Thursday, August 10, 2017

How I Failed in the Ministry

It took a year for me to go from successful small church pastor to ministerial failure.  Following a successful six year tenure at my first church, I moved my young family eight hours away to where I hoped to build a strong congregation that would reach a community of 100,000.  What I didn’t realize was that I was walking into a pastor trap.  A pastor trap is a church that lures an idealistic minister with the hope of doing great things for the kingdom but instead wears him to a frazzle with their own selfish demands until he either quits or stays long enough to be thrown out due to failure.  I was stubborn enough to stay.

I was an idealistic young minister willing to move my family wherever God called me because I wanted to be part of building His kingdom. So, when a young congregation at a church plant in suburban Parkersburg, I was willing to go.  However, the vibrant young congregation was waiting for a pastor to be called so they could return to the churches they left four years earlier to plant the church.  Consequently, the thriving young church I thought I was elected to became the struggling aging church before I got there.

There needs to be a special place in hell for Christians who practice deceit.  There were people who knew this was going to happen.  The district superintendent knew.  The outgoing pastor knew.  The people who were leaving knew.  What kind of a monster gives lures a young family to a congregation and then leaves them to pick up the pieces?

The stress was almost unbearable.  The forty who remained did not tithe faithfully.  They didn’t attend faithfully, either.  From the moment I arrived, I was visited by people who didn’t like other people in the congregation.  There were complaints about the music.  People boycotted the song service when certain leaders took their turn.  I was accused of not caring for the flock.  People gossipped.  I had to cut my own salary and refinance the mortgage.  The district superintendent accused me of not respecting southern culture when I complained about what happened.

The situation was hard on my wife as well.  She began to emotionally shut down as we struggled financially and as she became aware of the spiritual condition of the individuals of the congregation.

I should have left shortly after arriving, but that isn’t my nature.  Old issues with food addiction returned.  I began to slowly starve myself to maintain a sense of stability and to appear to be in control.  But, I had been wounded.  And I became vulnerable.

And, in that vulnerability, my assistant became my crutch.  She possessed a bachelor’s degree in accounting yet worked part time as the church bookkeeper, secretary, and janitor.  We became emotionally close through the ordeal as she was my defender and my comforter.  A brief emotional affair resulted in my suspension from the ministry and my return to Michigan.

My denomination offered me a rehabilitation program to restore me to ministry.  I had become, in the eyes of my denomination, a minister who failed by sexual immorality.  I accepted responsibility for my actions.  I blamed no one for what had happened because a leader never blames the followers.  But, the fact remains that wounded people do things that people not experiencing pain don’t do.  I wasn’t wounded when I went there.  But, both my spiritual health and my reputation was damaged by the time I left.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Saved from being Saved

I despise unsaved Christians.  Before you judge me for saying this, you should know that I am aware of my inability to examine a person’s heart. And yes, I am confessing a hard heart toward people who adopt Christian morality without having a transformation to Godly character.  God has had to change my heart regarding such people.  Any unsaved person, regardless of what sins entrap them, face an eternity apart from God.  This moves the heart of God as well as those who share his heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, since my heart has hardened for such people, my prayer has been for God to change my heart so that I can pray for them.  And, in so doing, I may pray for myself as well because I was one of them and don’t want to go back to being one.

I pray for an awareness of sinfulness.  Unsaved Christians have an awareness of sins, but not sinfulness.  By this, I mean they are aware of things that are labeled sins such as drinking, smoking, gluttony, etc.  In fact, the goal of their spirituality is to eliminate sins as they become aware of them.  Think of being in a tennis match against the devil.  He lobs a temptation at you, and your job is to swat it away.  The problem is that Jesus never said the goal of sanctification is to avoid committing sins.  Sanctification is about being useful to God.  For me, it took personal failure to make me aware of my sinfulness.  Frankly, I can’t think of any other way to discover it.  I don’t pray for people to fail, but if that is what it takes…

I pray for an awareness of uselessness.  Busyness does not mean usefulness.  Churches fill with people who are busy but not engaged in the process of salvation.  Typically, church growth means people left a church to attend another one.  I pastored churches that increased in attendance because of transfer growth.  But, was I involved in the process of salvation?  Not in a way that seemed meaningful to me.  The lost remained lost.  I was busy, but not productive in my faith.

I pray for new life in Christ.  I have discovered the richness of being a follower of Christ in the world.  I am not God’s gift to the world.  The world has become God’s gift to me.  That is, I have learned to listen and learn from people I would otherwise not associate with.  I have seen “sinners” commit extraordinary acts of compassion.  I have also been given the privilege of serving “sinners” to help them escape poverty and discover new life.  I consider myself blessed because of God’s grace in the midst of my failure.

