Weaknesses, Résumés, and the Pastoral Search

In the last week or so, I’ve seen a couple posts/writings on “weakness.” Each of them encouraging because I’d been thinking about the subject. Not in a vacuum of course, but while also thinking about the necessity for God’s strength in life and ministry.

So yes, I think about doing ministry again. We pray about it. I’ve asked a few friends to pray about it for us. We fear it like we fear God. And think about it some more. And struggle to talk about it. So we pray a little more. (Please don’t read into this more than necessary, we are thinking and praying, not planning. We are very unsure but feel the need to consider returning, if only because we feel often like we are in the belly of a whale.)
Just the other day I looked at pastor job postings. Bethany did it first. Nearly all of them had their must-haves and their requirements and such. You know, some postings were admirable and a couple were actually moving.
But most were just like postings for insurance companies and banks in one particular way. They were interested only in how a person’s strengths could help the church. Don’t get me wrong, this is reasonable. I don’t even think its wrong.
But I can’t help but wonder about weakness.
Where does weakness fit in? Where does the weakness of a candidate and even the weakness of a church fit in? Is this even on anyone’s radar? And does anyone see the weakness as a way for God’s strength to be made manifest?
Maybe.
I confess I’ve imagined sending in a résumé of weakness. One that details all the reasons not to consider me. “Left the ministry and swore to never return. Has lived in the belly of a whale for about two years and smells like fish and seaweed. Has children the Vision Forum would be appalled at. Has most likely teetered on the edge of the dark chasm of depression. Has no money. Owns three vehicles, all have a check-engine light burning bright.” You know, things like that.
Every search committee and church knows every candidate for a position has weaknesses. They will even ask about them at some point. And discuss them. But will anyone see them the way Paul saw them?
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
Paul…and God, seemed to think the weakness he had, whatever it was – physical, emotional, spiritual – was something to boast in. And Paul did so, not to be contrary or to excuse behavior but so that “the power of Christ” would rest upon him.
Now I don’t know all the implications for this in ministry, but as I think about going forward and praying about pastoral work possibly one day in the future, it strikes me as being at odds with the prevailing wisdom.
The prevailing wisdom and practice is to treat résumés and interviews in the pastoral search process like a first date. On a first date you do everything you can to impress the other and you do everything you can to hide weakness. You borrow your parent’s Audi instead of picking a girl up in the ’79 Chevette with no reverse. You go to restaurants you would normally not go to. You spare no expense. You dress in clothes reserved for special occasions. You put your best foot-forward and keep all things negative at bay. It’s usually only later, you let your guard down and allow weaknesses to show.
College students do this in dating and churches and pastoral candidates do this in the search process. And it’s understandable. It’s reasonable. And we’ve all done it, in dating and in the search process.
But Paul’s words give us something to think about, don’t they? While all this first-date behavior and thinking is reasonable, Paul’s conviction about the place of weakness in his life and ministry may be a help.
Pretty much everywhere I went to work in ministry I soon found out that each congregation had glaring weaknesses no one felt the need to discuss with me but these weaknesses brought about constant issues that were at the forefront of the life of the congregation.
And my own weaknesses showed up pretty quickly too.

How do I go forward? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe you know.

My tendency is to be embarrassed of my weaknesses. I want to smooth over the craggy edges and obscure the dark valleys from view. But I also want to believe my weaknesses can deal a blow to my conceit and make it possible for the power of Christ to rest upon me. And if I ever return to the pastorate, is there any other power I’ll need?

More tomorrow in a few days…

A Former Pastor’s Regret

There’s nothing to applaud here. Applause should be reserved for the pastors who have seen this and pastored accordingly. I’m sure some do it by instinct. I was not among them and that’s why there’s regret.

I never really understood the difficulty of living the Christian life in the real world, outside of vocational ministry. My experience of working outside vocational ministry was in part time jobs and one full-time on the way to Seminary. So that may be part of it. But I’m not sure I can lay the cause at the feet of ignorance alone.

Loving the people I ministered to seemed secondary. I would have never admitted it but that’s most likely part of what was the problem. I wanted to see them do things that justified my ministry more than I wanted to love them.

I did love them. It’s not that I didn’t. But I’m not sure it bothered me when I didn’t show it or feel it.

And so I was not very compassionate about the difficulties of living out the Christian life when you’re not a pastor. 

It would not be fair to say I would do this or not do that. But generally speaking, I’d like to think I’d be more gracious about what they did with their time and money. I’d like to think I would be more tender in my speech. And I’d like to think I’d be slower to speak and quicker to listen.

