Former Champion for Christ , MorningStar, Victory Campus Min
Date: August 15, 2006 06:35PM
TAG TEAMING WITH GREG BALL
It had started well enough. In fact, it had completely exceeded any expectations about getting the ministry off the ground. Our “Crusade” had begun the last week of August and coincided with the frat rush at the large Midwestern University I was assigned to start a ministry at. I felt really blessed, because despite the fact that almost thirty “new ministry plants” were being started, I had been able to snag Greg and Helen Ball to help us. The days of getting Bob Weiner for three weeks along with the Praise Band and more money than Fort Knox to kick-off a new ministry were over forever. MCM’s new plan called for starting thirty new ministries in the fall of 1981 and then thirty to forty every year there after. So we would have to approach these kick-offs very differently than MCM had in the past.
I spoke with Greg at length about our plan. We would hit the large and most prestigious frats first. I would leave the sororities alone, at least until our single sister arrived. We would go to the frats on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings and then have services on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. We would set the bait and try to convert kids at the frat houses and then get them to our meetings to set the hook and get them committed to MCM. We agreed that if we could hook some leaders, then they would bring other “sharps’ with them. We also decided to target some athletes – possibly using FCA as a way to get to them. Our goal was to “grab” kids who would then do our work for us. We had no choice because we had limited funds and a small number of helpers.
We had two door openers: one was a ten minute movie about surfing and Christianity. It used west coast surfing terms and great colorful shots of Christian surfers and gnarly lingo. It was cool for its time. The other door opener was the movie Cross and the Switchblade that we would use to fill our auditorium the first Saturday after we opened. We would throw almost all of our initial seed money at this opening gambit - we would either succeed or flame out right at the start. I figured if I could get Greg in front of a four to five hundred kids in the first couple of weeks that we would nail some converts.
Our team was slim, about one fifth the size of the planting team that had arrived to open Auburn up. Our single full time sister had been deemed “too fat” by Rose and would not be joining us until she had lost at least twenty five pounds or so. This hurt, but there was nothing I could do about it. Jim, my co-pastor, his wife and two children arrived in mid August. We also had three working couples and three working single brothers to help us get started. I did not give much thought to this at the time- but the lack of working brothers and sisters and they cash they provided would prevent the ministry from every getting on a solid financial base.
But I knew how the frats worked, I knew the “rules” and I looked the part and so did Greg and Helen. So we would start where we were “strong.” I knew that there would be a few “nominal” Christians in the frat, I would locate them, pitch them on what Greg and I were doing (helping people live a more “idealistic true first century Christian life), and then try to snag the leader or leaders. The leaders would then bring a bunch of followers with them. These would reproduce, and before you knew it we would have a congregation of two hundred. And it worked. I looked through the IFC booklet at the Student Union before getting started. Size predicts prestige in frats and I honed in on the seven largest ones, especially the ones that highlighted the fact that they had student athletes or student government involvement by their members. It was pretty simple - I would head into the frat prior to rush wearing my button down shirt with khakis frat boy uniform. I would find the President and/or chaplain - tell them we were reaching out to Christians and students in the frat and ask if we could show a “cool” surfing film. I acted like we were an “officially” sponsored university group without coming out and saying we were. And I snagged us six “events” at the largest frats on campus during the first two weeks of school. We put posters up for the “event” just like Randy and Ellen had at Auburn three years earlier.
We had posters printed for our showing of the movie the Cross and the Switchblade and the ten of us spread across campus - putting up at least one thousand posters. The posters were beautiful and they cost us about $1,500 to have them reproduced locally. We also signed a two year lease on a large hall being vacated by a Jewish Group on the eastern edge of campus and right on the main drag. It was near off campus housing and the student shopping area. It was a great location, but needed painting and carpets. By the time we had paid the first and last month rent and one month’s security deposit and completed the “rehab” we had blown through all $8,000 left from our seed money from MCM corporate. But I had built a war chest of $ 15,000 on my own. And we were tearing through that as well at a rapid rate.
