Monday, July 31, 2006

The Last Day

Yesterday was my last day as pastor of Jackson Grove Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As is often the case with good-byes, yesterday was an emotional day for just about everyone. A few of the members hated to see us go, period. Others were personally sad that we were leaving but believed it was best both for the church and for us, and a few were glad that we were leaving (or at least that I was leaving).

The times ahead will be challenging for both me and the church. I will probably go insane if I have to go very long without preaching, plus there's this little manner of trying to find something to help pay the bills until I'm called to another church. On the church's end, my departure probably won't be felt as much as that of Maria, at least in the immediate future. She was the music director, youth director, VBS director, church clerk, planned most of our outreach events, and took care of all the decorating for holidays and special events. Not to mention that she is such a warm and loving person toward everyone. (No wonder that several of the members chipped in to give her a very nice necklace yesterday and didn't give me anything!)

It was unlike any other pastoral departure I had witnessed, but I've only gone through this twice (three times if you count an interim who was forced to leave because the church found out he was using church resources to start his own church and was recruiting the church's members). In the church I attended as a youth we had a pastor leave, but I don't recall much about his last day. Then in the church we attended before I became a pastor, the pastor (who was a good friend) suddenly announced his resignation. On his last Sunday, he sneaked out of the building during the closing prayer and left without giving anyone a chance to say good-bye. My departure was considerably different in that we had a transitional time in the service when I introduced the interim pastor (our DOM), and then there was a dinner after the service.

I am grateful that my departure from Jackson Grove was amicable. There were several times since the first of the year when I really thought that the end, whenever it came, might be acrimonious, but once I announced my resignation at the end of May most of those who were opposed to my leadership suddenly developed a more positive attitude toward me. It may not have ended as I would have liked, but it did end better than it could have.

So where do I go from here? I'm still sending out resumes to churches; I have about 25 doors that are cracked open to various degrees, but as of yet none are wide open. I've contacted some of the DOMs in the area to let them know I am available for supply work. And I have a temporary position lined up at the local university bookstore starting in mid-August; that should last about a month, and it will actually pay quite a bit more than the church did. After that, I have no idea what I will do.

19 comments:

Hashman said...

Tim,

You and I definately married above ourselves.

Still praying for you.

See you sunday. :-)

Love,

Shameless

Paul Burleson said...

Tim,

"Well done" are words that our Lord will speak to many in that day. I believe those words can be spoken to you right now by a friend also. Consider them spoken.

A word of encouragement. I heard it said a long time ago, by whom I can not remember, that "God often grows His greatest fruit in the shade". You may be out of the sunlight of public ministry momentarily but, if that statement is true, and I think it likely is, He may be about some of His greatest work in you and through you during this shady time. Wouldn't that be just like our Father.

Your friend,

Paul Burleson

art rogers said...

Tim,

I'm praying for you. I know what it is to leave a church with mixed feelings (theirs and yours).

It is vitally important, I think, for us to do everything within our power to finish well. Many do not.

Praying for you and your unofficial staff member/official gracious partner for life.

art

Baptist Theologue said...

Me too (praying for you).

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Tim,

My opinon of you seems to go up every time I read what you have written, and it just went up another notch.

God is faithful, and will take care of everything.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Geoff Baggett said...

Tim,

I'm praying for you, Man. I am a KY pastor (Cadiz) ... not far from you. I want to urge you to give one other person a call. Pray about contacting larry Baker at the KBC. He is the head of New Work /Church Planting. He may be able to give you some guidance.

And give Church Planting some serious and prayerful thought. My blog is one easy-access place where you can find out some basic info.

God Bless You

Tim Sweatman said...

Kevin,

I agree with your assessment of our marital fortunes. I'm not making any promises about where we'll be Sunday, but I'm confident that you'll see us on an upcoming Sunday. I'll let you know ahead of time so you can work up a sermon to try to convert us to Calvinism! ;)

**********

Paul,

Thank you for your words of encouragement. After everything that has happened since January, I probably could use a little time in the shade. To be honest, I don't care for being in the spotlight, but I love everything else about preaching and teaching the Word. I hope I don't go too long without an opportunity to do so.

**********

Art,

I agree about the importance of finishing well, and I decided that during my lame-duck period I would do everything I could to make the transition as smooth as possible. Strangely enough, my last few sermons were some of my best in terms of their delivery, probably because there wasn't the tension and bitterness that there had been before I announced my resignation.

