I came across this gem when digging through old documents on my computer today. I had forgotten writing it, but will never forget how I felt at the time. It pretty much speaks for itself, but a general timeline of events might help with context:
- June 2006: Started working as youth pastor at church in Nebraska (third church in 13 years of ministry)
- April 2009: Senior Pastor resigns
- March 2011: Mark has “breakdown” – eventually diagnosed with depression / bipolar / anxiety disorder
- September 2011: During rough time between medications for Mark, church leaders bring in Senior Pastor candidate for meetings & interviews with other staff (Note this is more than two years since other pastor left)
- November 2011: Mark starts to improve with meds and counseling
- December 2011: Elders meet with Mark to discuss their concerns about what was said in the meeting in September – now that the pastor candidate has accepted the position and will be coming on staff in a few weeks. (After this meeting is when I wrote the following – that I never shared with anyone before now)
- January 2012: After a few meetings that were supposed to clarify their concerns but only complicated them, we wrote a letter to the elders asking for clarification…followed two weeks later with a reply asking for our resignations on February 28. (But somehow they trusted us enough to hold a lock-in for 100 middle schoolers during that two weeks…)
I can’t believe I let myself believe that these men were any different than any other church leaders we’ve met in the past. I allowed myself to believe they really cared about us. I know they would be incredulous that I wouldn’t think they cared after all they’ve done for us. I know that Duane has worked on our furnace and Brent has worked hours on the internet for the youth building and George has worked and worked on a time we could get together. They all agreed to let Mark have extra time off and encouraged him to get help through counseling and medication. But realistically, we thought, cynically, that they just really, really didn’t want us to leave the church because it would be bad for the church. Our perception, right or wrong, was that it wasn’t about loving us but was about keeping us happy and doing what we do for the church.
But recently, while going through all of Mark’s dark days, they all seemed so sincere. I felt comfortable being open and honest with them about our struggles. I felt like their concern for Mark was truly for Mark and not for the role he plays in the church. I even started bragging our elder board up both inside and outside the church. I told people how they were men that loved God more than they loved NPBC and how they were men that would stand up for what was right and that they had our back. I felt that there was mutual trust.
Now I sense that I was right the first time. It really was all about keeping us happy to keep the church from crisis. Now that John is coming, it appears that they are more concerned with keeping him happy than us. It would appear that they are willing and ready to throw us under the bus to keep the church happy with a happy new pastor.
Not only is this a slap in the face, but it is also incredibly heartbreaking. It took us five years to grow to trust them and in one meeting they have violated that trust to the point that it will be extremely hard to repair. Not only that, but I have walked on eggshells for months with Mark as his emotions are so fragile right now. I feel like the elders have taken a sledgehammer to them. Mark had six good days prior to this meeting. Six. That’s twice as many good days as he’s had in a row in over nine months.
The way the meeting took place is as bad if not worse than what was actually said at the meeting. If Duane and Tom had a problem with whatever Mark said to John, they should have talked to Mark alone months ago. Going to the other elders about it is nothing but gossiping. But even worse than that, telling Mark this meeting was about seeing how he is doing – letting him believe that they really cared about him – and then blindsiding him with criticism about that meeting was an incredible violation of the fragile trust that had built up. I’m not sure he’ll ever again believe they truly care about him.
Ministry will become even more difficult now due to the repeated phrase at the meeting about “trust with verification”. If we don’t feel like the elders will trust us unless we verify that we are trustworthy, we will be constantly afraid of what they think and how they will react. Ministry cannot be done that way. If after five years together, they can’t say they just plain trust us, will they ever? Have we ever broken their trust to deserve such suspicion?
Yes, Mark may have overstated some issues in the meeting with John. He was in a place at that time with no filter and rabid emotions. However, both Bob and Tom said at the time that they didn’t disagree with anything he said. If the elders are going to make it a habit of coming back three months later to criticize something that was said, we will be living in constant fear of attack. We’ve done that before, and it destroys the ministry and our family.
I want so badly to believe that these men care about us as people, and that they are just overly cautious right now because they are so eager to please the new pastor, but realistically, I’m afraid it’s not that way. The “evidence” is overwhelming that they never cared about us outside of the role we play in keeping this church going. All I can say is that it is heartbreaking to be proven right in this situation.