Monday, November 26, 2007

A moment of thanks...a few days late

here's a story that moved me today:

Several years ago I ran into a pastor at a store while shopping. I had preached for him a decade earlier and asked how his church was doing. Here is the conversation that followed.

“Well Clayton, I really can’t say how the church is doing because they fired me 2 years ago and I have not been back, or even heard from anyone since I left. I was there for 13 years. Attendance doubled, we built a new sanctuary and added 4 new staff positions. But what I did not realize is that I let church work become my life. It came before time with my family and it even became more important to me than Jesus.”

“I figured out who the power players were in the church, and a deacon told me to make sure I did not make any of them mad because they had the 2 things that mattered most; family and money. So I made every decision based on them. I preached for them, made sure I did not offend them, and made special efforts to cater to them and their families. This brought short-term success, but I was burning out. I had no passion left. I was just working for a paycheck and health insurance for my family.”

“I did not realize how much I had neglected my kids until one became a drug addict and the other one slipped into deep physical sin. I did not even know my own children, and it was my fault. Then one day I came home from a deacon’s meeting, and my wife had taken all of her stuff and left a note on the table that said she was tired of it. She hated me for ignoring my family and she blamed me for everything, for putting the church before them.”

You can imagine the lump in my throat as I stood there and listened to this grown man choke back tears over the family he lost. He was broken; a ghost of the leader, pastor, and shepherd I had met 10 years earlier. Then the saddest words to ever leave his lips landed on my ears.

“So what did my church do when all of this happened? The people I had served and pastored called a business meeting and they fired me. They said they could not have a divorced pastor with rebellious kids leading their congregation. They gave me 2 months salary and wished me luck.”

No grace. No counseling. No support. Maybe they felt he was unable to lead them any further. Fine. But not even a reception with cupcakes and coffee to say thanks for 13 years? This is way too common. I see it more than most anyone else because my calling carries me so many places, and when I hear these stories, I cry out to God to protect pastors, and the churches they serve, from shooting our own wounded. Of course not every church is like this and not every pastor suffers such a fate, but this man did. God help him, his wife, and his kids. And God help the Body of Christ to offer mercy and compassion to our own wounded who lay on the side of the road, in a ditch, waiting on anyone, even a Samaritan, to come to our aid.

i am so grateful to serve in a church that treats me like a friend and not an employee...a church that values my time with my wife and my family...a church that supports and encourages and forgives me and does not place unrealistic expectations on me...a church that has patiently waited for me to grow into the position that i hold...a church that holds to the biblical model of a pastor and not one that has been unfairly and unspiritually created by church tradition and modern culture...

we may not be the biggest or baddest church in the city, but i wouldn't trade places with anybody.

hope you are continuing to experience a life that is worth being grateful for.


Notly said...

North Point is my home church. I travel alot and so I have visited many other churches. I always learn something or experience God's grace in worship in new ways. As much as I enjoy participating in the new settings I always look forward to coming back to NP. NP is my spiritual family and you are my pastor. Thanks for treating us like your brothers and sisters and not your subjects or your projects. In worship you always give something worthwhile to think about. In person you let us see you are a fellow traveler in this world seeking to live as a follower of Jesus.


Binxy said...

Being a PK and a Grand-PK, I know how difficult it is to see firsthand what happens when Sheep bite.

In fact, the first crumble to my faith happened when I observed as a child not much younger than my own daughter a sheep of power biting with words and action his "shepherd" (my dad).

Mike - thank you for all that you do knowing that Sheep - even the best ones - can bite.

LTechie said...

Not surprising you would feel that way about NP. It is an awesome congregation! We are only reflecting your own personality: a brother in Christ first, then friend, counselor, teacher....
Thanks for being yourself!