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In talking to a good friend today, I was made aware of some misinformation floating about in regards to my reasons for quitting my job at Greenwood Park. I don’t want to go into detail, because I have really tried hard to keep my opinions close, and I certainly don’t want to do or say anything that will make the situation at Greenwood Park more difficult for anyone. However, I feel like this needs to be addressed, not so much for my benefit but for others. So I will just say that my reasons for leaving had nothing to do with Bill Brumit. Bill has always been supportive of me and helpful to me. He never sought to interfere with my ministry, and I never did or didn’t do something in my ministry because of him. Anyone who suggests that my decision was influenced by him is at best ignorant and at worst a liar.

I don’t know why my decision can’t just be taken at face value. I didn’t want to be in youth ministry anymore. My wife got a promotion, and I decided to stay home with the kids. Certainly there were stressful people and situations I had to deal with (none of whom were named Bill Brumit), and those may have influenced my decision to leave ministry, but if I still had the burning desire to do youth ministry I would have just dealt with it or gone to do youth ministry elsewhere.

While we are on the subject of truthfulness, I imagine that people here will figure out sooner or later that we have made the decision to leave Greenwood Park. While I love the teenagers and their families and our friends and those with whom we have worked for so long, we really need to be somewhere else. I have said for years that people should attend a congregation where they are totally committed, joyful servants and willing to submit to their elders. If one isn’t able to do that, it is unfair to them, to the congregation and to the elders to stay just to be miserable. So now I am trying to be consistent and practice what I preach. Again, this decision was all but made before Bill was “let go,” so don’t think that this is a knee-jerk response.

You’re just going to have to trust me when I say that I don’t want my comments or decisions to influence anyone. I write this now only because at least one person who should know better is putting words in my mouth, and I want people to know the truth. It angers me that one person is receiving more than his fair share of blame for the problems that exist when I know better. I truly hope that God blesses Greenwood Park efforts as they seek His will, and we plan to maintain our relationships with our brothers and sisters there. If you hear something different from what I have said or written, feel free to ask me. I promise to tell you the truth.

Yesterday was a difficult day filled with many emotions. As Greenwood Park – our church family for the last ten years – goes through a major transition, many people are left feeling hurt, angry, betrayed, and lost. I have to say that at the end of the day I settled on sadness. To leave the building yesterday and realize that everything will be different, that many of the people I love and respect and care about will be scattered to churches throughout the area, just makes me sad. It makes me sad to know that so many people will have to fight the demons of anger and bitterness in an effort to make sense of the decisions that have been made.

I am not getting into my opinions about the situation right now. That doesn’t really matter, and it certainly won’t fix anything. What does matter is that our response to this situation will speak volumes to our children and our community about who we really are and who God is. Some people will leave GP, some will stay, but we have to continue to love each other and trust that God will work for the good of His children. Those who are angry must have the attitude of Jesus when He said “Forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” Those who feel lost must continue to follow God, knowing that He is still leading even when it doesn’t seem like it. Those who are hurt must seek comfort not in grumbling, complaining and gossiping but in the Comforter sent by God – the Holy Spirit.

I may not always understand God’s plan, but I know He has one. I don’t always know why He uses painful events to push His people out of their comfort zones to places where He wants them, but I know that we can become so angry about the pain that we aren’t looking for the good that needs to be done where we land. I know that many people are leaving Greenwood Park, and we can choose to leave in anger and closed hearts, or we can see this as something that God has allowed to happen because He needs us elsewhere. I also know that there will be those who stay who form opinions and judgments about those who leave, and I just have to say – don’t. Those who leave and those who stay are still brothers and sisters, even if there is a separation. Being angry only hurts the one who is angry.

God has really been good to me this week through my Scripture readings. I read the words of Gamaliel when he told the Jewish leaders that if the ministry of the apostles was from men, it would fail, and if it was from God then they shouldn’t fight against Him. I read of Stephen and noticed how often he was described as “full of the Spirit.” As I reflected on that I realized that I can’t be full of the Spirit if I have other things in my heart, things like anger and hatred and bitterness. Finally I read about the huge persecution that broke out against the church after Stephen was stoned, and thought that as terrible as that event was it was important in God’s plan to spread His word to those who didn’t know of His love.

I don’t exactly know who all reads this, and I certainly don’t know where you stand on this, but my encouragement is the same. Love even when it is difficult, don’t judge others who think differently than you, and do the right thing. The elders have made their decision, I’ll make mine and you have to make yours. But make that decision because it is what God wants for you. Remember that God is in control, and He is the God of impossible and difficult situations. I found it humorous that the last song we sang yesterday was “Trust and Obey.” That really is the key. Trust that God knows what He is doing, and obey Him. It is really that simple.