Greg Ball, in my opinion, was the best evangelist and preacher in MCM. Whether in a small group or a large crowd no one could top him. His sermons were effortless, he had a boyishness about him that attracted both men and women, he was good looking and fearless. He also had a hair trigger temper and a manic focus on his goals that nothing could stand in the way of. Helen, his side kick and wife, was a sweet, beautiful, and gracious southern girl who was an inveterate campaigner with the added benefit of keeping Greg’s testosterone in check. Well as much as that could be done, that is.
Greg, Helen and I quickly learned our roles and how to work as a team. At our first frat we had about thirty guys and little sisters in the common room. We showed the surfer short movie, Greg did his “Jesus is looking for real men and women to take over the world” talk that lasted ten minutes. I would ask for people to bow and close their eyes and commit and then to look me in the eye and then to stand up. Greg, Jim (my co-pastor), Helen, and I would afterwards go immediately after those that made a commitment, and I would bee line for the “sharpest ones” there.
The upshot was that at the end of the first week we had “snagged” about thirty kids including two frat Presidents. That Saturday we had to turn people away at the door of the Maranatha Hall from the Cross and the Switchblade and I spent the entire movie out on the front steps witnessing to people who wanted to get inside to see what all the fuss was about. After the movie, Greg stood up and ripped out a twenty minute tour-deforce sermon, the kind that would bring a grown man to his knees about Jesus and his suffering, and his looking for the faithful that would follow him and the fate of those that did not. It was an exhausting night with many, many, prayer and counseling and “hootah” sessions. We were completely understaffed for such a response. At about one a.m. that morning the hall had cleared out and the ten of us including Greg and Helen were sprawled on the stage, exhausted and in awe of what had just happened. “Greg, if my numbers are right, we just topped one hundred commitments and we will be baptizing all week long.” I said. We high fived each other and Helen said a beautiful prayer thanking God. Then Greg threw his head back and laughed “Brother God is just getting started. Well the first month was heaven, Greg and Helen were there the first three weeks of our kick off. One of my best memories is the night we gave it a rest and went over the Jim and Dana’s house (my co-pastor and wife). All of the MCMers who had joined us were there along with a few of our first fruit converts. Jim was cooking on the grill and Dana threw some records on and we were all dancing and singing…and Helen and Greg were jitterbugging like professionals.
But there were some danger signs. Greg had a hair trigger temper. I interrupted him during one of his frat talks, I don’t remember the reason why, but in the parking lot he dressed me down. “When I am speaking NEVER interrupt me, because you are interrupting GOD when you do that!’ he shouted. I was taken aback and had planned on confronting him about it afterwards,but the funny thing was he acted, five minutes later,like it had never happened. Walking into hall with his arm around my shoulder laughing and joking about the night. I truly believe Greg to have been one the most gifted preachers and evangelists in North America (he still might be). But he had a temper and an ego, and his involvement in MCM, his ongoing collaboration with Rice Broocks and Phil Bonnasso and EN, served to warp and twist his personality until, in his mind, the ministry he worked in and his own ego became inseparable. An environment with more restraint, more honest assessment of leadership would have served Greg much better.
DONE IN BY NICK PAPPIS
The first week in October Greg and Helen headed off for their next assignment…and our troubles began shortly after they left. We had converted some campus leaders, one was president of the largest Greek fraternity on campus. I have given him the name “Tiketwo” because he reminded me of myself, and people actually thought we looked and acted like brothers. He was a Methodist who was dissatisfied with his church. He had a steady girlfriend who I will call “Sheilatwo’, because she looked like my old friend Sheila, only in this case we converted her as well and used her to “pop” Helen Ball into her sorority and snag about seven of her sorority sisters for MCM. “Tikietwo” and “Sheilatwo” were responsible for bringing in, personally, at least twenty kids. And the REALLY scary thing for me was that “Tiketwo” really, really looked up to me as an “ideal” Christian who could do no wrong. And this began to weigh heavily on my conscience. And so I started the daily red book and discipling sessions, and casting demons out of kids who were just being kids and got them on board and committed, and started witnessing classes. We got a Christian prof to front a Victory Club and were able to convert two baseball players through an FCA sponsored event.