I really appreciate the prayers for Maria. This whole process has been really hard on her, because she has a difficult time separating the public/professional from the personal. She perceived the opposition to my leadership as a personal attack against me, and until the last couple of weeks she found it difficult to be genuinely friendly toward our deacon chairman (who before January had been almost like a father figure to her). She forced herself to be cordial, but she found it difficult to be genuinely affectionate toward the person leading the effort to force me out.

**********

BT,

Thanks for the prayers. I knew we would finally agree on something! :)

**********

Jeff,

I responded to your email. Thanks for your encouragement and willingness to help.

**********

Geoff,

I've applied to a few churches in Western KY. Regarding church planting, the thought has crossed my mind from time to time, but to be honest it was usually as a response to something that frustrated me. I really don't believe I have the best personality/gift mix to be an effective church planter, but I'm probably basing that on preconceived notions.

David Rogers said...

Tim,

Just wanted to share the following poem from Andrew Murray that has been a help and blessing to me on numerous occasions...

I AM HERE

He brought me here;
It is by His will I am
in this strait place;
in that I will rest.

I am here - by God's appointment!

Next, He will keep me here
in His love, and give me
grace to behave
as His child.

I am here - in His keeping!

Then, He will make the trial
a blessing, teaching me the
lessons He intends me
to learn, and working in me
the grace He means to bestow.

I am here - under His training!

Last, in His good time
He can bring me out again -
how and when
He knows.

I am here - for His time!

Cam Dunson said...

Thanks for updating us. We'll keep praying.

martyduren said...

Tim-
Have you talked to Joel Rainey?

Alan Cross said...

I'm praying that God open doors for you and your wife. I know that this is hard and uncertain, but I believe that God has a place for you. You continue to be an encouragement.

Grace AND Peace to you.

Tim Sweatman said...

David,

Thanks for the encouraging poem. I hadn't come across it before.

**********

Cam,

Thanks for the prayers.

**********

Marty,

I talked about my situation with him in Greensboro, but haven't really talked to him since then.

***********

Alan,

I'm used to hard and uncertain. To be honest, part of what I am personally praying for is that God will lead us to a place where we don't literally have to live from paycheck to paycheck. That being said, I am committed to going wherever we feel that He is leading us, even if it is another position where we barely get by. He has always provided when we didn't have any clue how we were going to pay the bills, and I don't expect Him to stop.

I don't know that I've been much of an enouragement lately, but you and everyone else have been very encouraging throughout this process.

David Eaton said...

Tim,

We'll keep you in our prayers at you take the next few steps. I will say that I admire you for doing what you felt God leading instead of staying in the pulpit where you are until something came along. Blessings.

David Eaton
Murray, KY

Tim Sweatman said...

David,

That was the hard part, stepping away before I had something else lined up. But I came to realize that as long as I remained there, the church could not move forward, because I could not provide any kind of long-term direction. It's hard to make plans for the future when you don't intend on being there and there's no one else willing to carry them out.

Also, I left when I did because there were some efforts being made to try to get enough people on board to vote me out, and I didn't want to see the church become divided over me. I also didn't want to take the risk that the effort might have actually succeeded! Either way, my staying would have hurt the church, and us as well.

There were also personal reasons influencing my decision to leave when I did. The situation was beginning to affect my ministry. I found myself devoting less time to church matters, and my sermon preparation was starting to suffer. Also, Maria was simply miserable; she even reached a point where she dreaded singing on Sundays. Anyone who knows Maria well can tell you that if she doesn't feel like singing, then something is really wrong. She actually wanted me to leave at the first of the year, but at that time I thought I could just hold out until another church came along. Not the best attitude to have, is it? Looking back, I do believe that God wanted me to leave about a year ago, when things were actually going pretty well. Hopefully next time I'll do what I sense God leading me to do and not let my pride get in the way.

Kevin Bussey said...

Wow Tim,

I will be praying for you.

Eric Thomas said...

Tim, as one who has had the petition for my removal floating through the congregation, I must say that I admire your courageous passion as an undershepherd. I will be praying for you, and if I can help in any way feel free to call or email.

Eric

Eric Thomas said...

BTW, that was a previous pastorate :)

John Fariss said...

Tim, I have been following your story, have prayed for you and occasionally commented, but this morning, I feel led to speak at length with you.

First: hang in there. As to the future, God has a plan, and you are part of it. So many times, I have wanted to know what His plan was in advance, but He seems to operate on a "need to know" basis, and what we need to know is considerably different from what we "want to know."

