06.22.08 My Story
Pastor Doug told me it would be good to tell you my story. We all have stories to tell. Our lives are essentially stories that are being written each day. They’re about choices we’ve made, our successes and our failures, our joys and sorrows, our likes and dislikes, our family and friends; all are a part of our stories. So today I’m sharing with you only a part of my story, but enough to help you understand how I came to be with you. It’s not very glamorous or exciting. There are no harrowing tales or cliff hanger moments. Some would say its just boring. But my story has needed the transforming life of Jesus as much as any human being who has walked this earth. We’re all in the same boat, so to speak, regardless of our backgrounds. Jesus is life. Anything good accomplished in my life without Jesus is worthless in the scope of eternity.
I was born into the local church, or so it seems. My earliest memories have more to do with participation in the local church than anything else. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, afterglows, singspirations, youth events (Dad was a youth pastor for awhile so even as a 4,5 and 6 year old I remember them), choirs, hymns, potlucks, missionaries with slide shows (one that played the garden hose quite well), children’s church, Sunday School classes, volleyball and basketball after evening services, youth bible studies, youth retreats, men’s retreats, choir retreats, small groups, mission trips, camp meeting, evangelists who yelled and spit… a lot, District Assemblies, Annual Conferences, good friends who last a life-time; the list could keep going.
I am extremely grateful for a life that has been spent in and around the local church. I met my wife in a local church. I began sensing a call to ministry in a local church. It was in a local church that I was allowed to spread my wings as a kid and minister various ways; sometimes on a Sunday morning! And I wasn’t the only child or teen given those opportunities.
Part of my more recent story has to do with the dark side of the church. I have wrestled with how to approach it or whether I should even mention it. But I sensed that it is important to acknowledge the part of church life that we don’t like to talk about much because my experiences with it have shaped me permanently. Remember, that even as I talk of things that are not pretty, I know God is capable of making all things work together for good, for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
I can honestly say I’ve experienced the local church functioning on all cylinders, looking and acting exactly like the church Christ calls for. I’ve witnessed and been the recipient of the gifts of compassion, mercy, hospitality, discipleship, encouragement, wisdom, discernment of spirits, prophecy, tongues, etc. I’ve been moved by liturgical, formal services and I’ve been rejuvenated by out right charismatic petal to the metal services too. I think one of the greatest blessings of my life, though I was highly influenced by the denomination I was raised in, the God given ability to experience and appreciate a huge spectrum of the ways His children express their love for and submission to Him. I have my personal comfort zone for services of praise and worship, but not much bothers me about other styles.
I’ve learned that God is more concerned with our heart than our harps! In other words, if your polka praises God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength then let it roll. Honest. I’ll join you on my trombone and Lynn will bring her tambourine.
Lynn and I married July 8, 1989 and by November, 1990 we were in Modesto, California ministering as music directors. It began as a traditional assignment directing a choir, rehearsing and developing ensembles, quartets, directing and producing with some great teams of people with more expertise than me seasonal drama/musicals. Then we added a contemporary service and began developing an entirely different approach to worship.
Frankly, in the early 90’s contemporary worship was an emerging process. The “worship wars” were fully engaged and both the contemporary minded and the tradition embracing needed to learn a lot about what authentic worship was all about. I needed to learn.
What I found was a little to much self-righteousness from both camps. The contemporary crowd couldn’t understand why the traditional crowd wouldn’t just embrace the obviously spirit-driven sounds of contemporary Christian worship music. (Personally, I came to find much of the music more publisher driven than spirit driven.)
The traditional crowd had voices that were convinced that the contemporary sounds would be responsible for distracting young people from good theology found in hymns. Once I was told that because I changed the melody of a hymn and turned it into a contemporary piece I’d be responsible for the damaged souls of all the young people in our church. More than once I was told contemporary worship was baby food for baby Christians and when they grew up in the faith they would prefer traditional worship. In other words, maturity in Christ means everyone will look the same?
Ironically, contemporary minded people felt the same about the traditional crowd. Both sides had moments when it was hard to see Jesus in talking about corporate worship because of all the focus on personal preferences flying around. So, because of my past experiences, you’ll need to understand that I see nothing that honors God in worship wars, so consider me Switzerland. You can fight about the merits of Issac Watts, Charles Wesley’s and Bill Gaither’s music as opposed to Chris Tomlin and David Crowder, but I’m convinced that God doesn’t care about that. He does care about the attitude and motivation of our hearts. Is it about Him or is it about us?
