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The Day the Lord Crushed and Disappointed Me

May 15, 2014

My years as a youth pastor seemed to be coming to a close, and my wife Jill and I had been praying for a new ministry, specifically out West.

Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada … it didn’t matter  – we didn’t have a preference one way or the other, as long as we were heading past the Mississippi in the direction of the Pacific Ocean.  Both Jill and I had each spent time living out West, and it seemed plain to us that this is where Jesus would now have us serve.

And lo and behold, we received a call from a church in San Jose.

1bbbWe were thrilled.  I was hopeful, excited, and energized.  San Jose, California!  What a great place to have a ministry!  It was like the situation fell right in our lap, and that had to make it a straightforward decision, wouldn’t it?

God, You are so good.

The leadership at the San Jose church had seen their pastor retire and were looking for a new pastor; would I consider candidating for the position?  I immediately made plans to meet them, and I was put in contact with the head of their Search Committee.  Richard, a church deacon, explained to me that this was to be a careful operation.  “There are three steps to this process, ” he said, “and we want to move very slowly. The first will be a vote by the Search Committee – there are nine of them.  Then the eighteen deacons will interview you and bring it to a vote.  That will then pass the voting process to the whole congregation of six hundred.  So you see, Brad, we don’t want to just jump in and get a new pastor without careful examination and prayer.”

I was okay with the process.  I was ecstatic with the invitation.

Thank You, Lord.

The process was begun by a series of phone interviews.  There were conference calls where I would talk with some leaders, a few deacons, or occasionally the whole Search Committee.  Through these multiple phone conversations I gave them information about my background, my salvation experience, and my ministry achievements.  It was tiring.  Richard was positive.  “The Committee likes what they are seeing and hearing on the phone,” he assured me.  “They’re taking copious notes. I know the process has been going on for weeks, but the Search Committee should have an answer soon.”

Weeks went by.  Still more phone calls and requests for written material.  After two long months of interviews, I received the word from Richard.  “The search Committee passed you by a unanimous vote.  You’re moving on to the Deacon Board.”  Jill and I rejoiced and thanked the Lord.

The San Jose church deacons began an onslaught of interviews.

What did I think of missionary work in foreign fields?

Had I ever lived in California; did I know what life in the West was like?

What were my views on Calvinism?

What passages could I give concerning the plan of salvation?

On and on went the phone calls.  Weeks upon weeks of interviews.  Month after month.  “Be patient,” said Richard, “the group really likes you.”

“I’m traveling out for a speaking engagement in central California,” I said.  “Would the board want to meet me since I’ll be in the neighborhood, so to speak?”

“Hey, not a bad idea,” said Richard.  “I’ll make a few calls and get back to you.”

He phoned the next day and gave me the thumbs up.  “Yes, I’ll have all the men ready to meet you.”

We boarded the plane while praying and thanking the Lord for the new encouragement.  Wow, to be ministering in San Jose.

Such a great opportunity. God, You are so good. 

We received even more exciting news: the church had a strong Christian school as well.  There was an active bus ministry.  Their property was paid for and they were in a prime location in the city.  They wanted to step up their efforts in an outreach to the unchurched.  Would I consider creating a new visitation ministry?  My head was swimming with excitement.

Richard picked Jill and I up at the airport and we headed to the church.  He kept nodding his head.  “Things are looking good.  The deacon board says the constitution of our church states that 83% of the deacons must vote for the candidate in order to approve you.  We have eighteen deacons, so that means fifteen of them must vote ‘yes’.”

“I see,” I said.  “And what about the church vote?”

He smiled.  “We’ve already taken a head count.  The constitution says that 85% must vote for you.  Our latest head count told us that over 96% of the people will vote for you based upon the surveys and sermon tapes they heard.” He smiled as he turned into the driveway of the large church campus.  We looked on in excitement.  “So if you get approved by the deacon’s vote, you’d better be ready to move in.”

Lord, You are so good. Very good.

The eighteen deacons sat with pen and paper and the next three hours were continuous questions and discussions.  How would I go about a visitation ministry?  Would I be able to incorporate the ministry of the school with the church in a more effective manner than is being done at the moment?  Which Christian books did I read?  What were my favorite passages in the Bible?  How would I counsel a married couple?  On and on…  I shook hands with all eighteen men as I headed out the door.  All smiles.  This looked good.

