Some people think I have lost my faith. I think I am only now beginning to find it.
Parts of my story, my journey of faith, my walk with God (or whatever you want to call it) have been posted in various places online (on Jason Boyett’s blog, for example) and in a book I edited last year, but little of it has been posted here on this blog. Let me summarize some of the highlights.
My Life in a Few Paragraphs
I was raised in a pastor’s family. I had two loving parents, and nine siblings. I loved growing up, going to church, attending school, and spending time with friends and family. I sometimes wish I could go back and relive my childhood.
Upon graduating from high school, I went to college to become a Mechanical Engineer. After my freshman year, a good friend of mine died in a hiking accident, and as a result, I thought that I should reconsider my life goals. So I decided to become a pastor. I went away to Bible college, where I got my degree, and more importantly, met and married my beautiful wife, Wendy.
After graduation from Bible college, I decided to get an M.Div., but after only a year, decided that I would rather just enter into professional, full-time ministry. So Wendy and I went to Montana, where I became the Senior Pastor of a small, struggling church.
I pastored there for three and half years. The church had numerous problems, and I was an inexperienced pastor and so made numerous mistakes. But for the most part, I enjoyed being a pastor, and wanted to do nothing else for the rest of my life. I loved the people I worked with, and loved the community we lived in. I was not the best husband, however, and was too consumed with ministry to help my wife out at home much, or take an active role in raising the two girls that my wife had delivered during this time.
At the end of three and half years, the church could no longer pay our salary. The church was very small (only about 35 people), and I had made some pastoral decisions which had angered the main financial backers of the church, and so they stopped tithing. When the money ran out, the governing board bowed to the demands of the big tither and asked me to resign, which I did.
I then became the pastor of a larger church in a nearby town. This was every pastor’s dream church. Oh sure, there were problems, but for the most part, the people were warm and loving. The services were well-attended. The elders were supportive. The families were active. I loved this church and everybody in it. But I also had a growing sense in the back of my mind that I needed to finish my Master’s degree. So with a heavy heart I resigned, and moved my family to Texas to get a Th.M.
In the process of moving to Texas, I landed my dream job. I got to work with an author and Bible scholar I highly respected, helping him publish his books, plan his speaking engagements, and coordinate various conferences around the country. I even got a few of my own articles published, and was invited to speak at a few conferences and churches as a result of my involvement with this ministry. I was working full time and attending school more than full time (I completed a four-year degree in three years), and so needless to say, my marriage suffered even more than it had before. Then, right before graduation, I wrote a blog post which ended up getting me fired from my job.
I sunk into depression. My faith shattered. Everything I had worked for and hoped for lay in pieces at my feet. I lost my dream job, and almost all of my Christian friends abandoned me. After applying for nearly 60 different jobs, the only job I could get was as a carpet cleaner. I also had pretty much destroyed my wife and my three daughters by ignoring them for most of my time as a pastor and all of my time as a seminary student. It seemed to me that by almost every standard, my life was a complete failure.
Eventually, I found a new job as a prison chaplain in New York. It was not something I ever imagined doing, but it was in my “field” of training, and paid better than cleaning carpets. While in New York, I started trying to rebuild. I sought to rebuild myself, my faith, my marriage, and my family. I changed a lot of my beliefs. My wife and I went to marriage counseling. I started looking for a new way to follow Jesus.
A year ago, we moved to Oregon. I still have the same job, but in a different location. I am still slowly trying to rebuild my life, my faith, and especially, my marriage and my family. There are many signs of progress, but sometimes, I am afraid that sooner or later, it will all come crashing down once again. One of the main things that keep me going however, is hope.
My Life of Regret and Hope
I sometimes regret that I gave up mechanical engineering for pastoral ministry. Though I truly enjoy studying and teaching Scripture, I sometimes feel frustrated that given my current career path, the only jobs I qualify for are in the field of professional ministry. But I am hopeful that God will use my detail-oriented and creative-thinking brain in the field of Bible study and theology to help others see that God may not be like what many of us have been taught, and that the Bible may not say what we have always thought.
I sometimes regret that I left that first church. There are many aspects to pastoral ministry that I desperately miss. I sometimes wish that rather than resign, I had simply taken a secular job in the community and remained on as pastor without taking a salary. This decision would have taken away all the power from the “money” in the church, and would have freed me up to lead the church in the direction we needed to go. But I am hopeful that maybe, somehow, God might lead me into some form of pastoral ministry again, in a way that does not require me to take a salary, and to serve alongside other people who want to follow Jesus into the world.
I sometimes regret that I left that second church to go to seminary. The people there were so loving and kind. I miss many of them desperately. But now that we have finally settled into an area in which we hope to stay for a while, I am hopeful that God will bring more people into our lives with whom we can build friendships, and learn to love. We have been in our current location for just one year, but we already see some of these sorts of friendship developing.
I sometimes regret posting that fateful blog post which got me fired from my dream job in Texas, and which caused a lot of heartache and confusion in the minds of people I worked with or who looked up to me. But I am hopeful, because the experience of leaving that job opened my eyes and mind to a whole new way of viewing people, thinking about theology, reading Scripture, interacting with others, and ultimately, living life. I believe I am now more loving, gracious, and forgiving than I ever was before. And quite a bit more humble. (That’s a joke!)
I always regret the way I treated my wife for all those years as a pastor and as a seminary student and during my years of depression. She deserved so much better. And yet I am more hopeful now for our marriage than I have been in a long time. She has forgiven me, and shown love to me, and we are laughing together and living together with joy in ways that we have never before experienced.
Sometimes Wendy and I ask ourselves if it was all worth it. In so many ways, we see Jesus, we read the Bible, and we understand God so differently than before. We think it was worth it.
I often joke that the “me” of fifteen years ago would consider the “me” of today a heretic. But the “me” of today does not consider the “me” of fifteen years ago a heretic; just somebody who had to learn some difficult lessons the hard way. Though my life is full of regrets (and there will probably be many more to come), I never would have learned the things I know now if I had not experienced what I did. This too leads me to hope.
I hope that the future “me” can remember that when I make mistakes, God can resurrect hope and joy from the ashes. After all, without death, there is no resurrection. So when parts of my life die, whether by design or by poor choices, I must remember that even in the dark despair of the moment, God is at work to bright forth light, love, joy, and hope.
This post was written as part of the November Synchroblog, in which different bloggers write about their journey of faith. Here is a list of other contributors:
- LoveDay – When God Pulls Your Strings
- Liz Dyer – Stages of Faith and Beauty In the Wilderness
- J A Carter – Jesus Christ Superstar Saved My Soul
- Carol Kuniholm – Stumbling In the Dark
- Edwin Aldritch – A Journey From Church To Faith
- Glenn Hagar – How I Became Irreligious
- DoneWithReligion – My Journey To Leaving Church
- Kathy Escobar – A Drama + A Comedy = A Dramedy