It is one year after I left the church where I served for 18 years. We were committed to leaving well. By which I mean leaving on good terms and on a positive note. Everything I said about the reasons for leaving was true. However that is not quite the same thing as sharing the whole truth. For the first few months I wrestled with the desire to share the fuller story. I thought about one day trying to write a short book. That probably will never happen. Human beings are imperfect and the world is broken and damaged by human sin and rebellion. We sometimes see or experience wrongs and hurts for which we will not see justice. At least not until the eschaton.
I have elsewhere hinted at the deeper reasons for leaving. I dearly loved ministering with internationals. Quite frankly I did not want to leave. However what was at first a good place to fulfill my call to pastoral ministry was no longer a good place to serve. The church changed over time. The co-pastor experiment was not working. Those last few years were rough. And the last year was roughest of all. I was being treated with disrespect. Most of that happened off stage when church members were not around to witness it. And most of it was verbal so there is little if any documentation. People spoke to me in ways that indicated they did not value my abilities education experience and long record of generally faithful ministry. I am convinced what prompted these shifts is that I was not advancing the agenda of the handful of persons who were officially or effectively in charge.
Excursus = At my performance review I said this last year was “rough” and my boss said yeah because of my accident and brain injury. Here is the problem. That last year was the second year after my accident and injury. The first year after the accident was not that bad. But the year after that was the most stressful and miserable I ever experienced at that church. Why? What changed?
The handful of dear readers might note my use of the agentless passive construction. “I was being treated with disrespect”. Back in graduate school I spent one year teaching first year undergraduates how to write at the university level. It was a great experience. And the university provided excellent training. I bring this up because one of the things stressed to our students was generally to avoid using the passive voice. A chief function of the passive voice is to obscure the agent. (For example the famous political tagline “mistakes were made”.) I use the agentless passive above in order to avoid saying who were the handful of people who treated me badly.
I stand by my opinion of what I saw and experienced. However I pray for the grace to let go and let God deal with the persons who so disrespected and devalued me along with my background and abilities. A year later we have started to say a little more to people. Yesterday an international asked me point blank “how were you able to leave Church of the Nations?” and we still did not say much except that the church had been changing and it became “untenable” or “uncomfortable” to work there. We have not said much. And despite what I said earlier most people seem to know a little. They saw and heard things. Although to be perfectly blunt what they saw and heard was only a fraction. I saw and heard more. There were some serious problems with the co-pastor experiment. It was mostly a disaster.
There is a room at the back of that church – speaking metaphorically – full of truths that have not seen the light of day. There are truths that were withheld from the church. Although I will not share them they do exist. I believe that church will struggle to be healthy and thrive so long as the truth is not stated and acknowledged openly.
I know because sometimes I called people to ask how they are doing. Sometimes that person would say “by the way we left the church/we are looking for a new church” and proceed to explain why. Some of the reasons they gave were interesting. Some were surprising and a little troubling. I am not the only person who has a story to share. Many people were hurt and deeply wounded during their time with that church.
Time to land the plane. I do not plan on telling my full story. I have thought a great deal about how much to share and how to say it. This paragraph might be a good summary. It comes from one of the most repellent experiences during my 18 years there.
That was not the moment I decided it was time to leave that church and find a new setting in which to fulfill my call to pastoral ministry. Whenever someone decides to leave a place there are negative as well as positive reasons. Even if everything were awesome and perfect… given my education and experience and age and abilities it was probably time to leave. However that was a day on which the negative reasons were thrown into such sharp relief that I was confronted with the severity of the situation.
I could not continue in that setting to fulfill my call to pastoral ministry with integrity. I was increasingly being pressured to conform to a vision of the Christian faith that I do not share. It was increasingly evident that my training, experience, and abilities, not to mention my own views and convictions, were no longer valued or respected much.
(That right there summarizes the main reason it was past time to leave.) What mattered most was saying and doing what I was told to say and do. I was increasingly being treated more like a hireling than an ordained minister. [Ed = And was being scolded for not meeting expectations that were never clearly laid out or discussed with me.] The handful of dear readers might say “no way” however I can share plenty of examples that support this conclusion.
I stand by everything I have written above.
Addendum 2018-07-10 = I failed to give proper credit to the many people of that church who were generous, supportive, and encouraging to me and my family during our 18 years there. Especially during the two years after my accident. What is so difficult about what I experienced is that there was much that was good and positive. It was not all stress misery and disrespect. To be sure there were problems (which I will not mention here) even before we first arrived back in 1999. And to be honest there continued to be regular ongoing problems with how ministers (including me) were treated. It was never a very good environment in which to grow in vocational ministry. I need to acknowledge and express gratitude to the faithful believers who demonstrated in word and action that they did value and respect me, my abilities, my intelligence and education, and my eighteen years of generally faithful service among them.
The difficulty with which I struggle is that the last few years… along with the (often petty) disrespect that a handful of people inflicted… was so rough that I sometimes have trouble remembering the good and positive things we did and experienced. Unfortunately that is why to a large extent I have stayed away and not had much to do with the many wonderful and supportive people who were so kind and encouraging toward me and my family.
Edited 2018-11-16 – Changed a few things to “tone down” some of what I wrote. I was angry when I wrote it.