Failures and Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago I blogged about ways to remain motivated in ministry. In the article I mentioned a string of painful events that led to my resignation from the pastorate in Monterey in 2006.

One of the comments on that post was from Gunnar Hanson, who asked me the following question:

“You planted the church and were there for 27 years when something bad happened (I have no idea what this was other than what you shared above) that caused you to resign. As I young pastor, I am very curious about what happened and the lessons you learned through this to serve as a warning for us younger guys that might get to big for our britches so to speak…hope this makes sense.”

I’m going to use today’s blog in an attempt to respond. I could speak for hours on the subject, but I promise to be brief here.

There were several things that happened that led to my resignation. The big one was that my marriage was in need of major repair, as we attempted to recover from my wife’s infidelity and issues that may have contributed to it. The public nature of our issues created unrest and some anger in the church. Approximately 5% of the people had been identified with varying degrees of angst. The board was supportive of me continuing on, but I was majorly challenged on three fronts: I was fighting to save the marriage, there was a need to work with the 5%, and there was a significant church body to continue pastoring. I figured I could handle two out of the three (with much grace, of course), but not all three. So I resigned. I do not regret it, although it was extremely painful to do so. I loved the church and people of CC Monterey Bay.

What lessons did I learn? Great question. Mistakes can be a great teacher, and I made my share of them, including in the last couple of years.

1.    Don’t become relationally disconnected from leadership. Unfortunately, I did just that. The senior pastorate is a privilege, and since we senior pastors normally have a great deal of freedom to determine our own schedules, pace, appointments, etc., we must use our freedom well. In the last couple of years, I focused more on the machinery of the church than on people.

2.    Don’t go “corporate” with your leadership structure. Because I had allowed relationships to wane, I tried to adjust to the relational deficiencies by adopting a corporate model of leadership, with a top to bottom org chart that further isolated me from some. The result: there were reporting channels to maintain, and some no longer had access to me, and I to them.

3.    Don’t raise up the wrong people. I put a couple of people in positions of authority that should not have been given that kind of responsibility or visibility. The “do not lay hands on anyone hastily” admonition in 1 Timothy is tremendously important. I knew that … was usually very careful for 25 of 27 years, but I got careless and paid for it.

4.    Talk to yourself with proper “self talk.” David talked to himself, and the results were most often very good. 

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

“O my soul, you have said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You.’” (Psalms 16:2)

“Why are you cast down, o my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

But there was at least one occasion when David’s self talk was inaccurate and harmful—and almost led to his destruction.

And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand.” (1 Samuel 27:1)

David was NOT going to perish at Saul’s hand! It was not gonna happen! He was God’s anointed and chosen king. But in spite of the truth, David acted on that lie he told himself, and went to live with the Philistines for 16 months. Near the end of those months, David’s men were talking about stoning him to death! It was a horrible decision David made, based on very bad information.

I lied to myself in those last couple of years, and my decisions reflected it. God had been faithful, He was being faithful, and He would continue to be faithful. I needed to believe what was true, what I truly believed! We pastors need to speak God’s truth to ourselves.

5.    Don’t believe your own press clippings. In the pastorate, there will be those who love us to pieces, there will be those who are real fans, and there will be others of different categories. People will talk, people will write things, and lots of opinions will flow and circulate. 

We mustn’t rely upon these things. The only true thing about us is what God says about us. He identifies and knows us completely. His estimation is what matters.

Next to God’s estimation of us is our wives’ estimation of us. She knows the truth better than anyone else.

Humility is the state of realistic thinking about one’s self. It’s a constant struggle to be sober-minded, but we must trust the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to help us.

6.    Keep the main thing, the main thing. My marriage didn’t survive, after all. I ended up divorced … it was a divorce I did not want. I have since remarried to a godly, beautiful woman who is a great source of encouragement and support for me. The Lord gave Sheri to me, and I have found a good thing (Pr. 18:22). 

I am therefore entrusted with a stewardship, which is to take care of her and treat her as Christ treats His church. I am one with her. I am called to obey 1 Peter 3:7 just like any married Christian man is called to obey 1 Peter 3:7.

Right now, I am trying to learn the kind of intimacy and oneness with my wife that I haven’t known well enough in the past. It’s a major challenge for me, but I must follow through. I want to follow through.

Next to my relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is my relationship with this woman. It’s got to be my main thing.

There’s much more I could say, but I’ll stop there. Maybe in another blog I’ll add to these thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Gunnar, thanks for asking the question.

6 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Bill, thanks for your candor and the pain it took and takes to continue to think about this and the ongoing lessons it yields to you and those you share with. The isolation from leadership and unhealthy self-talk are lessons I need to continually learn as I go along. Blessings to you.

  2. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    Thanks so much Bill. You gave much for us to chew on. It definitely strikes me that the family life is so important for a pastor, yet many churches fail to support the pastor in taking appropriate time with his family in light of ministry strains that are not common to other vocations. Thank you again, Gunnar

    • Bill Holdridge
      Bill Holdridge says:

      Gunnar, you are so right. Somehow, the some of the folks in our churches believe that we are exempt from the family related commandments of scripture.

      I see these same commandments as permission. I have permission to love my wife, permission to bring up my children, permission to live a whole life in Christ. Christ’s mandate/permission in these areas becomes my marching orders. I must obey God rather than man. And man needs to believe and understand that.

  3. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Great post Bill!
    You’re one of my heroes, because you acted as a true man. May ther be more genuine men like you shepherding God’s flock. I appreciate your faithfulness to the Lord & the truth in all aspects. I appreciate & value your friendship too.

    • Bill Holdridge
      Bill Holdridge says:

      Trip, your words are almost surreal to me. Thank you. You made my cry.

      Right now I’m going through what I am calling a crossroads in my life and ministry. This crossroads has to do with the focus of point number seven above.

      I so value your friendship as well, Trip. You’re a good man. I pray that the word about you and what you offer the Body of Christ will spread everywhere.

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