On Friday morning, October 30, 2020, another of my spiritual heroes departed for his eternal home. Ron Brumley served as an elder for many decades in several different churches – San Diego, Chicago and Seattle. It was during his first tenure in San Diego that God caused our lives to intersect. He and his fellow elder, George Havins (another of my departed spiritual heroes), sought input from me about their church situation in Poway, California, a suburb of San Diego. Knowing that I shared their background in the Mainstream Churches of Christ and was older than anyone on their ministry staff led to the advice seeking discussions. In turn, those discussions led to them eventually inviting me to move to San Diego and become their congregational evangelist. It was for me a marriage made in heaven.
A Pivotal Role in My Life
Without question, Ron and Linda, along with the Havins, played a very pivotal role in my life. I was frustrated with the Mainstream churches and was looking for a church that resembled the one I read about in the Book of Acts, one that wanted to turn the world upside down for Christ. After we moved to San Diego in June of 1985, my wife and I found what we had dreamed of in the church and in the two elders and their wives. I could elaborate a lot here, but suffice it to say that my wife’s oft repeated comment that we thought we had died and gone to heaven was no exaggeration in our minds and hearts – then or now, thirty-five years later. And Ron was front and center of that dream come true.
Quite a number of leaders in the Mainstream churches tried to join what I then called the “Discipling Movement.” Not many made it. So much was different in those two families of churches, and adjusting to differences, especially spiritual ones, is unsettling at best. Some of those differences were simply new ways of applying Scriptures and some of them were bad ways of trying to apply Scriptures. It took all of us time to figure out those differences and either adjust our attitudes or our practices. Without Ron and George to patiently and wisely guide me through those adjustments, I would never have made it. I so wish others like me would have encountered such marvelous guidance. Their stories might have ended up like mine, a cherished story of blessed experiences. The unique role Ron played in my life would alone convince me that there was a God and that this God was good.
A Deep Humility
When I say that Ron played a pivotal role in my transition from one family of churches to another, I can easily identify certain characteristics in him that made this a reality. The first was a deep humility. In our earliest meetings at conferences, where those first private discussions took place, it was obvious that Ron only cared about helping the church. He wanted to see anything in himself that might hinder that goal. When he asked for input, he did so with humility, and when he was given it, he was never defensive. Not once. Later when we worked together in San Diego, it was obvious that this was simply who he was, a part of his character.
One memory stands out especially. When I was interviewing for the evangelist role, we spent a lot of time with both the Brumleys and the Havins. Following a meal together, we continued our discussion as we left the restaurant and walked to our car. Ron said that he knew that I would want to disciple the elders and he just wanted me to know that this would be just fine with them. At that time, most discipling relationships were like mentoring relationships, with one person pretty much directing the relationship.
That statement was a rather shocking one to me. In the family of churches of which I was a part up to that point, the elders were most definitely the ones in charge. At the time, I didn’t reply to Ron’s comment, but I knew that we would have a two-way relationship of equality and disciple one another. That, of course, proved to be the case once we moved to San Diego. Both he and George were amply endowed with deep humility. How could God not bless a church being overseen by such shepherds?
A Wonderful Counselor
Ron was a great listener. After listening to others pour out their hearts and problems, he knew just the right questions to ask. He didn’t present himself as the answer man, but as a friend guiding both of you in seeking God’s answers. Our son, Bryan, was in high school when we moved to San Diego. He and I had our challenges as he was quickly approaching the time of leaving the home nest. On at least two occasions, we asked Ron to sit down with us and help us in our relationship bumps. Although it has been over thirty years since those sessions took place, I well remember Ron’s gentle counsel. No one who knew him had any trouble trusting him. Bryan and I gladly sat at his feet.
He gave great ministry counsel as well. Soon after we arrived in San Diego, I started leading various types of meetings, some the likes of which I had never even attended. At the first house church leader meeting I led, I started out with a biblical lesson, but then kept asking the group what they normally did next. Ron and George hung around until the fellowship time ended and everyone else had left. Then they sat me down for a little chat. They said that leaders had to instill confidence in whatever group they were addressing, and to be asking the group what should be done next was hardly the way to accomplish that goal. They instructed me to ask them in advance if I was unsure about how to lead a given type of meeting, but then to take charge and lead it – confidently. Good advice. From that point, I did what they said, and proved an old adage to be true: “Fake it ‘till you make it!” That approach is not hypocritical, by the way. It is doing what is best for the people you are leading. It worked wonderfully.
About a half dozen years ago, Ron called me to express appreciation for my then new book on church leadership (Dynamic Leadership). He was effusive in his praise of the book and in his expressing of gratitude for it. In the process, he made a statement that remains etched in my memory. He said that he would never recommend another book on the topic until a person had first read mine. Wow! Of all the compliments I received regarding that book, Ron’s is the one I remember. But it wasn’t simply the content of what he said; it was having him say it, the wise sage for whom I had such deep respect. When he spoke, we all listened.
A Surrendered Spirituality
Ron was a deeply spiritual man who handled life with a trust in his God that shone brightly. In the early days of our church movement, most of the key leaders were young men. They were zealous young men, but still young and inexperienced, frequently reminiscent of the old adage, “Often wrong, but never in doubt!” Ron took all of the mistakes made in stride, realizing that the passing of time and the making of mistakes was the way most of us learn, especially in our youth. That sometimes painful learning process affected the Brumleys significantly on more than one occasion, but Ron trusted God to work through those times to bring about ultimate good. In short, he didn’t just believe Romans 8:28; he lived it.
His beautiful level of surrender sustained him in life and carried him through to death. Once at an elder’s retreat, he and I went to a little Mexican restaurant for lunch. I’m sure we talked about a wide range of subjects, but in the mix, I introduced the topic of death. Aging and death have never been easy topics for me to deal with, as may be seen readily in the two chapters I wrote in the book, “An Aging Grace.” Anyway, I asked Ron if he ever worried about dying (since I do). He answered with words pretty close to this: “No, because if I was afraid to die, that would mean that I wasn’t thankful for all of the many blessings with which God has filled my life.” I thought it a profound statement and have held on to it since then. Sometimes when I feel afraid to die, I pray about what he said and picture him saying it. It is a memory embedded in my mind and heart – with Ron right in the middle of it.
A Crazy Sense of Humor
I know that God must have quite a sense of humor. After all, he made us, didn’t he? Along with Ron’s many other spiritual endowments, add a crazy sense of humor. He loved to laugh and he loved to make others laugh. When he had this certain little grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye, you knew to watch out. Something unexpected was about to come your way. During my preaching tenure in San Diego, we had an understood dress code. I won’t go into the background of that one, but Sundays often found Ron and me in the same “uniform.” After the Sunday services ended, Ron stood at the back to greet people and meet visitors.
Since we both wore similar glasses and often dressed very similarly, visitors sometimes mistook Ron for me and complimented him on the sermon. He thanked them profusely and carried the conversation on for some while before telling them that he wasn’t the preacher. I caught him in the act a few times and gave him grief, but he relished and embellished those moments to his heart’s delight. As Ron often told our mutual friends, we are too much alike for God to allow us to work closely together again! That proved to be true, but few thoughts were more exciting than entertaining that possibility. Since God didn’t see fit to grant it in time, we now look forward to it in eternity.
Ron, you were a great gift to me in this life and the same to countless others. The world was different because you were in it and it will never be quite the same with you not in it. But eternity has been changed by you, in ways that you didn’t fully understand until last Friday. I am happy for you but all who loved you are missing you terribly. We look forward to our reunion with you, and for your peers in age, it won’t be long in coming. See you soon.