In February 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts for ChurchWorks Network about what has been by far the most acutely painful time of my ministry life. Though nearly two years have passed, I remember everything like it happened yesterday.
People had been hinting at the possibility I’d made a mistake almost since I’d moved to Indy. Friends, family members, people who had my best intentions at heart, asked questions as a means of expressing misgivings about my situation. And then they voted with their wallets: when I sent out a letter asking for support from the churches I had grown up in, with leaders who had known me since I was a child, only one church responded with a one-time gift. Included on the list of churches who did not even respond to my letter was the church pastored by my father.
And then there was my wife, who, sometimes with and sometimes without subtlety, pointed to various aspects of reality: I had to work 50 hours a week running a delivery route to support my family, I spent very little time with her or the kids, we didn’t have a facility for our gatherings, all our people were new to faith and not yet able to help shoulder the burden. Even as she expressed her concerns, she never turned on me, and eventually she just threw herself into the life, always thinking about the next Sunday night meal, the next prayer gathering, the next children’s program, even as she was mother to our four young children and just beginning the journey of home schooling.
I knew what she was pointing out was correct.
I knew she was hurting, and my kids were missing me. I knew that in juggling life as a husband, father, pastor, and employee, I wasn’t pulling off any of them particularly well. But I had this dream! This opportunity lay before me, and if I would just keep my nose to the grindstone, I’d look up several years later to see that it had all been worth it. After all, most pastors don’t stay in one place long enough to experience the fruit of their labors, I’d heard pastors preach. I demanded of God to tell me why He had given me such a blasted great dream and then allowed all this to happen. For months I went back and forth, and the vision kept me in my place, kept me thinking that if I tweaked this or that, things would change.
My dream kept bumping up against my reality. And, in the end, my reality won.
I can honestly say that I never lost sight of the dream: I just knew I couldn’t keep this up. I knew that I had started down a road and, at some point, I would not be able to turn back. My wife was experiencing health problems related to stress, and in the current reality, I couldn’t do anything about it. My wife and myself were exhausted during the times when parents build relationships with children, and with the way things were, I couldn’t change that. Eventually, my relationship with God suffered, as well, and I felt like I couldn’t change that, either, not the way things were going.
So, finally, I came to face reality: the right thing was for something to die that I had based my self-worth on keeping alive. And on December 19, I stood, sick to my stomach, in front of these beautiful stories of reconciliation that God had given us, and told them I needed to step away.
That turned out to be the easy part.