Sunday in the Twilight Zone

Yesterday was my second Sunday not to preach. l just closed down my 5 year-old church plant on Palm Sunday. You can read the painful details in my article HE IS NOT HERE.

I figured I’d use my time between churches wisely and check out some area congregations. I wanted to see what I could learn from them, as well as worship. So we loaded up the kids and drove up to our second church as strangers in two weekends.

Last weekend was Easter, and we set off toward the big Baptist church in town. It’s the one trying desperately to appear relevant with their Saturday night contemporary service, while they have “traditional worship” still on Sunday morning. We made sure we arrived early so they’d have time to check our toddlers in.

What we got was an inept nursery worker who took a full 30 minutes registering us before we could finally walk to the sanctuary. This was a church running over 4000 in attendance, but we were the only ones they were checking in for the first 15 of those 30 minutes. So much for putting your best foot forward on Easter!

The praise band played some nice choruses, getting into it but not too much so…I mean, this is a Baptist church, so don’t get too excited or an usher will usher you outside! But the sound was crisp and clear, and the lighting swished and swooshed. What I would have given to have those bells and whistles in my now-defunct church plant we laid to rest the week before.

Then the pastor explained to us all about their new renovation fund for the sanctuary. Seems all the sound and lights were no longer up to their standards, so they need a few million to get them up to snuff.

I sat with my mouth open. Not only would I have gladly taken their left-over tech equipment, but I watched as a roomful of nonchristians there for the first time in a year listened to a sales pitch. I’m pretty sure now that they probably won’t even come back next Christmas. What brilliant timing!

Yesterday for my second Sunday off, we trudged through the rain to the hip nondenominational church that the Baptist church was trying to copy. They’re running just a couple thousand, are growing and have momentum. Their lights swished and swooshed even more than the Baptists, while their incredibly young and good-looking praise team led with high energy.

Interestingly enough, other than a hypersensitivity to looking hip, I enjoyed this church more…and I’m actually a Baptist. The pastor, who was my age but had obviously seen an image consultant, gave a very straightforward sermon on…wait for it…BAPTISM! And when he was done, they had a big metal tub over at the left side of the stage and person after person, most of them young adults, got baptized as the band played a celebratory worship chorus.

As much as I would have liked to criticize this church for their superficiality, it was a truly inspiring service. Even with the rain that morning, the experience had been more than worth it.

We now ventured across the parkway to a restaurant for lunch. It had certainly been a much easier Sunday than any I’d experiences as a pastor. Here’s my usual Sunday drill at the church plant:

Leaving my wife at home to get the kids ready, I rush to the church, hoping the load-in crew would show up on time. Haul a sound system in, grapple with getting it to work, frustration rehearsing with band members missing, try to look like I’m not distracted as people come to worship, help with worship, do the sermon, talk with people after, take down sound system, haul it all out. Then I collapsed like a bunch of broccoli.

Compared to that, this Sunday was a piece of cake. Great worship, great sermon, and people giving public testimony to the life-changing power of the Gospel and then a relaxing lunch…

…I was miserable.

Why? Because I’m not preaching. Again.

I know what you’re thinking. I must be one of those guys who has to be in the spotlight, right? Well, I really don’t think that’s the problem.

Then it must be that I’m envious of the cool church with the lights that swished and swooshed (even swirled), or of the big Baptist church whose awesome sound system is evidently not awesome enough for them?

No, I don’t think that’s it either.

Today it was raining, and I would have been loading in that sound system through the pouring rain. It would have been a mess…and yet I would have been happier than I am sitting at a nice restaurant, not being exhausted from not doing way too much again that morning.

What’s the problem? The problem is I’m a pastor. And pastors need to be pastoring and preaching on Sunday. But here I sit in my own comfortable, personalized little hell, watching the rain come down outside while remaining perfectly dry inside.

They say hell is not as much about the heat, it’s really the humidity. Figures.

Don’t bother reminding me – I know God’s not through with me yet. I’ve even got a prospect on the horizon that may turn out to be something pretty great for me and my family. But even with knowing that, I’m a pastor now without a flock, a preacher without a congregation.

And it stinks.

I guess this is why they call it a “calling” and not a job. A job you can quit and feel ok about as long as the bills are paid. A calling is who you are.

No, I’m not one of those guys who finds his identity in his work. I’ve got a great family that I love and enjoy daily. And I don’t have hidden feelings of insignificance – most of my neuroses are in the open, not hidden.

What I’m finding is how much being a pastor becomes part of who you are. I guess it comes down to this: I take responsibility for people, spiritually. Like a father, I feel responsible for guiding them the right direction and helping them through struggles. And the last couple of weeks since we closed our church plant, I’ve been struggling for what to do with myself.

Oh, I have work to do. I’m writing a book. I’m cleaning out our home and a storage unit so we’ll be ready to move if/when the time comes. I’m busy enough…just lost.

It’s like one of those dreams where you know you’re supposed to be doing something, and you can’t for the life of you remember what it is. That’s what most days feel like now. 

So if you’re a pastor dealing with the usual Monday-morning regrets, know that whatever feelings and struggles you’re dealing with today are nothing compared to how you’d feel if your struggle was you didn’t have a struggle.

In fact, I’m going to make a mental note about this time for when I’m finally at my next church, and I’m dealing with some problem that’s irritating me. Or when I’m feeling the pressure of preaching every week, which can be very real and stressful…

…but not half as stressful as having those sermons build up inside you and having no one to deliver them to. Because for a pastor, your very own personalized hell would be not having any problems to deal with.

Often it’s the problems, both in the church and in people’s lives, that bring us purpose. And not having any for a pastor is to be trapped in a Twilight Zone episode made especially for you.

It’s still raining outside as we reach home. What to do with myself for the rest of the afternoon…

I guess today I get both the hell and the humidity.

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