When the rich young ruler approached Jesus with the question, “I have kept myself from sin, what do I do next?” Jesus answered, “Give up your wealth and follow me.”  The rich young ruler couldn’t do it.  That is the predicament of the unsaved Christian.  We behave well.  We commit ourselves to the church.  However, we don’t have it in us to risk our comfort level to follow Christ.  I know because I have been there.  My contempt for the unsaved Christian reveals my own lack of sanctification.  I pray for God’s forgiveness and for a new heart toward those who are culturally Christian but functionally pagan.  But for God’s grace, there go I.

Friday, July 28, 2017

About me…

I am the oldest son of three children born to the local high school band director in Manistique, Michigan.  Raised in the Catholic church, I was allowed to choose my own church to attend after my parents became born again Christians.  I accepted the invitation of friends to attend the local Assemblies of God church.  That summer, I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit at youth camp and began to dream of a life serving the Lord as an Assemblies of God pastor.

My parents, having become caught up in the prosperity movement of the 1970’s, quit their jobs to pursue lives working with a televangelist.  The pursuit didn’t work out well, resulting in lives of poverty for the family until my parents eventually divorced.  Before I finished college, my mother became terminally ill and I became responsible for raising my youngest brother and for adopting my twelve year old cousin.

I worked as a hotel night auditor during the week and as a radio station disc jockey on the weekends to support myself and the kids. As a family, we were an active part of Hastings Assembly of God where I taught Sunday School and coached Bible Quiz teams.

In February of 1994 I met Barbara Thomas at a Junior Bible Quiz tournament where she served as a tournament coordinator and I was coaching my daughter’s team.  Following the tournament, we started dating and eventually married.  Both Barbara and I planned to devote our lives to working for the Lord. Although she never considered being a pastor’s wife before meeting me, she agreed that was the path the Lord had for us.

Barbara and I married in 1995 and settled in Grass Lake.  I joined Barb’s home church and became active in the choir and in coaching Bible Quiz teams.  Eventually, we would serve as youth leaders and then I would serve as youth/associate pastor after becoming an Assemblies of God certified minister.

From 1998-2011, Barbara and I have raised two sons, and pastored three churches. I have also served on the national Junior Bible Quiz board, coordinated both Junior and Teen Bible Quiz teams for the Michigan District, directed and helped establish Elijah’s camp for training children to minister to children, and served as the summer staff and aquatics director for the FaHoLo Camp and Conference center.

In 2011, I began a career as a sports official that eventually led me to officiate contests in the NCAA division II as well as high school.  I am the crew chief of a high school football officiating crew, the local softball umpire trainer, and the mentor for officials still in high school.  

I also began to substitute teach in 2011.  Beginning in the 2015 school year, I took a position as a math teacher at a local alternative school.  The next year I accepted the position of principal where I continue to serve.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We Need Younger Officials, But Do We Want Them?

We Need Younger Officials, But Do We Want Them?

Assignors and athletic directors know the statistic well, the average age of a sports official is nearly sixty and, if nothing changes, there will be a shortage of officials for the growing number of people participating.  However, there are those who are happy with the current situation and don’t want to see a movement toward recruiting young new officials.  What we have is an acknowledged need for new officials for the good of the sport with a lack of desire to take action now.

Shortages empower officials.  They can accept only the highest paying assignments.  They can’t be compelled to attend meetings or take tests because they know they will still be used.  They don’t need to stay in shape, practice, or stay current on the rules.  They will work and they know it.  I’ve worked high school games with officials who had only a basic knowledge of the game and seldom moved into position to make a call.  Yet, they will still work because we need warm bodies.

Shortages empower assignors.  Coaches and athletic directors may complain about the quality of officiating to the assignor.  The assignor only needs to shrug his shoulders and say, “I told you we are short of officials and that I need you to recruit people in your communities.”  There is no point in firing the assignor because all assignors use the same pool of officials.

Shortages empower coaches.  Every level of sport from 8u softball to collegiate baseball want experienced and knowledgeable officials.  The lack of new officials increases the likelihood of getting an experienced official at a little league game.  I once showed up to a 14u softball game thinking it was a high level travel team contest only to discover it was community rec league and it was being officiated by two collegiate umpires.  The coaches insisted that they needed the highest quality.

Newer officials require training and nurturing.  They make mistakes.  They put pressure on officials to remain fit and competent.  They remove excuses.  They bring down the per game fees.  There is a shortage of officials, but it may be a welcome problem.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Make America Greater by Making the World Better

My Letter to the 45th President of the United States



Mr. President,

Congratulations on your election to the presidency.  Your decision to give up the perks of being a wealthy private citizen and to expose yourself to public scrutiny has earned my respect.  I know very little about you, but if a man can be measured by the character of his children, then I am confident that you are a good man who will work hard to improve the lives of all who call America home.

