Church revitalization drives pastor despite paralysis

by Grace Thornton, posted Friday, May 25, 2018 (5 months ago)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) -- Face down on the floor of his hotel room, Dan Hall was fighting for every breath.

Church revitalization pastor Dan Hall lives with his family in Madison, Miss. Hall continues helping congregations thrive through challenges after his own near-death crisis.
Submitted photo
In August of 2016, he had just gotten into Houston on a late flight, settled into his hotel after midnight and started getting ready for an early morning meeting. It was all routine. As a longtime Baptist pastor and church revitalization consultant, sleep deprivation was Hall's norm. He was used to solving churches' life-or-death crises.

But this was different -- now he appeared to be having one of his own. He suffered a pulmonary embolism, passed out, fell down and woke up a quadriplegic.

As he lay there that night, the weight of his own body worked against him, pushing him deeper into the carpet, his lungs unable to pull air in without hard-fought effort. Every few seconds, he would whisper a prayer, picture the face of one of his six children and four grandchildren and pull in as much air as he could. Then he would use what breath he had to try to cry for help.

He would do that for hours before being discovered by hotel staff. He would do it as the elevator ran up and down on the other side of the wall, carrying people who couldn't hear him. He would do it with such determination that doctors would later fight an uphill battle clearing his lungs of the carpet fibers he had sucked in.

And Hall would try not to focus on the fact that he was dying.

"The Lord gave me grace in that moment to fight for my kids," he said.

That kind of grace wasn't new to him -- Hall had actually learned to fight tooth and nail a long time ago, just a different kind of battle.

Dan Hall with his wife, Hazel, who he says has "taken care of me through this."
Submitted photo
He had felt the call to be a pastor as a young man sitting under the preaching of Jimmy Draper at First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas. Then after college, as he moved from pastorate to pastorate, he began to see a pattern of God doing something unusual.

He saw a declining church in Kentucky go from 850 to 2,000 in four years' time. He saw a south Florida church in bankruptcy go from 1,800 to 5,000 in two years.

"They were in severe trouble, and God did a work -- He turned it around," Hall said.

Not only that -- He did something in Hall, too.

"I didn't mean to, but I started realizing in my ministry that I loved what most people can't stand. I loved the chaos. I found great joy in taking the churches that were in trouble and helping them figure out where they fit," he said. "I enjoyed the crisis."

Hall wanted to be available to rush into the chaos and help churches find their feet as often as he could, so he decided to become more consultant than long-term pastor. Sometimes he would take on a transitional pastorate for a church. Sometimes he would just meet with church staff to evaluate their needs and help them figure out what to do next.

Mike May, executive pastor at First Baptist Church of Brandon, Miss., said Hall was a "phenomenal" help to their church in a time of crisis.

"He's a tremendously effective leader, just a breath of fresh air," May said. "Everybody just fell in love with his leadership and him as a person. He came at the perfect time, and he was here three years."

That's where Hall was serving in 2016 when he took that trip to Houston and life changed forever. When he passed out in the hotel that night, he broke bones in his spine.

"It was the valley of the shadow of death for me," he said.

But after weeks of fighting for his life followed by weeks of rehab, he found himself speaking again at First Baptist Brandon, a living metaphor for the churches he had seen go from near death to vibrant life again.

"The place was packed out that night when he came back," May said. "And he continued on leading after that with just as much strength."

Now, even with his paralysis, Hall is just as active in meeting with churches and walking with them through their struggles. He's been able to help churches stop hemorrhaging, avoid a split, navigate a pastor transition or simply adjust their systems to fit their church's needs. Most recently, he walked alongside Valleydale Baptist Church in Birmingham as they prepared to call Mac Brunson as their new pastor.

When Hall consults with churches, he talks their leaders through a variety of topics to find out areas that are healthy or unhealthy. Part of that is looking at staffing, whether or not it is being maximized and if a pastor is experiencing "seepage" of energy in areas he could delegate.

"It's like leaving the dome light on in the car -- there are things that can slowly drain your time and energy," he said.

In addition to leadership assessments, he also assesses the church's system alignment and generosity landscape. "In one church where we have implemented a new initiative recently, giving has increased by 50 percent in the past 18 months," Hall said.

He loves helping churches through a crisis, he said. And as an added blessing, Hall has been able to share the story of his personal crisis --how God taught him to fight for joy and lean on grace.

"It's not important that I know why all this has happened; it's important how I respond to it," said Hall, who lives with his family in Madison, Miss. "God has taught me to cultivate joy through gratitude. I'm grateful for the relationships he has given me, like my wife, who has taken care of me through this. And I'm thankful for God's grace in the midst of it all."

For more information about Hall's ministry, visit ocschurch.com.

Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala.
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