Second: as to the past, no one can change it, but we can all learn from it. Don't be afraid to analyze what happened in the cold, hard light of God's revelation. If it shows you the church/congregation/deacons, etc made mistakes, look for new ways to deal with them should they happen again--because they probably will; after all, "there is nothing new under the sun." If it shows you where you made mistakes, don't be hesitant to confess them (to God, maybe to members of the congregation, as appropriate and you feel led) and consider what other options you can pursue in the future. We are all falliable human beings, so don't beat yourself up over any mistakes you may have made.

Third: as to the present, allow yourself the opportunity to grieve. In a way, there has been a death--the death of part of your identity as pastor of _______ Church. Acknowledge that you are/will/should go through the different events of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, dispair, crying, resignation, etc. God made us as emotional beings to grieve, even Jesus grieved (really, why else would He have cried when Lazarus died? And when he drove the moneychangers from the temple, could not that have been part of His grief at seeing the Temple misused? Then there is Naomi who said, "Call me not Naomi [which means pleasant] but Mara [which means bitter]," David, who when his first child by Bathsheba died, went on about his normal routine as if all was OK (denial), and even Saul, who tried to make a bargain with a reality that could not be changed when he threw a spear to David). Allow yourself (and your wife too) the opportunity to grieve; if you do not, it will come back to bite you somewhere not pleasant. Anger turned inward becomes depression, and grief denied becomes the defining event of one's life.

Finally, most of us have endured something at least similar, so you are not in the boat all by yourself. Having ministered mostly to troubled churches, I know that they eventually turn on the pastor. That is like riding a motorcycle: if you ride (I used to, and probably will again), it's not a question of IF you're going to wreck or not; if just a question of when AND how bad. The funniest one that ever happened to me was at the first church I served. I was ready to leave, and I knew there was discontent (after all, I had been there nearly 4 years, while the average pastorate for the 30 years previously had been 18 MONTHS); they had made mistakes, and I had made mistakes. So my resume had been out, I had preached at another church in light of a call, had been called there, and had announced my resignation. Several days after I gave my notice, the chairman of deacons called me and said he and a group wanted to meet with me. It turned out it was the group that had been agitating against me. They presented their grievances, then demanded that I resign! Almost a week after I resigned! The chairman of deacons, a retired farmer who had done his own share of politicing for and against a lot of pastors, looked at them as if they were idiots and said, "What do you want the man to do? Take back his resignation so he can resign again? Will that suit you?" I can laugh about it now; and someday, you will be able to at least smile over your situation--at least if you work through it all.

God bless!

Tim Sweatman said...

Kevin & Eric,

Thanks for the prayers. One of the greatest comforts I have had during this process is knowing that a lot of people who have been in a similar situation are praying for me and encouraging me.

**********

John,

Thanks for the words of wisdom. I tend to be the type who likes to have everything planned out ahead of time, but so far I haven't been able to get God to cooperate! ;) I really believe that just as the first time I went through the search process God was using it to develop more patience in me, this time He seems to be trying to teach me to trust Him day to day. The preacher at the church I visited this morning even brought up the example of how God provided manna every day for that day only.

While mistakes were certainly made by all parties, the basic problem was that I had a fundamentally different understanding about what the church should be and the role of the pastor than the majority of the members. Both on my resume and during the interview process I made it clear what my position was on these matters, yet it was like they were surprised when I actually led in the way I said I would. The one thing I have taken from this is that I ask search committees about these matters. If they aren't going to pay attention to what I have said, I can at least listen to them and get a better idea about whether we might be a good match.

As far as the grieving process, I really haven't experienced much of that. Part of the reason is because by nature I am not a very emotional person (which was one of the problems some within the church had with me), but part of it is that my leaving was such a long process that I dealt with what emotions I did experience (primarily anger) well before I left the church. That is why the actual end was so amicable, because I had already dealt with the anger. If there is any lingering sense of grief, it is not that I am no longer at Jackson Grove, but that I simply am not pastoring anywhere at this time.

**********

UPDATE

Maria and I met with a couple of folks from a search committee from Muskogee, Oklahoma, Thursday night. Last week the church got my resume, and they saw that I was from Bowling Green. A couple of the committee members had planned a vacation and were going to be coming through Bowling Green, so they decided this would be a good time to meet with us. After talking with them I believe that in many ways this church would be a good match, but there were also some possible areas of concern. Of course, no promises were made or implied. Please pray that God would give both the committee and us a clear sense about how to proceed.

I also received a phone call from Kevin (Hashman) yesterday afternoon asking if I could fill in for him this evening. Of course, I said yes. I'm thrilled to be able to preach, but I wish it were under better circumstances (Kevin had to go out of town for a family emergency; pray for them).