But, even during worship wars, there were incredible times when it was obvious God was in our presence; those moments when the Holy Spirit moved in such a way that preferences didn’t matter. That’s an example of how big our God is.
I’ve been moved by liturgical, formal services and I’ve been rejuvenated by out right charismatic petal to the metal services too. I’ve learned that God is more concerned with our heart than our harps! In other words, if your polka praises God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength then let it roll. Honest. I’ll join you on my trombone and Lynn will bring her tambourine.
I was teamed with a great man in California who was the senior pastor at the time. He provided a solid foundation and helped me learn much about being a pastor. And I miss him. The last time I saw him was at my ordination. He died a year and a half latter at 52.
In June of 1997 I joined the staff of a church in Roseburg, Oregon. That was a bit of a surprise because I honestly felt I’d never live in Oregon again. Of course I never wanted to live in California either. I make my plans, but the Lord directs my steps. Enough said.
The Roseburg church and its senior pastor had a completely different personality than the California group. They were a church that had experienced many highs and lows. The church had populated many of the other churches in the community over the years and divisiveness and controversy had been an underlying theme for some time. It was interesting to find rumors and gossip still floating around the community concerning things that had occurred years before. Of course, just like fish, they seemed to get bigger the more they were talked about. And of course if you leave a fish out long enough it begins to stink too.
The incredible thing was the transformation that was occurring in the congregation. I came on the scene as the church was just about finished with its “reset“ so to speak. The week I interviewed for the staff position I led worship in the Sunday morning service. It was amazing to experience a different worship culture than I had ever experienced in my denomination. It was as if all I had to do was strum a chord on my guitar and they were on their feet and into it.
Now, I’m an INFJ. I’m more type B than type A. I don’t need to be entertained, I don’t bore easily (referring to myself. I don’t know if I bore you or not. That’s you’re issue to deal with.) And exuberance is not always the natural state of being for me. But this group of people didn’t seem to care. During my time at the church I quickly grew used to raised hands, people talking back to you when you preached, lots of “holy hopping”, dancing in worship, 2 ½ hour services, pure exuberance. One 90 year old saint would sing so loud, both new and old songs that occasionally it was hard to keep track of where we were with a song. The fun thing about it was that they were so not me, but God blended us together for that time and it was an incredible experience.
After about six months there, our Senior Pastor and leadership felt lead to have a reconciliation service. I will never forget the day. Former pastors, former members and attendees came back to the church for the day. In the midst of the service our Senior Pastor represented all the leaders present and past, asking for forgiveness for past failures. Another person from the congregation did the same for the people of the church. We shared communion and breaking of bread together that had people embracing, shedding tears and renewing friendships that had been damaged or broken in the past conflicts.
There were those opposed to the idea for some reason. One man sat in the parking lot while his wife attended the service, to bitter to come in. Another stood up at one point and basically said it was silly we were doing it at all. But the truth is, a spirit was broken in the congregation and from that point forward we often heard from visitors that love was the overwhelming sensation they felt from the congregation. We were far from perfect, but the experience taught me that God can change us even when human logic would say impossible. He can change hard-hearted people and He can change wounded congregations.
We enjoyed ministry in Roseburg, but were saddened when our Senior Pastor resigned to care for his wife who was diagnosed with cancer. So I became a Senior Pastor for the first time; interim Senior Pastor. I was like the assistant coach who takes over mid-season so to speak. For nine months I did the best I could in leading the congregation while we were also going through new building construction, meeting in a gymnasium, setting up and tearing down everything each week; a very busy time but a good time.
Then in September of 2001, I knew I would probably not be staying. When God is ready to move you, you know. The hardest thing about announcing our resignation was the week before we were inundated with cards and notes of love and encouragement in the service. We received their love knowing that the next week we would begin saying good-bye.
Our next move brought us into this strange denomination called the Free Methodist Church of North America. My brother introduced me to Gary Sloan, our superintendent and in my conversations with Gary I was excited about the possibility of joining with the denomination. Gary was the first denominational leader I ever met that didn’t have a suit and tie on. Then I noticed that the Bishops were down to earth men as well. Even when suits were worn, there was no sense of hierarchy. The denomination I came from is a great denomination, but I sensed I just fit with the Free Methodists much easier.
So, I soon received an appointment to pastor a Free Methodist church. Lynn and I were excited about the opportunity and began praying for the ability to love the people of the congregation and community beyond our capacity; in other words, with love from the Holy Spirit.
