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Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Almost Perfect Church: Chapter 12- Every Ending Is A New Beginning

(Note: This is the last chapter of my story.  It won't make much sense unless you start at the beginning!  Click here for Chapter 1)

Today, my life would be the envy of many.  I'm pretty happy with it myself, about the only thing I would change would be to have more opportunities for teaching and preaching the Word (I have some, both in the church I attend and in other churches, but not as much as I'd like, at least not yet).

You've heard enough sad stories, here's a happy story about money.

Pastors are allowed to opt out of social security.  They and their churches are firmly told that if they do, be sure and put the money that would have gone into SS (both the employer's share and the employee's) into a retirement fund so you won't be bereft when that day arrives.  I opted out but in the 90s we were not getting anything put into our retirement fund, the money saved by the church by not paying into SS for us was being used to pay other bills instead.  This is when the stock market was soaring.  The elders (at the time) assured me that TA would take care of my wife and/or I when the time came and that was fine with me as I was young and didn't plan to retire from TA until I was very very old anyway.


Shortly before the market crashed (2000) and then hit the doldrums, both church and I did start paying into a 403b plan but, as you can imagine, when I found myself "retired" a couple decades earlier than I had planned, there wasn't much there.  Jeanie was a teacher, which meant she wouldn't get SS either, and she started late (in her 40s) so her retirement wouldn't be large, but if she stuck with it she would get enough to cover almost as much as she and I would have otherwise gotten in SS when that day came.

Losing my job (pastors don't get unemployment benefits) meant a 60% drop in income.  We always lived pretty simply but it was a tough adjustment and by the end of 2010 we had used up a lot of our savings trying to make ends meet.  We finally made the necessary adjustments to learn how to live happily on her salary but we still didn't have much put away for retirement.

As I prayed about employment, the Lord kept saying, "no".  Don't look for a job at a local church or at Simpson or back at Shasta College or teaching at Bethel's rapidly growing school.  Don't look for a job at all.  "I'll take care of your financial needs."

The thing about the stock market is, nobody wins.  The experts (mutual fund managers and hedge fund managers) don't do very well in the long run and individual investors do worse.  I studied as best I could, began managing and trading our small 403b (now IRA) holdings, and now, four years later, we've "suddenly" got enough money for retirement when Jeanie stops teaching in a few years.  Is it because I'm a genius?  Or lucky?  Or because the Lord guided my decisions so that I'd be free for whatever else He had for me?

What have I been doing?

Besides about 8 hours a week managing our retirement funds, family takes up a lot of time.  Our kids are spread out and between them and my dad I've put a lot of miles on the Element and quite a few in the air.  I cook our meals and grocery shop and sometimes even make the bed.  I raised chickens and ducks and geese when I was totally depressed and it got me through.  Friends call me and ask me to go on various adventures with them.  Whether it is three weeks camping canyoneering in Utah with a bunch of unchurched friends, or through-hiking the John Muir Trail with a Bethel pastor, if there isn't something on the calendar, the phone will probably ring soon.

The stories I could tell you!

I've done some writing.  These 12 chapters started out as a short letter of explanation to TA 3 years ago but it turned out to be 72 pages long (and counting).  As you can see, I edited out about 75% of that.  I'm writing about evangelism and the Christian life.  It's pretty much impossible to get anything published today unless you are famous so I've been trying to figure out the right venue.  I have some other ministry ideas closely associated with that book and I'm trying to get it to come together.  Meantime, I'll just put stuff up on this blog for now.

Naturally I've had lots of time for reading as well.  But I've always made lots of time for reading.

I've been running less, down from an average of 7 hours a week to about 4, though I'm trying to ramp it back up again this year.  Running is my doorway to a lot of amazing relationships... A LOT... of AMAZING... relationships.

I've been leading a home group and we've been doing a lot of mentoring, both formal and informal at the Stirring and occasionally (not often enough!) get called upon to do some teaching.

And I started a non-profit called Shasta Trail Runs.  I put on five trail races in the area.  We had about 500 people our first year with virtually no advertising and all the races are growing this year.  It's been a great ministry in many ways but it takes up a ton of my time.  I do enjoy STARTING things.  That has also lead to many fascinating and strategic open doors of ministry and relationship.

So I travel and minister and hang with family and friends and make money by "magic" with my computer (stock market) and cook and read and write and run and put on races and meet and make friends with lots of fascinating people and all the bills are paid with some left over.  I rarely set an alarm clock. I don't have to "earn" a living so I'm free to give away my time and energy for free.  And, unlike every senior pastor I know, I can't remember the last time anyone discouraged me by criticizing how I'm doing my "job".

So yes... You can stop feeling sorry for me now!

What do I want to see happen as a result of this story I've been telling?

