I first encountered Roger Fredrikson when he spoke in chapel while I was in seminary. He was a catalyst for bringing a fresh openness in me, to God and the church. I was stirred. Though I would not see him often over the years, God would continue use Roger to speak to me.
Roger died two weeks ago on June 16. He was 95. Learning of his death brought a flood of memories.
Roger was strong intellectually and an amazingly gifted American Baptist leader, pastor and preacher. Ecumenically influential, he moved in wide circles advocating for social justice and fullness of life in Christ. He had pushed through personal spiritual struggles and chosen to follow Christ wholeheartedly. His vibrancy remained all his life. Only a few years ago he spoke at a spiritual growth retreat at Green Lake Conference Center.
I experienced my seminary-required ministry internship at First Baptist Church of Alexandria, MN, where Roger’s mother was a member. When I met her I knew where Roger got his fire. Roger preached one Sunday evening during my internship. Before the service, he scratched three words on a sheet of paper for his sermon. Three words, . . . then preached a dynamic message.
Roger loved the local church. With all the Church’s faults and struggles, he was committed to serve the Church. That love spilled into my life. It increased my love for the church. It was one of many things that caused me to spend my life serving the local church. His strong emphasis on the ministry of the laity made it unusual for Roger not to have a layperson with him wherever he went.
While serving as Pastor of Delavan Baptist Church, I invited a lay ministry team to our church from the church where Roger was Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls, SD. They came to tell their stories of life with Christ. They were ordinary, transparent, honest, authentic. As the weekend of their visit approached I feared the Lay Witness Mission would be a flop. People wouldn’t understand why they had come. Would our people come to gatherings scheduled in homes? Was I ever wrong! God moved in our church in intense ways. The energy and enthusiasm grew over the weekend. Sunday morning, the close of the mission, the front of the sanctuary was filled with people indicating they wanted a relationship with God that made a difference in their lives. Our church came alive; they wanted to witness like that. We set up lay teams from our church to go to other churches to do what the Sioux Falls’ team had done for us. That burgeoning new life was affirmed by the Region of our denomination who gave our church the Evangelistic Lifestyle Award that year.
Roger’s book, God Loves the Dandelions, is a healthy reminder of how God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I found helpful insights in his commentary on John’s Gospel written for the Communicator’s Commentary series. His book, The Church That Refused to Die, is the story of his ministry at First Baptist Church of Wichita, KS, a church that had been broken by misunderstandings and hurt. Part of the congregation had left to form another church. During Roger’s ministry he led the two congregations in healing and reconciliation that gained the attention of the city and beyond. His passion was for the church to be alive, free of baggage that pulled her off mission, so the church could be free to serve Christ and others.
While Roger was in Wichita, we moved to El Dorado, KS, to serve First Baptist Church, about 30 minutes from Wichita. Roger and his dear wife, Ruth, had lunch with us shortly after we arrived. We were hurting. Having just left Delavan Baptist Church, we were feeling the pain of leaving people we loved. Roger pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and handed it across the table to me, as if to say, “Here have a good cry.” They understood. Not long ago, they had left the Sioux Falls Church they dearly loved. Roger’s friend, Leighton Ford, wrote of Roger after his death, “Roger was as grace-filled as anyone I have ever known.” His grace, God’s grace, oozed from Roger, and gave hope to many, including me.
While I was Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Savoy, IL, I invited Roger for a preaching mission at our church. A life-altering weekend unfolded for many of us. At the close of the weekend, the front of the sanctuary was filled with people hungry for a bona fide experience with God.
You can read more about Roger here. You can also read about Roger’s life in his book, Learning To Dance, A Story of Grace. I encourage you to do so. It may inspire you to be a more grace-filled person, as Roger inspired me.
This past Christmas I wrote a note to Roger to tell him he had ministered to me and to thank him. It’s not uncommon that things we might have missed, that matter most, are discovered through another person. Roger was that kind of person for me. Thank you, God, for Roger Fredrikson! He was a gift to me and many others.