I stopped sleeping with the pastor. There. I said it. Like ripping off a bandaid.
Now the world knows.
You see, I’ve been sleeping with the pastor since I was 20 years old. –>Because I was married to him.<– We took our first senior pastorate as newlyweds, fresh off our honeymoon. I’m serious. Two weeks after our wedding we said “YES” to our first church. That is because sometimes God calls the naive. Seasoned pastors would have known to say “NO” to this particular assignment. For so many, many reasons. But we weren’t seasoned. We were young and visionary and had GIGANTIC hopes and dreams of what ministry was supposed to be!!!!!! Instead I found myself leading Bible studies for women who could have been my grandmothers, if not my great-grandmothers, while they dozed in their chairs. Week-in and week-out I was vacuuming old carpet and cleaning urinals with Clorox wipes because the church was too strapped to pay for such services. Insert the endless list of duties the pastor’s wife takes on…for free…AKA “a jewel in her crown” and other such phrases. It teeters on abuse, really, the things pastor’s wives step up and carry out of duty and expectation, but that’s another blog for another time. Luckily, after several years, I was SET THE FLIP FREE from this religious mindset and nearly tattooed the word FREEEEEEEDOM between my shoulder blades to seal the deal. That has yet to come to fruition, but maybe someday. With fewer E’s.
Our ministry story went along from there, down a windy path of ups and downs. Low valleys. High mountaintops. Doing exactly what we knew we were called to do. Life was good. And then through a series of unfortunate events and the deepest of religious shenanigans from a group of deeply religious people, my husband and I found ourselves without a church. (The entirety of this story may never make it to this blog but will one day be published after all the life lessons have been learned.) That was 19 months ago. We sat and twiddled our thumbs for 3 days, all the while, shouting at the heavens, “WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO! Direction ASAP and we will carry on, please, Lord!” And His answer consisted of one single word, “Rest.” Okey dokey then. What’s that?
By the 3 week mark, we considered ourselves rested, refreshed and ready to move forward (read: ANTSY AS H-E-DOUBLEHOCKEYSTICKS). We were plainly lying to ourselves as we knew not the healing path we still needed to walk down. But hindsight is 20/20 and all that jazz. I still clearly remember the day that Husband called and said, “we’re going to plant a church.” I was in the bathroom getting ready for my day, and I sat on the side of the bathtub to take in this news. Plant a church. Hmm. Ok. Well. Nothing. I had nothing. No alarm bells. No red flags. But also no particular direction. Just kind of crickets. I found this odd as our Father usually tells us big changes separately, but around the same time, so I waited. Still nothing. I chalked this up to a new life lesson: following my husband’s lead when I had no idea which way was up. And onward we went. Husband leading. Wife following, feeling spiritually deaf.
The months that followed were exhilarating and devastating. So incredibly challenging and so amazingly rewarding. We had a group of people, a core, willing to commit to this plant with us. We had big hopes and big dreams of what this would look like and we kept doing what we knew to do because sometimes when there’s no direction you just do what you know to do and let God work it out on the other side. You just take steps forward until He says, “keep going” or “turn here” or “you missed it.” Blind steps. But steps nonetheless.
We met in our house for a while. A long while. Every Sunday my bedroom became children’s church and my living room became a sanctuary. People would sit on the couch and in folding chair and up the staircase. I usually positioned myself on the kitchen counter, to sit back and soak in what I thought was the most amazing budding plant I’d ever seen. Babies would crawl around on the floor while my husband preached from his chair in the living room. The front door was revolving with the flow of traffic and our neighbors were gracious enough to keep our endless stream of cars a secret from the police. I adored these people. My heart could have physically burst with how much I loved them all and with how much I loved this bond we were forming in this fluid little adventure. We would talk about “someday when the church is big” how we would look back on this time and cherish it so much, the formation of The Branch Church. We were living out the good ‘ol days and through all the unknowns it was what kept my head above the water.
