I went into my third pastorate with 10 years of pastoral experience. My previous ministries had seen their share of difficulty and conflict, but only of the kinds common to any ministry setting. Over all, God had given me great success as a pastor, providing significant church growth and allowing me favor with people. I was happy in the church I just left, and they were happy with me. I just simply sensed God’s leading into the new setting. I think part of it was pride. Because of my past successes, though I denied it, I thought fairly highly of myself. Therefore, when the search committee of the new church explained that they had seen much conflict in the past, I was confident I could handle it. I entered the new position fully aware that the previous four pastors had been force-terminated and that the worship attendance had declined from around 1,000 to under 200. The committee told me they had not had good pastors and that they needed strong leadership. I was their guy. Of course, when I entered the new position, I knew there would be some conflict. I knew I would face difficulty. A sick and declining church does not reverse course overnight, and some people would likely be problematic. I had a pretty tough skin and a hard head, so I thought I could handle anything. Surprisingly, however, the honeymoon was sweet. I say it was a surprise because the previous pastor only lasted fifteen months. However, for well over a year, things went pretty well. Attendance increased, we started some new programs, and some good things were happening. Then things started heading south.
A few issues were arising at around the same time. For one thing, I made some decisions (not even major decisions) that were not popular. This led to some very nasty and untrue rumors about me. Also, a couple of people by this time had simply decided they didn’t like me. One person in particular would show up at my office at least once a week and tell me the things I “need to do.” When he saw that I only took some of his advice, he became very hostile toward me and started spreading the word that “the pastor thinks he knows everything and doesn’t listen to anyone” (he actually said this to my face). The worst thing, however, was that we had a new chairman of the personnel committee. I’m still not sure why, but this man who initially supported me, became my worst nightmare. Not only did he become extremely critical of me and the rest of the staff, but he proved to be a blatant liar. For example, when one of the committee members called me and urged me to attend the personnel committee meetings, I said, “I’ve never missed a meeting.” She said, “We’ve been meeting every week, and the chairman said he keeps asking you to come, but you refuse.” I had no idea they were meeting every week.
When I did meet with the committee the following week, I had already been experiencing about two years of false rumors and overt confrontations, so I was feeling somewhat beaten and much less confident. In the meeting, I was shocked at what I heard. They told me that “the church” was having “serious concerns about my leadership.” For one thing, I never visited hospitals. What? While I lived in a city with five hospitals (it once took me five hours to make one round of hospital visits), I rarely missed seeing a church member in the hospital. In fact, when the chairman’s father, who lived in another town, was in the hospital in our city, I visited him three times. Another issue was that I needed to start spending time with the staff. I said, “In addition to weekly staff meetings, weekly lunches together, frequent dinners in my home, and daily interactions in each others’ offices, how much time should I spend with them?” The response? “You don’t have weekly staff meetings.” When I produced a very thick file with four years of personal notes from the weekly staff meetings, they were unsatisfied, simply replying, “Well, the church doesn’t think you spend time with the staff, so you need to do something about it.” I was dumbfounded. I was being called on the carpet for these and other accusations that were demonstrably false, and the only reaction was that I needed to improve. Now don’t get me wrong. If they had actually told me of legitimate things I was doing wrong, I would have listened and made changes. That, however, was not the case. I just didn’t know what to do.
I decided to update my resume and post it on the placement site of the seminary where I was currently working on a degree. Every time I proceeded to upload the resume, however, I couldn’t bring myself to click the mouse. I wanted to leave, but I just didn’t have peace about putting my resume out. The previous pastor had been given a year’s salary and benefits to resign (in our denomination, an outright termination typically requires a 3/4 vote from the congregation, and that can be messy). I found myself praying that the committee would make the same offer the previous guy got. They never did.
Then a business opportunity appeared on my radar screen. A new coffee franchise was making a splash, and at a family member’s prompting, I decided to look into it. To make along story short, I was approved for a franchise, I found an ideal property, and I lined up funding. I was so fed up with being a pastor and being abused, I was going to go open a coffee house. I just wanted out.
Things at church were not improving, and I kept waiting for them to offer me a deal, but my mind was made up. I was going to go regardless of what they did. Then one morning before the sun came up, I was out running. As I turned up my street, my mind was preoccupied with my new career, and just as clearly as anything I’ve ever heard from God, He said to me, “That is not your calling.” That’s all He said, but I knew in that instant that I was called to preach—to pastor—and I could not possibly open a coffee shop. I showered and dressed with a new sense of my calling, and by God’s grace I was not going to let a personnel committee take that from me. I had a plan.
The thing is, I knew that only a small percentage of the church members opposed me. I knew that if a business meeting were called to vote me out of my position, the vote would never reach 3/4, or even simple majority. In fact, I suspected it would have been just the opposite. So I called a meeting of the personnel committee, and I told them, “I’m not resigning. If you want me to go, then call a meeting of the church, but I will not be bullied, and I will not step down. God has called me here, and I’m staying until he calls me elsewhere.” While most of the committee sat in stunned silence, the youngest member said, “I’m with my pastor. I’m tired of all this, and I refuse to be a part of it anymore.” From that point on, I had a revived sense of calling and purpose. It was life-changing.
What happened next was exciting as well as surprising. Some good, godly people decided to be like that young personnel committee member. They started standing up and speaking out, and they even started defending me from rumors. Some of our key leaders also started getting right with God. The church was slowly becoming more unified, and we were starting to see some positive signs, including some modest growth. I was content, and probably 98% of the church was as well. Things were good. Then a search committee called me. I was not looking, so I was not interested, but God was in it. I am now in a new ministry position, and I am so thankful to God that I am not running a coffee house. I’m also thankful that He caused me to stay in that situation until He made it possible for me to leave rightly. I still find it hard to believe I almost abandoned my calling. Thank God that His heavy hand was on me.