December 14, 2015, a Monday, one year ago today, was a day that sent my little part of the world into a tailspin of sorts. My father, who was also my lead pastor and boss, was asked to resign from the church he had served for over 31 years of his life, literally half of his life. There was no moral failure or anything like that, the elders of the church felt he was not doing a good enough job in casting vision and inspiring the staff, or them, to lead. December 14, 2015 was the day my father turned in his resignation.
Rewind to the summer of 2003 when I was in conversation with the same church about the possibility of coming on staff as a Pastor of Creative Arts. The questions and discussion revolved around nepotism and whether or not I could work with my father and respect him as a leader and submit to his authority. The answers were all yes, and I had considered the possibility that one day, Dad may have to let me go, or fire me, and I would need to be okay with that. Never did I consider the possibility that I may not be the one being let go, but that I'd have to stand by and watch it happen to my father.
Well, it happened. And let me tell you, IT SUCKS!
Anger and hurt dictated the next few months of my life. I could not do much more than process what had happened and pick apart every decision and every word the elders of the church would say. I could not believe this was happening. I did not agree with their assessment and decision, and especially the way they handled it. I felt that my father was disrespected and dishonored after he poured his life into the church body here, into us as staff, into them as elders.
If not for my father, I'm not sure I would still be here. He set the tone during his departure by not speaking ill of the elders, and by not raising a stink with the body. While many encouraged him over the next several months to start a new church in the area so they could follow him, he rejected the idea and continued to try to preserve and protect the unity of the church body he had labored for and served for 31 years. Dad kept encouraging me to stay with the body here and help her to grow and heal and move forward.
So, I prayed. I prayed mainly out of confusion. I did not know what to pray for or how to pray, but as the Word promised, I believe that the Spirit interceded on my behalf. As the Spirit interceded, he also started working on me and my heart toward the elders, the body of men who started this process and put the wheels into motion.
I had so much anger in my heart. I was working hard to hate them. I did not want good for them. I did not want good for their families. I was having a really hard time practicing a love and forgiveness that I have preached and declared for most of my life.
I prayed and the Spirit continued to chip away the crust of hate and bitterness around my heart.
During the whole time, I was communicating with the elders back and forth through email for a couple reasons. The first, being that I could write, and edit, and try to say what I really wanted to say, without letting too much emotion get in the way. The second being that every time I saw them in person, I really wanted to punch them in the throat. I mostly heard responses back from one elder. I don't know if that was by design, or because this elder and I had been close before. But, I believe this communication, and the conversations we had helped in the forgiveness process as well.
In my anger-fueled hatred, I had made a lot assumptions about the hearts of the elders. I had presumed to know their intentions and made a lot of judgments that were not founded on truth nor fair. Those open communications helped me to see some truth and realize error in my judgments.
During all this time, my parents were still here in the area. Mom was still working for a local Christian college and Dad had started filling in as a preacher at a small farming community about 25 miles away. They were praying about what their next step would be. They were in their early 60s and were not ready to retire yet, but this was home. Here they were within a 2 hour drive of all of their grandkids. They owned their home outright.
They prayed and God opened a door. This door would lead them over 600 miles away from their closest grandchildren. This door would lead them to a place where they did not have established friendships. This door would lead them to having to sell their home they owned outright, our family's home for 31 years, and try to find something else and start over again. Despite the above, they chose to be faithful and walk through the door.
Their decision to move, again refueled some anger in my heart toward the elders. They were wrecking our happy, comfortable, family existence. We had to tell our children, who have grown up with Grandpa and Grandma for their whole lives, that was no longer a possibility. My children basically curled up into the fetal position and cried for a couple hours. How could the elders do this to us?
Again, unfair, and misplaced, anger and emotion aimed at the elders, but the Spirit and the Word kept working in the background speaking words of love and forgiveness to me. If only I would stop taking the time to fuel those fires, and stop building up a fortress of stone around my heart.
Finally the day came when I could not fight against what was right anymore. I know love is the most excellent way. I know forgiveness is the way of the Father. I know that to the extent and measure that I give mercy, it will be given to me. I know all these things in my head. It was time to start putting them into practice. If I am going to be a Christ-follower, the time had come to live out those beliefs in this season where they had been tested like never before.
So, again, I wrote a letter to the elders. I could say things best that way. I could speak my heart without emotion getting in the way. I wrote forgiveness and love. I wrote confession and asked for love and forgiveness. I freed my soul of hatred and anger. I will never agree with the elders' decisions on this matter, but I will not hold it against them any longer. The hurt they caused my family will not be held over their heads any longer. I will seek good for them. I will serve them. I will love them.
It is a year to the day since the start of this all. It took a good ten months for me to come to the place that I was willing to forgive. I am still serving with the same church body. I am still serving with the same elders. The forgiveness, and the pain, are still very fresh. There are still hurts and feelings that I have to fight and bring into submission to the Spirit and the Word. But, I have chosen to fight that fight.
My friends. love is the most excellent way. It is the way of the Father, God. Seek it and pursue at all costs. As far as it depends on you, brothers and sisters, pursue peace and unity.
I write this because I know there are many of you out there that still hurt, that are still wrestling with whether or not to submit to love and forgiveness. Let me encourage you to take the steps necessary to swallow hurt, pride, or whatever else is holding you back, and give in to the most excellent way, love. Do it for Willie, who gave 31 years of his life to help build and grow this body up to maturity. Do it for your brothers and sisters around you that call WestWay home. Do it for your own soul. Do it for the sake of Christ, who gave his life on a cross and shed his blood for the sake of love and forgiveness.