Home > Looking Back, Ministry > When They Wouldn’t Accept “No” As An Answer

When They Wouldn’t Accept “No” As An Answer

(This is my 5th post about my journey in, out, and eventually back into ministry.)

My degree required a Master’s Thesis in addition to my classwork.  During my second year of class work, I proposed a thesis on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Theological Implications of His Resistance to the Third Reich.”  After a few tweaks, they approved my thesis project.

I only had to do the research and write it.  Only.

No problem, right?  I enjoyed school.  I thrived on research and writing papers.  I could knock this out and move on to my doctorate.

It proved to be a little more difficult than that.  Maybe I had burnt out.  Maybe the emotional toil that I had and continued to inflict on myself about the failure at the church had spread into other parts of my life.  Whatever had happened,  I wanted nothing to do with school.  In my last semester of school work, I once again got all “A’s” but I now had force myself to do the work.

I didn’t know if I had the energy or the mental stamina to enroll for doctoral studies for three to five more years.  It seemed like that would be the rest of my life.

Then I began to pay attention to the economy.  If I somehow managed to survive enough to get a doctorate, then what?  Would I be able to get a job at a university?  More and more I kept hearing of people who’d gotten their doctorates, but were unable to locate a job at a university.

I couldn’t take another failure like that.

I didn’t know what to do.

I started my third year of graduate school.  All of my classwork had been completed, so I only needed to write that thesis.  The folder with my proposal sat there neglected on my desk.

Instead, I started writing short stories.  I don’t know if I expected something to happen with this.  Maybe someone would publish them.  Maybe someone would give me a contract to write a novel based on my short stories.  It was an escape.  During the time I spent writing those stories, I didn’t have to think about my future or my thesis or my failure as a minister.  I wrote.

Although I couldn’t face the possibility of another failure, I had chosen to try something with an astronomical failure rate.

(And trust me, I failed at this as well.)

Just before school year started, I received a phone call from someone asking me to come preach at Wilmeth Baptist Church.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to get calls like that, and after I checked my calendar to make sure I was free, I agreed to be there.

After the service, they asked if I’d come back the following Sunday.

“Sure,” I answered.  They had been nice enough to me and we had enjoyed our morning with them.

I drove out the next Sunday, preached again, and after the service they had another question for me.

“Would you consider being our pastor, driving out here every Sunday?”

Somebody wanted me, but I didn’t want to be wanted.

I hesitated.  I had plans and they didn’t involve pastoring this or any other church.  Besides, Angela and I had decided that this would be our last year in Abilene.  At the conclusion of the school year, whether or not I had finished my thesis, we would be moving to Arlington or San Antonio so that she could go to graduate school.

Besides, I needed a break from school.  I had almost gotten to the point of giving up on pursuing on a doctorate.  But if I gave up on that idea, then I had nothing to fall back on.  I’d have a useless degree and no future.

But I couldn’t make a decision on any further education until I finished that thesis, which I still hadn’t started.

“We don’t plan on being here long-term.  We’ll be moving in the spring.  I don’t even know if I could give you nine months.  You might want to look for someone a little more long-term.”

They didn’t even bother to step aside and talk among themselves.  “No, that’ll be fine.  We’d like you, however long you can be here.”

I had no response.  What could I say?  I didn’t know what to say.

I accepted.

I did so for a variety of reasons.  One, it was a short-term commitment.  I had established that I would be leaving in nine months and that would be the case.  Two, Wilmeth was located about an hour from Abilene.  They only wanted someone to come and preach on Sundays.  Nothing else.  Three, I wanted to erase the bad taste of ministry failure out of my mouth.  Yes, I had failed as a minister at the previous church.  People stopped coming and the church nearly went under.  I had been in charge and regardless of any circumstances, I had been responsible.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this ministry thing.  I had a bad taste in my mouth about ministry.  My future plans didn’t involve ministry, and yet somehow I also knew that if I passed on this opportunity, I would always wonder why and what if.  I needed to demonstrate to myself that I could do this.  Once I had done that, then I could move on with the rest of my life.

At least, that was my rationalization.

I don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t accepted the offer by Wilmeth Baptist Church.  I enjoyed those months more than anything.  Maybe it was because I felt no pressure.  Maybe it was because I knew this was my last go around, and I didn’t hide behind any pretensions.  I didn’t go out of my way to offend anyone, but I didn’t give any thought to whether or not I might offend someone.  I was just myself.

They tolerated me, or so it seemed, as I tried to work it all out.   And through it all, they smiled at me every Sunday while I preached.  Who knows, maybe they had their hearing aids turned off.  After the service, they told me how much they appreciated us and nearly every Sunday somebody invited us over for dinner.  I drove home having eaten way more food than I should have.

They thought they were getting somebody to preach for them on Sundays.  They gave me more than they probably realized.

And then it was over.  Nine months passed quickly.

On Easter Sunday, April 1995, I preached my last sermon at Wilmeth Baptist Church.  We lingered around after the service, and then everyone needed to go home to their families.  Angela and I got in the car to drive back to Abilene.

As I pulled away, I thought, “It wasn’t my fault.  And thankfully, I’ll never ever have to do this again.”

I was done.

I’d moved to Abilene in 1989 to prepare to be a minister.  Now, in 1995, with no desire to even consider being a minister, I boxed up the items on my desk as Angela and I got ready to move from Abilene to Arlington.

I looked at that rock.  I picked it up and held it in my hand.

“Let me never forget,” had been my prayer.  I didn’t know what to make of that time or that prayer.  I put the rock in the box with the other things and closed the lid.

I had more pressing matters, or so I thought, like finding a job.

************
Previous posts about this journey in, out, and eventually back into ministry:
“No thanks.  I’m really busy.”
“I’m done.  I quit.”
“Why me?  Why here?”
“I Give Up!”

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Categories: Looking Back, Ministry
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