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Published: 5/26/2012

Bad golf shot put executive on path of faith

Elder to leave CedarCreek for Louisiana post

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Ed and Debbie McCauley are to leave their 'comfort zone' to work with two small churches about 40 miles north of New Orleans. Ed and Debbie McCauley are to leave their 'comfort zone' to work with two small churches about 40 miles north of New Orleans.
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From most people's perspective, Ed McCauley had it all: a high-paying executive job with Kroger Co., a custom-built home he and his wife, Debbie, designed in Lambertville, membership in a private country club, and a single-digit golf handicap.

But a wayward "drive" started him on a radically new path in life.

It was 2002 and Mr. McCauley, Kroger's regional manager for northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, was playing golf at Highland Meadows in Sylvania with two good friends, radio host Denny Schaffer and Kroger executive Doug DeArmond.

"I hit my drive on the second hole dead out of bounds in some people's back yard, and I used the Lord's name in vain," Mr. McCauley said.

Mr. Schaffer rebuked Mr. McCauley for his language, saying, "It's not God's fault. Don't bring him into it,' " Mr. DeArmond recalled.

"I was startled," Mr. McCauley said. Foul language had been de rigueur in his circles.

His friends invited Mr. McCauley and his wife to visit CedarCreek Church, the nondenominational "seeker-sensitive" megachurch that had just moved into a new campus in Perrysburg Township.

"I ended up going to CedarCreek and I was just amazed at the impact that it had on me, just the music and the message and the people -- the friendliness," Mr. McCauley said. "So we went back the next week, went back the week after that. We ended up getting plugged into a life group [small groups meeting in people's homes]. Debbie and I both gave our lives to Christ just a couple months after coming to church."

Within a year, he quit his job at Kroger and -- taking a 67 percent pay cut -- joined CedarCreek's staff as executive pastor of operations.

Lee Powell, senior pastor, said he knew right away that Mr. McCauley, who supervised 23 Kroger stores with 3,300 employees, was "a blue chipper, a ringer." After a Bible study one morning, he asked if he'd consider going into the ministry someday.

Mr. McCauley, 59, said the question touched a nerve. "It came out of the clear blue sky," he said. "I thought, 'You know, I think I would.' I've always been so ready and willing to do the very best to sell Kroger to people as the place where they buy their groceries, but I think this is a much higher calling to get people to fall in love with Jesus the way I have."

A few weeks later, Mr. Powell told him CedarCreek might have an opening in six months to a year.

"I thought, this is kind of a defining moment for me," Mr. McCauley said. "I decided, you know what, if I'm not going to do it now, when will I do it?" Then Mr. Powell sped it up even more.

"The next week the operations manager resigned," Mr. Powell said, "When I saw Ed, I said, 'It's changed from six months to two weeks.' His eyes got so big, and it looked like he lost his breath. He said, 'Two weeks?' "

Mr. McCauley and his wife talked it over and prayed about the decision before he accepted the job.

In the nine years since joining CedarCreek, the church has grown from 3,000 people meeting each week at one campus to more than 8,000 attending four campuses in the Toledo area; 1,000 more watch the services on CedarCreek's online "iCampus."

As executive pastor of operations, Mr. McCauley is responsible for making sure everything is running smoothly, from finance and payroll to maintenance and cleanliness. Two of his favorite jobs have been teaching Bible classes and mentoring younger staff members.

One thing he doesn't do is preach, simply stating, "Not my gift."

But he's highly visible, greeting members and visitors alike with a big smile and a clasp of his big hands. Mr. Powell called him "the most up front a behind-the-scenes guy can be."

He also was elected one of CedarCreek's three elders, along with Mr. Powell and Steve Hutmacher.

A few weeks ago, Mr. McCauley announced that he and his wife are taking another step of faith, leaving CedarCreek for Covington, La., about 40 miles north of New Orleans, to work for the Rev. Alfred Young, pastor of two small churches in Covington. He met Mr. Young while leading a number of mission teams in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

While the warmer climate appeals to the McCauleys, it will be difficult moving 1,000 miles away from their family in Ohio. The couple have two sons and six grandchildren in the state (one granddaughter is in California), and Mr. McCauley's 90-year-old father, five brothers, and two sisters are all in Columbus.

"Oh, boy, it's tough," said Mr. McCauley, a Columbus native. "This is a big move for us. But I feel like it's something God's calling me to do so I'm going to give it a shot." He said God is pushing him out of his comfort zone into "a spot where we truly will, every day, just trust God."

Mr. McCauley considers himself "the original poster child" for CedarCreek.

"When they said they wanted to help 'spiritually restless and unchurched people to love Jesus, serve others, and tell the world about Christ,' I was one of those guys they reached. When you think about walking in the door as pretty much a pagan, and leaving this church and moving on as an elder and a leader of the church, it's one of those miracles that can only happen with God," he said.

-- David Yonke



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