Once upon a time, it was thought that I lied to a church about moving into their parsonage. That is not exactly correct. While I failed to communicate my change of mind, I did not lie. These points and more I accept responsibility. More importantly, I am glad for God’s redemption ability despite challenging church leadership and my poor judgment.
As stated in a previous post, “The Church Parsonage is Not a Benefit,” but many churches believe it is an excellent tool to recruit ministers. In some cases, it still is a significant advantage. More and more pastors though are declining to live in them. Like many in their congregation, they want to build equity for their family’s future, which a provided house does not give. As a result, many churches are choosing to sell their parsonages. However, where I once pastored the expectation was still for the pastor to live in the parsonage.
The conflict over me and their parsonage began when a deacon on the Pulpit Search Committee asked
“Brother Mike, I got a question for you! Are you going to live in our pastorium?!”
On asking his question, there was at least one committee member who interjected against this deacon’s question. His objection centered on the previous pastor who experienced problems when he lived in the home owned by the church. Despite this committee member’s concern, the deacon reiterated with,
“Hey, our former pastor needed to get out. When you resign as the pastor, you need to exit the pastorium sooner than later. Besides, we are better than some churches. I know one church who had the water cut off the next day. We gave the former pastor more time than a day!”
This scenario was a shock to my senses. Not only did I doubt the long-term benefit of living in any parsonage; the committee was admitting their checkered history with their building. Still, I had to give a response, so I said,
“Well…sure I will live in the house.”
The committee seemed glad at my response, but I added,
“Also, it is August; I want to wait until after I finish seminary in December. The stress of moving during my final semester is too much. So, if I move into the parsonage I plan to do so in January.”
After some debate, the committee accepted my response. While they discussed, internally I knew I did not want to live in the house. But, I also knew in ministry sacrifices are made, and this parsonage might be an area where I should submit to serve the Lord. Despite my feelings, both the committee and the church knew I had made a genuine initial commitment to live in the parsonage…in six months.
Though I stated to the entire church that my move-in would not occur for months, many would ask,
“So, have you moved in yet? When are you moving in?”
Softly I would remind them each time,
“I plan to occupy the residence around January after I finish seminary.”
These questions would occur for the entire six months, which gave me time to learn a lot about the congregation. Specifically, I decided: I did not need to move into their parsonage. This decision was based on the discovery of some concerning facts:
- At least 5 pastors had left under tense circumstances.
- Depending on the point of view, the fault laid with either the church or the pastor.
- Deacons had been unfaithful to the church, antagonistic, gossips, and unforgiving of former pastors.
- The church had split when the last pastor left.
- A key family was run off during my first six months.
These facts showed the history of a chronically conflicted church. A congregation who needs a pastor, but one who was far more experienced than I was at the time. Perhaps even now.
Some colleagues, church members, and others would say that if they needed a more mature pastor and since I was feeling hesitant, I should have resigned. True, but I felt a responsibility to stay because my quick resignation would have caused a lot of hurt. Furthermore, my inexperience did not know how to handle the situation well. This fact is best illustrated by my choice never to communicate my new intentions about not moving into their parsonage. Ironically, my poor communication probably caused more hurt than my decision to stay. It was a choice that I never corrected until it was too late.
Around my one-year anniversary, the issue of the parsonage came back up in a major way. Two longtime deacons in the church led a committee to determine if my resignation was needed. For around a month the committee met with me as we had many tense discussions. It was an excruciating time for us all. None of us were perfect during the process. Everyone’s integrity was challenged, and the rest of the church had a variety of opinions. At this point in the story, I could write a lot about the comments, motivations, and tactics of these two longtime leaders in the church. Much of what I would write would be fair, but my primary aim now is to take responsibility for my part. Again, I should have communicated my intentions many months before their inquiry related to the parsonage.
My only criticism of the committee and its leadership is the lack of scripture used to resolve our differences. Often, they would only quote from tradition alone. Many times, I would attempt to steer us back towards scripture. Yes, in their eyes my leadership was void, but as Christians, we should be able to use scripture to bridge our divide. The only instance where division may sustain is when one rejects the Bible for anything, including tradition. Such an approach is sad because the only hope for both the non-Christian and Christian the Gospel. It alone touches and brings unity to the far reaches of our hearts. Scripture reminds us this hope, which both I and the committee needed during this time.
