Jim* was contacted to apply for a position as Youth Director at a medium-size church in the Midwest. He and Mary,* his wife, were excited. They were moving out in ministry. Jim had been praying for more opportunity to reach into the community with the Gospel.
The position appeared to be a God-given break.
This is their story.
At the same time one committee was hiring Jim, another committee at the church was hiring the new pastor, Carl. A lot of change for the church. Jim had a vision for the ministry and was ready to tackle the new position with gusto.
He looked forward to working with the pastor who came on a month after he did. Jim believed he could get along with anyone, particularly, he told himself, someone “who was a spiritual leader.”
But it was not long for the trouble to begin.
The church was realing from the moral failure of its former pastor.
But they were moving forward. The pastoral search committee was headed up by a strong leader, and his vision for a pastor who would lead and teach with authority held sway over the other members.
He wanted a pastor that would “command authority.” A sort of “CEO style” of leadership, Jim said.
Jim shared that the initial conversations with the pastor were a little “awkward.” Jim “expressed enthusiasm,” but did not get much “positive feedback” from Pastor Carl.
After a short time, Jim suggested instituting weekly staff meetings, something that had been very helpful to him for planning in the church he had recently served. It was welcomed by the staff, but he noticed that when they talked about the youth ministry and any difficulties he was having Pastor Carl was taking copious notes.
Approximately five months later, the personnel committee called Jim to a special meeting. He figured it was a “job evaluation” kind of meeting. Everyone on the committee was upbeat when Jim arrived except the chairman…the same chairman from the pastoral search committee.
When the meeting began the chairman opened a file folder of notes that the pastor had taken during the staff meetings.
He began to systematically go through the notes and one-by-one turn it into an “indictment of [Jim’s] character.“
After the meeting several of the members came up to Jim and said, “I don’t know what that was about. I think you are doing a good job. I am going to find out what is going on.”
It seemed to end there however. Nothing more was said and ministry went on.
They Will Come
There was a new facility for the youth that was not really being used.
It kind of a harkened back to the “if you build it they will come” idea. One of the church leaders asked him cynically early on, “Will we ever fill this place?”
Jim looked forward to the day they would fill it with youth and began reaching into the Native American community that had been largely ignored in the past by the church. After three years of faithful ministry, God was beginning to fill the building. They had gone from just a few teens attending mid-week youth meetings to over 100, many of whom were from the Native community.
But of course, every cloud with a silver lining also dumps a boatload of rain.
In the midst of this excitement, Jim was driving home one night from a youth meeting and received a call to come back to the church for a meeting. He still had his basketball clothes on and was sweaty. When he arrived it was evident to him that the meeting had been planned for sometime, though he was not told until he would have no choice but to walk in late.
In attendance were Pastor Carl and a few Deacons who were favorable to the pastor’s views. The pastor proceeded to make statement after statement that implied Jim was doing a poor job and that “nobody liked” what he was doing.
The youth leaders were “very upset so they banded together in a Wednesday night prayer meeting and brought it to the surface. They didn’t understand why there was relational conflict.” Jim said, “People would come up and ask ‘why do you have such a hard time with the pastor.’ Like I had a personal grievence with the pastor.”
Jim was careful not to be derogatory in any way in response and following the prayer meeting things calmed down for a season.
As summer approached, Jim wanted to take a mission trip with the students.
He was thinking a sports camp or VBS. He proposed the idea to Pastor Carl and, to Jim’s surprise, the pastor said it would be acceptable.
Jim had heard of a Colorado church planter looking for a sports camp. He made contact and began arranging for his students to lead the camp. However, soon after Jim began planning, the pastor organized a trip with the church planter for an adult group from the church. It appeared to Jim “it was an ego thing. Like he needed to have a trip if I was.”
Before Jim left on the mission trip, Pastor Carl called him to his office and told him he did not feel Jim was responsible or qualified enough to lead the trip and so he “was going to appoint a chaperone.” Jim knew the man chosen and had a good relationship with him, but would not have appointed him because he had alcohol and abuse issues.
Jim said, “[The chaperone] would often talk about his anger issues…he was jailed as a minor for beating someone almost to death. Kind of proud that it didn’t show up in his criminal record because he was a minor.” Jim also noted he made girls feel uncomfortable to be with him. “On the trip he made lots of comments about women’s bodies and what he liked,” Jim explained.
Used Against Him
It seemed to be a common tactic of Pastor Carl to use things against Jim that would never have been considered negative in the first place or were of little consequence.
On the mission trip, Jim drove the entire trip to Colorado because the chaperone had bragged about his “dangerous driving.” Later the pastor suggested Jim was being dangerous by not allowing the chaperone to help drive the long trip.
After the prayer meeting ordeal one of the leaders suggested that Jim and Pastor Carl go through mediation. The denominational leadership suggested they go through individual counseling first.
So, Jim made arrangements for counseling figuring the pastor would as well. He said, “After a couple visits, the counselor said I don’t know why you need to be here.” Jim fulfilled his commitment and then found out the pastor did not attend any counseling.
But later Pastor Carl said Jim had psychological issues because he had gone to counseling.
The pastor also used people against Jim and Mary.
After Jim had left the church, the chaperone of the mission trip came to him and apologized. He said he was glad to have a friendship with Jim. Apparently, Pastor Carl had asked the chaperone lots of questions about Jim after the trip, but the chaperone had nothing bad to say about Jim’s leadership.
The chaperone felt badly that the pastor had used him.
A new woman began coming to the church and applied to be a nursery worker. Jim and Mary got to know her and enjoyed her friendship. She asked if she could help with Jim and Mary’s kids. One night she babysat for them and when Jim and Mary returned from their date she stuck around talking with them. She asked them many questions about their “thoughts on the pastor.” They said very little.
They realized later she was being used by him to determine if they were against Pastor Carl.
Another couple offered to watch their kids and later were “bad-mouthing” Jim’s ministry behind his back despite their sweetness to Jim and Mary.
* Not their real names.