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Archive for April, 2007

I grew up in the military as an Army Brat. I remember the GI’s talking about “short timer’s blues” which is the feeling of anticipation and excitement that they got when they only had a few more months in the Army. You’ve seen this in just about every war movie: the guy who is just about to get out of the Army is ALWAYS the one who gets killed… poor Tommy was just about to go home when he took a bullet. Well, I’ve got short timer’s blues (though I’m hoping to avoid a bullet!). I have 2 more weeks here, 3 more sermons, 5 more worship services, 14 more days. This brings with it all kinds of weird, mixed emotions. Sure, I’m sad. I’ve been here 3 years and as a personal kind of minister I’m heavily, emotionally invested in the lives of the people here. I’ve been with them through funerals, baptisms, births, good times and bad.  It’s not easy to just pack up and move and I know that for many of them there are feelings that I am abandoning them.  Yet, I am excited to be leaving too.  Once you put your notice in you are no longer really there in a lot of people’s eyes.  You are as good as gone.  Not to mention, there is a bit of ugliness here, some damaging conflict which is muddying the waters.  It doesn’t involve me, but as the minister, I can’t help but be affected by it.  Seeing factions and conflict makes it easier to get out of Dodge.

So, I’m sad about leaving, but also glad to be getting gone.  On the other hand, there are similar mixed emotions about getting to the new place.  I’m very excited to get there and get started, glad to be with a group of people who seem to be very eager to have some leadership so that they can get serious about doing God’s work as a congregation.  Yet, there is naturally some apprehension.  I hope that the new place is all that they claim to be, that there are no unseen pitfalls (and of course there are going to be some).  And I hope that I hold up my end of the transaction too: that I will come there with the right mix of leadership and love to be a good shepherd.  I want to start out strong, but not so strongly that I seem overbearing.  One day at a time, right?

But for now, it’s mostly a waiting game.  Finishing up the time here, getting ready to move, thinking about what lessons I learned here that I can take there.  Keep praying for us, will ya?

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Wow, I’ve really slacked off on keeping the blog updated.  Forgive me, but it’s been crazy around here.  Closing on one house, buying another, shutting down one ministry, getting geared up for another… all while still ministering.  In fact, I just did a funeral service tonight and am driving 6.5 hours to TN for the graveside tomorrow.  Why?  I’m just a full-service minister I suppose.  So, I will get back to generating garbage soon, stick with me!  Thanks for the prayers as we are in the midst of this transition!

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Warning: Snarky Comment

Gee, Robert, what could POSSIBLY go wrong with making the church into a consumer destination? After all, you just get the folks into the church with marketing and the conversion and discipleship will automatically follow, right? For my answer, read Chad’s article called “Bottom Line”. Basically, he tells about going to a megachurch and not being able to use the nursery because there were not enough workers.  Not enough workers in a church of over 20,000.  And Southeast is one of the churches that get it right as far as emphasizing discipleship.  Maybe, just maybe, we need to quit marketing the church as a consumer destination and instead start preaching Jesus and a life of discipleship.  I know, I know, there are a lot smaller churches that have a hard time finding nursery volunteers, but you would think that in a church of 20,000 people that there would be enough volunteers to fill the nursery, that is, if discipleship and commitment to Jesus is being taught.

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I remember when I was a really good Basic programmer.  Then I got interested in girls or something and the next thing I knew the computer world had left me behind, they were talking about C and C+ and HTML and so on.  I stay abreast of current church topics, but somewhere in the process of preaching, teaching and ministering I got into the “emergent” discussion late.  I wondered, “What the heck is the emergent church?”  I picked up some of the books by the emergent gurus and just found squishy theology, relativism, universalism, and gobbledly gook (“re-write the metanarrative of your prevailing life-faith journey to maximize the God-moments”).  But nailing down the emergent movement is like nailing jello to the wall.  I walked away from reading the books by the gurus thinking, “I don’t want any part of THAT” only to be told that you can’t really say what the emergent movement is because it’s not any one thing.  OK, that scares me even more.