But again, I can’t say I would do those things.

Now that I’m working in a bank, these regrets are easy. It’s easy for me see the struggle because I’m in the middle of it. I can understand wanting to stay home on a weeknight with my family. I can understand the need for a word of peace instead of having my toes stood upon. I loved stepping on toes more than comforting the heart. I should have been more patient with the bruised reeds.

It’s easy to say that now because I am one. I’m in a job I’m terrible at and my days seem long and repetitive. My comforts are lunch, instant messages, and conversations with the security guard. How many people did I speak to, counsel with, and preach at who struggled as I do now?

I just wanted to hit home runs as a teacher/preacher.

A pastor’s job is hard too. And I always wanted people to see that. I just wasn’t all that in tune with the difficulties of those I was pastoring. I saw the dangers they needed to be aware of. I saw the temptations. And I could see their faults in technicolor.

But what should have made me lean into my calling -their faults and needs and fears and struggles and pains – far too often all that was just fuel thrown on an already burning desire to control and change them.

So I regret it. I wish I’d known then what I know now.

My Resignation As A Pastor

Last night I informed the members of Branch Life Church of my resignation and today I will begin a full-time job outside of vocational ministry for the first time since Bethany and I left our home to begin studying at Covenant Theological Seminary.

Before I really get started, I ask you – please do not jump to any conclusions.

No one has asked me to resign. This is not due to any ethical or moral issue. I have not lost my faith. This is not a result of any dissatisfaction or loss of love between Branch Life Church and myself.

This has been brewing for almost a year. Two main factors have been the catalysts. And while there are lots of little things here and there contributing, it is entirely truthful to boil this down to emotional and financial health. We need both and my resignation is a move toward them.

I have now been on staff at three churches where the lead pastor has left shortly after my arrival. In only one of these was I even remotely involved. Regardless, they all taken their toll on Bethany and I emotionally. Maybe they shouldn’t. But such thinking is neither here nor there because it has taken a toll mercilessly and even though we look for the wherewithal to pay it continually, we just cannot afford it. I am sure I own some of the weight we have labored under. The result is I do not want to be a pastor. And for this reason I do not need to be a pastor.

For some of you, this is unfathomable. Part of your lack of being able to understand comes from you just not knowing everything. There are variables and arcs of the story few know. I assume much will be made known and then you will understand more. I sure hope this happens. For others, you think the height of spirituality is being a vocational pastor. I will not be able to ease your mind. So I won’t try. To you, it is the highest sign of spirituality for a banker to become a vocational pastor. But it is the mark of worldliness for a pastor to become a banker. Maybe I’ll argue with you later.

Our finances are wrecked. There is no other way to put it. In coming onto staff at Branch Life Church, we knew our savings account would take a hit. It has. The moments when we have been able to live paycheck to paycheck have been few and far between. Some of you will understand — the euphoric feeling when you are able to pay all your bills without dipping into savings is an oasis in a dessert parching the soul. I do not tell you this so you will pity us merely, it’s part of our story.

Not caring about money is the luxury of those who have it. But I have a wife and 3 kids. And so for a number of months I’ve been looking for other employment. (It will take another post to explain what it was like.) Finally I found a job at a bank, thanks to an old friend, who took mercy on me. Starting out, I will not make much more than what I make now. But there is the possibility of more in the near future.

Add to this — it would financially irresponsible for a church of BLC’s size to continue to pay me any amount whatsoever. The writing was on the wall for 2012. No one approached me about it. I saw the writing lit stark like fire scrawled across the night sky about 6 months ago.

So even If I wanted to continue to be a pastor I would have to look elsewhere. But I will not move again. I cannot do that to my family. Heck, I can’t do it to myself. No, we are here for good. Place is far more precious than position for us. I would rather work three jobs in the shadows of Red, Shades and Oak Mountain than relax anywhere else.

I’ll be staying on for a little longer at BLC as a very part-time pastor – just to finish up some responsibilities and help transition.

My faith is intact and alive and kicking. Grace is more precious. Mercy is counted upon more. And no longer is my vocation a fig leaf.

Last, would you pray for me? This is going to be a weird transition. By the time you read this I will have had to get ready very early, put on a tie and go to the orientation for a job in a vocational field which I know so little of. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad. Being a theologically trained banker sounds very interesting to me. But it is going to be all so new and so very different. Pray for my nerves and that I would honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and bankers in all of this.

More to come.