Thursday, May 19, 2005

How In The Heck Did I End Up Here? (part one)

This is part of the stuff I wrote to Nancy & the Search Team at NewLife (then called Easton Southern Baptist) back in the spring of 2003. It does a really nice job of telling the story of my ministry... yes, I've edited it a bit.

After graduating from seminary in December of 1989, I worked for a few months at Dillard's (selling men's underwear) before being called to serve as the minister of youth at First Baptist Church (Fordyce,Arkansas). We were there from April 1990 - February 1992. (In the middle of all that, I managed to end up married! Shari and I were engaged in January of 1990 and got married in June.)

The first year at Fordyce was amazing - God moved in some pretty neat ways, as I had the opportunity to help rebuild a youth ministry that had struggled under a previous youth pastor. 

But by the time our first wedding anniversary rolled around in June of 1991, the storm clouds were brewing. The parents who made up the youth committee were primarily interested in:
  1. a good safe social place for their kids
  2. having lots of kids come to their church
You'll notice that "having kids deepen in their faith" wasn't on the list. The result of this conflict in ministry visions became insidious... I had parent volunteers contradicting my directions to kids on trips (Mark on a canoe trip: "Put your life jacket on, please"; Parent: "You don't need a life jacket." Sigh.)

While Shari & I were on a one-night first anniversary vacation, the Youth & Personnel Commitees met to discuss my "situation". What resulted was a 3 page set of instructions that were loaded with false accusations and unreasonable demands. (A decision to keep a 14 yr old girl from flirting with a 20 yr old drunk was construed as "restricting evangelistic opportunities." Hmmm.) 

We decided to begin seeking another church, while continuing to minister there at Fordyce. God encouraged us in so many ways (I developed a love for Philippians 2 during this time that has never really abated) while the situation at the church continued to deteriorate. My pastor did little to help, as he was under attack from the negative/controlling group himself.

We sent out nearly 100 resumes - with NO response. I've joked before that seeking a ministry position by sending out resumes can be like throwing paper down a black hole, but this really WAS like throwing paper down a black hole. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. We began to doubt that we were even listening to God correctly. Were we supposed to stay and tough it out?

Early in October of 1991, we sat together one morning and prayed that God would show us if we'd messed up. That day, I found out that I (and the rest of the staff) were being called into "special" individual meetings with the Personnel Committee that night.And I got fired. Well, not really - they "ended the youth ministry position" effective the end of December, which essentially meant they were firing me without firing me. The reasons were murky and the meeting odd, but Shari & I took it as confirmation of what we'd prayed.

Then, in a show of what deacons SHOULD look like, the deacons got involved. A series of meetings ensued in which all of the staff and the committees involved were grilled by the deacon body - and the lameness of the accusations against me exposed. My position was reinstated by the deacons and I was finally given the choice of what I wanted to do.

We chose to resign at the end of February. The 'hidden' conflicts had done terrific damage to the youth ministry and my personal effectiveness... even though the majority of the congregation has no idea what was going on.

Three months to the day from my resignation, I went on staff at Dalewood Baptist Church in Nashville, TN, as the minister of youth. (One of the ladies in the congregation in Fordyce had let us know that she wanted us to get every penny of the severance package - and Arlie Ruth was a major prayer warrior. My first day in Nashville was the last day of severance. Two weeks later, Arlie Ruth went home to be with Jesus. I'm still thankful for her encouragement and her prayers.)

To be continued...

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