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Leaders

A PAINFUL PASTORAL RESIGNATION

 

As I think back to that night in March, it still seems like a bad dream. I felt like I was announcing our divorce after 10 years of what I believed was a happy marriage.  

 

How did we ever get to that place in our relationship?  

 

But there I sat with my fellow leaders and I advised them that, given the continuing relational tension in our team brought on by different & conflicting ways of resolving issues, I could no longer continue in my role as Senior Pastor. I uttered the word "resignation".As I heard that word come out of my mouth, I knew in that moment that I had set in motion a process that would completely change the course of the remainder of life for my wife and myself. 

 

That decision was also to prove very significant in the relational life of my fellow leaders and our Church a Church which we all loved. Yet my statement of resignation was anything but a hasty or impulsive decision. It came about after considerable anguish of heart and struggle of mind over many months.

 

 How did we ever get to that place in our relationship?  

 

After 33 years as a Pastor in 5 different churches, I was now committed to move out of pastoral ministry into an unknown future. The decision to withdraw from leadership within our current Church was, in retrospect, conceived and birthed after a long period of gestation that was marked mostly by confusion, tension, disappointment and uncertainty yet interspersed with some short-lived periods of hope. But finally and painfully I came to the realisation that I needed to resign to break up the relational and functional "log jam" that had developed within our Leadership Team.  

 

How did we ever get to that place in our relationship?  

 

I have asked that question more times than I can count. You see, what happened for us as a Church was a total aberration. Our Church had a significant history of unity, love and fellowship. Of course, we had the usual dynamics that come with the differences that rightfully exist among any group of people who seek to live and minister together. But none of those differences were of a kind that might vaguely anticipate what had transpired in the last year or two of our ministry. Recent events had left a lot of people hurting and struggling to a degree unknown in our living memory. An aberration? Indeed.  

 

How did we ever get to that place in our relationship?  

 

I concluded as Senior Pastor in the Church after 10 years in that role. I was sad. I was grieving. I still don't have a complete sense of all that has happened. When my wife and I first came to the Church, we came with such a clear dream. Such a clear vision for the future. And for most of those 10 years we saw the dream unfold so encouragingly. But in the last 12-18 months the dream had unravelled and had become more of a nightmare. I still remember having moments when I wondered if I would wake up and find true reality. But the true reality is that the vision had become an arena of confusion and tension.  

 

How did we ever get to that place in our relationship?  

 

Having posed the question, I need to confess that I cannot adequately answer it. To do so would require me to make value judgements on other people and their motives that are inappropriate in this context. But it is also too premature in the evaluation process. So what follows is not an answer to that question; rather, it is more of a series of incomplete reflections. Incomplete because the process of evaluation and learning is itself incomplete.      

 

So, why do I write in this way at this time?  Because there may be some of what follows that connects with you in your situation. You may relate to some aspect in a way that casts some light on your current circumstances. I've been around long enough to know that many pastors go through seasons where resignation looks like a very appealing option.   But there is another- and maybe more selfish - reason. I will find it is a helpful discipline & therapy for me to share this with you. So please let me tell you what is helping in the recovery process and some of the lessons that are emerging.  

 

Together with each of the other members of what is now our former Leadership Team, I made a public statement to our Church family in which I have acknowledged the impact all this had upon my wife and myself.   I also owned a number of what I believe were bad decisions and errors of judgement I made that contributed to the pain and heartache of the whole body.  

 

I apologised to the Church because of my failure to bring our leadership struggles to their attention much earlier than was the case. It would have saved the Church much of this pain had I insisted earlier that we, as a Leadership Team, acknowledge to the Church that we had become dysfunctional and needed the Church, at that stage, to appoint a new Team. However, it was my desire to protect the leadership team and to keep working to privately resolve our dysfunctionality that, in fact, had the very opposite effect and caused all the Team members great pain and heartache.  

 

I also apologised to the Church and to the members of the former leadership team for my lack of adequate pastoral leadership at a time when it was most needed. The Church had always shown great trust in me but this time I failed to adequately honour that trust and, as a result, many of them were deeply hurt. Again, my desire to share leadership with others led to decisions and actions that confused the leadership dynamics within the Team and, subsequently, within the Church.   What am I learning through all that has happened?  

 

[1] THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE   The first lesson is the powerful reminder that we, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are engaged in a spiritual battle with evil and malevolent forces that are irrevocably committed to destroy the image of God within us and the work of God through us. While we ought not to give them more credit than they deserve, we should not under-estimate the forces arrayed against us and their capacity to wreak havoc wherever they are given a foothold. I have always known this truth. I know it more now than ever.  

 

[2] THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD   The second lesson comes out of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. This story has been the vehicle that God has used to remind me that, even when human relationships break down and people speak and act in ways that are anything but God-honouring, His purposes will not be denied in the final outcome. So many hurtful events happened in the life of Joseph. They were of a kind that, if they happened to us, would cause most of us to - at best - question the wisdom of God or at worst cause us to despair of the fact that God was in ultimate control.   Through the many dark and seemingly unjust circumstances, Joseph became absolutely convinced about the sovereignty of God. Those amazing words of Genesis 50/20 gather into one statement his conviction, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives".  

 

[3] MONITORING RELATIONSHIPS   The third lesson is the critical importance of constantly and carefully monitoring relationships, perspectives & motivation among leaders. What engulfed our whole Church Family, began within the leadership and, for a long time, stayed within that group. But the truth is that what effects the leadership will inevitably impact the body of believers sooner or later.   Apart from a brief acknowledgment to our Church at one point that we had some areas of struggle as a leadership team, my public statement of resignation was the first indication just how deep that struggle had become. In a relatively short space of time, all the members of the former leadership team have resigned pastors included.  

 

[4] A CONTINUING REVIEW PROCESS   The fourth lesson is the vital importance that leaders (and pastors especially) be willingly subject to a regular, objective review of relational, theological & ministry perspectives thus ensuring common goals and the means of achieving those goals. Differences of personalities and spiritual gifts can be (and should be) a great strength in a team ministry. But those same differences have an equal & corresponding capacity to generate division in the Team and to undermine effective leadership.   No doubt there will be other lessons that will emerge as time passes and more objective reflection can take place.  

 

Despite what has happened (or maybe, in some ways, because of it), the Church is being healed and showing signs of moving on into a new future. I have great confidence that the Church will break through to a new level of effective ministry that it has not known before.   In the meantime, I offer the above reflections on our still incomplete journey with the prayer that there may be something here that will help others avoid the pain and heartache that we endured during that season.  
     

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