I'd like to see some reconciliation take place.  Reconciliation is sort of a big thing to God.

Do I want an apology?  I'd like to know if they think they owe me an apology and if not, why not, and if so be specific.  Either way, my story has been told and I'm ready to move on.  I would like to hear their story though.

Do I want to see repentance?  I've already said a lot about what I think it means to be a genuine follower of Jesus and what that means for churches and church leaders.  I'll spell that out in a lot more detail in future blog entries and perhaps other venues, but what I say about that isn't for TA per se but for everyone who calls themselves a Christian and for every church.  I hope they'll have serious conversations about these matters and will search the Scriptures and bow to its Ways, rather than to the ways of American Church Tradition.

With regard to my influence on TA, I have shared some things I believe I will be rewarded for and others I messed up and sought forgiveness for, but from this point on my personal responsibility to TA is discharged and what happens, or doesn't happen, in the future will be the responsibility of others.

Meanwhile, do everything you can to support Pastor Dave's ministry.  He's a good man who's come into a tough situation.  Do everything you can to help him succeed at what he believes the Lord is leading him to do, and I would expect to see the Lord doing great things at TA once again.

If you call me or Jeanie and want to get together for coffee and conversation, that would make us happy.  At last we can be ourselves again!  We're looking forward to the the final third (God-willing) of our lives as the culmination of everything He has prepared us for up to now.

That's the end of my story about a church called Trinity, but I have lots more to say about the Church.  Check back in here at this blog now and then and you'll see that I'm still crazy after all these years.


Anonymous said...

I remember sending this quote to you not long after you left TA. It seems appropriate to post it for others to remind us all of the care that we should strive for towards our pastors. Perhaps your "cautionary tale" will prevent a similar occurrence elsewhere. Kelly B

On the Tendency to Criticize, and the Need to Protect, Our Pastors, by John Calvin, commenting on 1 Timothy 5:19:

None are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers. This comes not only from the difficulty of their duties, which are so great that sometimes they sink under them, or stagger or halt or take a false step, so that wicked men find many occasions of finding fault with them; but added to that, even when they do all their duties correctly and commit not even the smallest error, they never avoid a thousand criticisms. It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished. . . . [T]he more sincerely any pastor strives to further Christ’s kingdom, the more he is loaded with spite, the more fierce do the attacks upon him become. And not only so, but as soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved. This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, over credulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending. —John Calvin, Second Corinthians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), p. 263; emphasis added.

David Haddon said...

Mark, I especially appreciate your affirmation of Pastor Dave, your successor at Trinity. He is, indeed, a good man.

Patricia Montenegro said...

I'm sorry that you experienced so much pain, Mark. And I'm thankful to hear that things are going well for you now. I have prayed for you and Jeanie ever since you left TAC. Excruciatingly painful experiences have the potential to draw us closer to God or to pull us further away from Him. It sounds like you have found Proverbs 3:5,6 to be true, which I certainly have as well. No matter what our circumstances, just or unjust, we can trust in the Lord - ALWAYS - for He is good and He will guide and direct our paths along the way. With lots of love, Patty Montenegro

Mark Swanson said...

Thanks Patty, I've met many pastors who've been through similar or worse, most of them never tell their story publicly because it might interfere with their getting another position. Hopefully by breaking the silence I can prevent one or more future occurrences. Meanwhile it appears that those who were involved in our situattion are not going to respond in any way but that doesn't surprise me. Blessings to you and Rico.

Anonymous said...

Tim read your blog aloud to me aloud over several evenings. Tim and I both understood and we're sympathetic to the pain you experienced. I was saddened by the alienation you both experienced from your friends and in fact your long term spiritual family. It is devastating at the time and takes year to recover from.

I was not surprised by the anger and rejection you experienced. Unfortunately, I have seen a side of Christians in the past I never expected to see. But people are only human and flawable, Christians as well as the rest. I felt a special compassion for Jeanie as she was an innocent bystander crushed by the tsunami of the anger hurled at you. She truly is one of the kindest, and most sincere people I know. I prayed for her many times and now am sorry I didn't just pick up the phone to encourage her.
I know in my life God has used rejection and pain to gain a new compassion for the suffering of others. Mark, think of those who don't have God's comfort to soothe their heart. How do THEY cope? All the greater understanding of the need to share God's truth with others.

Thank you for sharing your story. I think the hope is that while we will have disagreements with other Christians there must be a way to go about communicating without so much rejection and outright lack of love and compassion. When there are differences of opinion even on serious matters it does not negate God's command for us to use compassion and kindness towards one another.

I am happy to see the joy in your life today. I am glad God is using you to share with the runners and others you meet in your life's journey. You have an amazing wife and three wonderful daughters. God has truly blessed you. Keep writing, running, and sharing God's love with those you meet.
Paula Hemeon