Sam squeezed me in a bear hug. "I love you, Pastor," he said. I was embarrassed by this little lovefest in front of worship attenders after the morning service, but I was relieved to know where Sam stood. Sam (names throughout are changed) was one of the pillars of the church, a retired professor, an adult Sunday school teacher, and the church pianist. He was also friends with two founding elders who had recently left the church, beginning a painful church split.
A few weeks later I received a letter from Sam informing me that he, too, was leaving the church. In a follow-up phone call, Sam said he thought I was an "infidel" who was "ruthless in pursuing my agenda for the church." Sam hung up on me. While his ministry in our little church would be sorely missed, the most painful aspect of his departure was that Sam had made me the reason.
I never imagined it would come to this! I had been called as the solo pastor of a small, declining urban church in the Southwest. The people seemed friendly ...1