October 25, 2020

Four Years: Reflecting On A First (and Only) Pastorate

churchpic.jpgI’ve written on this subject in another essay: When Loving You Is Killing Me: Thoughts on the Small Church Pastorate. After almost three years, I’m in a slightly different place with this story. Less bitter. More aware of my own failures.

Twenty years ago, I became a pastor. I’d wanted to be a pastor since I was a teenager. By God’s providence and my own choice, I spent my career up to that point as a youth minister and associate minister. Throughout those years, I wanted to be a pastor, and it often caused me a great deal of frustration that I wasn’t a pastor.

Then, in 1988, I received a call from a church in the Louisville area to be their pastor. The interview and prospect process went wonderfully, and I was affirmed with an almost unanimous vote. There was never a point in my life when I was happier, when my hopes were higher or I was more certain that I was on the right track.

Four years later, I sat in the sanctuary of that church and prayed to God one of those prayers you always remember: “Lord, I’ll go anywhere and do anything, if you’ll just get me out of here.” I was miserable and couldn’t see how I could continue another year.

A few months later- 16 years ago- I became the campus minister at the ministry where I currently serve. God used that experience to make me the person I’ve been in what I believe has been a faithful and positive ministry here.

My pastorate wasn’t a failure in any headline making way. Far from it. Attendance held up, though we didn’t grow. (A growing new megachurch of the same denomination was just down the road.) One or two fringe families left over matters unrelated to me. Finances grew. Mission giving grew. Facilities were improved substantially. New ministries to the community were started that have lasted to this day. Our ties to our denomination and visibility in the community increased. My congregation loved me, for the most part, and I loved them. I still miss them and grieve what I see as an abbreviated pastorate.

In my work with a pastoral counselor this year, I’ve come to see that the four years I spent as a pastor were important years in my life, and I have spend much time reflecting on them. There is much in those years I need to account for, much I need to repent of, much I need to forgive and very much I need to let go of. My high hopes for being a pastor became a root of bitterness that I struggle with to this day. As it becomes more possible that I will see the pastorate again sometime in my future, I come again to reflect on those years.

What did I do wrong in my first- and only pastorate? What went wrong? What can I share that will benefit other new pastors, especially those going to their first church?

1. I was woefully ignorant of the character of the pastor. I knew the job of the pastor from being close to pastors for many years. I understood pastoral skills. But I did not know or have the character of a pastor. Most new pastors don’t. I should have been mentored- actively- by older men in the ministry. Instead, like Rehoboam, I made other young pastors my friends and confidants.

I did not have the character of a praying man. I wasn’t humble. I was blind to many of my own sins and flaws. Many of the personality characteristics that made me a very successful youth minister and associate minister worked against me as a pastor. I’d been warned that this was the case, but I didn’t listen.

Most of all, I had never been tempered or matured to the place I could be useful to God and others. I had ideas, knowledge, words and talents. I did not have a pastor’s heart or character, and I did not know how to get them. The agony I felt at the end of four years was the agony of being a shepherd when you do not have a shepherd’s heart.

2. I had youth ministry problems from day one. I hesitated in solving those problems because the lay youth leader was connected to prominent families and loved by many in the church. As a former youth minister, I wanted to mentor him, which he did not want. By the time I did act, damage had been done that would never heal, and my attempts to make things better during the years to come led me into other problems and stupid solutions.

I could have seen much of this coming early on and dealt with it much better. Instead, I had to spend a lot of good will on rooting out this problem, and I paid for it. The worse errors in judgement I ever made in church I made in this area- the one area where people still seek out my advice as an “expert.”

3. The church was tired of seminary student pastors. I should have realized this, but I attempted to return to seminary to finish the last phase of a doctoral program, and my leaders- who had said they would support this- changed their minds. This was wrong on their part, but it was dumb on my part. I was 4 years out of seminary when I came to the church and they had no idea I would ask to go back, even for just one class. To them, seminary equalled part-time pastor.

4. I followed a successful pastor with a radically different style and personality. Till the day I left, I was compared to him. When I would do things that pastor would do, like go “door knocking” in the neighborhood, I was barely supported at all. I just wasn’t Brother Billy and our more private family wasn’t his extroverted family.

