“Never trust a pastor who does not walk with a limp.” Matt Chandler
In 2015, I received my limp. I had been serving for two and a half years as an associate pastor of a church. The church was very clear from the start of our tenure that I was in process of becoming the next lead pastor. The retirement and transition of the current pastor were supposed to be complete by Jan of 2015. It was August, and still no retirement.
When I was first hired at the church, the pastor told me to pick and train the next group of elders. He said it would be like a church plant since I would be building my team. That is what I did. I spent two years investing in a group on incredible men. Along the way, I was allowed heavy influence on the hiring of a worship pastor because I was told: “It will be you who will be working with him.” Our first two years and 3 months at the church were wonderful. My wife and I thought we would be there for the long haul. God was working it all out.
I should have known something was wrong. Looking back I can remember a few things that were off. Privately, the pastor and elders would call me the associate pastor. Publicly, I was called the pastors assistant. I was preaching regularly, so our people knew there was some sort of transition taking place, but the transition itself was kept behind closed doors. My wife and I would get told one thing and then it would never seem to be told to the congregation. It was also odd that every time I preached there was a deacon who would attend another church. Something was up right under our nose and we did not see it.
Then it happened. For a couple of years, a group of 5-7 pastors had been gathering together once a month for pizza and encouragement. I ordered my usual lunch special with my Diet Dr. Pepper. I looked up and saw an older gentleman from our church about to walk out the door. I jumped up, ran over to him and had a nice, short conversation. That was it. But it wasn’t it.
That man happened to be good friends with an elder at our church. Unbeknownst to me, this particular elder wanted me out. When the elder found out I was at the pizza joint, he asked his friend if I was drinking. The friend told him he didn’t know. That answer was apparently not clear enough. The rumors and slander started. Word traveled fast “Jared was out drinking at the pizza place!” I had no idea this was going on. The secret meetings began. I ended up being called in and confronted about my drinking problem. Internally I was confused and thought “I’ll just let them know it did not happen.” That seemed reasonable. The damage was done. Only one elder stand up for me. One! I don’t know how I would have made it if it wasn’t for my friend. I will forever be grateful to him for having my back.
Shortly after that meeting, my wife and I sat down with the pastor. We were encouraged because he told us I was still in process of becoming the pastor. He let us know he was going to retire in October and that I would be voted on that same month. That was on a Friday. Just two days later, Sunday night, he stood up and said “There is no transition in place. I am not going to retire, and there will be no vote on Jared.” Needless to say, we were crushed and confused.
The next month I was informed by the elders that I would not be the next pastor of this church. I asked “Is my name even in the hat?’ They explicitly said no! But then on Sunday, it was announced to the congregation that my name was still in the hat. The very words I used. We were told one thing, the congregation was told another.
It came down to the 10%. The 10% were the loudest group of people the pastor wanted to please. It happened to be the ones he wanted to please the most. The pastor had a common problem among pastors, the desire to please everyone. But that can’t happen. Someone has to be let down or let go. Me and my family were those ones that ended up getting thrown under the bus.
There is so much more I could share. Intentionally, the worst stuff has been left out. Simply put, this was the hardest season of my life. The rug was pulled out from under us and we had no idea what to do. God would provide! The story that comes next is quite remarkable. In my next article, I will tell you about that. For now, let me tell you what I learned from that mess after the dust settled. It’s been narrowed down to three primary things. (1) God was Fathering me. He was taking care of me and my family. He was rescuing me from what, most likely, was and even harder road had I been hired. (2) He was teaching me about pastoral ministry. Forging comes by fire. (3) Finally, I saw the real reason traditional churches struggle with change, replanting, or revitalization. People do not actually believe in the authority of the Word.
God Was Fathering Me
God was Fathering me. What do I mean? Everything seemed arbitrary. It all seemed like the work of the Enemy. After all, slander and false accusation are the Enemies ancient tactics. But God was above all of that, reaching down and holding on to me and Jordan. He not only sustained us through that but he taught us how to respond when we are sinned against.
