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.