The church had ground up five pastors in ten years. During my interview to be their next pastor, the board blamed the turnover on the resigning pastors. I didn't entirely believe them, but still I agreed to be their next victim, ahem, I mean, lead pastor. Perhaps I was engrossed in some sort of ministerial hallucination, but I really thought I was the one who could fix this church.
My bubble soon popped.
Four weeks into my ministry there, I realized this church had more factions than the Corinthian church of the first century! There was a group for the preschool and a group against it. There was the camp that wanted guitar-led singing and the one that was for piano-led music. Some wanted to keep children in the congregational worship service but others didn't want any minors in the sanctuary. Ever.
Several mid-lifers insisted I spend more time caring for seniors in the church while those seniors challenged me to spend more time reaching out to the unchurched in our community. There were the "small groups are from the devil" and the "if you love Jesus you'll join a small group" factions. As you may have guessed, every one of these special interest groups had its spokesperson. Most of these lobbyists arranged to meet with me during my first three months at the church. They meant well, I'm sure, but didn't want me to think well of the people in the opposing camp.
At first I tried my best to hear and love people on all sides. I strove not to pick sides and sought to reconcile people in conflict. But the in-fighting continued.
Eventually I discovered what I'd suspected all along. The pastoral turnover that preceded me was attributable, at least in part, to unhealthy patterns in the church. I also learned that the only way for a pastor to thrive in an unhealthy church is for the pastor to be extremely healthy. An unhealthy pastor only exacerbates sickness in a sick church.
This church exposed an inescapable reality I did not want to face—I was an unhealthy pastor.
After two years there (the average tenure for the past five pastors), I was a wreck. I was physically unhealthy. I'd gained nearly 20 pounds. I would come home late at night after a typically turbulent meeting and eat an entire pizza. During the food fest, I'd watch low budget "good guy gets revenge on the bad guy" movies. The church board was the bad guy; I, of course, was the good guy. Conflict required meetings, and meetings require time. Something had to come off of my full plate. It should have been late night pizza, but I scraped off exercise instead. Unhealthy patterns of sleep, diet, and exercise dissipated my social, creative, and mental energy. I was a well that had run dry.
Physical health is intimately interwoven with emotional and relational well-being. My emotions were all over the map, but mostly in the Southern hemisphere. I would get charged up for Sunday services, especially if we anticipated a higher than normal attendance, but I was a dead battery the rest of the week. The "D"mons were all over me: I was deflated, depressed, discouraged, disappointed, and disheartened. I felt as if I could fly off the handle at any moment. As I zoned out during church meetings, I imagined myself standing and throwing my office key at cantankerous members. Why don't you try pastoring this church, you little … as I imagined it, I said it with Schwarzenegger swagger.