Somehow, I remained as their pastor from my error. Both the congregation and God was gracious by allowing me to recover from my poor ability to communicate my intentions on the parsonage. Still, the damage was done to both the congregation and me. In the months that followed I discovered that I was very hurt from my experiences in ministry; they would reveal one-year later that they had not forgotten my error. Some still considered my poor communication deception; others remained too hurt to care either way and was ready for a new pastor. The latter group’s response is understandable as it is hard for many to overcome some levels of hurt. As for the former group, I want to make clear the following:
- Yes, I did not want to move into the house, but I never intended to lie to the congregation deliberately.
- My views on their parsonage changed when I realized a few historical facts about the church.
- These events made me afraid to move my family into a house that was beyond our control.
- I did not consider how sensitive this subject was to the church.
- My communication was poor as it caused me, my family, and the congregation hurt, which I acknowledge.
- If I had realized my motives, I would have told the committee and church.
- Hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy to judge the past, but takes skill to assess the present.
- My present does not feel ill towards anyone.
- I often pray God’s best for the congregation and its new pastor.
- Most importantly, I pray Christ is glorified, and the Gospel is made known by God’s people at this church.
Finally, God’s redemption would not be complete without a measure of growth. Remember, God, disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6). Here are the lessons God has taught and deepened within me in the years since being their pastor.
- Sin Has Consequences – Fact remains, this church is chronically conflicted. Still, I failed to communicate with the church my intentions about the parsonage. My lack of leadership caused ripple effects that impacted so many things and people within the church. If anything, my indecision amplified their chronic confliction, which makes neither me nor the lay leadership any different. No, at the foot of the cross the ground is level for all sinners. Thankfully, God redeems
- Season of Healing – The church has hired a new pastor and appear to be thriving for the Gospel. Former signs of conflict seem different now as they have been willing to work through some of their prior history. Only the Lord knows, but perhaps our time of conflict made them hungry for a healthy tenure with the new pastor. Time will tell, and if so, Christ alone is solely responsible for such a redemption. Thankfully, God redeems!
- Gospel and Grace – The first year after my near termination broke me. Couple this experience with the fact that I was enrolled in a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education that is designed to break you, and I was raw. Unfortunately, my family was impacted by the pain.
Specifically, during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2013, there was a serious conflict between me and some family members. These members are people I love and cherish as they had been my last place of refuge and identity from a harsh world. Thankfully, being a family, they have forgiven me of the conflict. Together, we continue to work on forgetting the conflict too. From their support, my raw attitude left room to reveal my weakest trait: A phony projection that sought to project a professional image of ministry than who God created me to be. This persona was stripped down to nothing but a sinner who needs the grace of Christ as his only identity. God used this church and season in my life to ready my heart for a deeper understanding of the Gospel than ever before. For a deeper relationship with Him day-by-day.
In the next few weeks, I began to read books on grace and the Gospel. For the first time in my life, I understood that the Christian faith is not man-made legalism. Rather, I learned how to apply God’s grace beyond the salvation experience and into everyday life. Since then, I have made other mistakes, I will make more, but I have grown into the grace of Jesus Christ more each year. The time with this church was painful, but thankfully, God redeems!
- Scripture and Jesus Are Our Unity – Christians are going to have disagreements. This fact is not going to go away, which Christians cannot change. Only Christ can change our conflicts, both now and for eternity. When the issue occurred with the church and myself, I knew two things. First, our values were different on this matter. Second, I had lost credibility in their minds, and the only hope for resolution was unity on scripture and Christ. The Bible and Jesus should have resolved many of our concerns, but it requires both parties to value each. Regardless if one party does not, I have determined to pivot back to scripture, Jesus, and the Gospel for each future conflict. Why? Because thankfully, God redeems!
Perhaps the conflict with them was inevitable due to their history of conflict. Perhaps, not. Either way, I still had the responsibility to handle the use of the parsonage better, which I accept today. Gladly, the Lord has allowed me to talk to the main people about my time as their pastor and the parsonage itself. Some have listened, others have not. For anyone else, I welcome the chance to share in the Lord together anything they wish to discuss. In the meantime, I look back at the time with that church with joy. I see what God did through VBS, baptisms, record Sunday School attendance, Bible reading and more. Though the church and I may not have been the best fit, the most important thing is to rejoice over what God did and is now doing. After all, thankfully, God redeems!