As I write this, you are preparing to promise to uphold, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States.  I believe you have dreamed of this moment from your youth.  As you take this oath, I whisper a prayer for your success.  

I confess my ignorance about what it takes to be a good president.  The depth of the issues you will face are beyond my ability to offer advice or opinion.  I only ask that you be a good man.  Be a good man and the rest will take care of itself.

You promised to make America Great, Again.  May I suggest that we can do that by making the world better?  We can be great, but we don’t have to do it alone.  Before cancelling treaties or building walls, think about who that will affect beyond our borders.  America won’t be great if it is prosperous at the expense of other peoples because America’s greatness is the manifestation of the idea that all people should breathe free.

Today, you are my president.  You have my best wishes and my earnest prayers.

Be well.


Sean

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thank You, From a Grateful Republican

Mr Obama, I didn’t vote for you in either of your elections.  I don’t share your world view and I don’t agree with many of your policies.  That having been said, I want to thank you for serving our country with grace, character, and dignity.

I am grateful that you didn’t quit sixteen years ago after you lost a local election.  When you were broke and your credit card was being declined.  When the Democratic Party wouldn’t let you into the convention.  Two years later you were speaking at the convention.  Six years later, you were the president.  You persevered.  I admire that.

I am grateful for your service as a community organizer.  I, too, was a community organizer.  In my youth.  In my hometown.  Like you, I stuffed literature bags and knocked on doors.  I made phone calls to get out the vote.  It now occurs to me, that I could become president.  Right now, there is a twenty-something year old doing the grunt work of local politics and dreaming of greater things.  Because of you, he has reason to dream.  That kid might even be black.  He might not know his father.  He might be poor.  But, he has greater reason to hope for great things in his (or her) life.

I am grateful for Michelle, who put healthy eating on the national agenda.  She was blamed because schools chose to serve “yucky” vegetables instead of yummy sugars and starches.  I noticed large amounts of healthy food in school lunchroom trash cans.  But, she made us think about what we are serving our children.  She made us think.  That, in itself, is an accomplishment.

I am grateful for the way you raised your children.  You limited their television time.  You made sure that they were well educated.  You let them have friends and you gave them the space they needed to grow, make mistakes, and discover who they are.  You are the model father and you have earned this father's deep respect.

I am grateful for your faith.  I listened to you talk about coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  You recalled that Rev. Jesse Jackson taught you that politics was temporary but faith is eternal and that you needed to make sure the eternal is taken care of before you focus on politics.  You spoke of being led to the Lord with the sinner’s prayer.  Evangelicals, like me, call that “getting saved.”  In a political culture that looks down upon religious people, that was a brave confession.

I can’t imagine what it is like to tell the family of a serviceman you sent into battle has died.  I don’t know what it is like to endure the feelings of powerlessness after repeated mass shootings in a country where that isn’t supposed to happen.  The pressures, the criticisms, the sleepless nights, and the heartaches must have been crushing.  I am glad you volunteered for the job and not me.  Heck, I wouldn’t want to serve on the school board.

I didn’t have to agree with you to like you.  In fact, I admire you.  Right now, there are people who are working hard at following your example.  I hope they are Republicans.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Thinking about Mike Mazur

He told stories. Many, many stories. He talked about coaches and officials in major college softball programs like they were close friends. I was ambitious and I wanted him to talk about how to get ahead in the craft of collegiate softball officiating. So, he told more stories. When I asked a question I got a story. Often, multiple stories.

 In my relationship with Mike, I mostly listened. I knew that on our ride to a basketball game I would be listening to his stories for an hour to the game and back. Non-stop.

 He would tell the stories as we worked softball. He told them when we worked volleyball. He told them while we worked basketball. He would call me on the phone and spend more than an hour sharing stories. He packed my head full of stories.

 I thought he might answer a question I had by text, if I texted him the question. No such luck. My phone would ring. More stories.

In never answering my question directly, he answered my question. My question was, “What is the one thing that causes umpires to move up?”

 The answer is in the stories. He loved the game. He was willing to travel to the games, camps, and clinics. He loved working games. He was wowed by the talent and athleticism of the athletes. He loved his colleagues.

 Yes, the money is much better in major college sports, but after travel costs, time away from work and family, and other costs are considered, working at that level isn't comparatively lucrative. Unless you treasure the game. And the people.

 And when you love something, you talk about it. When you love people, you talk about them. You tell stories. The answer was the stories.

 I wish I had one more day to thank him.