Then, with almost no warning things begin to go down hill and quickly. First, Headquarters in Gainesville loaded us up with corporate literature and brochures for the tune of $4,000. This ate big time into the war-chest that I had established on my own. As I mentioned, our seed money from corporate was long gone. Second, about five thousand Forerunner Newspapers at 50 cents a throw begin to show up every other month. I mean stacks and stacks of these things. These cost us, if my memory is right about $ 2,500 at a whack. And there was no arguing with Gainesville about accepting or paying for these things as I will show. The Forerunner was Rose Weiner’s brainchild. Rose wanted to start A Mother Jones newspaper, but instead of being a “leftie rag”, it would be a “rightie rag’. It was chockfull of articles by Theonomy writers pontificating about the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth etc etc etc. It was the old “Manifest Destiny” of America doctrine repackaged to highlight the kooky and inane doctrines of MCM. Well we were supposed to “sell” these things at best, or at least give them away. Either was very hard to do, it turned out.
So like a good trooper, and to get them out of the meeting hall, we organized work parties to put these things out in stacks on campus. And this was during autumn. A very windy autumn. And the wind blew the papers all over campus. I mean no one was actually picking these things up to read them. At least the campus “commie” left wing rag had a sense of humor and some good cartoons. The Forerunner was about as interesting as the white pages of the phone book. We had stupidly taken the time and effort to stamp out local ministry address and phone number on every paper. This was infinitely stupid. Because I got a phone call from the campus police. “Hello” I said as I answered the telephone. “Yes this is Captain Jim Smith of the campus police. I am trying to reach the person in charge of MCM at Big University.” “That would be me, Tik Tok.” “Well Mr. Tok you have managed to cover the university with your papers, they are every where, in the trees, in the fountains and complaints have been filed with us. First you don’t have a permit to distribute papers on campus, second even if you did we require you have to have approved paper boxes, third it is going to cost us at least $ 10,000 to clean up the campus. I am going to give you a break - either you clean these up in the next 24 hours or I am going to bring you in on a misdemeanor charge of littering and creating a public nuisance. Any questions?” So we went back and for fourteen straight hours we cleaned up papers.
And the Forerunner, literally being all over campus, piqued the interest of the editor of the official campus newspaper. Who, being a smart kid, called me up to try to find out WHAT we were and what it was we were trying to do. Our converting over 100 kids, the infiltration of the fraternities, the conversion of a couple of baseball players, and three sold out Saturday nights at the Maranatha Hall had gotten a lot of attention on campus. When the phone rang and it was the editor of the campus newspaper, I was too naïve to give it much thought. He asked questions about me, my background, where I came from, about Greg, what MCM was, who headed it and where our headquarters were located. About a week after Greg and Helen had left Jim, my co-pastor, walked in with a paper under his arm. ”See this yet?” he asked. “Don’t tell me that you found another Forerunner in a bush,” I laughed. “Tikie this is serious!” and he laid the newspaper out in front of me. Front and center - the headline on the weekly campus news read “Cult on Campus?” And below it in a printed frame was a photo of Greg and I on campus with about eight or ten students gathered around us praying. The story read, “Maranatha Christian Ministries came to town last month with a splash. Their new “Hall” is packed out every week and their posters promise “Real Christian Answer to Life’s Pressing Questions”. But who are they and what do they want? Despite their claims to lead students to an “Abundant Christian Life” their reputation at other college campuses tells a different story. “I would not recommend this ministry to any student” said Dr. Herb Butz Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Florida. “We believe that this group uses cult like tactics to entrap and cut off lonely or idealistic students, interfering with their studies and recruiting them to perpetuate the group and its goals.” It got worse from there and they quoted me as “Pastor Tikie” and laid into the tactics we used including posing as a “campus sponsored” club when in fact this was not the case. It also had interviews with fraternity members, where Greg and I had preached, accusing us of coming into the frat under false pretenses, stealing their members, then effectively cutting them off. They also questioned where our finances were coming from and the fact that we expected the students to tithe and support us. They contrasted our taking up offerings from “poor” students with that of other ministries like Campus Crusade and the Baptist Student Union. Although there was much truth to this, there were some differences between what they wrote and what was actually happening. One was that we had not encouraged the fraternity and sorority members to leave their organization - I felt like that they could do more good inside the frats than if they left them. But of course since we WERE MCM, we “ate up” all their free time.
