It's hard to explain the depths of depression and emotional despair one reaches when almost everything he poured his life into for 20 years and his hopes and dreams for the next 20, along with friends, income, ministry, meaning and more are suddenly disappearing in a bizarre and unforeseeable manner.
At 3AM on another sleepless Sunday morning I came up with one last desperate "solution", one last grasp effort to be able to remain at TA and have some sort of meaningful ministry. I went to church and at the end of the service, conducted on less than one hour's sleep, I extemporaneously announced that I was going to lead the church in the search for a new young lead pastor who could help the church effectively reach the next generation. I would stay on, but only part time. In my mind I would still do some preaching but mainly I would protect the new guy from the board. And maybe if they saw that I was advocating for someone else to have that kind of freedom and authority to lead the congregation biblically, then they would realize the battle really wasn't about me.
I was, no doubt, vague and unclear. I later explained it more clearly in my annual report in January but it was a hopeless and impossible plan. A new guy with any sense wasn't going to walk into this situation and the board wasn't going to let me bring in someone new to do what they hadn't wanted to let me do.
It was unworkable and hopeless but it was the only straw I had left to grasp onto. Like an army that has lost the decisive battle but somehow hangs on for a few more meaningless, but painful, skirmishes, I still stubbornly refused to surrender.
So we were totally shocked, though we should not have been, when Jeanie and I came back from a one-week vacation in February only to be told by the District Superintendent (none of the board members were present or ever offered a word of explanation) that my "resignation" had been accepted effective six weeks from now.
One reason I was shocked was that in the past the Board had always been very deliberate about making even small decisions, often asking for a month or more to pray and consider before voting, sometimes much longer. But removing the founding pastor was decided in the same meeting it was first discussed. No need to explore what had really gone on or to delay or pray or plan some pathway to reconciliation and healing. The only thing the church needed now was for Mark to be gone. He was the problem and removing him was the solution. I had expected some sort of process.
I was too exhausted to fight or argue so I just played along. I didn't have the energy needed to be a pastor in normal circumstances much less face a major battle with board and my assistant over the direction of the church. I told people it was God's will (always a safe answer) and tried to be careful to give answers that were literally true even if they were deceptive by virtue of what was left unsaid.
The celebration and tribute on May 2, in which so many members spoke of the impact I had on their spiritual lives, was the highlight of my last 10 years. But even that evening had it's depressing moments. Anytime some well-meaning friend came up to me and said, "At least it was a good ending," it was all I could do to hold it together. My last two sermons, by the way, were both impassioned pleas to the leaders and church to re-focus on evangelism.
And then it was over. Just like that. But not quite. There is still room for a happy ending.