5. I believed that preaching would change everything. It changed almost nothing. My preaching rolled off most of my people like water off a duck’s back. They were used to good preaching and to preachers with their “ideas” of change. I never realized the extent to which they would resist even the smallest changes. The processes for change that had worked in the large churches where I’d been a staff member were useless in a rural setting. The affirmation I’d always gotten as a preacher vanished. The difference between between a non-pastor who preaches and a preaching pastor was huge and unanticipated.

6. For reasons I still do not understand, a key lay leader became my most resistant, persistent opponent. This has been difficult to let go of, and I have written before on how small church politics is the undoing of many pastors. Why did this leader start to use his influence against me? Why did it get so personal and mean-spirited? One revealing incident made it clear to me that he wanted someone as pastor who would come to him first to make all decisions because he perceived himself as the church’s financial backbone. I did not and would not respond to that kind of approach. I had a much broader base of leaders I consulted, some of whom he disliked srtrenuously from past intra-church conflicts. I was unaware of how small town, family, and local politics can influence church relationships.

At the end of the day, this leader had few specific complaints against me- if he did he would have fired me- but he opposed everything I did from his position as patriarch and deacon. He made the decision that he could not, and the church should not, follow my leadership, but just freeze me out. His influence was substantial. I felt like I was really done as pastor at that point.

7. My wife worked part-time, as did many of the church wives. Of course, in our case, different expectations applied. It became obvious to me over time that this church could not easily or naturally support a pastor with a working wife. My wife is not a high profile co-pastor running half the church and most of the programs. She is an introverted, quiet, godly person who works in her own chosen areas (as a teacher, musician and creative ministries leader) and does not live on the phone or go from house to house entertaining. Many of the people in this church expected my wife and myself- even with two small children- to be “visiting” in homes constantly. Our need for privacy and predictable family life was a negative.

This was particularly frustrating because I was meticulously faithful in pastoral care and visitation, including weekly visits to every hospital and nursing home, with frequent visits to shut-ins. I drew the line at extended family outside of the congregation, however, and this didn’t go over well.

The unspoken expectations of family are the mine fields of every pastorate. We stepped on a few.

8. I was financially irresponsible in my personal life. During this time- before I was converted by Dave Ramsey to the true religion- I was a financial mess. I wasn’t a public scandal or bankrupt, but the church knew what they paid me and could easily see that I was not a good money manager. At one point I had to drive a church vehicle for several days while my car was repaired. This minor matter was apparently a major humiliation of the church in the eyes of some.

I now realize that in a small church, people notice your clothes and your shoes. They see small things and they draw conclusions. People at banks talk. I was not, in those ways, the pastor they wanted. I didn’t spend money the right way as far as they were concerned. I didn’t manage what I had wisely, and I now realize it.

Oddly, in our current ministry we make less than half what we made at that church 20 years ago, but we now have a much healthier relationship with money and God has blessed the steps we’ve taken to be debt free and responsible. It’s been a significant area of growth.

9. I invested much of my time in relationships with people who wanted to reach the community. This included former alcoholics and some people the congregation didn’t know well. Some leaders weren’t comfortable with ministries to these kinds of people or the amount of emphasis I put on them. They had a nice facility, but were not sure they wanted it used for clothing ministry or outreach to alcoholics. I pressed on. They dug in. Ministry happened, but I wasn’t popular for leading the church in that direction.

10. I got involved in a ridiculously stupid controversy over the length of the service. Ten minutes can make a huge difference to some Baptists. One of my leaders personally attacked me in public over this in the most demeaning way I’ve ever been attacked person-to-person in public. I still wince at his words. It forever changed my feeling about my leaders and about Baptists. It was the elephant in the room for months and years to come. Pray I can let go of it.

11. During my time as pastor, the church lost a beloved worship leader and family to the mission field. Beloved to the point it is impossible to describe. Really. These people are good friends to this day and are saints in every sense of the word. When they left for another ministry overseas, the church could not cope. We went through 3 worship leaders in 3 years, all disasters in comparison. All three were good to outstanding, but the church was grieving the loss of the previous staff member and just could not move on.

All my efforts to bring in and support new staff just made the situation worse. I’m sure this showed up in my preaching, unfortunately. It certainly showed up in deacon’s meetings. As a former staff member who had always been loved and supported, I just didn’t get why we couldn’t just move on.