As I reach the halfway point in my self-imposed 40-day sabbatical, I have some questions. I know there are only two people who read this, but if anyone has any insights/comments/further questions please feel free to comment.

  1. Hebrews 13 says that we are to submit to and obey our leaders. However, we are also responsible for our own relationship with God, and sometimes leaders can be wrong. How do we balance this? How can we be fully submissive to our leaders if we are also to be examining them to make sure they are leading in the right direction?
  2. Based on the above questions, is it wrong to attend and/or be a member of a congregation where you don’t trust the leaders and won’t submit to them?
  3. In John 17 Jesus prays the famous prayer about unity. As I read this again, with my total lack of knowledge of Greek, it seems that what Jesus really asks God for on behalf of His disciples is that they be kept in God’s name. It seems that unity is the natural result of those who are in Christ. The closer we are to Jesus and God the closer we will be to each other. I guess my question is: do we focus too much on unity as a goal, sometimes ignoring the process by which we are to become unified?
  4. Again, related to that, if a person leaves one congregation because of some things they don’t like to attend a congregation where they are more comfortable, are they contributing to or detracting from the unity of Christ?
  5. What if they leave more because of reasons found in questions #1 and #2 than issues of comfort?

The more I write, the more questions I have. I am continuing to dwell on these things and more, but I wanted to put these out there.

As I continue to read through the book of John I have been fascinated by the response of the Pharisees and religious leaders to Jesus. They are in the presence of the Son of God – the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth and the Life, etc., but they can’t get past their own knowledge and traditions. These traditions weren’t bad in and of themselves, and I am convinced they had the best of intentions and thought they were doing what God wanted them to do. The tragedy is that they met God but didn’t recognize Him because they were too focused on their religion.

As I have reflected on my experiences, talked to friends and visited around, I have noticed/observed that churches can become somewhat myopic. By that I mean that they can become so focused on the work of their individual congregation and trying to make sure it succeeds (meaning that it grows and meets budget and looks good) that they lose their ability to see the work of God that they need to be doing. They tend to be so focused on doing three or four hours a week well that they are irrelevant the rest of the time. After ten years working in full-time paid ministry it seems that much of my effort was spent trying to improve the function of our congregation, and I wonder if somehow I missed God.

Actually, as I think about it I can think of times that I saw God most clearly, and ironically they were times that we were out of the church building. I think of our mission trips to Atlanta and New Orleans, our backyard Bible school and our work with Kaleidoscope. They were the best times because we were just loving people where they were. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t pursue or expand on our local mission efforts primarily because I didn’t feel like I could do that and maintain the demands of the church stuff at the same time. I chose the expectations of the congregation over the ministry that God laid in my lap. I take full responsibility for that, and don’t blame GP or anyone else.

As we visit other congregations I find it interesting the questions that occur to me. What are they doing to reach out? How do they spend their money? What programs do they have that I could possibly be involved in – programs that could help me grow or give me an opportunity to serve in some way? It occurs to me as I ask these questions that while these may be the right questions, they are questions I should apply to myself as a Christian. I shouldn’t expect a congregation to provide the programs that will make the implementation of my Christianity more convenient. I can’t lean on a congregation to fulfill my Christian responsibilities for me.

When I am honest with myself, I realize that in some ways I want a congregation to be doing those things so I can be involved when I want, but I don’t have to bear the full responsibility of doing it myself. I think this is why we like mission trips and service projects – we can go and then return. There is a beginning and an end, with no long-term responsibility once the trip or project is over. Even if we don’t go we can send people or give money or be involved in some small way, and then we can feel good and pat ourselves on the back and pacify ourselves when the sermon is about service.

The truth is, if we are willing to accept it, that Jesus calls each of us, individually, to serve Him. We are called to wash feet, not hire someone else to do it. We are called to love the lost, even if it costs us everything. The problem with a congregation is that we start to expect others to love for us. It is easier to avoid doing the things that we know we ought to do because we think that someone else will do it. In Social Psychology class we learned about Altruism – or people’s willingness to help others. We learned that in an emergency, the larger the group, the less likely people will be willing to help. This is because they think that someone else will do it. They feel less responsible for helping, and I think the same applies to churches. And don’t get me started on expectations for paid employees.

I am not against the existence of congregations, large or small. In fact, I firmly believe that a vital part of our spiritual growth is our commitment to a group of Christians so that we can encourage and be encouraged, teach and be taught, correct and be corrected. But we have to stop acting as if we are going to be called to the Judgment Seat by congregations. We will individually be called to give an account for our motives, our thoughts, our actions and our inactions. Programs are okay, but they are no substitute for our daily efforts to serve God in the ways that He gives us. We can’t be so near-sighted and focused on our own congregation that we don’t recognize God when He calls us.