1990 was a tumultuous year for Elsie and me. I was out of the ministry and was selling commercial lighting. Elsie and I had begun attending Crystal Evangelical Free Church (now New Hope Church) in New Hope, MN. We were pretty burned out on church and chose to sit in the balcony of the church where we could see and not be seen. I can still recall the words of the new pastor, Stephen Paul Goold, on our (and his) first Sunday. After singing a solo (he had a great voice and had previously sung with the Day of Discovery singers in Florida), Stephen talked about the future of Crystal Free Church. He shared his vision of a growing church with a corresponding growing outreach to the community and the world. He then said these words, “Crystal Free Church will have a wide and effectual front door. My prayer is that God will send us many and we will welcome them and disciple them. If you are opposed to that vision, you also need to know that Crystal Free Church has a wide and effectual back door and if you need to leave, now is the time to go.” Whoa! I’d never heard of a pastor, never mind a new pastor, urging people who didn’t buy into his vision for the future to leave. That takes courage. He had my attention.
Within two weeks I received a phone call from Pastor Goold inviting me to join him for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. To say the least, I was surprised. Did my reputation precede me and now he was calling to kick Elsie and me out of the church? I was understandably nervous. At the restaurant all I could do was stir the food around the plate. I was too nervous to eat. Stephen, on the other hand, ate three platefuls of chow mein! I asked him why he invited me to lunch since we had never met and he didn’t know me. He said he had researched me and wanted me to join his staff as pastor of family ministries. Shocked! Yes, I was shocked. This was not what I had expected going into this lunch meeting. I asked him what he understood family ministries to include. He simply said he didn’t know but, if I agreed to join him on staff, I would research it at other large churches which had family ministries. He also said that I’d have to sell my lighting business. I asked for a week to talk it over and pray about it with Elsie and my family. He agreed and after a week of prayer I felt that God had opened a door for me to get back into the ministry. I began ministry as family ministries pastor.
I have too many memories of Stephen to share but one in particular will illustrate his courage and integrity. If my memory serves me correctly, in 1994 Randall Terry, the director of Operation Rescue, was coming to the Twin Cities to hold a pro-life rally. Terry was a firebrand and had been arrested numerous times at abortion clinics for protesting the murder of babies. He was a passionate though somewhat radical pro-life activist leader. He had received death threats in the past and numerous large churches in the Twin Cities metro had turned Terry down in his request to hold a rally in their worship centers. When he contacted Pastor Goold, Stephen asked to meet with him privately. He asked me to join him in that meeting. He queried Terry about his faith in Jesus Christ, security for the event, and several other critical considerations. He then agreed to host the rally at Crystal Free Church. Orange snow fencing was installed around our property to keep protesters out. Armed security was hired to covertly roam the hallways. Though protesters came and threats were made, the event itself went off smoothly. Unlike other pastors, who were afraid of the controversy Randall Terry would bring, Stephen stood strong.
Was Pastor Goold perfect? No. None of us are. We are redeemed sinners who still struggle with sins. I served alongside Stephen for fifteen years. He was a powerful preacher of the Word and a visionary leader of the church. Stephen died at 68 years on September 13, 2016 in Washington, D.C. at a pro-family event. As the saying goes, “they don’t make ‘em like him anymore.” Stephen you are missed by me, your family, and the church of the living God. But our loss is heaven’s gain. See you again, brother!