12. I got involved in Calvinism. There were several Calvinists in the congregation, and they were quite pleased with my interest. Other leaders, however, immediately went cold on me. A church nearby was a leading Calvinistic church in the area, and some in our church feared the influence of this church on ours. My interest in Calvinism caused me to bring in people as speakers and preachers that some in the congregation strongly suspected of coming to “convert” us to Calvinism. The shadow of Calvinistic controversy seldom came out in the open, but it was definitely a factor.

(If you are a new IM reader, I am not a Calvinist today.)

I never did a single thing to the service or the church’s structure because of Calvinism. We had invitations. We never had elders. We had revivals. The current pastor is a 5 point Piper man and the church is fine with it. But in my case, it soured and frightened key leaders.

My “failure” as a pastor wasn’t because of any shocking major blunders or failures. On any checklist you can find, I did most everything right and competently. But small things and very human failures ate away at my pastorate until leaving was a great relief to everyone. The man who followed me had a similar pastorate, but one that ended in divorce and leaving the ministry. Today it is a good church with a solid reformed Baptist pastor much loved and supported.

One evangelist that came to our church took me aside and told me I was a wimp. I was letting the church push me around and I was too weak and afraid of my leaders. This isn’t usually a description of me, but in many ways he was correct. I was still a church staff member waiting for the pastor to be the star quarterback. I would be a key player, but I wasn’t comfortable being the leader.

The experience made me a better leader where I am, and gave me much insight and wisdom for other ministers and my own future ministry where I am.

None of us are what we think we are, and life seldom turns out the way we think it will. It was a short journey from my excitement at a near unanimous call to my despair pleading with God to move me anywhere else. In between, I learned about myself, about churches and about the true nature of ministry. As I continue to work through the experience and its effect on me 20 years later, I am still learning.

Comments

  1. “Many of the personality characteristics that made me a very successful youth minister and associate minister worked against me as a pastor.”

    I’d be really interested in hearing more along these lines. For whatever reason, it seems that the path to a pastorship always goes through the kids and an associate’s position. I’ve alternated between figuring you got experience pastoring the kids to it really gave you nothing but time for people to view your charecter.

    What things helped you? How did these things come back to bite you later?

    I am many things but dumb enough to ignore the chance to ask these sort of questions to someone who has been “in the business” for as long as I’ve wanted to be “in the business”, is not one of them.

    DD

  2. That was one of the most powerful posts I have read recently. Not necessarily because the content was out of this world (although it was good) but because it came from the heart. It was extremely helpful, even for just an active lay-person in a small church.

    Thank you.

  3. Having been in some of these places you spoke about, It brought back memories of some of the people i’ve had issues with in ministry. I’ve prayed for them. Thank you for your transparency.

  4. For one thing, youth ministry generally has a lot of freedom. It’s very missional: reach kids. The church is agreed and the support is there, at least at the large churches I served. I would have never had an argument over 10 minutes in a service in my youth ministry, for example.

    So I just had no skills at being political and putting up with bs. I expected that when I said “let’s start bible studies in the trailer parks,” my people would say “sure.” Instead they just looked at me.

    And in youth ministry, the expectation was simple. if the 1) kids are coming and 2) the pastor’s happy, then you’re generally ok.

    At my church, the people came, and most people liked me. But when a few powerful people didn’t, then everything went sour.

    And of course I had been staff, I hadn’t worked with staff. That is simply a different experience.

    I could go on and on. Clothes were never an issue. I could dress down and it was fine as a youth minister. I could be creative and humorous and people liked it. Now it made me risky and people were uncomfortable.

    It was bad preparation for grown up traditional church pastoring.

    Now if I had been able to go to an emerging church, I’d be famous. Really, it annoys me now to go back to places where I was criticized for now wearing a tie, and no one is in a tie.

    Ugh. Born at the wrong time 🙂

  5. Thank you.

    I know you probably didn’t, but I feel like you wrote this for me. Even if you didn’t intentionally, it still is.

  6. Michael,

    A wonderful post, that was probably difficult, in some ways, to write. Your self assessing honesty is very refreshing(as always).

    I couldn’t help but think that most pastors could write similar stories of thier pastorate (pastoral?) experiences.

