Five Years Pastoring and Two Heart Attacks

by Phillip Davis
(Easton Pa USA)

At 40 years old I took over a growing church that my father pastored for 30 years. He passed away in 2005 and I was voted in as the new Senior Pastor in January of that same year. The church experienced significant growth, from 1000 members to approximately 1500 in 9 months. In April of 2006 I had a heart attack, after preaching 2 services. I recovered from that and 5 years later I suffered the widowmaker heart attack and survived that as well. I wondered on a few occasions why theses things happened?

I understand better now that I was running on the expectations of others, unrealistic expectations that I placed on myself. I was challenged by my own insecurity and need to live up to the successes of my father. I was held up to his model of wisdom by members whose lives had been affected positively by his leadership and mentoring. Many of them grieved his death by taking their frustrations out on me. Their desire was for me to have the wisdom of a 70 year old man and the energy of a forty year old. That was impossible to do. The church continued to grow to what some call a Mega church with 2000 members, and a second location in the Poconos.

The burden of long executive meetings, church meetings, deacons meetings, ministry head meetings, and conflict resolution meetings with immature Christians who fought amongst themselves regularly weighed me down. There was a heavier burden because the congregation looked to me to set the vision for the church, the theme for the year, and develop new initiatives for ministry. I knew this is not a good model to lead by but it was the way that my predecessor (father) led. He was tremendously effective and impacted generations of families, but it was an unsustainable model. I created an executive board, expanded our deacons ministry to include lay persons who could oversee families in the church and redefined the role of the deacons, licensed 7 more ministers, ordained new elders and started regular leadership meetings to empower the ministry leaders. I believed this would lighten the load of ministry and distribute it more evenly to the leaders. However when you create new models they have to be manged and guided carefully, so much of my time was invested in resolving issues that came from our new initiatives. They are becoming more effective but are a continued weight on my shoulders. I'm under stress that I am managing much better now, for my health and my family.

My family is amazing. I have a beautiful wife who I have been married to for 18 years, we met in the same church we pastor now. One biological daughter who is 17 and 2 cousins that I am raising 16 and 22 all girls. My wife struggles under the shadow of my mother who is the former pastor's wife and a pastor serving in our ministry. She's challenged with all of the challenges of being a pastor's wife but manages it all well. She is a dynamic minster of the gospel and an amazing organizer of a strong women's ministry.

The bottom line is that through the heart attacks I realized that I must focus on Christ and not try to live peoples lives for them. I can't allow transference of their burdens to become mine. The success of Christ's church is his responsibility. I'm just to serve him and him alone. Regular rest, vacation, sabbath, and devotion is critical to my longevity in ministry. My family comes second only to Jesus. The church is Jesus' bride not mine.

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