We flew back home with the assuring words from Richard:  “Well, you’ve all been very patient after these many months.  Next month is the vote.  We’ll be gathering on a Wednesday night after prayer meeting.  It’ll be around nine in the evening, California time, that means it will be midnight your time.  I’ll call you the next day.”

“Sir,” I said, shaking his hand.  “You call me that night.  I’ll be sitting by the phone, so call me, no matter what time.”

He laughed.  “Get your bags packed, Brad.”

Jill and I laughed and prayed and grinned and shared plans on the plane.  Adult Bible studies. Ladies ministry.  Children’s outreach.  Mission trips.

Lord, you are so good.

The month-long wait was agonizing, but finally the Wednesday night of the vote came.  My home church was excited for me, assuring us of prayers and demanding to know the news the next day.  We got home and packed the kids into bed.  At 11 p.m., Jill grew drowsy and started to nod off.  “Go ahead to bed,” I told her.  “I’ll let you know in the morning.”

At midnight the phone rang.  I picked it up immediately.

“Brad? This is Richard.”

Yessir, Richard!  How did it go?”

“Brad, the final deacon vote was that fifteen voted ‘yes’ for you to come.  83 per cent.”

“Praise God!  We’ll start packing our bags and -”

“Brad, wait.”

“Wait? What, Richard?”

“Brad, there was a … a change in the procedure … uh… right before the vote … three men stood up and made a motion that the voting percentage should be , uh, changed…”

“What are you saying?”

“… and they said we should be more exacting since this was your first pastorate, so the vote should include sixteen men to make sure we had a tighter unity.  We argued that the constitution had held us well for over a generation but it became a shouting match. So in order to bring peace, we voted and changed the percentage… uh… to 88 .”

My throat went dry.  “Richard, what are you saying?  What are you telling me?”

“We were duped, Brad.  As soon as we voted and approved the percentage, we went into the vote for you, and those very three men voted ‘no’.  They even started laughing as soon as the vote was counted.  They had planned this ahead of time…”

“Brad, you made the 83 percent vote, but according to the brand-new rule, you didn’t make it.  I’m sorry.  If it’s any consolation, I resigned the deacon board, but other than that, it’s over.  It’s over.  You cannot come.”

I sat down on the kitchen chair as I hung up.  All those months.  All that encouragement.  All those phone interviews…

Lord, why oh why could You be so cruel?  Why would You taunt us with such a fantastic ministry and rip it away from us in such a raw manner?

I couldn’t sleep.  At daybreak I went into the bedroom and told Jill.  We wept in each other’s arms.  I went outside and took a walk.

For five hours I walked around the town.  I wasn’t sure where I was going.  I had already told my home church that I was leaving and they were making plans to bring in another youth pastor.  Dear God, we were in this to honor You!  Why would you do this to us?

Why must You make us suffer like this?  Months and months and months of preparation… only to have this…

This is not good, Lord.  This is cruel.

I couldn’t talk about it.  I couldn’t think about it.  I wasn’t angry, but a deep, deep disappointment and discouragement ate at my soul.  I went into a depression that would haunt me for days at a time.  I considered leaving the ministry altogether.  After all, would I end up being offered another position, only to be led into another dog-and-pony show of multiple interviews … and then be cast down again?  I don’t think I could handle it.  I didn’t want Jill to go through this again…

How many evenings I walked alone, trying to pray, only ending up in choking on my words.

Years went by.  I took a position as a youth pastor in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Lord wasn’t done with my service to teens just yet, and as I both taught school and headed the youth ministry, I saw the joy that only Christ could bring.  I was healing.  I was happy again.

In my second year in Phoenix, I was introduced to my pastor’s father a senior pastor in central California.  We chatted after a church service as we strolled down the sidewalk on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

“So you like this ministry?” he asked me.  “You seem to fit in quite well, and the kids really like you.”

I nodded my head.  “This is a great ministry.”

“Even though you’re not in San Jose?”

My head snapped up.  “You know about that situation?  That was six, seven years ago. The church that called me and then changed the …?”

