Let me tell you a story. It’s the story of the three Amigos, but it’s not the traditional story that you may already know. It’s a snippet of my own life, a time in life that I look back on with both admiration and disdain. The story of 3 Amigos will give a snapshot of a season of my life that was one of the hardest seasons of my life for various reasons. Looking back, everything happened for a reason, but in the midst of the pain, in the midst of the turmoil, it seemed pretty bleak to think that moving forward and out of the situation was going to happen.
I met one of the amigos when we were looking to plant a church and we were interviewing candidates from various places around the country. He was a soon-to-be-graduate of a seminary, a brilliant man, and had the chops to go plant a church. He had life experiences, the abilities and the humility to go figure out how to lead a group of people to do something new, something different. He had the heart of a Pastor, one that cared for people and wanted to see them thrive. The only problem was, he was not going to be graduating for another year from seminary, and therefore we couldn’t hire him on the spot to be one of our church planters. We would have to wait a year, and then re-interview him to figure out whether he would be a good fit for our context.
I met the second of the amigos when I was a youth pastor and thinking about church planting. I thought maybe I would be the one to go ‘do something different’ and plant the new thriving thing. That dream quickly came and went, but I met this particular friend during that season and began asking him questions about what I should and should not do, how I could navigate the terrain of church planting, and what would make me ‘successful.’ I remember sending this friend the first email of our discussion asking what his advice would be for someone thinking about planting a church. Friend #2 was willing to give advice even in his young career of church planting and was seemingly one of the more successful church planters in the area that we lived.
Fast forward 1 year from when I had the opportunity to interview Friend #1. I was in the middle of a difficult season in the church that I had worked at for nearly 8 years and was on the verge of resigning and moving onto something different. Looking back, I should have resigned and found a different career path, but hindsight is 20/20, right? