A few nights ago I was sitting in the worship center at Falls Creek (a Baptist youth camp in Oklahoma), worshipping Jesus as one of my favorite worship bands (Dutton Band) led worship. My wife, my wife’s cousin, and I had gone down to the camp for the evening service. We knew several of the churches there this week and hoped to run into some people, which amazingly with around 8,000 people there we did see everyone we hoped to see and several dear friends we did not expect to see. I also knew that FBC McLoud, the church I pastored until last September, would be there. What I did not expect is that I would be sitting 7 or so rows behind them. Stephanie kept Bo in the cry room, and so Alayna, Stephanie’s cousin, and I went into the worship center to find a seat. The worship center at Falls Creek seats somewhere around 10,000 people and somehow we wound up sitting directly behind them, and to get to the seats we had to walk by where they were sitting. As we found our seats I wondered about the potential rumors percolating among the group since their previous Pastor just walked by with a woman not his wife. I had quite a few emotions running through me as worship began and I tried to block them out and focus on Christ. Then the band began a Matt Redman song 10,000 Reason and during the singing of this song I was completely broken. During the few tears forming in the corner of my eyes during this song I realized I needed to finally write about the past year and a half of my life and share my raw emotions. What follows is that story in raw, brutal honesty.
As I confronted my explosion of emotions during this song about God’s Blessings and Love and His eternality, I realized that is was just under a year ago, (Tuesday, July 11, 2011 to be exact) when another Matt Redman song, Never Once, led to a large emotional breakdown, on that day I was driving to visit our kids at another camp ground in the state when that song played in my car and I started crying so hard I had to pull over to the shoulder. I also realized why writing about this was necessary. If you have not been able to tell, my writing pen has been dry for awhile. I have posted many things written several years ago to keep up with posting on the site, but new things I have written have been few and far between, and when they have appeared, there has rarely been a lot of depth to them. I know that is because the things I need to say the most, I have not said and I have been afraid to say. So I am going to say them. I will temper things that need to be, but I won’t do it much because I think God can use Oct 2010 – September 2011 from my life to help others.
Sunday, October 24, 2010, I woke up not feeling well at all. I did not have time to be sick though, that morning I was preaching in view of a call at FBC McLoud. I was excited and anxious. My pregnant (we did not know that she was pregnant yet, that joyfully discovery was to come a few weeks later) wife joked that I was going to be sick during all the big moments of our life (I had had a 103 fever during our wedding and remember very little of it). We got to the church early, met with the members of the search committee, and walked around meeting people during the Sunday School time, then preached on the Resurrection. My parents came that morning, as did Ben, my best friend since 4th grade. After service the church had a luncheon, and then a Q&A time with me, it basically amounted to an interview with 100+ people. I welcomed all the questions and enjoyed the opportunity for the church members to get to know me better. That evening we returned to the church for the vote. It was an incredibly nerve racking time. I believe the vote was something like 84-3, and I accepted the call to become the Pastor at FBC McLoud.
My time there started with a whirlwind and never really slowed down, from Oct. 25 – Dec. 31st I tried (and think I succeeded) in meeting with every committee, team, and group at least once. Doing that really kept me away from my lovely wife who was struggling with a rough first trimester of pregnancy. I regret doing that. It was a wrong decision. I gained no real benefit at church and hurt things at home. I was going so fast so hard that I was constantly on edge, and whatever good will I did gain by meeting with all the various people, I tended to blow with my quick tongue that was not being reigned in enough. Due to my severe lack of sleep and horrible eating habits I did not even realize this. In those 5 weeks I gained between 25-30 pounds. Jokingly I blamed it on their being a Sonic next door to the church, but it was more than that. I would at times only eat one meal a day and it would be fast food. I kept my energy level high through copious amounts of coffee and Dr. Pepper. Also to make sure I was at church early I would rush through my daily time with God so I could get busy serving Him. I was running hard and fast and doing so at great expense to my health; my physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health.
Along the way of this fast paced ministry life I caused my wife to feel second to the church and ministry, and I offended more than a couple of people at church. After Christmas that year, I made a commitment to leave the office every day by 5 and to leave work there. I made a commitment to make Stephanie a priority and to let her know that. I also set out to repair the relationships at church and really thought I had down so. Things were getting better. I was getting into a good pattern, was spending more time with God every day, was getting more sleep, was being nicer to Stephanie. I thought things were going great.
Then, one Wednesday in early April I received an email from one of the deacons that he would like to meet with me before Bible Study that night. I met with him and he told me the deacons were going to hold a meeting without me that night to discuss me. I was completely in shock. I felt a million percent blindsided. I had zero idea what was going on. I made it through Bible Study ok, and then was going to go to Braums with one of my church members (he was the pastor before the pastor I followed and was a really great guy). We were walking to his car and we saw the local DOM getting out of his car. He had been asked to come and meet with the deacons. I talked with the former pastor for awhile, felt a little better and then went home, still very nervous and confused. I talked with Stephanie for a bit and finally around 10:30 or so the deacon that had come by to see me called me. He said the deacons wanted to meet with me on Sunday night after church, that my job was not in jeopardy, but that there were some concerns.
I was nervous the entire time until Sunday night. To be honest I do not remember much about the meeting. I remember much of the complaints were very petty. They were upset I did things on a schedule and liked to schedule appointments and not just have drop by counseling visits (I did bend on that and get more adaptable), and they were disturbed that I did sermon prep with my door closed, and that one Sunday I did not wear a tie. (still was dressed up, just no tie that one Sunday). The next day, on Monday, I met with my DOM, and I am not sure if it was then or several months later, but I learned from him there was a list several pages long of grievances against me. Most of them were extremely petty and much more reflective of the person voicing the complaint than it was of anything about me. I did tell the deacons I would make some changes and really work on some people skills (only job I have ever had, secular or ministry, where my people skills have been questioned rather than praised). I did really work on them too, and several of them noticed it. Again I thought things were going better.
Then on a Wednesday in the middle of June I had a long talk with one of the deacons that was on my side (how disgusting is it that there were sides?). He told me things were getting worse; there were constant phone calls between the deacons and a certain few trying to stir up trouble that I would never please. That morning my wife had had a check up with our OBGYN, it was Bible School, I dressed up as Nicodemus to teach the Bible story for one of the classes and then that meeting in the parking lot with the deacon. Again I was shaken. Stephanie and I both went to go visit with our DOM that afternoon. I really felt like I was in a losing battle with no hope. That night around 11:45 Steph’s water broke and 22.5 hours later we held Bowman Matthew for the first time. The following Sunday was Father’s Day and we had the biggest attendance in at least 5 years and I was so encouraged at what God was doing in McLoud. The encouragement did not last long. Falls Creek was right around the corner and when I expressed that I was going to attend with our youth for several days and wanted to share during the first night devotional time, I, the pastor, met strong resistance from the youth leaders.
The youth minister had left about two weeks before I came to McLoud, so for that whole time a team of volunteers had been running the youth group (it was truly a group and not a ministry) and were for the most part extremely resistant to new ideas. We had a committee to search for a new youth minister and thought we had one. Then he told me over the phone one Saturday night in March, that he did not want to pursue it anymore because he needed to stay where he could do things in a Biblical way (implying that FBC McLoud was not biblical) and that young man is now their pastor. He had briefly lived in McLoud for awhile and was who some of the church wanted to be their next pastor when I was hired, but they were not in positions to make that happen. They were the ones stirring up trouble though, and their favored son, decided to lie to everyone about the phone conversation and about all of the previous times we had met and talked and blame me personally for him not coming.
