“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps”
~Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
“Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The rock beneath”
~John Greenleaf Whittier
Several weeks ago I was hanging out with a couple of friends. We were talking about the job market when one of them made an interesting remark: “At least you have job security. You’re a pastor.” How I only wish that were true…
On Monday night the news was made official to our congregation: due to budget cuts at the church, I, along with two other staff workers, are being let go from serving at Trinity. There is no longer a pastoral position for me for the coming year. In the short time since the announcement was made I’ve already received a number of emails and condolences. Others have expressed anger and disappointment at the circumstances that have led to the present.
So how do we handle something like this? What is the proper response when the times require us to make difficult choices? As I’ve reflected on this, a couple of things have come to mind.
A Grateful Heart
First, I am grateful. Too many pastors and church leaders leave their ministries because of personal moral failings or bitter infighting within their congregations. For me, neither is true. I leave this post with my family in one piece, my integrity intact, and the love and support of my church community. If I have to leave a pastoral position, this is how I would prefer it to be. As such, I am grateful to God.
An Invitation to Self-Reflection
Second, I think this is a great opportunity for our congregation to do some soul-searching. While it is true that our church is finally being affected by the tough financial times, the reality is that the reason we have had to make these cuts is because the level of giving over the past several months has varied drastically, with some months being marginally in the black only to be followed by others deeply in the red. Our lead pastor has commented that he has never seen giving trends like these in all of his years in ministry.
As such I believe that our present situation is an invitation for further reflection as to the reasons why we are in the circumstances we are in. This is an opportunity for us to ask questions and foster healthy dialogue around them. I offer up the following questions as a guide for us in these times:
- How comfortable are we, as a church, when it comes to talking about finances and tithing? What are our hang-ups and how can we grow past them?
- In what ways can we better equip and support men and women to be good stewards of the resources God has given them?
- What does it look like for us, as a church, to model generosity, not only as individuals, but also as a congregation?
- For those of us in leadership: How might we better teach, celebrate, and model a lifestyle of extravagant generosity and sacrificial giving?
In all of this, I believe we are being invited by God to truly trust in him as our Provider. Furthermore, he is reminding us that we, as his image bearers, are called to be generous with what he has given us. As the Scriptures say, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it'” (Malachi 3:10).
A Call to Unity
Nevertheless, I am aware of how painful going through this process has been and will continue to be. It is not easy being told that you are losing your job. Furthermore, as a community, what happens to those of us on staff affects the rest of the church. Not only have I been wrestling with my own pains and frustrations, but I’ve also heard how upset many people in the congregation are about the news, how decisions were made, and how everything is being communicated.
So how do we deal with these emotions? The other day I spent some extended time praying and reading Scripture. It was my way of clearing my head and seeking guidance from God. As I was reading, I came across this beautiful section in Ephesians:
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
Note what Paul says: anger is not bad, but allowing it to fester breaks unity. As such, he encourages us to share our hurts and frustrations openly, honestly, and directly with those with whom we are upset. Such an attitude is God-pleasing because it offers us an opportunity to extend and receive forgiveness with each other. In doing so we reflect the forgiving nature of our Father in heaven. Furthermore, such honest discussion actually builds unity rather than breaking it, for it reminds us that we are all one body and, as such, are called to work and live together in harmony.
When we do this, we prevent the devil from getting a foothold. Difficult times like these are ones that the devil loves to prey upon, for he knows he can sow the seeds of discord and strife. Paul’s exhortation: don’t let him. As difficult as these times are, we must not allow the unity of the church to be broken. Rather, we must learn to interact with each other as family in God’s household, extending love and grace to one another even as we disagree. Even as we fight.
My hope is that this season will only strengthen Trinity further as we learn to work through these difficult times together; asking for and extending forgiveness to one another. And I pray that the God of forgiveness and love would receive glory through this difficult chapter in our church’s life.
Where Will You Go From Here?
In closing I wanted to answer some basic questions. Many people have asked me what my family and I will do as we move forward from here. At present, there are two options before us:
- We can stay in the area. My wife has been interviewing for different foreign language teaching jobs. If she were to go back to work full-time, I would probably go to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School full-time to finish up my Masters of Divinity there. If we were to take this option, though, it would probably mean that I would not be able to be ordained in the LCMS as recent developments have prevented pastors who’ve received their education at non-Lutheran institutions from becoming ordained in our denomination. As such, we would eventually need to leave Trinity Lutheran if I want to continue to pursue my pastoral calling.
- We can go to St. Louis. Trinity Lutheran has generously offered to help me cover the costs of my Masters of Divinity program if I were to transfer down to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. If we were to take this route Trinity has offered to bring me back to Lisle to do my vicarage with the goal of eventually bringing me back on staff as an ordained Lutheran pastor. This route would, in total, take us 3 years (education+vicarage), but it would ensure that I get to stay in the LCMS as a pastor and continue to pursue my calling there.
There are several other scenarios on the table as well as some other job offers which have been coming in (thank you for those, by the way). We are considering all of them. What I would ask, though, is that you pray for us to have wisdom as we discern what our next step is. I believe God knows where he wants to send us and my prayer is that Jenny and I would have open hearts and minds to hear him when he makes that calling known.
One other question that I have received is, “What can we do to help?” Here are a couple of things that you can do:
- Continue to pray, not just for us, but for Trinity, that we would come through this a stronger church than before.
- Pray also for the other staff who have been affected by these changes. They will need your help and support in the coming months.
- Come to the Voter’s Meeting on June 17th and be a part of the discussion. This is a great chance to hear about our new strategic plan as well as to get accurate information about the budget changes. You can get more details in the weeks ahead by visiting our website at www.tlc4u.org.
- Hang out with us. More than anything we just want to spend time with our friends at Trinity. We’ve deeply appreciated the love and support we’ve gotten from so many people throughout this process and for that I am truly grateful.
- Be involved in the life of the church. More than anything we need each other if we are going to continue to pursue the mission that God has given us.
In all of this, I just want to say thank you to everyone throughout this whole process. You have been amazing and my wife and I appreciate all of the love and support you have been pouring out on us. I’ll continue to post updates here on my blog as we continue to figure out our next steps. Until then, I close this post with the words of Paul from Ephesians: “Peace and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Ephesians 6:23-24).