Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer of Change — The Interim Pastor

Once, in another life, I was part of a new leadership team at a small Baptist church in South Texas. Okay. Honestly, I was not part of the new leadership team. I was the leadership team. 
I can’t say for sure, but the church was probably 50 years old when I got there in 2001. It has always been small, but in the days of the early 2000s, attendance had dropped to less than 10 members on Sunday morning, mostly due to death and apathy.
I had just quit a job as a youth minister at another Baptist church when the deacon (yes, there was only one deacon) came by my house to offer me the job as interim pastor.
I don’t remember what my first thought was. I guess I thought this was God’s way of shining a light on the next step in my life. “This is my perfect will,” was what I wanted God to say to me. But he didn’t. At least I didn’t hear it if he did.
But I was desperate for money and fame, the kind that only comes with being the interim pastor at a small church. I’m not so sure whether it’s fame or infamy, you feel like a celebrity as the pastor of a church. I wonder if Jesus felt like a celebrity? Did he walk around looking at faces in the crowd and thinking to himself, “Yep, they just recognized me.”
Was Jesus an A-lister in Jerusalem? B-lister? Would he been invited to all the coolest parties and new club openings in Galilee? Nobody knows.
But that’s the feeling you get. At least I did.
I started dreaming about standing up in that pulpit week after week and spewing God’s message to the dozen or so people in the audience. I felt like God was going to use me to spread his message of love and hope to the masses. The fact that the God of the Universe could use a lowly, humble servant like me really swelled me head. It was quite the rush.
After much time in my prayer closet (about four hours), I accepted the job. I started out at the standard rate of $250 per week. It paid the grocery bill and provided a few other luxuries like electricity, gas and the occasional dinner out at the Dairy Queen.
The first week, my family of four — me, my wife and two kids, aged 14 and 11 — joined the church and immediately dropped the average age below 65 for the first time in what I can only assume was many years.
I thought nothing but exciting times were ahead. And, it turns out, the times ahead were exciting, but not exciting in the “yee-haw” sort of way, but in the “oh my fucking god” sort of way. I never would have used that type of language back then, but I do now. A lot. Things change.
Some people just don’t appreciate change. I found this out the hard way.
As the new “leader” of the church, I immediately started implementing some positive changes. I wanted to start meeting on Sunday nights and Wednesdays. Before me, the six or eight souls who met each week, only met on Sunday mornings. I wanted to upgrade the sound system. Invite more people to join the church, maybe some younger people. Add a few more deacons to the flock to help with the church work.
All of these things I looked at as a positive in a church that was less than 10 years away from extinction. I figured since I was the leader, people would follow.
I was wrong.
The church members that paid the bills and kept the doors open — barely — before I got there didn’t want any kind of change. They wanted to spread the wealth a little bit, maybe have a few new faces around, maybe have a little more variety at the monthly potluck suppers, but they did not want real change. They liked the way things were. And they let me know it.
When they approached me about it, the first thing out of my mouth was probably not the response they were looking for.
As a sidenote: When I was younger, sometimes my mouth overloaded my brain and I said stupid shit before I really thought about it. It strained more than a few relationships. I would like to hope I’m better but that may just be my mouth spouting off again.
I did not impress the Old Guard with “Doing things the same way got you here,” I said. “I thought you wanted to see this church grow. If we don’t change, it won’t.”
The Old Guard didn’t like it. They didn’t like me. But to be honest, I didn’t like them either. I know that’s not a very Christian attitude, but I did not like them. They were evil. When I say “they,” it was really just one or two people, but in a small group, that is all that matters.
I couldn’t handle the pressure, so I left the church. I didn’t need their $1,000 a month.
I was wrong. I did need their money. I needed it to buy groceries. Not having grocery money causes more stress. I found that out for sure.
But I was wrong there too.
Doing something just for the sake of money will not remove stress. It may — MAY — pay the bills but the other bills will begin to pile up. Sometimes those other bills are in the form of hospital visits because stress causes sickness. Sometimes those other bills will come in the form of paying for an addiction or an escape because you need something other than reality. Sometimes it’s not a monetary bill at all, sometimes you might pay with your mental sanity.
In those times, what you need is change.
That’s what I’m going through right now. Change. I needed it. The summer of 2014 is the Summer of Change for my wife and me.
We figured if we wanted something new, something different, something better in our lives, we needed to do some things differently. We couldn’t expect to do what we’ve always done and get different results.
In football, sometimes you have to take a knee. Accept being down by a touchdown, go into the locker room at the half and regroup. Make some changes. Sometimes those changes might be a dramatic shift in the game plan. Sometimes they might be a slight tinker here and there — a new play, a different defensive front, wrapping up the other team’s running back, or sticking with a block a few minutes longer. Whatever the case, changes must be made. If you are losing the game at halftime, you can’t stick with the same game plan. You must change.
In the case where the game is not going your way, change is good, change is healthy, change is imperative. If nothing changes, you will lose.
But in life, you don’t have to lose. You might not be successful each day, but you can be successful in life for the long term. You might have to take a knee sometimes, but you can win. You can create a life that looks like the one you dream about, one that brings fulfillment, joy and peace. But the game plan might have to change.
The bad news is: It’s some times a lot of work. The good news? It can be done. You can do it. You are in control. You are the coach with the whiteboard in your hand. Change the damn game plan.

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