Well I did go to Falls Creek for a few days. I did lead the first night’s devotional. However there were some really bad experiences there as well. Things just kept getting worse, no matter how much I bent over backwards to please everyone, and stay faithful to where God was leading. That all led to the breakdown in the car on the way to kids camp. I really felt as if I was having a nervous breakdown. I was doing all I could to seek God’s glory and to pursue the Gospel yet things just kept falling apart. During this time Stephanie and I knew we were called to church planting and we knew the signs were pointing us that way, we just did not know when. In August I preached a sermon series on Matthew 5:14-16 and during the preparation, study, and delivery I knew God was telling me the time is now Todd. Then at the beginning of September we had the regularly scheduled business meeting.
I thought it was just another meeting. I knew it would not be all roses and cupcakes, but I did not expect what was coming. I started to think something was bad, when my DOM was there, my secretary came into the meeting, and the Personnel Committee was there as well. Instead of a meeting, it was a pile on Pastor Todd session. The things were more and more petty and ridiculous. I treated everyone the same and not some people better just because of their long held positions. I had a vision for us to grow and reach out, not appease certain factions. Etc. Etc. At some point there was a vote on whether or not to recommend my dismissal. It failed and was in my favor. There was more discussion and more arguing, then another vote where I actually gained votes. At this point I wanted them to just keep voting and I might have had a raise in the end. After the meeting I knew my time was very very short there. I visited with my DOM some and he talked to me about what the future looked like and encouraged me.
The next morning I went to Starbucks instead of the office and spent all day there reading. At some point I got a message from the Personnel Committee that they wanted to meet with me that night. I originally declined and offered to meet on Wednesday, but then I just wanted it over and I agreed to meet if I could have the first 15 minutes of the meeting. I went to my office and typed my resignation letter and handed it to them. We agreed on an extended salary package and I agreed to take vacation the last two weeks. The following Sunday I had a sinus infection (so bad I actually went to Urgent Care) and the person filling the pulpit read my letter. I finished my last two Sundays and then we left FBC McLoud.
Along the way there were rumors, lies, phone calls, political blogs I had written 5 years previously shared, attacks on my wife, and just a ton of nastiness. When we first left I was just glad to be out of there. I felt the extended nightmare was over and I could move on. I told people I was ok and not that hurt, but more excited about where God was leading us. I really was just numb.
Well since October that numbness has waned and the emotions have flooded in at times. I am still hurting and bruised. The youth minister candidate that contributed so many lies being their pastor now brings many of those feelings up and has caused me to relive so much of the things from there. When we first left McLoud I thought I knew exactly when and where God wanted us to plant. I thought we would be in the middle of core group phase now and really prepping for launch. Right now the place to plant has changed several times, and is still not a definite. The timeline has been so far extended and changed I cannot see the next point on it anymore, and that is good. You see I needed time to deal with all of this. I needed to realize how hurt I am. I am in no way over this, but I think I am to the point where I can admit how I feel and begin to really deal with it.
So what happens now? Well thanks to the Grace of God I learning to slow down and to really prioritize things better. I have come to where I really base everything on whether or not it comes under one of four things; does it help me to be a better believer, does it help me to be a better husband, does it help me to be a better daddy, does it help me to be a better pastor/author/planter. Doing this has helped to take away a lot of the things draining me and to really focus on what matters and on gives me time to really let God deal with my wounds and bruises and insecurities and to just rest in the cross. Where are we in church planting? That timeline is still so fluid and moving. I can say that at this time it looks like we will plant in the DFW area, although that could change back to Owasso, or Moore or somewhere completely different. I also know we will be in OKC for awhile longer, working on our debt and recovering from McLoud. During this time we will be helping our friend Jeff Lawrence in the planting of Redemption Church in Edmond in whatever ways he needs. We are excited to see what God is doing through him and what will happen with the church plant. I will be managing the Chick-fil-A on NW Expressway & Rockwell for the foreseeable future. Daily I will depend on His Grace, love Stephanie, Bo & Doodle Jump (the nickname we have for the baby in mommy’s tummy), and pursue to grow in the Gospel as I know that never once have I walked alone and never once will I.