Many folks have asked us, since we retired, how in the world we stayed in the local church ministry so long (45+ years). It all goes back to a decision we made after our second“crash and burn” experience in just over 6 years of full time ministry. We were young, with a still very sick baby, when the first church we were called to serve pulled the rug out from under us. One day, Ed had a full time job, and the next, we were homeless! We had to borrow money to rent a truck to get our stuff 500 miles north to a storage unit near my parents’ home in East Tennessee. Unbeknownst to us that first traumatic week, we were pregnant with our second child. In fact, Joel’s name is a testament to God’s grace and mercy during those days. Jo-el means the Lord is God. God is the “I AM”…God is who God says he is!! We figured if God could get us out of that mess, then God surely must be all God claimed to be!
We soon moved on to our second church, believing the old adage that if you are thrown by your horse, you should immediately remount. “Surely,” we thought, “that first church situation was a fluke, and we will get things right the second time around.” We asked every question we knew to ask, prayed hard, did much soul searching…and believed God’s hand was on that move. Perhaps God was in that decision, but it didn’t take long for things to go awry! In a little more than two years, we again found ourselves without a job. This time, we had two preschoolers, a mortgage, two cars – you get the picture.
At that point, we made the life-changing decision that became one of the “secrets” to our success: Never, ever, put your eggs in one basket again! For us, that meant never again would we commit to a full-time position in one church! So, even though we had originally felt called to be a ministry team, we gave up that vision, and each individually pursued separate church and music careers. Ed served 7 different churches, one school, and taught private piano lessons and tuned pianos for years. Kay served a total of 3 churches, taught in two public schools, and taught private piano for years. For us, this worked, but I will always wonder what might have been possible if we could have used our complementary strengths in one full time situation.
Dear friends, there is an elephant in this room we call “Church.” We rarely speak or even acknowledge that The Elephant is even there, yet it is wreaking havoc on churches everywhere. It is literally destroying good folks who commit themselves to ministry, even going for advance seminary training, often leaving extended families to serve in distant communities. The elephant, in a nutshell, is the serious lack of skilled confrontation and the misunderstanding of anger among both pastors and their parishioners. It would do us well to remember the biblical admonition, “Be angry and sin not!” Sadly, this is one area that is never addressed during professional ministerial training!
I am still haunted by a statement made by one of our seminary professors: “If someone in any of your churches decides they don’t like you, they can and will find a way to get rid of you.” Some folks, it seems, have huge invisible “toes” that unwitting ministers step on without even realizing they are there! Some church folks want to “help” the ministers by offering supposed positive criticism…and gradually undermining not only the morale but also the ministry of those called into the Ministry. Some folks are power people, used to calling the shots in many of their regular groups. When a new minister doesn’t bend to such power mongering, because he/she senses God’s leading in a different direction, lines are often drawn and the battle begins!
Saddest of all, to me, is the fact that much of this dissension happens behind closed doors, and the vast majority of church members have absolutely no clue that there is something amiss. The identities of the perpetrators is protected, in the name of Christian Professionalism, and they are often allowed to take on the role of bullies who run amok because no one confronts them. When the inevitable explosion occurs, there are a myriad of hurt feelings with folks left angry, disillusioned, disgusted, frustrated, incredulous that such a thing could be happening at their church!
I’m curious ( and seeking affirmation I suppose…): How many of my FB friends have been through this trauma, either as clergy or as lay church members? How did you responds? Is it still affecting you today?
My hope is that as we begin to talk about this very serious issue, we will begin to find solutions. This epidemic has become as devastating to local churches and their ministers as the current pandemic is to our world. God help us! We have to find a way to stop it!!