This last 6 to 9 months have been the most difficult of my life emotionally. The problem is, I am not sure I can explain why. I have had more difficult times in my life than this...that is for sure. I have had times where my life is less chaotic or less secure. But for some reason, at least since fall, and especially since Christmas, I have had a hard time feeling very happy about anything. Or feeling like anything I do is worth a damn.
Part of this has to do with my work situation. While I have dealt with trauma and crisis is my work situation before, I have rarely had to deal with what is staring me in the face here at First Baptist of Colorado Springs. What is that you ask? FAILURE! Complete and utter failure.
For those of you not familiar with life in the church world...sadly it is a very competitive business. Especially when you work with youth. When you are a youth worker, the expectation is that you will draw youth into the church, who will in turn bring their parents, and thus your church will grow. And now...with my position as the young adult minister as well, I am expected to be a pied piper to bring them in as well. This pressure not only comes from within the local church you serve, it comes from the ministry world as a whole. If your attendance is not growing, than you simply are not doing a good enough job....and your whole livelihood and future feel tenuous.
This has not been that much of an issue at every other place that I have served. Because...while the church struggled to maintain attendance under the senior pastor, the youth groups at least doubled in my tenure in the churches I served at. I had frustrations, trials, and tribulations, but by every measure (individual students growth, leader development, numbers of kids at youth group) I was a success. And the same thing was happening here at First Baptist. The attendance was sharply increasing. The parents were amazed at how many kids were starting to attend. And then the bottom dropped out.
Not so much that our core people left, as they just chose to be less committed. One extended family had a major fight. Lost two students there...because they stopped coming with their cousins. Another family had major mental health issues. A student dropped out of high school and moved. Yet another family started up heading to the slopes to ski or going to tournaments to play soccer every weekend. Another family had extended family issues/crisis. And our little group that could had the same kids attending, but less regularly and less passionately.
Add to this that we began a second service, of which the weight falls mostly on me to lead and coordinate. And this service pushed our youth group time back, which in my opinion did not help us much at all with attendance at youth group.
Now as for the second service...I tried to put this service on the track to be led by teams of leaders who would plan and coordinate the service, and all I would do was put together the order of worship and teach. Well...the key leaders on this team (and also my youth team mind you) went to my boss and said that if the service was not started and soon that they would look at leaving the church. So...as the middle management of the church world as an associate pastor, I end up with all the pressure to push forward the service prematurely. Which means that I put a lot of work into it (like youth group) and it is poorly attended as well. Which makes me feel like....TWICE THE FAILURE that I was before.
And to be honest, I think that all of this is my fault. That attendance would be up if I was more charasmatic. If I was better looking. If I was thinner. Of course, for those long time followers of this blog, you know that part of the reason I think this way is because church leadership had a meeting with me where they said that I was too fat, dont have nice enough clothes, and generally dont fit the image they want to project...and that I had to make major changes or be out of a job. But part of the reason I feel this way is that I feel IT IS my responsibility to turn this church around. And that some how I am not because I dont measure up. Or because I am just a loser.
In my personal life I felt like I had some close friendships with people, and I think they would even today consider me their friends, but I feel like I have been abandoned and betrayed in the friendship. Both because they were a part of the team that did what I described in the previous paragraph, and because I have tried repeatedly to spend time with them only to be rebuffed. And I wonder...what is wrong with me? Not only can I not get work right, I am not good enough to be anyone's friend it seems. Why do I choose toxic people to be my friends?
And then there are my physical problems tied in with stress. There are a lot of times I can feel my blood pressure rising each time I come in the door. It takes me two hours of laying down before I can sleep because I get so upset and wound up in the political drama and that I might crumble under the weight of juggling all these different things.
Saturdays are especially difficult. Why? Because I dread Sundays. And I get nautious and I get headaches and sometimes I even visibly shake just thinking about how much I need to do and how much I really do not want to do it.
I am generally at the church from 8am-10pm. I have Sunday school to lead. Then I have to put on a different hat and help lead our traditional service. Then, I have a youth leader team meeting, and youth group, followed IMMEDIATELY by leading the second service. It is not so much the workload that bothers me. It is the innability to be present in each situation. When I am in youth group I am thinking about the EDGE service, and what I need to get organized in my mind, and whether the team is going to show up on time..(they usually dont). And when in EDGE, I am thinking about what happened in youth group...and frustrated that I cant spend the time just hanging out with the kids that are there afterward. And then when I finally get to EDGE, half the time it is so sparsely attended I want to quit. Then throw in fundraisers on the first sunday of each month, special outings, and sometimes I am trying to juggle five or six different ministry hats on Sunday...and I feel all alone in each of them. And I feel like I am working so hard to do a lot of stuff that I am not doing anything well. And you also need to throw in that I am leading a junior high and a sr. high trip, and that both my leaders on each trip quit the week that my mom went in for surgery on her neck and I went to Alaska...and you begin to see my drama.
(this is the point where you point out that ministers only work one day a week...right?)
(Little tidbit from personal experience I have learned--the amount of preparation for a group of 50 or 100 and the amount for a group of 10 to 20 is about the same.)
Anyway...it is not the busyness that bothers me. Anyone who knows me knows I like to work. The struggle is that
1. I feel like a failure
2. I feel alone in everything I do...which makes me feel like a total loser.
3. Because of the awful way I have been treated here by leadership. Having been told that I have to go on a diet for people to accept me because I did not fit their image. (Too fat, not nice enough clothes) Having been told that if I want to do the "authenticity thing" and be honest and real and transparent that nobody will support me or like me by my senior pastor, and having been manipulated by those I cared about most here, I don't feel like I can trust anyone either.
4. Because I am failing here...I am not sure I am going to be able to find another church without taking a "step back" in salary and position. So I feel like one poor decision (coming here) is going to cost me more than I ever imagined.
And all of this has led to me doubting everything I am and am called to be. To the core of my being....I am questioning everything in my life. I want to escape. And yet I feel trapped and stuck where I am right now.
I am waiting for the shoe to fall.
So keep me in your thoughts and prayers. And ask that this dark, dark time may soon fade into a glorious dawn of a new day.