In the spring of 1997 I quit being a pastor. I didn’t make a formal announcement to my congregation, but I might as well have. I was out of there. In my mind I had two good reasons for taking my hand off the plow: Jim and Franklin.
Jim was a guy who felt called by God to be my accountability partner—without asking me. He offered to take me out to eat one day, so I accepted. Little was I prepared for what was about to happen. Setting down his sandwich he said, “Brian, there are a number of things you are doing wrong at our church, but for the sake of time I’ve shortened my list to 10.” I made the mistake of saying, “Start with number one.” Two and a half hours later I left with two things—50% less self-esteem and a really good case for why first cousins should never marry. After that meeting Jim felt that it was his special calling from God to point out my mistakes on a weekly basis—through letters, phone calls, notes in the offerings bowls, frowns during the sermons, and disappointing stares in the church hallway. Jim was the first person I ever met with the spiritual gift of complaining.
Franklin, on the other hand, felt equally called to correct my flaws; he just had a different strategy. Instead of coming directly to me, he would secretly approach people one on one and ask questions like, “What do you think of Brian’s sermons? I’ve talked to just about everyone except you. People are really disappointed. I just wanted to know what you thought.” Occasionally someone would approach me and warn, “You really need to talk to Franklin.” Every time I directly approached him, however, he’d laugh, “You’re paranoid Brian. Things are fine.” Franklin had a special CIA-covert-black-ops-stealth-ministry-of-subversion thing going on in our church. I’m sure the Bible talked about why those kinds of ministries were important in the local church, but I must have skipped that chapter.
Jim and Franklin’s ministry of misery went on for eight months. I was young and inexperienced. I was leading a new church with new Christians so they were just as confused as I was. My leadership team didn’t really know how to handle the situation. So Jim and Franklin got exactly what they wanted: I was out of there. My soul was too heavy to carry on. I didn’t want to quit but I knew that every time I walked into that church a little part of me died inside. If I kept it up nothing would be left.
One day, out of complete desperation, I drove across town to the church of a Pastor I had recently met. I didn’t have an appointment, I just showed up. As I walked into his office he could tell by the look in my eyes that I was desperate, so he graciously stopped what he was doing and asked me to sit down. My lips quivered. My eyes watered. My chest expanded and compressed with great force. When I finally talked I could only mouth small, measured sentences. It reminded me of those lines in Hamlet:
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story. (Hamlet, Act V, Scene ii)
I told him about the two men at our church. I told him about the way I felt on Sunday when I saw them corner people in the hallway. I told him about the notes, the emails, the phone calls, the stares. I told him that I knew it wasn’t Christ-like but I wanted to get back at them so way—hire hit men or scrap my keys on their car doors or make fun of their bad haircuts or something. I told him I was quitting.
Then he shared something with me that changed me.
He pulled his chair closer to me, grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “Brian, God wants to change the city. But in order to do that he has to change our hearts first. What you’re experiencing is God’s way of softening your heart. Ask God to take the pain you’re experiencing and use it to give you his heart for people in pain.”
Honestly, I wasn’t real encouraged by what he said. But he was older and wiser and thinner than me so I thought I should at least give what he said a try before I threw in the towel.
That night before I went to bed I threw up a half-hearted prayer, “Jesus, give me your heart for people,” and went to sleep.
Then I did it the next night, then again, then again, and again.
For almost ten years now that has been a spiritual discipline of mine. In fact, for ten years now that one simple prayer has worked more good in the lives of people I serve than just about anything else I’ve done – all thanks to Jim, and Franklin, and a pastor named Doug Roe.
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