In February 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts for ChurchWorks Network about what has been by far the most acutely painful time of my ministry life. Though nearly two years have passed, I remember everything like it happened yesterday.
In the time between my announcement and the last gathering, some of the original people came back into the picture and expressed, with some degree of smug satisfaction, their disapproval of my leadership. These were people whom I’d ministered to as spouses became sick and either died or regressed irreversibly, whose bedsides I’d sat next to, weeping and praying. Their rhetoric stirred up emotions in me that I hadn’t felt in a couple years, emotions I thought were behind me.
So it became clear to me that the church had never fully moved on from what it was, because some people had never moved on. If I were to list the lessons I’ve learned, perhaps the first would be that some people will never change, and it’s better to know as much as possible ahead of time whether they will or not. In retrospect, I have to take responsibility for never asking them that question.
I’ve learned that I was irresponsible in going into a situation without having planned, as much as possible, for how I would provide for my family. Almost from the time I got here, I reacted to changing realities (in terms of the church’s ability to pay me, what kind of job I’d need, raising support, etc.), instead of proactively preparing.
I’ve learned that a dream is only as valuable as the plan for accomplishing it. And I’ve learned that the dream of healthy, deepening relationships with my God, my wife, and my children is of far greater importance.
I’ve learned that, even as the odds were stacked against me, God was shaping me and my ministry style. And I’ve learned that the end result of this chapter of my life does not invalidate who I have become and what I have come to value as a leader and pastor.
I’ve seen the grace of God, in giving a dying congregation five more years to advance His mission. I’ve watched God used a dying church to reach out to and completely, beautifully change the very life trajectory of some very special people. And I have every confidence that God will use our experiences in their lives to impact the churches they engage.
So there is pain, and there is joy. There is frustration, and there is gratitude. There is doubt, and there is faith. There is the end of one chapter, and there is the beginning of another, even as it’s fuzzy at the moment.
And above it all is God, Who gives and takes away, Who comforts and frustrates, Whose ways are not my ways.
I trust Him.