So, I asked my good friend Mic Marshall, perhaps the oldest and most conservative person I know who wears the emergent label, to ‘splain what the emergent movement is all about.  You can read his posts, and my comments, on his blog, Mic’s Moments.  Join in if you are equally clueless on the emergent movement.

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Go Read This Now

There was a recent article called “The people formerly known as the congregation”.  I’m sure you can find it if you want to read it, it was good.  But this one, called “The people formerly known as the pastor” really struck a chord with me.  If you are a “pastor” (or, for my Christian Church friends, “preaching minister”) you will relate.  If not, maybe you can understand your pastor better or even your insurance agent.

In light of my recent posts on “Leaving”, you will understand after reading that article why we preachers move so much in search of a church where we can serve in the way we think that God has called and gifted us to do.

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Leaving: Trepidation

trepidation.jpgThe search is over and you think you’ve found a church that will be a good match: you with them, them with you. You’ve announced to your church that you are leaving and have faced their reaction. You’ve made your plans to move, started packing the books, and marked on the calendar when your first Sunday will be.

Now: the trepidation. The fear of what’s to come. At this point in my career I’ve served at a number of churches, 4 to be exact. One was a “starter church” of about 12 that I preached at while in seminary (and they knew that they were a starter church), the other 3 were potentially places where we could retire in terms of compensation and growth potential. That is, we knew that it was possible to live there, minister for 50 years, make enough to raise a family, and possibly retire. Obviously, they didn’t work out that way, for various reasons.

I go to this new church with hopes of retiring there. My dream is that we will go there, buy a house, start having kids, minister for 50 years, and die at church one day while baptizing a young family. However, I’ve been around enough now to know that there are so many factors involved in a congregation that there is no way to know what the future holds. While talking to mortgage lenders they always ask how long you intend to live in the house: I joke that as a minister I intend to be there for over 30 years, but I never know. 30 years or 3 months, there’s no telling: I might fail to eat some of the elder’s wife’s cabbage casserole at the next potluck and get fired in a year. Whenever a minister leaves a church there will be some who will accuse the minister of only coming there as a step on his career ladder. I’m sure that happens sometimes (like I said, we all knew when I started preaching at the church of 12 people that I would probably not be able to stay there once I got married), but I doubt that it happens often. Sure, there might be some wunderkind preachers who will go to a church of 100 and start looking for the church of 500 on the way to the church of 5,000. But most of us go hoping that we will never have to move the piano again. In fact, we go PRAYING that this will be the last church that we move to; that even if the church is 100 that it will grow to 5,000 under our preaching.

So, the trepidation. When things get bad enough to leave a church you know that it’s better to strike out than to endure much more, but you know that things could actually be WORSE at the new church. At least in the bad church you knew who the dragons were, you had mapped out the minefield. In the new church you just don’t know: you have to figure out who to trust, who to watch out for, who to cater to, who the real leaders are, and so on. You know that the pulpit committee put their best foot forward when they pitched the church to you (as did you), so you never really know what to expect.

Yet, in the trepidation is hope. You go with the hope that you will be just the right person to work with just the right leaders to make the church you are going to a wonderful place to worship. You pray that your vision will match theirs and that many souls will be won to the Lord.   You know that no church is perfect, but you hope that this one will be bearable and that the synergy will be just right for a healthy church environment. Fear and trembling. Hope springs eternal. As a more seasoned minister now, I watch ministers in a new church with bemused hope as they are SO sure that this will be THE church, as they babble on about how much the church is getting on board with their vision, as they declare that this church is the healthiest they’ve ever seen. Then I cringe the first time they realize that the honeymoon is running out. You hope it will be different this time, but it rarely is.

Pray that this one will be the one I retire at! Humor me as I gush about how great the new church is and hope with me that my hunch this time is right. If, God forbid, it’s just another lesson learned, sympathize with me. But most of all, pray that this will the the one.

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In the process of leaving a church, there comes the day when you have to read your announcement that you are resigning.  What a horrible time.  It’s actually easier if there is a lot of conflict and you are being run out.

