Mr. Swank is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, Walpole, Massachusetts.

What to do when your cathedral isn’t crystal.

He faced me and tried to talk. She faced my wife and tried to talk. The tears said more than the words.

Husband and wife, pastoring a struggling congregation, they had come for a visit, souls dry and nerves tight. How could they trim one more dollar from the family budget? What would happen if another couple left the tiny congregation? Why didn’t the establishment even seem concerned about their ministry?

This was not their first church, simply the latest in a string of small, struggling congregations. Their fading self-esteem left them wondering if their lives had been wasted.

Another fellow, in his first pastorate, arrived from out of state. He is married with several children, and his family is a third of the congregation. An average of 15 attend morning worship.

God knows he has tried. For five years he has worked a second job to permit him to pastor this congregation. The facilities are not attractive. And he inherited a church with troubles that date back many years. Each previous minister left broken.

He was keyed up, ready to snap.

“They blame me for the church not growing,” he said. “They say I’m lazy—that I don’t care. They say I don’t have charisma. Even colleagues—those I look to for help with this burden—hint that I need more magnetism. I don’t know if I can take one more put-down.”

I knew he wasn’t lazy. If anything, he was a bit too aggressive. Yet he was in death valley, and it wasn’t working.

We talked. We walked. We prayed. We cried some and then laughed. Then we parted. For what? More times than not, for another round of the same.

I returned from a gathering of clergy where we were to report on ...

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