The article was a disaster. We now had about 120 members, counting the ten that had come for the planting. It was a great start - but only a start. And now with the spate of articles about MCM Jim and I noticed that our first time visitor attendance dropped off dramatically. Another part of the problem centered on our finances. Jim did not have enough outside support coming in for him and his family. We knew this was a problem upfront but thought it would solve itself once we had the ministry rolling. So I was subsidizing him out of my $ 1,500 per month in outside contributions I had pledged to me. The rent, because of the wonderful location, on the hall, was about $ 1,800/month. The cost of our initial blitz had taken our seed money to zeros plus my own war-chest balance was now down to about $ 2,000. Our offerings were only averaging about $ 300/week despite our “success” in numbers after three months. I have not mentioned that I paid a MCM “tax” of about 12% on my monthly $ 1,500 plus I threw 10% of that in the plate. And on top of that 10% of the ministries gross income for the Ministry went right back to Gainesville.
And to top it off Nick Pappis, “Lead Evangelist” for MCM came to town the week after the article appeared. Nick was a second generation Greek. He was a shouting “hell and brimstone” type preacher - a “blue collar” type without much of an education. He was gruff and rough - but he could preach for two hours straight and could quote scripture after scripture from memory. Bob Weiner thought he was MCM’s best evangelist.
Well Nick shows up after one night at Jim and Dana’s House and confronts me. ”Look brother I can’t stay in that house under those conditions.” “What conditions?” I asked him. “The kids [Jim and Dana’s children], they are too noisy, I need time alone with God, quite time, I can’t concentrate on my preparation and prayer time.” “Okay, Nick, you can bunk in with me if you would like.” He stepped back and gave me a look of disdain. “Brother, I am God’s anointed, and I need to separate myself. I want you to book me into University Hotel.” I groaned inwardly. Our cash situation was not desperate, but it would become desperate in a matter of weeks. ”Nick, we simply don’t have the funds to do that, we are counting every penny.” ”Your problem brother, is that you have no FAITH and your people ARE NOT giving. You are too easy on them - and because you are NOT challenging them to give you are ROBBING them and GOD of a huge blessing.” He had stepped up and put his chest into mine. I did not flinch. “Look Nick, these are poor college kids, we only have a handful of people with full time jobs…we can’t beat these kids over the head, they are getting their money from their parents or scholarships.” My mind wandered back to my first few months in MCM - I wanted to protect my “sheep” from what happened to me. I had not yet realize that I could NOT do this - that I was at the mercy of the leadership of MCM and people like Nick. “B-r-o-t-h-e-r” he slurred the words out slowly. “You are doomed to failure with this type of faith and belief. You are the leader here - and your demonic attitude about faith and money will infect your flock. I am going to have to straighten you out and your flock.” This went on for about twenty minutes - with me being under the mistaken impression that this was “my church” and that I actually had a say in what Nick could talk about or do with the congregation.
