I write as a way to help me make sense of things with the hope that it might help someone else who happens to read it. So, I thought I would tackle questions about my relationship to the church. I know by delving into this personal area that I am opening myself up to potential misunderstanding, but it is an exercise that I feel I must do. So, hopefully, you will extend to me a little grace and try to understand my story.
Question #1 Why aren’t you a pastor anymore?
Short answer: The small church that I pastored did not survive several difficult transitions and eventually, we disbanded.
The last church I pastored, was divided when I came on the scene. There was an older fundamentalist group and more progressive younger group that had been at odds for some time. (It will take someone with background in independent, congregational, evangelical churches to understand this dynamic.) By the time I got there was little energy left for finding a common mission for the church. After a couple of years of trying, I finally declared that our mission was about the great commandment (loving your neighbor as yourself) and the great commission (making disciples of all people) and we would evaluate our programs accordingly. That created fear of a power shift and things became even more strained. Some people supported me; others did not. Eventually, those who felt threatened, left the church. It was troubling to me and I had never experienced anything like that before.
The small group of families that were left were far more productive than the larger divided group. Eventually, we experienced an almost miraculous rebirth as a congregation. Our program and services had new spontaneous life and several new families became a part of the church. We became a grace-oriented church with a large percentage of people who would not normally go to church, including several drug addicts. As time went on we became convinced that to thrive we needed to move from our mostly Hispanic location. A Hispanic congregation shared our building and they were growing like crazy, but we were struggling.
So, we we sold our building to an African-American congregation that used it for a day school. Then we rented office space and a theater for services at a movie multiplex in a neighboring suburb. Just before the move, two generations of a family who were very important in the program of the church suddenly decided they did not like the direction the church was going and especially, they did not like me. Prior to this, this had been ardent supporters. They spread the word in an effort to recruit others for their cause. That division and loss of people was too much for our little church that was essentially restarting in a labor-intensive mode involving set-up and take-down every week. We could no longer provide a high quality service.
Trying to figure out our next step, the faithful of the faithful, about twenty in number met in my family room for about another six months, until we decided to disband and use our funds from selling the building and our new equipment to benefit a couple of other newer, struggling churches in our area.
All of this was painful beyond description as I watched my dream turn into a nightmare and was faced with the reality of needing employment, but it ultimately led to a whole new attitude and chosen vocation.
You can read part 2, here.
This post was originally published April 8, 2010.