    Thanks be God that all these things are not a barrier to His Word when proclaimed rightly.

    I wouldn’t be so tough on yourself about those sermons that you preached. Immediate results are not a true measure of the effectiveness of God’s Word.

    Thank you Michael, you are a blessing!

    – Steve

  7. Matthew: I actually never thought about you.

    Does the Methodist system make this situation any different, in your opinion? Are churches more patient about letting the relationship grow?

  8. I won’t go into detail, but I can relate to so much of what you shared. (I was a lay minister in a small church, and the experience was devastating.)

    But you did one thing right, which I should have done much earlier: You prayed to the Lord that He would deliver you from the situation. And He answered.

    My mistake was I felt obligated to continue in what I assumed the Lord had ordained for me. I should have cried out in the same way. I think He would have heard me. Instead, I endured several years of spiritual and psychological torture, and thought I was “bearing the cross” and “denying the self.” Actually I was indulging in a subjective and asectic view of spirituality.

    It wasn’t until I left that I met Jesus again.

  9. I am interested in what you wrote in #1. When you say that you should have been mentored—actively—by older men in the ministry. That is probably very true. But I don’t see that as your failing, at least from what I read in your account. This is something that the church needed to provide, or even make mandatory. This is something that is just plain missing for so many people that to list it as a personal failing is to miss the point.

    The best response to this would be mentoring where you can. If you do, I think you’ll be fixing a much deeper problem than any you created. There are systemic problems in the modern church that we will only see through failure. If your seminary acted as a knowledge delivery system, then of course you had “ideas.” The whole set-up tells you you’re ready for ministry when you graduate. Even if someone states otherwise, the practice speaks louder than any lone voice.

  10. I am someone who grew up in the UMC, was born again in a SBC church, served several years there and then was called back to serve in the UMC. I am still working on my BA now but will probably being student-pastoring next year. I would like to hear from other Methodists about how the system “works.” Is it different from Michael’s experience. I was a youth pastor too and I was very fearful of serving in the SBC context because of that experience. Are there any UMC’ers out there that either compare or contrast their pastoral experiences with Michael’s. I would greatly appreciate it.

  11. Thank you for writing this. I really appreciated your honesty and your ability to share openly about your “failures” in the past. It is interesting how so many subtle things can be so devastating for a church pastor.

  12. The only thing it makes different is that I’ve got job security. If I or the church wants me out, there’s another one waiting. At least for now, if you are an elder without any blatant moral failures (typically the sexual variety) you are guaranteed an appointment somewhere within the conference you are serving.

    The rest could easily be duplicated. I’m barely avoiding #1 but that’s because I’ve sought those men out. I’m walking into a problem with the youth ministry (#2) that, if not handled properly, could be a killer. I’ve already got two months of sermons directly tied to the mission of God and our place within it prepared for after Easter and in my mind will be a world changer (#5). I’m keenly aware of how easy #6 is to pull off even if the spirit and convictions concerning decisions are godly. A PO’d influential lay leader can really sink a ministry. My wife is a stay at home mom, but that’s a 24 hour a day job and she’s not going to be the classic preacher’s wife (#7). I’ve made some positive strides with #8 because of Dave Ramsey, but that’s easy to get off track. #9 are the people I really want to develop and I’ve been told by several people that there’s an unsilent minority that will stir up stuff to keep things the same.

    All in all, I’m living in a semi-state of fear that I could be writing this nearly exact same post in 20 years. Maybe that will help you see why I considered that maybe this was one of those life preserver posts as I head into choppy water 🙂

  13. I’m a new, middle-aged British Methodist minister. I can’t speak directly to the UMC, but I suspect that there are a lot of similarities. I’ll speak to British Methodism and allow you to do your own translation.

    I preface by saying that I recognise what Michael has written but I’ve had a much better experience so far. Not that my churches are perfect, by any means. But the people are good hearted and godly in behaviour.

    It seems to me that British Methodist ministers have more autonomy than ministers in a Congregational set-up. We are appointed by the Connexion and not by the members of the church. We answer to our Superintendents and District Chairs (bishops in the UMC) and not to the congregations. In British Methodism, the minister can actually act like an autocrat if he or she wants to as we have Executive powers over committees. Personally, I believe that’s a lousy way of enabling a congregation to go forward into the future, though.