Then all of the sudden Nick had the phone in his hand and he was calling Gainesville. ”Hey Charlene, is Bob in?…. yeah its Nick…okay I’ll hold.” He cupped the receiver with his hand “We are going to straighten this right now so that there is no question about who is in control here, do you understand?” He straightened up. “Hey Bob, it is Nick. Yeah the flight was fine. I am up here at XXXX University with Tik Tok. This place is a complete mess, just like I thought it would be. Greg did his usual schtick, got a bunch of people coming to the service but no real commitment, no passion, and Tik and Jim are not showing any courage or backbone. Their finances are a mess because they are not believing God to provide." He listened and nodded. In the meantime I was seeing red stars - no passion, no commitment - did this idiot think that all this “just happened,” and Greg and Helen had busted their rear-ends with never a complaint? Did he know that all of us had been working fifteen and twenty hours a day for the last three months? Where did he think the 120 kids came from??? When he got off the phone I was going to tear into him. He kept up the “uh huhs and the Hmm- hmms” for about a minute, then he looked up and winked at me and spoke into the phone and said “he’s right here.” “Its Bob Weiner, he wants to speak to you.” He handed me the receiver. “Hey Tik, what in the world is going on up there? We set you guys up there, give you $ 10,000 and now you are stumbling. You have to be strong brother, buck up. I don’t like what I am hearing.” “But Bob, things are going great, Greg did a great job, it just that we have a bunch of kids with no money, and Nick is making a wholesale judgment about this ministry and he has not even been here for 24 hours.” “Listen Tik, Nick is my man, and I sent him up there because I figured you were too new and inexperienced to handle this stage of the ministry. He has my blessing - you get out of his way and he will straighten the finances out, he is a man of real faith, so you had better support him…do you understand?” I did understand. I understood that no matter what the reality of the situation, no matter the fact that I had worked harder and smarter than I ever had in my life, that Bob was basically saying “I can take you out… and I will… unless you let Nick have his way.” So I caved in. What would you have done? I make no excuses but I will point out that I was only 21 years old - and I let these guys buffalo me - and I learned a lesson that I have kept with me and it is this: Anyone who mistreats someone with less power than themselves, whether they are talking to an employee or a waiter, is a bad person and should be avoided at all costs.
Well, it continued to go down hill at our ministry. At our Saturday night service we had about 130 people there, our 120 members plus 10 visitors. And Nick launched into a sermon about Esther, and God planting her among the enemies and God being faithful. There was A BIG problem that night. Nick was quoting and preaching, almost verbatim, one of Greg Ball’s standard stump speech sermons. I had heard Greg give this sermon three times, twice at outreaches that I had worked on and at our second Saturday service here. It was a magnificent sermon, really a huge story woven with the passion and word pictures that Greg was so good at painting. I had no problem with Greg re-preaching his sermons - to different crowds. He had perfected it- and it was every effective. But now Nick was preaching the EXACT same sermon, not nearly as effectively, and I caught the eye of my “star convert” “Tikietwo” who gave me a weird look and a shrug of his shoulders. The other thing that caught my ear was that in his sermon Nick again made reference to the fact that he had dropped out of medical school to pursue full time ministry. I knew for a fact that this was a bald faced lie and not true- and in the midst of this lie he was plagiarizing and reproducing a sermon that most of the people here had heard only two weeks before. At the end of the service Nick went “off story” and spent ten minutes talking about giving, and robbing God of his tithes, and how they were letting the ministry and God down, and how if giving did not increase that “Tik’s job was on the line”, or something to that affect. I was appalled and disgusted by the whole thing. Afterwards when the place was almost cleared out I asked Nick to come back to the office.
“Look Nick I have some real problems with what went on tonight.” “Like what?” he said. “Well first, your sermon. That was Greg’s sermon, I have heard him preach it three times- you stole it.” He was out of his chair and on top of me in a flash, he bared his teeth. “Don’t every accuse me of stealing, do you understand me? You are nothing here- I am in charge, didn’t you hear Bob this morning? I’ll have you sent packing in one minute. Secondly I did not steal the sermon, I actually wrote it and gave it to Greg and gave him permission to use it. He is a good preacher, but he has trouble coming up with material.” Nick towered over me. What could I say? I “knew” Greg wrote his own material. He spent a lot of time doing this and then over rehearsing. Nick was lying. “Well maybe so Nick, but I plan on asking Greg about it.” I continued “And not only that but you are telling my people that you went to medical school. This is not true and I will not have you telling lies!” He put his fist in my face. “Look my uncle was a doctor and I was in pre-med [Tik’s note: this was also not true]. I am doing what Paul did, being all things to all men. Brother, I would suggest that you worry about your own problems here, or life could get tough for you, understand?”
