(I wrote the following back in August of 2009, I was at my wit’s end emotionally. It was so bad, when we went on vacation to Birmingham to visit family, I was prepared to stay. Never to go back. I was right in the middle of despair. My guess is, a lot of guys in ministry get to that place and it is a terrible place to be. Accountants can experience despair and go do something else and it looks heroic. Pastors? No way. They are expected to rip open their shirts and reveal the S on the their chest. Bullets are supposed to bounce off and sermons just appear. All the while kryptonite is hurled at them through email, social media and meetings in coffee shops.)
Whether I am failing as a student pastor or only perceived as failing is at this point moot. Well, maybe not entirely. But the effects are the same. Right? I mean, it is neither here nor there if the whispers are there, the discussions are going on behind your back and the arrows are flying.The truth of the matter is perhaps a very important thing for the Senior Pastor/Preacher/Lead Pastor and possibly for someone who oversees an adult ministry. Why? Because they trade in truth.
Me? I trade in bodies, numbers and pizza. And it is amazing that the decrease in that which I trade in is the reason I feel as if I am drowning. Usually, the abundance is the difficulty. Usually you drown in abundance. In my case it is the stark nature of the thing. There are not enough bodies. I am not doing enough. I do not care enough. When or what is enough? How would I know? When everyone is happy?
It’s like a hall of mirrors really. I went to one at the Alabama State Fair back in elementary school. To be honest, it freaked me out. You turn one way and you are fat. The other way shows you as remarkably short. Another turn and you are twisted beyond all recognition. And all the reflections make it very hard to actually get perspective on the distortions and see reality for what it is. Even when you find the exit…exhausted, have you escaped? Are you not still trying to catch your breath?
I vowed to never go back in.
Today I went to bed twice for short periods of time. Is this healthy? It felt healthy. When you are hungry, you eat. When you are cold, you put on more clothing. When you are tired – soul-tired – you lay down. Still.
Twice this week I am supposed to teach and for the first time in my ministerial life, I am not looking forward to it. This has never been the case before. I have always fed off the enjoyment of doing this. But right now I just want to hang out with Sam Adams and Billie Holiday. I just want to hang out with my wife in silence with small talk sprinkled clean by laughter. I want to watch my kids play and tickle them every now and then. Another nap would be welcome also.
Do I need a vacation? Am I burnt out? Maybe. The only path of sanity I can find is quitting. And I do not mean quitting this ‘job’. I am talking about quitting altogether. When you start envying the Fed-Ex delivery driver, something is not right. Can you quit for just a week or two? Perhaps I could start back then. But a few weeks of not being a “Pastor” (or at least what I am told that is) would be welcome indeed.
I used to talk about wanting to quit every week. That was very different. I knew I could not quit. The “call” was clear. Now not so much. Before, I could read something in the Scriptures or in a book that would drive me further in. Now what used to be fuel is retardant.
Not doubting my salvation is a great deal of help. The gospel is still good news. I don’t want to leave the “church”. I don’t want to leave my family. As a matter of fact these are the two things I want to run towards. Some may call it selfish but I want to be ministered to for a while. Emmylou Harris is singing My Baby Needs A Shepherd.
None of this is written for pity. There is cathartic help of course. But I really could find nothing like this anywhere. They are probably there somewhere. I did find some articles and essays about how pastors overcame their failures. Nowhere, though, did I find anything like a confession from a failing pastor in the midst of failure. “My name is Matt Redmond…not that Matt Redman…and I am a failing pastor.”