    That said, it IS still possible to bully ministers and I know ministers who have been bullied. The favourite tactic is to make verbal complaints but to refuse to put the complaints in writing. Ministers are then worn down but the complainant has nothing in writing to prove that they were making unfounded accusations.

    One thing that I have found surprising is the ire that some things can raise. Examples: taking a service 5 minutes over time or not leaving a period of quiet in a particular place in the service. These sorts of things can easily escalate into Major Crises and an apologetic attitude on the part of the minister can go a long way. Equally, I’ve volunteered to take the blame for something that Mr. X wouldn’t like. That can help diffuse situations.

  14. Jim Hedrick says

    Thanks be to God for your integrity and in this snap shot of attempted Holy Spirit directed selflessness. You hit the pastoral Lenten nail on the head. The burden of being pastor without a pastor’s heart is as Richard Sibbes would say a verbal humiliation of the depths of a child of God who has dealt quite thoroughly with himself. You have mimistered grace to many young and old alike dear brother. Thank YOU too. I pray pastors of the 21st century would be so honest in the household of God. I will pray for your healing. I hurt and cry for grace along with you

  15. Scott Shaffer says

    Michael,

    I’m a frequent reader but rarely comment. This was an excellent and riveting post with sage advice. Thanks for your insights and transparency.

    Scott

  16. Thank you.

    I spent two years in a challenging church. My wife and I resigned vowing to leave “the ministry” because it was just to dang tough on us! Your point #7, about the expectations on your wife, hit home. Same scenario with my wife.

    It was very refreshing to read your thoughts and I value your honesty and approach to your post.

    By they way, driving a semi for 2 years allows plenty of time to heal! Now I’m back “in the ministry” but not in a pastoral way. God heals and leads through challenging times. My wife and I have come out stronger on the other side.

    Again, thank you for your post.

  17. I reread “When loving you…”. You said you were 31 when you took that church.

    I’m 31.

    😀

  18. Michael,

    Great post. Very helpful to me.

    Could you comment more on #2 about the youth ministry problems?

  19. If you email me Jim I’d be happy to comment more.

  20. Michael, thanks for this very interesting post. By the way, I’m also 31 and working as a pastor, so this made think about my own situation.

    Thanks for your insights and openness.

    // Henrik

  21. Thanks so much for the post. I think one of the biggest issues I faced was knowing how to “lose” and figure out I was losing and just move on. My friends who have done well in the ministry seem to do this really well. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, writes about not hiring men for senior management who have not had some significant failure. Those who haven’t failed are often those who are too afraid of failure and won’t take risks. Also, if we can’t lose we will break. And next we will remain committed to things we should shake for the sake of being more effective. Who would want a guy like that in leadership. After 30 years as a pastor I think he is right. Pastors (me)just stay too long when the writing is on the wall and by the time they go, everyone is exhausted. Of course, the prophetic types think that losing is a sign of not being, well, a prophetic type. Sometimes we simply say, this isn’t working out so it’s time for a change. That takes a lot of courage, but it spares a lot of pain for a lot of people. Don’t learn the wrong lesson, which is “I shoulda been better.” Learn the first lesson – not everything works out and that’s okay. While we are down, let’s pick something up and take it with us to the next assignment. Reminds me of Mark Twain’s comment that we can learn too much from a situation. The cat who once sits on a hot stove won’t sit on a cold one either. A lot of guys leave that first church thinking they can’t be a good pastor. They learned too much. Peace to all who read this post, including you, Michael. Thanks for letting us in the door.

  22. Hey Michael —

    This may be the most self-aware piece you have ever written, and I applaud you for being able to see yourself as you were in spite of the obvious wrongs done to you.

  23. “I preface by saying that I recognise what Michael has written but I’ve had a much better experience so far. Not that my churches are perfect, by any means.”

    “” But the people are good hearted and godly in behaviour.””!

    Leviticus 19:18:
    18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

    Matthew 19:19:
    19Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    Matthew 22:39:
    39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    Mark 12:31:
    31The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

    Luke 10:27:
    27And he answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

    Romans 13:9:
    9The commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    Galatians 5:14:
    14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    James 2:8:
    8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.

    My point is that you have to love yourself first and go forward from that point in the power of the Holy Spirit and not empty yourself out to your destruction…….