But the path toward healing got twisty. Being hurt, deeply hurt, from our last ministry position, had a grief process tied to it that we were unfamiliar with. It was like losing a loved one, yet completely different, but the grief process still looked very similar. And we were on that path, whether we wanted to be or not, all the while trying to nurture this tiny, baby plant to growth and fruition. The problem was that the water we could offer was tainted. We were keeping it alive, but the nutrients we were offering had chemicals and crap that didn’t resemble fresh, beautiful rain water. That was not our intention, but it was our reality. Our hearts desired to give water from Heaven, but instead we were filling up the rain bucket from the pool and dousing our pretty, little budding plant with chlorine.
There came a point several months after we finally launched our church that Husband and I had a tough conversation. He was exhausted. We weren’t funded by anyone other than our tiny, beautiful core of people, which meant he was working any and every odd job he could find to pinch the ends together. We were strapped: physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. We were praying for a way, praying for breakthrough, for direction, for ANYTHING, but our prayers seemed to be hitting the ceiling and falling back around our feet. Our dream of a church plant was no longer a dream, but a burden, something that we had started and felt obligated to finish. Our life as we knew it, our ministry, our calling, became something we didn’t recognize. And this was not a good place to be. We needed our Father to intervene. Immediately.
So in August, Husband left. (He didn’t leave ME or the CHILDREN…let’s not get dramatic!) He left for a 6 day retreat of sorts. He keeps telling me to call it something different because “retreat” sounds so frilly and womany and this was manly and strong, but I don’t know what else to call it. He got away with God. Does that work? He was out in the woods, with a small group of men, beating his chest and working through all the issues in the manliest kind of way…whatever that looks like. They came home with giant swords, real ones, if that gives you an idea. There was no wi-fi, no cell reception, not even dial-up. But there was healing. All the while, I was at home with the children, daily begging the God of all creation to speak to my husband and renew him and heal his heart and show him who he is as a son. (I even fasted Facebook, which I know sounds trivial and like a first-world sacrifice, which it totally is, but hand to the heavens, it was so difficult!)
The day after he got home, I could see that he had been changed. There was a peace around him that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. We sat down at the kitchen table, with rain pelting the windows, while the children played upstairs, and he started telling me about his experience. I was so excited to hear all that God had spoken to him, all that the Father had showed him. I was on the edge of my seat to hear how we were going to move this church plant into deeper soil, and I was ready for that rain water to come down like a flood. And then he said these words to me, “I learned that I am a son first. I am a husband next and then a father. And that is enough. For right now, during this season, I don’t have to be a pastor. And I’m ok with that. God showed me that this season was to be a season of rest for our family. Do you remember what He told us all those months ago? ‘Rest.’ But we didn’t do it. Not like He ordained for us. But because He is our Father, and because He loves us so much, He is going to restore that time for us, for our family. With that being said, we are going to close the church. That was not ordained for this time. Rest was.” His eyes were beaming.
I looked more like a deer in the headlights. “Excuse me, what did you just say to me? You’re not going to be a pastor anymore?” And then I cried for one solid week, not because of the loss of a title, I genuinely don’t care about that stuff, but because I loathe disappointing people, letting them down, hurting them, especially people I cherish. And this had the potential to be very disappointing.
Two weeks later, the church was closed. Just like that. Ended. Over. Plucked up from the ground. And do you know what I discovered? I discovered the most liberating of lessons. I discovered that there is success in failure. Deep, life-changing, agonizing success. I had no idea that my soul was longing to fail. Failure was my #1 greatest fear when we decided to plant a church. And it happened. We failed. And it didn’t kill me. I came out stronger, wiser, more capable for the next time. I can say that we failed and still stand tall and proud, because at least we tried, we kept taking steps until God said, “No, not that way. Stop here. Rest.”
Closing our church, not planting it, has proven to be our most significant leap of faith to date. We have nothing lined out. Not a thing. We have no idea what comes next or when the parachute is going to release. But it will. Because a loving Father doesn’t ask you to fail without a very clear plan to help you succeed.
So there you have it. After nearly 15 years of sleeping with the pastor, I don’t anymore. I sleep with a son of the most amazing heavenly Father. I sleep with my husband. I sleep with the father of my children. And that is more than enough for me.