Not surprisingly, this disorder in my heart led to disorder in my ministry. I found it difficult to connect with people in the church. They felt like potential spies, waiting to execute their orders. “Et tu Brute?” I thought I was surrounded by a bunch of Brutuses instead of Barnabases. While I used to be outgoing, extroverted and playful, I became guarded, introverted, crusty.
Pastor Ted plops down in his peeling “leather” office chair, opens his Gmail, swigs his Coke Zero, and reads a two-sentence email from a church member: “Hey, can we meet? I’d like to talk you about something.” Depending on the state of Ted’s heart, he will either be encouraged or exhausted—maybe worried fearful of what’s about to happen.
I’ve been Pastor Ted. Have you?
The Common Pain of Being a Pastor
It’s not uncommon for pastors to have lurking suspicions toward vague and brief requests for a meeting. Why? Well, many pastors have shrapnel and scars from the ministry. When a pastor goes through a storage unit of skirmishes, he might pick up a flinch along the way. Pastors who have been through the fire, the storm, and the hard fought battles—some needed, others ugly and unbiblical—will often come down with this peculiar lack of faith. While I’ve never played a doctor on television, I have a diagnosis: I call it Pastoral Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Here’s my trauma. At twenty-five years old I became the Lead Pastor of a two-year old church plant. I had no idea I was placing my heart on an ant-bed. While I was already a part of the church, no one expected I’d become the Lead Pastor they were searching for. Nor did I. Dozens of families peacefully left the church after I was installed; it’s like they heard the fat lady sing. I would be lying if I didn’t say it bothered me. But I get why they left. Most of them had been married longer than I had been alive. I was a whippersnapper. But this isn’t what shellshocked me. My church became a street-fight and I wasn’t ready. As if it weren’t bad enough that people left by the dozens and the church finances went cliff diving in shallow water, the personal attacks were jarring.
Here Are My Scars
I’ll never forget when a well respected man in our church and city, came to my office to chat. It was an ambush. Before I knew it, he’s calling me arrogant for not agreeing with him that Adam of Eden wasn’t a real person. “I thought you’d be different and listen to older guys?” He goes on to say how he doesn’t like how I became the Lead Pastor of his church. I can say that I wasn’t too thrilled myself with the position in that moment either! “I’m only staying because I have friends here,” he said. “I can’t imagine you’ll make it anyways.”
One lady wrote to me in an email, even though she said she didn’t mean to be rude, “You are all about yourself. You don’t care about people wanting to know Jesus.”
I remember getting groceries with my daughter when another woman came up to me and said, “I liked going to your church, but you were just too young for us. My husband just couldn’t respect you.” And this was after former members were avoiding me on the previous aisle.
A small group leader eventually left the church because my wife didn’t wave back to him—or see him—while she was chasing our daughter across the cafetorium of the Junior High.
One man stood by my side and advocated for me during the interview process to become the Lead Pastor, only to pull the Benedict Arnold option after my ordination, spreading gossip and doubt among the church.
I could go further, but I think you get the point: Christians, who I thought you were my friends, made me their enemy. Pastoring became a game of Minesweeper. Meeting here, counseling there, going well, and then kaboom. Reset. Bang.
One day, it all came crashing down. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was sick of crawling through the razor-wire of pastoral ministry. While crying in my car, I managed to mumble out a prayer, “Lord, I can’t do this anymore. Would you please do something? I won’t make it, this church won’t make it, unless you do something.”
He did. He heard my mumble. The church finances recovered. The troops retreated. But once the dust settled, I already learned a new set of unfortunate skills for the next couple of years of pastoral ministry. Similar to signs in a parking lot: hide, take, lock. Hide in my office, take precautions, and lock the door. I began to pull back from the sheep, fearing their bark and bite. I locked myself away in my study, only taking the time to pastor the people that I knew weren’t a risk.