    When do you, from the pulpit, bring the “nasty” into the open? I do not know. But would love to have the thoughts of a few senior pastors!

  24. The problem here is with the non-biblical office of pope….err, I mean pastor. Bible: Plurality of elders. Manmadereligion: Pope or Pastor.

  25. “Bible: Plurality of elders. Manmadereligion: Pope or Pastor.”

    While the importance Elders in a Congregation can not be over stressed, What this man confronted was just plane evil…. His real question is how do you destroy the evil and not the person? Here we run headlong into this:

    “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
    that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?”

    “It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and its features stand out like a garment.
    From the wicked their light is withheld,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.”

    “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
    clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
    Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
    and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
    Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
    and tread down the wicked where they stand.
    Hide them all in the dust together;
    bind their faces in the world below.”
    Then will I also acknowledge to you
    that your own right hand can save you.”

    Rey Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.

    Let everyone hold silence, I know Rey has the answer

  26. This also hit home for me as another 31 year old pastor in my first church for just over a year now. It’s a RCA church but similar to what your describing, 135 years old and very focused on the generations of families. The problem is that the generations after the Builders either moved away or stopped coming and now they have me, a young pastor to help bring young families, but let’s not spend too much money (even though we have it) and let’s make sure all our long standing members are happy with everything. The people have good hearts but I think I also struggle with the “being a wimp” thing since my leaders are on average about 35 years older than me.

    Thanks for writing out the hazards so well so I can keep watch

  27. Thank you, Michael.

    I am a pk and am currently a seminary student. Being a pk, i have witnessed my father go through every single thing on your list but one. It was as though he were speaking to me. Thank you for writing this.

    I have two specific questions. Regarding how you were a wimp, what TYPES of situations do you think you wimped out on? Is it possible to describe more how and if you feel you were wimpy? When does washing others feet and being the servant turn into being wimpy?

    And, regarding #5 – How do you think you could have avoided this. I am becoming aware that I am naive about the extent that my preaching will prove to change others, but I know that in my personal life, the only change that has ever really happened has been through encountering God through the Word of scripture. Every truly transforming moment in my life has come through scripture. One of my greatest joys in being a seminarian is the opportunity I have to immerse myself in scripture. I know this isn’t the same as preaching, but how would you advise me and others, young pastors, about avoiding getting caught up in thinking the pulpit will be the primary source of change in the congregation?

    Again, this is a wonderful post. Thank you.

  28. by “source of change” I meant “means of change.” I think we’ll all agree that the spirit is the source of change. Thanks Michael.

  29. Let me start with preaching. I was used to a lot of response to my preaching as a youth minister. This church was used to good preaching, and used to not responding to it. Preachers were seen as short termers and I would have had to stay 10 years to get much preaching traction. I was treated like a 31 year former youth minister, and truth be told, it’s how I saw myself. I didn’t know how to preach pastorally. I preached sermons, not TO people. My sermons were “correct” and “well done” but they didn’t connect. Not with me or with my congregation.

    On being a wimp: I was treated very poorly by a key leader and I was afraid to take him on. He had the ability to run me off and I knew it. I don’t like conflict, and I really don’t like conflict with laypersons. This guy was a major stockholder and he had the power to put my family out on the streets. So he humiliated me in several deacon’s meetings and in some encounters with his family. I should have called him out, but I preferred to pretend that it would all blow over. I don’t know what I could have done, because I wasn’t willing to be fired. I think if you aren’t willing to fight and be fired, then you will be bullied by men like the one who bullied me. I was used to be liked, this man didn’t like me, and I froze. That simple.

  30. Michael,
    Thanks for this post. I am a new pastor (6-months now) who was a youth pastor for many more years. I appreciate your candor and believe it can help those of us who are just starting down the same path to be aware of the pitfalls that we can watch out for and hopefully avoid.

  31. Michael:

    Sometimes I think we’ve lived parallel lives. I had very similar experiences in the two churches I pastored right out of seminary.

    Like you, I’ve had over a decade to reflect on why things ended the way they did, what I did wrong and how I can take responsibility for my contributions to what happened – both good and bad.

    But, one of the conclusions I’ve come to is this – in hindsight, certain things could have been tweaked in terms of my leadersip in order to avoid unnecessary controversies, which there were too many of. But I don’t believe that without sacrificing my own integrity I could have changed enough about myself to have created a different outcome in either situation.

