when i was 25, i was hired as the youth and family minister at a church in huntington beach, california. it was large, established, traditional church…with a legendary senior minister who had been there for over 25 years…a storied past…and a bright future.
and i was a square peg in a round hole from day one.
those first five years were marked by aggressive expansion. we added staff. we started a christian school. we added programs. youth ministry kept pace. those were good years.
right before i arrived, the church had just entered into a massive building program and financial campaign and…five years later…we were in a new edifice. and deeply in debt, fragmented in leadership, divided in focus and loyalty, and wounded in spirit.
within the first year of being in the new building, our beloved senior minister has passed away. and everything began to unravel without his benevolent and compassionate buffering. because of the incredible debt and the absence of a cohesive leadership plan…six months after his death, all of our staff had either moved on or been fired. except for me.
i became the default pastor-preacher-leader-counselor-program manager-community liasion-church family representative-and all around plate spinner for the whole church. all while i was still the full-time youth minister of a church of 700 or so…that was operating over $8000 a week short of making our budget. talk about stress!
the foundation was being laid for some kind of emotional breakdown. i just didn’t know it was happening.
for the next three years, i continued in this role. we had a couple of interim senior pastors during that time…one for nearly a year…but my role became more entrenched. i really knew the people and their stories and their struggles. i did my best to help people through these years of change and transition…even though i was completely detached from how our leaders were juggling our finances to keep the doors open.
as strange as it may sound, i loved where god had placed me. but many days i hated my job. it was demanding and unrelenting. the expectations were unfair and most days i felt very alone. nobody really understood. sheesh…i didn’t even understand! the only thing that made sense was that this was my family.
i suppose it was inevitable, but my role of pastor became compromised. i got forced into adversarial relationships with people who used to be my friends. people became polarized over issues: the oppressive financial situation…new leaders who came into prominence…the power and influence of the christian school…the antagonistic autonomy of small groups and ministry teams that pressed their own agendas. my goal became to simply stay close to people, help them with their struggles, keep the peace, teach the word the best i could, and stay committed to kids.
all the while, i was powerless (i was still just the youth minister) to effect change…but i became the visible target for people who were frustrated with leadership and the void of spiritual vitality. but it was my church family. warts and all.
a recipe for personal disaster, don’t you think?
the story will continue.
if this sounds like it’s just some whiney-butt who can’t let go of the past, i get the criticism. but it’s cathartic for me. and it’s my blog. so deal with it.