Weary, But Hopeful
It's been 23 years and 3 churches. My first was a little country church. I was young, naive, and full of hope. I was the next Billy Graham. Everyone told me what a great preacher I am. God was going to change the world through me. But He didn't.
I moved on to my second church in a large urban center, a west coast university area. By this time I had three young children. This was a difficult church. A lot of pressure to succeed. Churches all around us were growing, but ours was not. I was the "ringer", hired to get this church moving forward. Gradually things began to change. We grew by 50% in five years. New young couples were on fire for ministry, and we'd found a niche in local outreach. But the older crowd didn't like the growth, or the new methodologies. My wife and I became the focus of their anger, and for 12 months we went through sheer hell. They had secret meetings over coffee. They voted against every measure at every meeting. They with-held their substantial tithing to try to starve me out. But I was too stubborn to leave. I believed in what God was doing with our outreach. I wanted to support the younger couples in their passion for Christ. The kids we were reaching on the street needed our little church to survive. We were different than the other churches. But eventually we went through a church split. "The Club" (as my wife and I called them) left, taking their cash cow with them, and the church of young Christian families struggled to survive financially. More people began to trickle out and attend the mega-churches around us, and within two years we closed the doors. I felt like a total failure.
But God had not given up on me. He called me to my present ministry in a small prairie city of 250,000. I've been here 11 years. A fantastic church. Lots of love. Lots of young people. Lots of ministry. And very little pressure. They don't care about image here. They care about people, and we've been blessed.
But I'm 52 now, weary, and getting ill. You see, during most of these ministry years my wife has been very ill. For the past 14 years she has been disabled and bed-ridden. We've almost lost her twice. We have no full or part-time caregiver. It's me. The stress of caring for her has been overwhelming. Add to this the grief and anxiety of our middle child getting lost in the world of drugs and promiscuity, and you can understand why my hair has gone white, and my back has suddenly ruptured.
My present church has been very kind and loving. There's been little to no conflict over the last 11 years, which has been refreshing. They supported us through our nightmare with our daughter. And it's large enough that it can run itself just fine. We have lots of people involved in ministry and our ministry team is doing things well. But we're lonely. They're not great at visiting with us, and expect us to always take the initiative. But they show us their love in other ways.
Just recently they offered me a sabbatical. I was stunned, and thankful. I need it. Two years ago I told my wife "I can't keep going like this. My health is going to break." I worked out at a gym five days a week for years just to ward it off. But sure enough, 5 months ago I ruptured a disc in my lower back, and I'm now partially disabled. It's been very painful and quite debilitating. God has forced me into pulling back on the reins. Thankfully my church has been very supportive, and I'm not expected at every meeting, nor to be visiting in every home. And now they want me to take some time off. They say they don't want to lose me. That's encouraging, because so many churches today want young energetic pastors. So I'm hopeful....hopeful that my strength will be renewed, hopeful that my spirit will be revived, and hopeful that our growing church will continue to develop in strength and God's love.
I wish every church had the courage, heart, and vision that mine does. And I pray that God will open the eyes of churches everywhere to the stresses that pastoral ministry can lay on a pastor and his family.