sidelined any real progress. Sparrow’s Nest Ministries exists only as an endowment while we and the other remaining board members seek the Lord's guidance concerning His ministry and monies.
In 2005 I became involved in the Christian Motorcyclist Association. I began playing with the Christian blues/rock band “Wing and a Prayer” (Wing and a Prayer).
After a number of attempts Trenton ISD was finally able to recruit Joleen to return to the classroom and teach mathematics in 2007. We moved to Trenton and quickly joined the First Baptist Church. We became heavily involved in church leadership including chairing numerous standing committees, teaching Sunday school, and ultimately chairing the church transition team. As was typical I played electric bass on the worship team.
Through it all we have felt confident that God was in control of our personal lives and the ministries He charged us with. We believed that, in spite of the ever present challenge of getting others to catch the vision of ministry outside the walls of the church and step beyond their personal comfort zones to impact others for the Kingdom of Christ, we were making a difference in both the Kingdom of God and individual lives.
The longstanding pastor of FBC Trenton was forced to resign early in 2010. I was made the chair of the church transition team charged with making significant changes in church culture before the church called a new pastor. As the Transition team researched, surveyed, held focus groups, interviewed members, and reviewed the church constitution and bylaws I began to grasp how ingrained the church focused rather than Christ focused organizational culture was at FBC Trenton. Much of the entrenched church membership had the firm belief that the touch-stone of true ministry occurred in the 1950s and the church had moved too far from the practices of that time. This belief was persistent in spite of national research evidence to the contrary (Barna Group publications) and the church health survey administered to the church by the transition team.
Toward the end of 2010 several circumstances converged. We learned that after four years of hard work establishing a well respected children’s ministry (Joleen had been asked several times to do training in area wide children’s ministry workshops) it took less than two years for the entire children’s program at First Baptist Church Commerce to be dismantled and taken back to where it was when we first joined. There was a corresponding decrease in attendance of young families.
Our parents’ health began to decline markedly and disallowed them to travel in order to visit and spend time with their grandchildren as they had in the past. Their increasing frailty meant we had to spend more time out of town personally attending to their needs.
About this time I received an unsolicited contact from the Blandelles and was requested to audition as bassist for the group. To my surprise I was invited to join the band. Being a member of this group (The Blandelles) would allow me to separate my ”community service through music” “ministry” from church services at a time when Joleen and I needed to more fully attend to our parents.
In mid November the pastor that we had worked with for years at First Baptist in Commerce and whom we knew as a man of integrity was forced to resign. We had known this pastor since he was the director of the Baptist Student Ministry at Texas A&M University-Commerce. We served with him in several capacities varying from committee members to laity to clergy. His heart was to lead First Baptist Church Commerce through a culture change that would begin to emphasize community outreach and ministry beyond the walls of the church. His departure solidly left the FBC Commerce just as we found it with an aging congregation and declining membership in spite of the countless hours invested in church leadership and ministry by numerous well meaning couples.
Joleen and I had invested our ministry and leadership efforts in First Baptist Church Commerce over a period of ten years and had seen no lasting progress. What we were witnessing at First Baptist Trenton was causing an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I in particular had the demoralizing feeling that we had spent over a decade promoting the temporal and not the eternal. We prayed and counciled with several spiritual mentors including Joleen's step father as we sought the Lord's guidance. Ultimately we resigned all ministry positions at First Baptist Church Trenton and left the church (FBC Trenton Farewell Statement).
We began searching for another church to attend in 2011. Due to family obligations our search had some parameters that were atypical due to the number of family and other ministry obligations. An early Sunday service and limited (preferably no) evening services allowing freedom to minister and fellowship beyond the church walls. Joleen and my middle-aged adult needs have to be balanced with Nathaniel's need for a strong youth discipleship program. We had no plans to commit to any church quickly.
We have learned several things throughout our walk with the Lord.
Dr. Evan Yeager
The Yeager Group
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