    Any time the homeostasis of a system is disrupted, there will be a reaction. If the balance that is dirupted supports dysfunction, the backlash will be especially severe.

    That’s when it’s time to observe the “Fourth Ordinance” – the Ordinance of Dust.

    Shake it off your feet and go on.

  32. Thanks, Michael. That hit blessedly close to home.

  33. Michael, I was wondering if I could follow-up (or more accurately, get you to follow-up) on your post and this thread of comments.

    You wrote about being a “wimp,” avoiding conflict, being passive, etc. All of those things I can completely relate to.

    Here is the difficulty for me. All of those things are easy to justify by “turn the other cheek,” “love your enemies,” etc. If you are in a church that has a strong “inner life” emphasis, it can be further justified by “subjectively experiencing the cross,” “dying to yourself and entering into resurrection,” etc. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, look at Wikipedia on the “Higher Life movement.”) All of these things have truth to them.

    So where is the line, or the balance? To me this is a very important issue, because it’s hard for me to accept that to be a Christian, and particularly to be a Christian leader in some capacity (whether as elder, pastor, or whatever) requires being treated like a doormat or worse.

    When I look back on my years in Christian ministry, there are many incidents where I think, “I should have said something. I should have stood up to the bullying. I should have insisted ‘I will not be treated this way.'” But to react that way, for me at least, can offend your own conscience because it seems like un-Christian behavior.

    Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts, and those of the other commenters as well. How do you protect yourself from being bullied and treated abusively, while following the example of lowliness and humility that our Lord perfected?

  34. “I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts, and those of the other commenters as well. How do you protect yourself from being bullied and treated abusively, while following the example of lowliness and humility that our Lord perfected?”

    There is a balance, You should not be a doormat but you have to stand up for what is right for you and the people you serve. The “I will get fired.” Is indeed very distressing to say the least. Should you loose your “Job”? Should the Devil chasing you win? Only The Holy Spirit can, at the end of the day give your heart the answer. That answer will NOT always be easy!

    Unfortunately the verse, “don’t cast your pearls before pigs” comes into play.

    When do you take on a person’s evil and how far do you go? I know there are no hard fast rules.

    If You are a Child of the Living GOD through Christ; Only the Holy Spirit can tell and lead you to do what is correct in a given situation. Others can suggest and you should get all the knowledge you can. Of course my above comment with all the Bible quotes is just a way of saying you have to know what is in scripture. But at the end of the day the Holy Spirit has to lead you.

    Pray, but pray knowing you have gained all the knowledge you can! Yours in Christ.

    IXOYC

  35. Let me echo Mark Huntemann’s thoughts as well. You need to consider all of the costs involved, both spiritual and otherwise. The costs to you, your family, and those whom God has given you to take care of.

    If saying something that will get you fired very quickly, and you don’t have a back up plan, then think twice.

    Lest any of those involved in vocational ministry think that life in the secular portion is easier, please don’t. This week, I have been involved in a rough situation at work that has at least some spiritual component. I have no idea about the details of that aspect, but it was rough.

  36. Thanks Michael, your essay shows how richly God Has blessed my family with Ministry. I started preaching at one of those family dominated small churches as a lay preacher. The place grew in membership but not in Spiritual maturity. I watched them call a “real ” pastor and destroy him. It was awful. I could not fight them as they were too experienced. They had done this 21 times in 25 years.
    I then watched God use 2 floods in two years and call one family out though death. I got called as pastor, [not my plan], we changed the name , the bylaws and the key players. Now we are a new church start. The place was packed today and kingdom growth is happening. I am along for the ride and loving it.
    My heart bleeds for the pain you still feel. I never shared it, but I watched it happen. when I asked for an explanation for all the problems with pastors the leaders said “It is all these nit witted pastors!” I asked who picked the pastors and they said ,”we picked ’em, we have a lot of experience with that you know.”
    Wow, Deacons just can not be the boss of an Elder. If a man tells you he gives the most money, he is not elder material. An elder would say God has blessed him more so he is just doing the right thing. Bless you Monk! My wife and I will pray for you, you minister to both of us through your internet essays and podcasts. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts.