Joy In The Journey – Part 5 – The Ministry Years

The ministry years: 1987 – 1990

Petersburg Church of Christ

In my senior year of college I opened a new phase of my life, what my college major was all about, serving and working in a church as a youth pastor. I was hired on at my first church, Petersburg Church of Christ in Petersburg, IL. It was a part-time position that I could drive back and forth to while going to school full tilme.

I loved working with youth. I have served on the staff and faculty of 200 different weeks of youth camp. The transition to a paid staff position was not a real easy transition for me, namely because it involved more of an administrative role and I had a contract, responsibilities, and expectations to meet.

While there, I bonded with a couple of families and youth. They were a great help to me and I appreciated their ministry to me tremendously. One family in particular, The Sears family, would become friends of mine for many years to come. They saw my heart and my love for the mission field as well.

I left the church after a year and a half. I was very discouraged in my relationship with the senior minister on staff and especially the leadership of the church. I don’t want to put the burden of the blame on them. I had a lot to learn about working in that kind of environment, but there were men on the board who said several things that hurt both my new wife and myself. It certainly wasn’t worth the $150/week I was getting paid… which they reminded me weekly was more than I was worth.

I did have a good ministry there. I was green. I was there for the youth and their families. To that end, it was successful and I’m grateful for the experience.

South Shores Christian Church

In early 1989, after several months had passed from my time in Petersburg, I accepted the call to move to Decatur, IL to serve in the full time position as youth pastor at South Shores Christian Church.

I became much more intimately involved with the youth of the church and others in the community. Traci and I had been married for less than a year. We were still very green and had much to learn about serving and working in a ministry. But, you can only grow out of greenness by getting some experience.

We grew close with the youth and many of their families. Many of them were becoming our close friends. We led many of them to a deeper relationship in Christ, started several things that had not been done before, and led a team down to Mexico on the church’s first ever mission trip experience.

In the fall of 1990 two things happened – I was ordained into the ministry, and a irreversible event would cut my ministry short.

As a bit of history, my youth minister at my home church in Springfield, IL had come from South Shores Christian Church where I was now serving. Many of the leaders at the church in Decatur were bitter with the leaders at the church in Springfield for “stealing” their youth minister. Nothing could be further from the truth, but sometimes truth is fuzzy. That was 10 years prior to where I was now. The night I was ordained, I wanted the leadership from my home church there as well. I didn’t realize that the leadership of South Shores was still bitter about that, and bitterness tends to grow like cancer when it is unchecked.

That night of my ordination, my home church approached us about taking a mission trip to Italy in the summer of 91. In addition, we were approached by some other men who were there at my ordination about going to Zaire in the summer of 91. Traci and I thought it was pretty exciting. We went to the leadership of the church at South Shores to openly discuss it. I went in to the meeting hoping for an open dialogue and to brainstorm ideas. I didn’t know the negative history between these two churches, and 10 years of bitterness exploded on me that night.

I was blindsided as the leadership told me to leave, cut my strings and go, and that they wished I had never come. I was devastated. I went home that night in shock and shared with my wife what took place. I was hurt, stunned, and left spinning with what to do.

I shared some of these things with a few men I trusted. Ultimately it had to be my decision. After weighing things out, I resigned from the church amidst a lot of puzzled, disturbed, angry, hurt, and tearful goodbyes.

It was now late 1990. Traci and I moved back to Lincoln, IL, in Seminary, in college, and scrambling to find a job.

My Response

It’s been 2 decades since I have served on the staff of a church. There are times when I consider another shot in another setting, but I am not thrilled about returning to the administration and the politics of things. I am just not that kind of person, which I am more than fine with. There are plenty of other ministry opportunities that exist outside of paid staff positions. I am more of a free lancer and not an employee type.

Everyone has regrets. There are things I should have done differently. Two ministries, each about a year and a half. Not very long, yet very full of sharing lives together. Just so you know, I returned to South Shores Christian Church in 1996 and confessed to them some of my hurt, what went wrong, and to heal relationships. That was a good experience.

I don’t have an easy answer for things, but working as a pastor can be very challenging. It takes a lot of grace on everyone’s part. I probably should have finished college and not served at the church in Petersburg… but, then I would have never met the Sears family.

I should have made a minimum commitment of at least 3 years to stay at the church in Decatur. When they hired me, they knew my heart and desire for missions (I had already been to Zaire in 1988), and knew I would some day soon want to return to Zaire. But, there were several misunderstandings that could have easily been avoided had I known the history between my home church and South Shores. They felt that my home church had stolen one pastor away, and ten years later they had come to steal another one away. Their anger that night in my meeting with them was not so much directed at me (as I would learn), but toward my home church in Springfield. I just happened to be the recipient of that anger.

Communication can solve a world of problems. I wasn’t ready to leave the ministry, but I felt I was left in a position (at least at the time) where the best option was to resign. In hindsight… I gave in too easy rather than fighting for what was right. What was right was to communicate my desire to stay, serve, and grow. While there is always blame to share, I carry the lion share of the blame for acting irresponsible and too easily allowed my emotions to dictate major decisions.

The biggest mistake was still ahead of me. I would fail to mature in some areas, and was slow to process what had been happening in my life. Because of this, I was not able to be all I could be for my wife especially, as well as others around me due to hanging onto the hurts and hangups of the past. It was time for Rich to grow up, but in some ways, I would exchange the long term benefits of responsibility for the short-term gains of selfish pursuit.

There IS Joy In The Journey. Even in the midst of pain, hurt, and confusion. It may not be as apparent because joy can be hidden in plain site without the grace and wisdom for your eyes to see.

I am shaped by the ministry years. It is my history. It is my life. It is my joy.

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