As Jim pulled out of the parking lot of the church, he couldn’t shake how different the day had started compared to its ending. He had awoken that Wednesday morning with a sense of energy he always felt when he knew his sermon for Sunday was finished and he was even ahead on working on his sermon for the following Sunday as well. The call from Pete Miller, his Chairman of Deacons to get together for coffee at the newest local downtown brew shop would be a chance to find out for himself the rave reviews he had heard about their version of his favorite caffeinated drink, the Cortado.
When Jim entered the Café, he was surprised but glad to see Glenda Wilkins, the Chairperson of Personnel was at the counter ordering a coffee and it appeared she would be joining the conversation as well. It occurred to Jim that this conversation must be about his upcoming 5-year anniversary and perhaps they wanted to run some ideas past him before meeting with the entire Personnel Team. He had mentioned to Glenda several weeks ago that he was not comfortable with having too much of a focus being put on himself but decided to wait and see what they had in mind before trying to minimize their efforts.
After a round of greetings Jim saw Pete fidget in his chair for a bit before clearing his throat and then saying in an unfamiliar tone, “Jim, we need to talk.”
The next 45 minutes were both the longest and shortest time periods Jim could ever recall experiencing. His mind reeled with the statements that Pete and Glenda made about his ministry at First Church and the impressions and sentiments they expressed as the appointed voices for both the congregation and his staff.
“Unapproachable” Members were complaining they didn’t feel comfortable bringing their concerns directly to him. They expressed earlier attempts resulted in a feeling of being corrected or ignored.
“Unavailable” Members and staff stated Jim was often away from the office and not easily reached when decisions needed to be made or when visits to shut-ins were left undone.
“Unaccountable” The staff in particular felt that Jim was arbitrary in his decision making and favored his own projects over their ministry needs. They saw Jim as drum major of a one-man band and everyone else was expected to march in time with his parade.
“Unconsiderate” Jim knew this wasn’t a word but he was too much a preacher to not alliterate. Church members, church leadership, and again, his “faithful” (Jim was thinking fitful) staff had shared several ongoing encounters where careless and hurtful words had been spoken by Jim that resulted in wounded hearts. They all expressed that they knew Jim was a “kidder” but the sense of the underlying sarcasm outweighed any humorous value.
When Pete and Glenda finished talking, they got up to leave while telling Jim to be ready to meet after the Wednesday activities jointly with the Personnel Committee and the Deacon Leadership to determine a way forward so his future ministry could be ensured at First Church. They also directed him to not return to the church office until after they met that night so he wouldn’t make the staff uncomfortable as they were all aware of the meeting that morning and the one that evening as well. As Pete said, “Perhaps it would be best for Jim to take a day or two to reflect on what he needed to address before making additional contact with his staff.”
When Jim left the downtown area, he found himself driving down one of the many country roads that entwined around the town. His reeling mind ached to find some semblance to the words he had heard versus the life he thought he was experiencing as the pastor of the church. While he could see kernels of truth in many things, they had spoken to him it seemed to be more of a tinker-toy connection of a web of instances instead of an actual reality that was substantive.
He wanted to talk with someone. But who?
Jim knew that if he called his wife Kathy and let her know what had happened that morning she would be devastated. They had just had the staff and their families over to their home a few weeks earlier and nothing seemed amiss. That was part of what was so puzzling and hurtful about this whole thing. Why had no one spoken to him directly?
He knew he needed to talk this out with someone.
Jim’s thoughts drifted back to his seminary days more than a decade ago when he would gather each Tuesday at noon with his friends Brent, Chase, and Doug. All of them were 2 to 3 years into their first pastorate and they would compare notes, share stories, seek counsel, and pray for each other. There was nothing he couldn’t share with those guys and those conversations were a source of strength that had got him through some rough patches in his first pastorate and even was a safe place to hurt when he and Kathy had experienced two miscarriages before the birth of their daughter Sarah and later her brother Samuel.
But that was more than 15 years ago and the circumstances of ministry had caused the drifting away of those close relationships. For a while, Brent and Chase had reached out to him but he found it hard to keep up with them. Eventually, they quit talking altogether though he would get an email on occasion from Chase who now served as a Director of Missions in a neighboring state.
Life had taken its toll with the pressures Jim experienced as he left seminary to go to a new ministry location 1,000 miles away to start a new church followed by his coming to First Church with its prime location, growing population, and his first real fulltime staff to lead. Growth had come and with it the challenge of trying to meet expectations and capture increasing opportunities.
He had a growing ministry with expanding responsibilities in a church that had doubled in attendance since he arrived. But as Jim found himself turning around on a dead-end of a country lane it occurred to him that when he needed a friend the most, he didn’t really have anyone that he was comfortable calling.
Oh, he had people he could call but no one other than his wife Kathy who really knew his heart and could be trusted with the pain that was now deeply lodged within it. More out of desperation than desire Jim sent Chase a text asking Chase to let him know when he could call to talk with him.
Jim was surprised when his phone rang within five minutes of sending the text and a voice from the past said, “hello friend, how are you?”
Suddenly Jim felt like he was back at that table in the seminary cafeteria with a cup of coffee in one hand and his heart in the other. Over the next two hours, Jim poured out his soul to Chase about the meeting in the coffee shop, his hurt, his frustration, and his embarrassment that he had neglected keeping up with their friendship. While Chase shared with Jim many things that would become the foundation of Jim’s resetting his ministry footing at First Church there was one concept he shared with Jim that became foundational in Jim’s personal growth as a pastor and a man God could use more fully.