Soon after we arrived we discovered they were good people, the church had a very long history and the culture of the congregation was very different from any we had known before. That’s okay though, because we were different from any pastor and wife they had had before. It’s always mutual. You grow together. It was kind of like eating cheerios all your life and then one day you get Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s the same stuff, just a little different flavoring. It was good.
We served for five years there and God was with us. We had some good experiences, loved the community, had some wonderful moments like the Easter Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing 13 teens. We had some vibrant ministry take place and I was planning on a long stay with the congregation. But in the last year and a-half with the church two things began to occur. First, I was feeling the need for a rest. I’d been in full time ministry for about 15 years and was growing weary. I was preparing to take some needed steps to get some physical and psychological rest in the coming year.
Second, there were some in the congregation that began functioning as antagonists toward me. Without divulging unneeded details, it became the darkest time of my life and Lynn’s life. By the time I knew I was done I had absolutely nothing left in my emotional, physical, and psychological tank. It began as a trickle and then exploded into a flash flood of pressure from a relatively small group of people. I discovered what a dry and thirsty land with no water was like.
Recent statistics tell us fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they had another way to earn a living. Eighty percent of all seminary and Bible-school graduates will leave the ministry within the first five years of service in a church. I’ve also read that it is an average of seven people who cause pastor’s to leave a church, regardless of its size.
Now, I wasn’t a victim. I take responsibility for being too much of a doer for God and the local church and not enough of a knower of God. I wasn’t allowing myself to be renewed and outside pressure was beginning to take a toll.
It is also important for leaders in a church to have your pastors back. I’m not talking about excusing bad or immoral behavior, but about surrounding him with support when attacks come for reasons that are intended to damage him or her as a person and/or minister. I include the pastor’s spouses in this as well. There are times when they are used to try and undermine a pastor’s ability to lead. A flawless pastor has never existed. I’ve found it amazing at times when Godly men and women are criticized without merit and without constructive intent. When we take our eyes off of Jesus and put them onto others, we’re in trouble.
My final Sunday was January 14, 2007. I’ll always remember that date. I had read about such things in ministry journals and always felt sympathy for those who endured it, but I never thought I’d be able to write an article or book about my own experience with the dark side of the church. I was numb. I felt like I had been assaulted.
The next week I took off for the coast which is the one place on earth my soul seems to connect with. There is something about the ocean, especially with the rugged landscape of the Oregon coast. But all I could do was sit in my room at a Motel 6 for five days and nights. I watched all the playoff football games (which I’d never done before), ate TV dinners, read books and slept.
Driving by churches literally made me feel sick. I suddenly associated nothing good with churches. I knew it was a reaction and would pass, but at the time it was as real a feeling as I’ve ever felt. It took me a month to go back to church and even then it was only because I knew I needed to. I remember sitting in the service feeling absolutely nothing. It was as if I’d short-circuited and all I heard was buzz. I heard the pastor talking about vision and developing new programs and potential, etc. and all I felt was exhausted for him.
We went underground so to speak and disappeared from all but family. We settled on a church and began attending – a megachurch with good teaching, music and where it was easy to remain anonymous for a time. Yes, we were strictly consumers for awhile.
Our plan was to switch roles. I became a stay-at-home dad and Lynn went back to work. Lynn landed her job on the day my pay ran out. We moved to Happy Valley and started the process of putting the pieces back together. I have to admit I didn’t miss ministry one bit. I was content with the prospect of never being involved in ministry as clergy again. I looked forward to a normal job that stayed at the “office” so to speak. The idea of pumping gas excited me. The idea of pastoring repulsed me.
During all of this, God was at work whether I liked it or not. The biggest step toward my recovery came from a couple men, fellow pastors, who I’m accountable to. We meet twice a month and had for several years at the time of my burn-out. They walked with me when it happened and then gave me space when I needed it. Outside of family, they’re the only ones who knew how to contact me. After a couple months of not meeting with them they drove out to the area I was living, called my wife and said they had come to kidnap me. Unfortunately I was on the other side of down that morning, but the phone call from them opened the door.
I began meeting with them again and through our conversations and prayer I can say that God used them to bring me back to a place that I would even consider the remote idea that I could possibly consider entering ministry again. Through the next few months they patiently waded through my muck with me. No expectations for me to be a pastor again; our friendship is broader than our vocations.
Then, on the last Sunday of May, 2007 our family was at church and I was standing there during the time of worship and felt nothing other than an overwhelming senses of numbness. My heart was crying out to God, when is this going to end? I wanted to be normal again, I wasn’t a victim and I was just tired of living in continual depression. In some ways God was dead to me in my emotions. I knew he was real on an intellectual level, but felt nothing but absence in my soul. That morning they announced a special Wednesday night evening of all praise and worship music. For some reason I knew I needed to be there.
