Okay, so this is hard.
It’s one thing to have the idea to leave. It’s another to begin the process of separating by looking for what’s next. When it comes to saying goodbye, that is where the rubber hits the road. And we had to do it twice in one transition. I know pastors don’t normally get to publicly speak into these things. If you’re a pastor, please, read through. If you’re not a pastor, hopefully this will help you see we’re just as human as you are. There’s some unwritten rule not to talk about this, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. The faith of the church isn’t in me or in any other pastor. It’s supposed to be in Jesus. He’s perfect, and He’s working on me.
When I made the decision to leave my previous position in the August before I left. I was making a painful decision that I had previously been determined not to take. When I have seen some ministers leave in the past, I have been tempted (not knowing everything) to think that they weren’t giving God enough credit or authority because they had some idea that they couldn’t see something through. It was a sign of weakness to me. It was a lack of faith, and it upset me.
And then I was the one in the hot seat. Funny how things happen to change when you know all the details, when you’ve experienced all the emotions. Things look different when you’re the one who feels neglected or beat down or doubted or whatever else bad stuff you might feel. Personally, again transparency here, I was feeling pretty worthless and ineffective. People were leaving and I found myself jealous of their freedom to go. That’s not a good place to be when you’re supposed to be the one leading and pastoring them. They saw the leadership stall out, they saw my attitude shifting. I accept my part.
I wanted to go to the big church down the street. I wanted to just worship and have no responsibilities. I was worn out. I had faith. I felt it, but I was dealing deeply with disappointment and rejection. When fear on our part stalls out the things that God wants to do, it’s hard to reconcile. When you’re energized and ready to go and your teammates in leadership are the ones dealing with trepidation, it can be incredibly frustrating. It creates friction. It can make things volatile. It can hurt.
You need a release. You need a God-honoring pressure valve, and looking back, I wish someone had pressed me into a place where I would have reached out even more. But so often, frustration can drive us deeper and deeper within ourselves. It cripples us, slaps blinders on our heart and eyes, and keeps us from seeing options that might be right in front of us. When you’re an introvert who can pretend to be an extrovert 2-3 times a week, retreating into quiet becomes a very attractive and comfortable place.
When your counselors press you to step away, to move out from toxicity, it makes anything and everything else look good. Again, this is not a good place for a pastor to be. I should have taken a vacation, gone on a retreat, sought out an extended coaching time. But since I was planning on leaving, it was more about being in survival mode rather than being effective with the time I had left. Again, just pointing this out, my attitude was not in the right place. The pressure and need for revitalization within the church was a constant pressure and I felt very alone.
But hindsight is often 20/20, and those blinders we wear in frustration can be really, really effective. There’s danger in the echo chamber they create, and I walked into my goodbye from within this echo chamber.
So, December rolled around and the pressure was building. It was the first Christmas season, the first Advent, I have celebrated where I just wanted it to be over. The careful approach to anticipation was gone. The reverent remembering was relegated to ‘maybe next year’ status. So, after Christmas wrapped up, we had an elder’s meeting, we had a very frank conversation and I resigned my position.
Have you ever seen one of those scenes in a movie when an EMP goes off and there’s a pulse of energy that presses out from the device? That’s what happened with my stress, my frustration, and my withheld tension.
The elder sitting next to me said, “Did you feel that?” Seriously, he felt it physically come off from me. Don’t tell me that there wasn’t an unseen spiritual component at work here during this. He asked again, “Really, did you feel that?” he was amazed and concerned. I told him that’s what I had been carrying for months and months. I told them I was sad there wasn’t some attempt to walk through the hardship together. After all, this wasn’t their first time we’d had tough conversations. We had talked through this, or attempted to, many times. I said a few other things from that, they let me vent a little, and I expressed my hope for what might still come there. Some of the guys in the room started crying, some apologized. One sat stoic, unmoved by my departure.
We wrapped up quickly at that point. They committed to providing for my family for the next 90 days, which was amazing, and I promised them that I would continue to operate with complete integrity and without drama. They didn’t ask me to do that, that promise was mine. They reassured me they weren’t worried about me in that regard (which was nice to hear, they at least knew my integrity mattered to me), we prayed and parted ways.
When I got to the car, I called my wife, told her I was coming home and then called my parents and played everything out from the evening to them as I drove. The mixture of relief, sorrow, confusion and hurt washed over me through the following days. I told the staff, one by one, I kept it quiet until the following Sunday. I wasn’t going to drag this out.
I jump into the cold pool. I rip off the band aid. I don’t stretch out unpleasant circumstances. I wasn’t going to drag the church through this with some prolonged leaving. I once saw a minster take six months to leave and it was painful. I was determined to let everyone move on as quickly as possible…but that’s for the next post.
I have to tell the couple of hundred people that I had served and served alongside of for almost a decade. That was going to be the hardest part, and the next post.