I have a friend at church who reminds me weekly about the great call of preaching. He tells me how he admires pastors as they have to live and feel and work through sermons week after week. This week I am preparing one of the most emotionally taxing sermons I have ever had to preach. This week as a church we approach a passage which teaches us about conflict in the church. I am not scared walking up to the pulpit. God has used Memorial Baptist to heal and encourage the Faulk Family. I believe that God sent this church to us as much as he sent us to this church.
The emotion and heart ache that I walked through are wounds I never allowed to heal from my last place of service. Honestly I thought that if I just closed my eyes to the pain it would just go away. I know that I cannot preach about forgetting pain and moving on from conflict if I first cannot do it in my life.
So here I go… I remember the letter, it still stings. Our church had just seen a mass exodus of young people under an intergenerational conflict. As pastor I walked in not knowing what happened before I got there, just excited to lead the church. To get a glimpse of what our church was ready for we sent out surveys. Most surveys were returned, thoughts were given and we appreciated the input. Then came the letter. It was typed in the smallest font a typewriter could produce. There was no name, just a stream of insults, slander and pain that I don’t know if I will ever forget. The most pointed of the criticisms focused on my 18 month old and my newborn baby and how they were the reason that many visitors never came back to the church. Sometimes churches hurt.
I remember the visit. A new church had come to town. Let me rephrase, a split had occurred in our town and a new church had emerged. I got a phone call asking for money to fund the split. I declined. What happened next was something I never expected. The pastor from the split cozied himself up to several members of my church. He began to spread false rumors about me to the members of my church. This pastor wasn’t concerned with those who had little money, only those who could float his new church.
Then came the visit. He was a member of the church who had been a part of accusing another former pastor and his eventual removal. In this visit I was accused of not preaching scripture, not loving the lost, and an ultimatum was placed at my feet. Leave or we will run you out of town. Sometimes churches hurt.
I went to my deacons, spoke to three ministers within the church and shared what had happened. They encouraged me to bring it to the church. I did. The Wednesday night following my visit I told the church what happened. In this moment if the church found the accusations to be true I would have gladly stepped down. At the moment that I stepped back from sharing the accusations I saw the hand of God move in the congregation. Starting with one, then two, then the deacons, and finally the church body, all stood and walked down to hug both Jennifer and me. We wept together, they spoke words of affirmation and encouragement to us. They refuted the claims and stood unified as a church. Often when churches hurt, God heals.
God healed Jennifer and me, and we stayed for another year until we felt His hand move us. I had heard lesson after lesson in seminary about the pain of ministry, but I never thought that I would go through it. I went through it, the wounds were far deeper that I could have even imagined. There is no therapy or quick fix to heartache I felt. Only God can heal.
Every church has conflict. Every person has been hurt in some way in God’s body. As we study scripture this Sunday, will you take a step towards healing with me? Will you go to God who can mend the scars of our greatest hurts? God Heals.
** Edited 3/27/2012 12:12 pm
Just for clarities sake, many people in my church have expressed concern that SOMETHING has happened to bring about this post. I posted this as it is a life experience that I have been walking through and thinking about in preparation for my message Sunday morning. My messages are not derived by a topical agenda, but instead they are formed from the outline of scripture. What I expressed in the previous post is the story almost any minister can tell you. Church work is hard work, often pastors deal with depression and doubt as they struggle to balance the enormous expectations and emotional baggage that comes with the job. This post was written not because I needed to vent or cry, but instead so that I might share with others my struggles in ministry. Everybody has been hurt in church. It is my heart that we all get it out on the table and then go to God who can heal the deepest wounds.