Attending a Local Church is Hard for a Former Pastor

Attending a Local Church is Hard for a Former Pastor April 8, 2022

I was fired in 2018 from the church that I was serving at for alcohol abuse. In a myriad of roles at the church, from Executive Pastor, Church Planter, Youth Pastor, and Campus Pastor, I spanned the continuum of church experience. During those experiences though, I dealt with deep pain. Each church made a different mark on me. From abuse in leadership to personal attacks from good friends to abandonment in leadership decisions, I still experience what counselors have told me are signs of PTSD from these experiences.

I got out. The only vocation that I had ever had and the training that I had worked so hard to achieve was all for nothing, as I will never work again in a local church. With a wife and three kids, we began our quest to find a church to just attend. We want to show up on a Sunday morning and enjoy attending a church like any other church attending person in the United States. However, this has proven more difficult than we thought it would be, for a host of reasons. I’ll try to outline 3 reasons why it is hard to be involved in a church when you have led at one, from my personal perspective.

1. I assume that behind the scenes, things are not as great as what is portrayed.

This probably comes from my deep distrust that I have fostered from being a part of dysfunctional churches. Each week, the morning service is held and we celebrated all of the good things that we were doing as a church. And then each week, we would have meetings and wade through all of the garbage that each church is bound to deal with at some level. The personality intricacies and complexities that were a part of each meeting were sometimes hostile. The nature of the issues that we were trying to tackle were highly emotional or stressful. Differences in opinions and the inability to hear another perspective, seemed to dominate discussions. At the end of a shady week of meetings, we would still gather and put our best foot forward for the people in the pews to see, so that no one would know exactly what was happening behind closed doors.

The picture that was painted was often much better than the actual chunk of paint that was splattered on the canvas. Because I experienced this personally, it is really hard to take the communication from the church stage at face value. I find myself questioning motives, deeply wondering whether values behind a decision are actually true and righteous, and project my own experience into each communication. This makes it very difficult to listen with openness and hope.

In the first church that I worked at, as an illustration, we were working hard to plant churches. We had planted 4 in 3 year and were about to embark on planting a 5th. Each week, we wanted to highlight one of the church plants that were working hard to get started in our city, so we had a highlight in the service regarding church planting. The church planter was able to get on the stage and share their wins for the week. They would share about how many people came to faith, or how many folks came to the service. They might share an anecdotal story of someone with life change from a message or a personal interaction with the planter. But I knew. I knew that 2/3 of these guys that were planting churches were absolutely failing at one of the hardest jobs in the church world. They told me different stories throughout the weeks. Stories of heartbreak and pain. Things were not as great as what was portrayed from the stage.

 

2. The lack of authenticity is disturbing.

Guilty of the same thing. I did it for years. Get up and smile from the stage, share the announcements, and get off. The lack of authenticity is clear and apparent in the churches that we have attended. And I can sense it better now, then I have ever been able to. Alcoholics Anonymous heightened my awareness of this issue as the people that were attending were there for one reason, to stay sober. They share deeply, from their heart, regarding the good, the bad and the ugly. The churches that we have attended could learn some things from this. Is it possible that if churches were to be authentic from the stage, there would be more people getting help with the addiction and troubling issues in their life? Would people respond different if there was real and honest conversation from the stage?

As an example, during my second church experience, the church ran out of money. Some of this was on me. I didn’t manage the church’s financial situation well as we were trying to pay on a building and do upgrades on the building at the same time. I was the one that was ‘laid off.’ On the stage the week after I was laid off, there was very little mention of what had happened or the dire situation that the church was in. It was ‘business as usual’ even though the entire thing was imploding.

I wish that I could go back and be totally honest with people from the stage at the times in my life where things were hard. I wonder if this would have actually helped people, instead of helping them live isolated and insulated lives free from other’s issues. I wonder if this would have let the church be the church more clearly and help each other when circumstances were bleak.

 

3. Arrogance

I’m prideful. It’s one of my human tendencies and moral failings. I think that I could do it better. And this rings true in many aspects of my life. I’m not proud of being proud because it is a character defect, but this is honestly the thing that causes me to have the most trouble going to church. I think I could do it better.

It’s in these moments I have to remember that I could NOT do it better, for if I had been able to, I would still be doing it. Each week that I attend church, I am reminded of the humble place that I find myself in.

 

And for that, I’m grateful.

 


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