Don’t get me wrong: no sane minister likes church conflict and the prospect of leaving “under the gun” is not a pleasant one, as congregations can really get ugly when it comes to firing a minister.  I like to say, “You’ve never seen a good fight till you’ve seen a church fight.”  A congregation can really stick it to a minister on the way out: firing him with no notice, ruining his reputation, kicking him out of his home, cheating him out of pay, etc.  It’s funny: if some of the things that I have seen churches do to ministers when hiring and firing were done by a corporation, there would be some major lawsuits.

That being said, it’s actually harder to leave a church where there is no conflict involving the minister.  That’s my situation: I’m moving, but I love all the people there, have no conflict involving me, and I will miss them very much.  That makes the announcement so much harder.  Someone at this church told me that they felt rejected when I announced that I was leaving since I was saying that I would rather take my chances with a congregation that I don’t know rather than stay with these folks that I know and love.  She’s right, you know.

It’s one of the hardest things to do, and many ministers in their career will do it a number of times.  You get up before the congregation and read a sterile letter which announces that you are packing up and moving off to a new congregation.  If there is a lot of conflict, you might be relieved to read this letter, even spiteful.  But, if you are leaving for other reasons, it’s heart-breaking and is usually followed by shocked, stunned looks and copious tears.  I think I’d almost rather have people cheer that I was leaving than to cry.

What I think is interesting is to see what happens next in regards to the reaction of the people.  Some folks that you never thought you were really impacting will show that they love you very much and will miss you greatly.  Some folks that you thought were behind you will reveal their true colors.  But the worst is the folks who are really close to you who will react to your leaving in very negative and personal ways towards you.  They will be the most hurt and will lash out against you in their pain, accusing you of abandoning your flock, or worse.  I have a friend who just left his church who was chewed out by people who accused him of just short of treason for leaving his church.  In a time when you are really questioning yourself, unsure about whether or not you made the right choice, that kind of reaction doesn’t help.  However, I really think that those who love you the most respond this way just out of a genuine hurt…. they are like a person who just gets word that their beloved spouse is divorcing them.

On the other hand, there are some who will insist that your leaving is based on nefarious motives, usually involving “moving up” or making more money.  Think about it: in the Christian Church system where the elders are the leaders, the minister leaving is a vote of “no confidence”.  You are effectively saying that you have no trust in the leadership of the church.   They will be scrambling to assign some reason for your leaving other than a judgment on their leadership or the state of the congregation.  Therefore, the word will be that you are just leaving for more money or a bigger church.  This bothers me.  I’m leaving my current church for a church that is smaller in number and pays less than I am currently making.  My wife is leaving a great job to start over again on the ground floor.  We are giving up our dream house.  We are leaving friends who we love dearly.  Yet folks want to suggest that we are just leaving for selfish reasons.  Why does this bother me?  Because I think it hurts my witness.  It is saying that all the love and attention that I gave to this flock was just based on financial considerations and that I’m willing to leave them the first time some church dangles a bigger paycheck in front of my face.  It’s what Jesus says about the hired hand that doesn’t love the flock: I may be paid here, but I’m not a hired hand, I really do love these sheep.  It’s funny, in the 60 years that this church has been in existence they have never had a minister stay more than 6 years, yet they insist that every minister has just left because of more money or because they saw this church as a “stepping stone.”  I’m sorry, honey, but if you’ve been married five times, it might not be the guy…  I guess it’s just easier to imply that the minister is a money-grubbing career-ladder-climber than to figure out what’s wrong with the congregation.

And it’s the final reaction that really tears me up: those who really love you and respect you who will be hurt by your leaving.  The sad thing is, the people that you are leaving because of are rarely the ones who will miss you the most.  If you have poor leaders or divisive people, they will not be crying when you leave.  Instead, the ones crying will be the quiet, hard-working, dedicated people who were fed by your teaching, preaching and leading.  Nobody should be at a church just because of the preacher, yet it is nice if you can go to a church and hear a message from a man who loves you and loves God.  Those are the ones you hate to leave.

All in all, announcing that you are leaving a church is a lot like telling your spouse that you want a divorce.  It’s either hard because you have been fighting for a while, or hard because everything seems well until the announcement.  I hope that I never have to make that announcement again and just pray that the next place will be the place where I retire.

Any of you readers out there have any stories to share of similar feelings?  Please, leave a comment.

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