Breaking up is hard to do

johnthurm.jpg

I was back at work this morning. I love my church. I was full of energy and so happy to be there. The GWU students were back, and I was thrilled to see them. But I felt wiped out after the service. Like I had been hit by a Mac truck. And I didn’t even preach.

This happens to me often. I suppose it’s typical for an introvert. But it feels strange to be so drained….

I think it’s also because I went to church with some trepidation. I’m beginning my third year there, and I’ve left my last two churches after three years. So far, it’s been a pattern. I usually receive a letter in the mail, from a nominating committee, asking me to send my information to apply for one of those jobs that I couldn’t possibly turn down.

It’s rare that I actually get that job, but usually the letter prompts me to gather my resume information together. And then, once it’s together, something else that I couldn’t possibly turn down comes along, and I end up moving.

I’m a naturally driven person. So, I’ve been advised to keep my resume updated, at all times, just in case. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to. It’s not that I don’t want to be open to God’s call, or to new things. I just don’t want to ever have to leave a church, ever again.

Of course, I know I’ll have to someday. I’m not suited to be an AP forever. But I hate leaving church. It feels like a break up. No. Actually, it feels like I’m breaking up with a hundred people all at the same time. I was never even good at calling it quits with one person. And you know what makes it even worse? Even the people who don’t like me hate getting dumped by me.

This came as a shock the first time it happened. I was twenty-seven, serving as the pastor of an itty, bitty, poor church in Cajun Louisiana, when the Local Governing Body (LGB) instituted a minimum salary requirement. I was overjoyed that the LGB had gone into action, helping a whole lot of underpaid pastors out. But the problem was that the minimum was 10k above what I was making. I wrote a grant that could cover my expenses for a couple of years, but it was clear that I needed to leave.

The church was doing really well. We had grown substantially in vitality, income, and numbers, even though the demographics in the area were dismal. But still, when other opportunities came up, I knew I had to go. And when I announced that I was leaving, I wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak that ensued.

It was even worse when I left my next congregation.

So, what is it? To me, in both situations, it felt to me like an absolutely reasonable move. I needed to go from one job to another. To them, it was devastating. And even though I studied Oswald’s little book carefully, I still ended up getting stabbed by the thistles. The anger, resentment, and guilt.

My friend, Karen Blomberg, a pastor and spiritual coach, says that it’s due to “liturgical intimacy.” She explains that leading worship can create a powerful bond with a congregation.

It certainly surprised me to find out just how strong that bond was when I went through the sad, exhausting process of breaking it.

photo by johnthurm

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2 thoughts on “Breaking up is hard to do

  1. I just broke up last year. I think leaving as an AP is easier. People feel as though they have prepared you for the next step.

    The biggest problem is I can’t find any call stories where people are called to stay.

  2. I’ve heard that leaving the AP is easier. I guess people get used to it. The average tenure for the job is what? Two and a half years? I haven’t seen stats in a while….

    I do know the stats on small congregations (in the PCUSA): 78% of our churches are under 150 members. That means most of our churches are having a really hard time paying their pastor (if they have one). So, I imagine that’s one reason why people have to move on.

    What do you think?

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