Meanwhile, that week I knew I needed to go get a job. So, on Wednesday morning I dropped Nathanael off at my parents and was just getting ready to walk out the door to begin dropping off applications and resumes. Then my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and normally I don’t answer unrecognized numbers, but this time I did. It was Pastor Doug.
Apparently he had been trying to reach me back in January but had been unable to, (I was very effective at disappearing) and had tried off and on since then. I agreed to meet with him the next day to talk about some possibilities, but in all honesty I was very reluctant to even consider agreeing on anything related to ministry.
That night we went to the worship time. As the service progressed I tried to soak in the music, but was still numb. Then they switched worship leaders and it was a guy from a mega-church in Seattle who happened to lead with a guitar.
Now my guitar skills have been honed solely for worship leading. That’s the only reason I play it if not for personal relaxation. I’ve owned three guitars in my life, two of them for the last 15 years. I’m not a performer by any means and when I left behind worship leading in 2001 I never intended to do it again on a permanent basis. There are many people whose skill and talent level far exceed mine and are just into the music scene more than I am.
But as the leader was playing and leading, I felt impressed in my soul that God was telling me, “I can use the man leading right now because he’s willing to be used. I can use you again if you’ll just trust me.” If not for that moment in the service, I would have told Doug “Thanks for the lunch. Let’s do it again in a year or ten.”
So, on the first Sunday of June, 2007 we snuck in to your Sunday service. It felt a little odd to be back in a Free Methodist church again. It was like we were pocking our heads out from underneath our hiding place. Jessica was leading worship that day and did a great job. I still felt numb and did for a some time longer, but my recovery was moving. From one week to the next, God answered my prayer. Not with an instantaneous healing of my soul, but in obviously Heavenly orchestrated moments.
One of the most meaningful passages of scripture to me was beginning to take on fresh meaning about this time. Isaiah 41:9-10: “…You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
And so our journey with you began. I enjoyed playing with Jason for a month and a half and then I was blessed with going to San Diego with some of our teens. They had no clue that they were part of my healing process. It was tough to be numb around this bunch of people. Thank you. As my son would say, I had as much fun as “A tomator in a trailer farm.”
Since then we’ve truly been privileged to serve with you, part-time and long distance and now full-time and short distance. In all honesty, I’m not all the way back yet, but this has been a transforming journey for me. I’m becoming a different husband, father and pastor. I see things a little clearer now and take things a little less seriously. While I lost all confidence in my abilities for a time, God is rebuilding that confidence but in a different way.
I went into ministry with the mistaken assumption that it was the job of a pastor to meet everyone’s expectations. I lost that assumption to a degree as the year’s went by, not because I sensed that’s what others wanted, but because it proved impossible. Even so, it was hard for me to not fall into the trap of always striving to meet expectations. It’s a lousy job and a lousy way to live.
I’m reminded of lessons learned but forgotten. When we were in California, Dr. Archibald Hart was the speaker for a Pastors retreat we attended at Hume Lake. He commented that most of us have too many people in our grandstand of life. We try to perform so they will be pleased. It could be parents, relatives, friends, bosses, co-workers, teachers, people we serve. Everyone is in there but the one that matters: Jesus. His point was when we get to the place where the only one in our grand-stand is Jesus, we’ll experience real freedom. How I needed to put that into practice much earlier.
So here I am, a work in progress. I’ve struggled with how to end this. This isn’t great exegesis or deep profound truths. It’s just my story. In the scope of all things, it’s not that spectacular. I’m not indispensible. Countless others could fill my rolls and do even better at them. Maybe if you lived my life you’d have avoided the mistakes I made. So I close with some of the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning:
· We are stewards of the church, not owners
o Since we’re slaves of Christ, bought with a price.
o Slaves don’t own the property they work.
o Until we grab hold of this we’ll continue to allow things that don’t matter rule over those things that do.
· God expects His people to grow in Him.
· Enjoy the gift of the local church
o Relax a little
o Know that your opinion is one of many
o Know that your preferences are just that, preferences. They’re not attached to the gospel of Jesus.
o Jesus didn’t die for worship styles.
o Look to worship with your life and not just your posterior on a Sunday morning.
o Make yourself available to God for His purposes.
o If you’re looking for perfection in churches, when you find it, don’t ruin it by joining it.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.