My last blog was about Star Jones and the whole deal with her leaving ABC's The View. At the end of that blog, I promised a word about pastors receiving the same kind of treatment...the silent fire. Let me begin by saying that I pray these kinds of situations are extremely rare, but unfortunately, I hear about more every day.
A personal story...about five years ago, I was working in a large Southern Baptist church in suburban Orlando as a Middle School Minister. Things were going quite well for me...we had seen many students come to Christ, and beyond that, they were actually growing up in their faith. For the most part, they weren't just following the crowd. Anyway, when we arrived there in December of 1999, there were about 50 middle school students and a world of possibilities. Little did I know what would happen to me and my family.
As I said, things were going well. In August of 2001, we had just come off an incredible summer...having forty-something middle school students doing door-to-door evangelism on a mission trip with great fruitfulness. My pastor at that church was and still is numbers-driven, meaning that the only way he measured success was in numbers. Though I saw more than just the numbers of it, I was even successful in his eyes. We had consistent numeric growth over the two years I had been there.
One Tuesday, I had to be late for a staff meeting because of a cardiologist appointment. When I walked in, the pastor jokingly asked if I had overslept, and the room filled with laughter. When I tried to reply with equal wit, the room fell silent. I was asked to stay after staff meeting, and I was ripped open verbally...I was told that I had not earned the right to speak to anyone like that, but because he was the pastor, he could speak to me any way he wanted to. He said I was failing at my job, and something was going to have to change. A meeting was scheduled for two days later with his senior associate pastor and our minister of education.
Though I was very angry about how I was treated that day, I had come to the conclusion that I was supposed to be there, so I went to the meeting with a notebook and a pen...ready to make a list of things to change. Know what the change was? They said I was to be out of my office in three months. Now, if that was all they had said, it would have been bad enough. I could not tell anyone I was being fired, or I would be fired immediately. If I went to the pastor and talked to him about this, I would be fired immediately. I was given 3 month severance and medical insurance for my wife (who would be seven months pregnant when we were scheduled to leave). If I breathed a word to anyone about the truth about my leaving, the severance and the medical insurance would disappear.
I couldn't believe it...this is what was supposed to happen in corporate America...not in the church. My greatest source of anger was that the pastor wasn't even there to give me this news himself...he sent ministerial hitmen to do the job. The week I announced my resignation, he called me into his office. He told me that bad things happen to everyone, and this was happening to me. I could either be bitter about it, or learn from it. Then he said that, as my pastor, he wanted to make sure I was okay before I left. He said he understood I would be angry, but he hoped that one day, we could shake hands at the convention and get past this.
I spent the next 10 months trying to figure out if I should even continue in ministry. I went back to seminary, threw newspapers, and worked at Chick-fil-A. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do. I thought something had to truly be wrong with me if I could be treated like this. Then, I got a phone call. Three other pastors on staff had been given the same treatment...the same ultimatums...and one of them was a seasoned pastor of thirty-something years. I took a position in central Indiana that ended up being a great source of healing for me...it wasn't a perfect church with a perfect pastor, by any stretch. However, the Lord used that time to heal me, help me forgive my former pastor, and prepare me for the next part of God's call on my life...the pulpit.
All told, I know of at least 7 or 8 guys that have received this kind of treatment from their pastor or from their church. None of them followed any kind of discipline required by Matthew 18. In most of the cases I know about, the guy just wasn't liked, so the pastor, deacons, leaders, etc., just decided it was time to go. Since their was no real reason to let him go, the secrecy, manipulation, and threats come out. With these cases becoming more common, it's a sad church world in which we live.