We walked out of that situation with peace of mind and peace of heart knowing that we had done nothing wrong. Normally, situations like this bloom into and ugly flower called bitterness. But we discovered God can really give “Peace that passes all understanding” Phil. 4:7. We were Somehow doing well, and people were confused by that. Shortly after these events we went through a church planter assessment and the general sentiment was that “We had buried the pain of that experience and not dealt with it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit was pointing us to Jesus. Being sinned against, the way we were, was a great way to experience the grace of God. We were innocent of the matters we were accused of and we felt the pain of false accusation. “Those people” were showing me who I had been to God. It was a case study of myself before God. Yet, God was so kind to us. His grace was so present for us.
God Was Teaching Me About Shepherding
He was also teaching me. I learned so much about shepherding during my time at this church. I learned from the positive and tried to positively learn from the negative. At the very end of our time there I put out one resume to a church in a neighboring state. Jordan and I were talking about this church and what it would look like for our family if I got hired. My response to her was the very first iteration of my 7 Pastoral Priorities.
God had given me an unusual amount of pastoral experience. At that point, I had been a lead church planter, campus pastor, and an associate pastor. A pastor friend of mine who I looked up to encouraged me and said: “You may be 30, but you have had the experience of a 50-year-old.” That’s what God was doing for me over those years. He was training me. He was showing me my inabilities and need for grace. He was showing me grace for my need. And he was teaching me about shepherding. The Holy Spirit had driven me to the Bible to get answers for my questions “Who is a pastor” and “What does a pastor do?’ It all came together when Jordan asked me the question that day.
It’s An Authority of the Word Issue
If you have every served at a “Boomer” church you may have a similar experience. Revitalization efforts are somewhat popular right now, but be warned, you may get kicked in the teeth. Jordan and I had a front row seat to the show, “What Happens When Biblical Authority Is Rejected.” The real issue behind all the other issues with the church, was a tragic distrust in the Bible.
Millennial doubt in “the truth” and their wandering search for “My truth” didn’t just show up from nowhere. It grew up in churches who claimed to believe the Bible. Many Boomer churches make a stand for God’s word, but in reality, are making a stand for what grandma and grandpa taught them. Making a stand for “What I was taught” is wildly different than “Making a stand for God’s Word.” This was the underlying issue, people trusted “What sounds right to me” over what God plainly says.
One example. In Matt. 18,Jesus plainly teaches on discipline and accountability. I can’t tell you how many times I was told “Matt. 18 does not apply here and it will not work.” I never ran into a situation at the church where Matt. 18 did actually apply. Why? Because when the authority of the word is rejected people don’t actually believe Jesus words. Avoidance gets transformed into “Wisdom” all for the sake of false peace called “Unity.” Tragic.
Pastor, if you find yourself in the middle of revitalization efforts, on in the midst of a church that has systemic problems, go to the root. Lay the foundation. Start at the first statement of your statement of faith. Go to the word. The reason there is resistance to plurality of elders is because “Why they have always done” is more important than what God says. An internal rejection of the authority of the Word is the reason some churches appeal to their church constitution over the Bible. When the authority of the word is rejected the modus operandi becomes “Why seems right to most of us.”
In our situation, God removed us before we were able to buckle up and start decades of work laying the foundation of the authority of the Word. But make no mistake, it is the issue. There is no such thing as a healthy church who holds the Bible as secondary.
Brother pastor I know I am not alone in this. Your story is probably “Worse” than mine. Suffering is a part of this thing. But God is faithful. Maybe you have become bitter. I want to encourage you to look to Christ and fall in love again with Him and WHO he loves, his church. Don’t quit! Don’t quit! Don’t quit! Stay in the fight.
These were lessons I needed to learn. Lessons that will stick with me for a lifetime. As I co-pastor our church now, I am a better man and pastor not because God kept me from those painful trials, but because he walked with me (Us) through them.