I could not believe it. Who did this guy think he was, Marlon Brando in the Godfather? He was threatening me, and unfortunately I was pretty sure that he was not bluffing…and his threat was real.So I wimped out and let Nick run roughshod over me and the ministry for the next three weeks. He insulted me in front of my congregation, he suggested that I should let my hair grow out [it was to short and I looked like a marine]. He suggested, and I am not kidding, that I needed to buy some expensive watches and jewelry so I could demonstrate my prosperity to the brothers. This in a ministry that was so cash negative that I could hear the sucking sound in the bank account. My co-pastor Jim was so intimidated by Nick that he actually got physically sick and was incapacitated for about half the time Nick was here with shingles.
Finally Nick was there when the next set of Forerunners were delivered. ”What is the plan with these Tik? We got to get these out to campus ASAP.” I explained what had happened and how I had narrowly avoided being taken to court and being fined. He snorted at me “What a wimp, no wonder this place is such a mess. You are afraid of a little persecution - do you think Peter and Paul would have worried about a fine? Get some back bone. I want the brothers here this afternoon and we are going to get these things all over campus - and I want you to personally deliver a stack to the student affairs building. And I mean it.” I gulped and we did it. Nick left three days later, and it was one of the highlights of my life to see him get on the airplane. And seventy two hours later I found myself answering a summons and standing in front of a judge and explaining why we did not have or need a permit and being fined $ 1,500 and being told I was lucky that I was not going in the slammer for a day or so.
Well, we took our 120 plus kids down to MLTS, my notes are sketchy, but I think it was Tulsa. Regardless, it was the same MLTS where on the second day Matt broke me up during the groaning and grunting revelation of Rose and Bob Weiner. As I said earlier it was the nuttiest and craziest act, as far as I was concerned, of their ministry. That afternoon I was heading to one of the workshops when I spied Nick Pappis, Lee Lawson, and Bob Weiner heading down the hall towards me. Bob looked up and said “Tik come with us” and he motioned with his arm. We sat down on some couches. Leo, by this time, was glued to Bob. It actually reminded me of some mob figure with a body guard. He glared at me through slitted eyes, while Nick leaned back with his arm draped behind Bob’s. Nick began “Tik, although your ministry has shown some great growth in numbers we are concerned about your ability to lead the ministry and to grow it financially. You have got to really develop your style and your leadership image.” Bob cut in “Tik, you got to set the pace, the brothers and sisters will only follow Jesus and the Word and Ministry to the degree that you do. Let me tell you when I look around MLTS I can spot the real leaders…do you know how?” “How”? I asked. “Well leaders and winners congregate together they hang together. I mean check out who Greg Ball is hanging around with, why with Rice [Broocks] and Dennis [Darville] that’s who… and Leo, here” he elbowed Leo, “Leo hangs out with Nick and with Joe [Smith] every chance he gets.” “Okay” I said. I was hoping against hope he was not going to suggest I start hanging out with Nick. Leo looked up “I noticed you hanging around some brothers that are struggling. That guy”, Leo looked over at Bob, “you know Bob the guy at Auburn, what’s his name?” “Max”, said Nick, “His name is Max Hatter.” “Matt” I corrected them. “Regardless” said Nick, “that ministry is on the skids, after being one of the strongest in the country. Even your ministry, Tik, is bringing at least 75 more people to MLTS than that one and it’s been around for six years.” “You want to be a winner, then hang around winners. The guys who are struggling will sow doubt in your mind, and will bring you down. You need to polish your image. Okay?”
I got the message. And I turned my back on my best friends. I am ashamed to say that that evening when Matt and Allie asked if I wanted to join them for dinner I said I “had plans”. And I conveniently forgot about our usual breakfast at MLTS where we caught up and gossiped and laughed at Phil Bonasso’s latest antics to get “noticed.” And at the leadership conference in Dallas two months later I walked right by an open seat next to Matt and Allie, my “old” best friends, the couple who had been my refuge at Auburn and who had made my life livable, to take a seat next to Helen Ball while Greg opened up the session. It was as if they no longer existed for me. I knew, that Matt knew, by this time, that I was avoiding and ignoring him. I did it so I would not be “brought down” and would be seen as a “winner” by the MCM leadership. I closed my heart to them and set my face towards the leadership. It was a terrific betrayal of their friendship and I feel my face burning as I write this. As Matt later told me “Allie and I thought we had lost you forever Tikie.”