I enjoyed teaching and had a distinct sense that God was with me when I took the pulpit. My spiritual gifts are in the "communication cluster," so much of my ministry naturally gravitated toward study and sermon-crafting. But nowadays, church is so much more. There's vision casting, budget making, crisis management, administration, counseling, leadership development, fund raising, community outreach, evangelism, etc. etc. On top of these demands was the hard reality of my station in life: I was an untrained minister, immature husband and father of four children. And as much as I hated to admit it, my wife and kids were getting lost in the mix.
Our church averaged about 120 members, nudging toward 200 several times. Still, in order to expand our staff, I was forced to reshuffle my role and take on side jobs to make ends meet. Facilities were constantly an issue. We rented from schools, churches and a community center. But the transience whittled away at the congregation's morale. Eventually, small pockets of dissension and disillusionment appeared, finding their way into our leadership team. At the time, Lisa and I began having serious issues with our oldest child, Melody. She was seventeen and started dating a boy we did not approve of -- a relationship which took her further away from God and us. Between the family, the church's ongoing struggles and years of accumulated fatigue, the collapse was inevitable.
When I laid down my frock, it was with a combination of relief and sadness. I'd pastored some wonderful, supportive people and shared deeply in their lives and families. Furthermore, I'd experienced what D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, the prolific Welsh preacher, said in his book Preaching and Preachers -- there is no sense of elation and exaltation comparable to the feeling of taking the pulpit and opening the Bible knowing that you have a message from God for His people. I would miss that. But on the flip side, I would not miss the internal squabbling, the PR, the Christianese, the money changers' tables, the unrealistic demands and phoniness that can be church life.
The English used to quip that there were three genders: men, women and clergymen. That statement is defunct today, but the perception is alive and well. In my opinion, most church-goers, whether consciously or subconsciously, place pastors in another category, something other than homo sapien. We have a complete different set of standards and expectations for ministers. And to me, most of them are unfair.
This possibly explains why I have such a love/hate relationship with the Church. In fact, in the nine years since I left the ministry, I've found myself drifting dangerously close toward becoming this:
1.) A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2.) A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.
Webster defines "cynicism" this way: An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.
Notice that phrase: jaded negativity. In a way, it captures what I am becoming: a jaded negativist. The revelation was shocking and the struggle to resist has been difficult. But what follows is my confession...