Confessions of a Jaded Negativist - #1

I left the ministry in August 1997. As you'd expect, it's a long story. No, I didn't get caught pilfering money, frolicking with the church secretary or faking miracles. But a number of forces converged that made my exit understandable, if not necessary.

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:

cyn·ic (n.)

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...


siouxsiepoet said...

oh my friend, i am so sorry. i'm glad to hear you left for your family though. that is the good news.

have you read peterson's subversive spirituality? or the contemplative pastor?

c.peter wagner's changing church (i think that is the name), makes the distinction between anointed pastors and scholars. i would add another category businessmen.

i go with peterson in that i want my pastor to be a shepherd. but the possibility of that with all the demands (well nigh impossible demands, i was a pastor's secretary for a while) make on crazy.

i wrote this poem, i have to share with you, i'll send it to you off line. but it's about seeing God in my pastor. it can't be helped. it just can't. and if i read the Word correctly, it is not necessarily to be helped.

there is a line of authority. i believe in that. we can't get around the head. when the pastor gets stuck, the congregation gets stuck. how they can be looked at as normal congregants is beyond me.

just my opinion, sorry so long.

Gina Holmes said...

Mike, thanks for sharing that piece of you ... even if it was for selfish reasons. ; ) I can understand clergy feeling like they're considered a different species of human.

As far as everyone being selfish, well, that's really the way it is. Even when I'm hosting Bible clubs out of my house for evangalism, the truth is I do it because it makes me feel good. Human nature and all.

Out of everything I've learned from my very dear, very human pastor, what stands out most is this tidbit: you can't know another person's motives. You can't, so stop trying to. (And I'll add this: when in doubt, assume the best.)

Jeanne Damoff said...

Yes, Mike. Thanks for your honesty. You do have a gift of communication, and I'm glad you're keeping it alive.

Gina, 50 points for that first sentence, and amen to the rest of your comment. I, too, believe we are selfish beings by nature, and knowing this fact is essential to understanding how truly helpless we are without Christ.

I also battle cynicism (and admitted as much Thursday on MA), but I trust the power of redemption to trump the motives of men. God knew how rotten we were when He sent Jesus to die. If He believes we're worth that much, I choose to as well.

Thanks again for sharing.

Mike Duran said...

Hey ladies, muchos gracias on the comments. The condolences are not necessary, suz. Somehow, I feel I'm right where God wants me. I continue to "guest" teach, lead small groups, marry and bury. Yet while I've been offered several pastoral positions since then, I've turned them down. I have total respect / sympathy for pastors...but probably won't be going there again. And yes, I did read Peterson. In fact, The Contemplative Pastor was one of the best books I've read on the ministry.

Gina, I detect a bit of a cynic in you... or at least smart-*ss. However, it's great to hear you have genuine respect and love for your pastor. Nurture that and, of course, pray for him. And Jeanne, I loved your Thursday entry at MA but didn't have time to leave a worthwhile comment. For me, the cross is actually a basis FOR cynicism. It says we are screwed up, can't be trusted, are wishy-washy, totally flawed and absolutely helpless. And I'm living proof.

Andieadelle said...

Mike; I'm an old Mom. Your blog was left on my computer screen by my son-in-law & since I do not believe in coincidence, I thought I might comment. My husband & I were thrown out of our Beloved Church some years ago (for questioning a new doctrine)and What a "Blessing"! It broke our hearts... for years we grieved but slowly God showed us something. What masquerades as the Church today, isn't. The Church is a family. That truth has been stolen from us & replaced with titles, regulations & organizations. You would not allow your children to be slothful, or contentious, or petty, etc. & but that is how the lost (who see clearly in this matter) describe the so called Church of today. God will also rescue the good people you left behind on that sinking ship, He rescued you from. Praise God he counted you worthy. Continue to grow your "Family", Love them & make them accountable. "Show" them what a Christian looks like. Sounds to me like you are doing Exactly what He wants. My son-in-law will never leave another screen open on my computer.God Bless. Andieadelle

Heather Smith said...

Mike, As the granddaughter of a pastor, I completely understand you. Our church is a small group of loving members, but of course there occasionally comes some person who wants to stir the pot a bit. Sadly too many pastors end up playing referee more than shepherd. I pray for pastors everyday because of this! I pray that God will keep you right where He wants you!

Ame said...

There is not a more difficult or a more attacked role than a godly minister/pastor. Yes, the Bible holds teachers of His word and leaders to a higher standard ... a higher standard within their humanity. The more we know, the more we are responsible for.

I love how God shared the humanity of all the great men and women whose lives He recorded in His holy Word ... their beauty ... their flaws ... their choices and the consequences of.

A "jaded negativist?" Hummmmm ... that hits a little close to home! It's like a "magnetic force" we all must resist ... the more intimate and involved in Church, the stronger the force drawing us into jaded negativity ... requiring even stronger resistance ... which is only possible through the strength of Jesus.

"Love/Hate?" yeah . . . me, too.

Mirtika said...

When I feel as if I've fallen into "jaded cynicism, " I find that contact with a REAL jaded cynicist shows me up for the trusting, idealistic fool I am. :)

I assume I'm jaded and cynical when I spend days with just my own thoughts and the blog and books with characters of dark intent. But a phone call here, a chat with a stranger there, or a conversation with siblings put ME into perspective.

I find it helps to shut off the news. I haven't watched cable news for going on 5 months. It certainly increases my brighter, more hopeful and trusting sentiments not to be confronted with the "all negative, all the time" spectacle that is news.

You might wanna give that a shot. :)



Becky said...

Well, you've hooked me in, Mike. I'm looking forward to what you have to say next.

From the self-labeled optimistic realist. ;-)


Janet Rubin said...

Thanks for this glimpse into your story. Life is hard. Church can be really hard. I've had struggles from "the other side" of the pulpit (not with my current humble pastor) but with one I had in the past. If christians at large view pastors are super-human, it is also true that some pastors view the congregation as sub-human, a mass of dim-witted sinners who need constant battering and beating down to keep them under control. Nevermind the power of the Holy Spirit to work in people's lives... Uh oh, is my cynical side showing? Sorry. God bless you, brother! Thanks for sharing.

Mike Duran said...

Hey, thanks for all your wonderful comments! To you, Ms. "old Mom" aka Andieadelle, I'll never give up on the Church... though I've lowered my expectations considerably. I'd encourage you, as well, to stay faithful to God's Bride. Heather, I really appreciate your prayers and hope I didn't defile your faith with my terminal negativity. You're a wonderful person. Ame, I believe you're right: In Scripture, God has purposely revealed the "dark side" of our heroes of the faith. Funny how they're still elevated to super-human status. Mir, you're observation is right on! When left to myself, I slip easily into pessimism. As weak and insincere and shallow as people are, I still need them. (Especially those who call me Mikey.) Thanks for that reminder. And Becky, it's a pleasure having you visit Decompose. I love your site and have tried to track down your personal email to thank you, but have been unable. Hope you continue to sprinkle some of your "optimistic realism" here. Blessings far and wide!

Mike Duran said...

Janet, you swooped in under my radar. Sinners dwell on both sides of the pulpit. We are better off living in open admission of our fallibilities, whatever our role in the church. That admission, as painful and awkward as it may be, would slow the reproduction of more cynics. No wonder the birth rate of jaded negativists soars.

J. Dizzle said...

Hang in there, Preach!

Janet Rubin said...

Okay, so you announce your soon-to-be posted confession, then just dissapear. C'mon man, have some mercy on your decomposing fans. We're waiting:)

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I can sense that God is using this use give me a gut-punch in the area of mindful jaded negativity.