Robert’s story

“There is not a churimagesch in America that I would pastor for $5 million. I would manage a Wendy’s before I’d be the senior pastor of a church. I’m a recovering senior pastor, just like a recovering alcoholic. And I’m just not going to take the first drink again. I have zero ambition for the role.”

That is what Pastor Robert (not his real name) told me in a personal interview.

How did this happen?

In the mid-1990s, Pastor Robert was flourishing in his role as an associate pastor of administration. He taught a Sunday School class of 200 people. He was leading several strategic ministry teams and had lots of influence in the church. But, he says, “Something in me itched for the senior pastor role.” So Robert accepted a call to a large, 1200-member church in another state.

Unfortunately, the Pastor Search Committee of this congregation painted a too-rosy picture of the church. In fact they concealed from Robert the church’s firm belief in baptismal succession.

Robert describes his first two years at the church as a “honeymoon.” People were responding to the gospel. The church purchased land for expansion. But then Robert made his first mistake: he invited a guest speaker from a different denomination to preach one Sunday. “Never do that again,” he was told by the church officers. Robert agreed.

But soon Robert made another big mistake: he allowed a couple to join the church who had not, according to fellow leaders, been properly baptized.

Church leaders were incensed.

Robert felt the time had come for a showdown. For too long, unbiblical views of baptism and the Lord’s Supper had been held by power brokers in the church. So Robert called a congregational meeting. He wanted to put it to a vote: Was he correct about the sacraments, or were his fellow church leaders correct?

The day of the congregational meeting, people came out of the woodwork. “It was the blackest Sunday morning of my life,” Robert says. The news media set up cameras outside the church. People who hadn’t attended the church for years showed up to cast their vote. The meeting got out of control. People were shouting at each other. When the votes were counted, Robert’s view prevailed, but by just over 50%.

The church split down the middle. The “losers” left and started a new church. The “winners” stayed, but now the church was half as big as before. The congregation couldn’t sustain their budget. Staff members had to be let go. Robert’s standing in the community had taken a big hit. “Pastor Robert is mean and graceless,” people said.

Robert’s marriage suffered too. He and his wife were hardly speaking. Worse, Robert’s enemies spread rumors about his wife. In Robert’s words, “She was accused of horrible, personal things that couldn’t be true of her–vile things. They said she was visiting ‘unsavory places.'” Someone nailed a dead woodchuck to the front door of their house. “It was a nightmare.”

Fortunately, Robert found his way to another church many miles away where he is now serving as an assistant pastor. But, he says, he’ll never itch for the senior pastor role again. “I love my comparative anonymity. I can go to Wal-Mart in shorts and a T-shirt and nobody knows who I am.”

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