He smiled slowly.  “Yes, I’m aware of the whole situation.  Brad, do you know what happened?”

I stopped and faced him.  “Sir, I only know that we were deeply, deeply hurt by the actions that occurred.”

The senior pastor shook his head.  “I can understand.  But think of the overall picture.  Think about the attitudes that would have caused that.  Those actions weren’t God-honoring, and it spoke of a problem within the church leadership.  Inner struggles. Those deacons were fighting a battle amongst themselves that you didn’t know about, nobody outside of the church knew about.”image

I was surprised.  “So you know what happened afterwards, I mean after our vote?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  It became clear as the months went by, even to the San Jose community. That was a cancer of rebellion within those people, and it escalated after your vote.  They brought in a man from southern California as their pastor and he was dropped right into a mess.  Brad, there were splits and fights rumbling throughout that congregation.  Trouble at every turn.  It came to the surface. The new pastor realized that it was a powder keg, ready to explode…”

I fumbled for words. “B-but that church was a strong, vibrant church from what I saw.  Six or seven hundred people every week at the Sunday service.  The bus ministry.  The Christian school.  The Bible studies…”

“All gone,” he said.

What?”

The senior pastor raised his hands for emphasis.  “It’s all closed down.  Empty. Within a year of your vote, that church closed its doors permanently.  School, buses, church building… all gone, closed, locked up, over.  No more.”

I was stunned.

The senior pastor looked me in the eye.  “Brad, listen to me.  If you would have been voted in, you would have walked right into that horrible mess.  You would have picked up your family and moved across the country for what, about six months or so, before you would have had to leave.”

He put a hand on my shoulder.  “Brad, you’d better get on your knees and thank Jesus tonight that you didn’t get that vote.”

I spent the rest of that day walking around town.  This time I had a different attitude.  I choked on my words again, but this time as I wept and thanked lord for His mercy.

Yes, Lord, You are good.  You are so very good.

 

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9 Comments
  1. Such an inspirational story here! I loved it and it reminded me that God is in control. Even though I often wonder where he is in my own life, he is often behind the scenes working for my good!!

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Mike, and yes, I do continually see God work in things that I had long forgot. His timetable is absolutely above and beyond our comprehension.

    • Thank you, Mike. This was a brutal yet tender lesson for me. Now, here and today, I am able to say I am glad God put me through it.

  2. Brian Goeckeler permalink

    The story is a wonderful blessing. Almost 10 years of feeling like walking away from God, He made clear that what my wife and I thought was a horrible ordeal to suffer was actually part of His greater plan. I wish I could say that my faith had been stronger and that I could have rejoiced through what seemed to be punishment.

    • Thanks for your remarks, Brian. I agree that my faith should have been stronger as well. I couldn’t even talk about the episode for years. Now at almost very speaking engagement, I share this.

  3. I’m so thankful you did not get bitter and leave the ministry. The whole process seemed ridiculously long to me, and I hurt with you as I read the article. In our first call to senior pastorate, my husband received the call that we lost by 1 vote.. the first person that they had tried to call, but had not been called. (They were having a hard time finding someone who would come to their “end of the road church, and had called a couple of other guys before my hubby, but they had turned it down.) i believe it had to have an 80% approval. I was so thankful that we had NOT been called, because I think that we would have taken it, because we were getting a little bit antsy about being out of the ministry, as we had left the previous place. However, the Lord used that “rejection” to keep us from where we weren’t supposed to be, and he had a much greater ministry for us somewhere else. I’m so grateful that though my husband did struggle with bitterness for at least 2 full years after that, that the Lord finally gave Him victory. God is good, even though we don’t recognize His goodness when it’s seen as severe disappointment and tears.

    I’ve known too many men and women who gave up when they were seriously hurt in their FIRST place of ministry, and turned away from everything they ever knew. It’s awful to see that. I know that it stems from hurt, disappointment and forgetting that the Lord is truly in control. We need to be reminded continually that we are His and that there are no surprises with God. It sounds “trite,” but it’s so very true.

    • Rachael, thank you for your openness on this subject. So many are hurting… But still see God do the healing. Philppns 4:7

  4. Thank you, friend. I enjoyed reading your blog. You’re quite creative!

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