A few months ago I read a blog written by Ric Shewell titled: “Why I Left the Church of the Nazarene.” He was obviously disappointed in his experience with the processes of the Church of the Nazarene (CotN) and I sympathized with him. I thought to myself: I’ve been there and I know how he feels. Certain sentiments resurfaced while reading his blog, and I haven’t been able to escape the urge to write from another perspective… so here goes.
In March 2001 I sat in my office with my face in my hands. I found myself in the center of a very uncomfortable situation. It involved family, friends, and a place that I had called home most of my life. A few years earlier I had been brought on staff at a certain church and ‘groomed’ to be the successor of the pastor when he retired. I was told that permission had been granted from the District and the Church Board to move forward with this process.
This church was a very special place to me; I actually grew up on the property. When I was a kid my mom worked as the custodian so that our family could live in a little four room house owned by the church. This place was home. My brother and I grew up playing hide-n-seek, crawling under the pews, and climbing the bell tower. I was saved, married, called to preach, sanctified, and dedicated my children in this church.
This seemed like the perfect story: the local kid who fell away from the faith comes home, answers the call to preach, is mentored by the pastor, accepted by the congregation, and then becomes the pastor. For several years I had given every ounce of my energy to this church. Yet, on this day, I received news that certain personalities were adamant that I not become the next pastor. Although it hurt, I immediately felt released and decided I would not be the cause of division.
After sending my résumé out in search of a new position, three months passed and I heard nothing from any Nazarene District. Because my college was interdenominational I also had contacts with the Wesleyans, Quakers, and Methodists. I really felt led to stay with the Nazarenes. However, I was literally getting no calls from them while receiving many calls from the other groups. My instinct told me that I had a black-eye because of the scenario that had unfolded at the current assignment.
The Wesleyans and Quakers showed a lot of interest and after a period of waiting I felt God releasing me to go with another group. I was placed on ‘special assignment’ and remained in the ordination process with the Nazarenes. The other group received me with open arms and over the next few years I was offered several opportunities to switch my ordination track. However, I never felt like God released me to move my membership from the Church of the Nazarene.
Two years passed and I received a call from one of my college professors, who was also an ordained elder in the CotN. He presented me with the opportunity to plant/restart a church that was about to close. My present church had grown tremendously in weekly attendance, and here I was contemplating leaving to go back and start something new with just a handful of people. After a season of prayer, I said ‘yes’ to this endeavor. Finally, I felt like I was home in the CotN, but the story doesn’t end there.
We held the first service and had eighty people in attendance. However, the remnant group of ten on the verge of closure voted not to continue with the new start following the service. They felt like all the new people would ‘take over’ the ministries they had been part of for many years and push them out. All the work we had put into doing something new was hindered. So, we went back to the drawing board. That particular church ended up closing less than a year later.
Arrangements were made for us to use a little broken-down building that stood on the grounds of John Wesley Camp in High Point, NC. The building pictured above really is a good representation of the building that we used in the early days. Within two years the church grew to over 100 and was reaching the community in a number of ways. We tried to transition to the church building we had originally planned to use since it had closed, but was told that the district needed to sell the property.
On top of that, when it was time for my ordination, some leaders on the district opposed. At this point I felt like I couldn’t win. No matter how hard I worked to do positive things on the district, politics, personalities, and perception seemed to drive the decisions related to the church plant and my ordination. After a session with the Credentials Board that brought me to tears I thought I might as well give up. However, they had no real reason to keep me from ordination, I had finished the course of study, held a district license for five years, and served for nearly seven. After much debate I was ordained.
The irony is that I was happy about being ordained, yet discouraged about my relationships on the district. In my disappointment I quietly began to search for a new ministry assignment. Once again, I received numerous calls from other denominations. This time I also received calls from other Nazarene Districts. I called my DS and asked him if we could have a sit-down conversation. He agreed, we met, I expressed my frustration, he sympathized, and then reluctantly agreed to allow my name to be presented at a particular church along with thirteen other résumés.
This church at one time was one of the stronger churches on the district. Yet, had undergone a time of division and lost around 150 people. It was a church that was fragmented, frustrated, and needed renewal (much like me). Within a month of my résumé being presented I received a call to go for an interview. To make a long story short, I ended up taking the church, experienced some of the best years of my life, and stayed for almost eight years. While pastoring there the church experienced its largest attendance and offering records since its beginning. The rest is history… from there we moved to Illinois where we led an amazingly missional congregation, and now on to lead the Kentucky District.
Back to my response to the blog: “Why I Left the Church of the Nazarene.” Reading my story you can see why I identified with Ric. However, our stories are different in that he felt led to leave and I felt led to stay. That brings me to a point where I would like to elaborate on the title of this blog: “Why I Didn’t Leave the Church of the Nazarene.”
Three Reasons I Didn’t Leave:
- The Call – I could never escape the “call” to remain committed. I’m not saying it’s wrong to leave. However, I am saying that staying the course makes a difference. That means through hardship, frustration, attack, persecution, and processing negativity, if we believe God has called us to a certain place we must believe God will make a way for us to stay.
- Investing in Others – Over the years I’ve been able to sympathize with so many men and women in the ordination process. I’ve encouraged numerous candidates along the way. I’ve laid my hands on the shoulders and offered prayers of consecration over several men and women as they’ve completed the ordination journey.
- Changing the Process – Instead of walking away, I desired to be part of the solution. At this point I’ve sat on Boards of Ministerial Credentials and Ministerial Studies on three districts. I always remember sitting on the other side of the table. I believe God allowed me to go through the hard times so that I would be equipped to help others through the same challenges.
In closing, I can sincerely say, I’m glad I stayed. I love my church. I am deeply committed to the mission of the Church of the Nazarene. I believe that staying the course through times of frustration and disappointment made me stronger and more prepared for ministry.
I’ve always said anything worth doing is difficult. Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it. My encouragement to the reader is simply this: remain committed to the call God has placed in your heart, invest in others along the way, and be a voice that helps bring change when systems are broken.
Now, let’s get busy making Christ-like disciples in the nations!