Those of you who are friends via Facebook or twitter might be startled to read a somewhat shocking confession. I am no longer a pastor.
In February of this year, the stress was getting to me. I was getting sick almost every other day. I was getting kidney stones, stress pains, and just an overall dislike for life.
This started way before February. It started about 5 1/2 years ago while at my first senior pastorate. I had been at the church for just under six months and had some crises of… Well, I’m not quite sure. I had already realized that I was not a good match, but I believed (with some encouragement from my denomination) that God was bigger than the circumstances and would be able to use this church under my leadership to impact the community; this in despite of all my shortcomings.
Looking from the outside in, we were reaching out and impacting around 50 people with only 7 people, and with less than a quarter of the money from the previous year. For those not familiar with church statistics, this is some pretty amazing stuff! Of course, the average attendance only went up 30% (from 10-13 people) and we were making plans for the near future of 20… Which we accomplished in just two more more months. We had a few controversies here and there, but we were able to move past them.
By all church accounts, things seemed to be going well. However, I was bored and my family had very little money. My weekly responsibilities were accomplished in about 20 hours. I spent quality time with my family, but that still left with over 80 hours a week to fill my schedule. To make matters worse, the screenwriters guild had just begun to strike. There were several activities to partake, but none that were inexpensive.
I tried reading, but the more I educated myself, the more I separated myself from the congregation I pastored. The community I lived had less than 10% college educated people in the area. Education was not valued. I love education! I miss academia even today. But to stay in the community, education could not be high on my priorities.
Why would I want to forsake something I loved so much to stay in a community that I obviously did not fit? That question has been asked to me several times. Partly, because I believe that God can redeem anything no matter how shattered, and our church had a pretty shattered background. Also, because I did not want to be one of those pastors who was more concerned with furthering his own career rather than pastoring, caring and loving the people I was charged with. I am still saddened, sickened, and astounded how many pastors use the church they are pastoring as a stepping stone to a “bigger” or “better” church. I wasn’t hired to plan to pastor a different church, but to pastor that church. Apparently, I blew my chances with other opportunities offered because of my stubbornness to try and be formed in an image that would minister to that specific church best.
That Christmas of my first year was excruciating on my wife and daughter. My was verbalized by intense wailing and yelling. I know that the emotional turmoil I was going through was visible by the reflection of my wife’s face. I knew I did not fit. I knew that I would have to abandon valuable chunks of me to even have a chance to fit in while knowing that there was a good chance it would be for naught. Even while trusting God, I wondered if I should give-in to the pain and quit. My wife and I went round after round wondering which way to go. She just wanted me to be happy and I just wanted to do the right thing.
What pain am I talking about? The pain of not fitting in; the pain of speaking shared words but somehow a different language; the pain of loving and caring for people and knowing they don’t experience it as love; the pain of not being a dictator even when that is what they want; the pain of fighting for your people and bearing deep wounds when all of these same people only see silly fighting; and the pain of believing in a group of people I love and seeing that they do not and would not believe in themselves. I’m sure there is more.
We decided to move forward and continuing loving our people. It was painful love, but genuine. After one month, I realized we should have left. I medicated myself with World of Warcraft. Two months later, I knew that we needed to leave. We asked for a transfer and there did not seem to be anything available for me unless I started a new church or a “church plant.” Even though there was no money in this endeavor, it was what I had always desired. In college, it was the one thing that I wanted to do as a pastor more than anything else and I jumped at it.
A denominational leader thought it would be a good idea for me to work Part-time with another pastor as an associate pastor. That way I would be able to make a little bit of money while planting the church. I was a little bit hesitant at first but it seems like something that many have done in the past and I thought why not me? Well it didn’t turn out so well.
The senior pastor and I were never on the same page, sometimes not even in the same book. Despite my job description, I was verbally beaten up doing my job. After eight months, I could not take it anymore. The people of the church were great, but my working relationship was not. I remember specifically in May of that year that he asked me what he could do to get rid off and hire someone that knew what they were doing. I told him as soon as my wife or I could get a job that would cover expenses. Two months later, she was hired at such a job.
When I told him that I was resigning, he seemed to be pretty happy though he did not know why I was leaving. I brought up our conversation from May and a look of glee came to his face. Again, his focus was on who would be my replacement.
What I did next was shameful, but made me feel a bit better while watching his jubilation. I told him that I definitely would NOT ask for people from his congregation to join mine. His face turned from joy to fear. I was dismissed and not even five minutes later I received a call from my denominational leader why I wanted to steal the pastor’s members. I laughed. Still shameful, but that was an event that I will remember fondly.
Next Time on Becoming Oaks:
On Being a Former Pastor/Somewhat Minister: Episode II – Depression & Birth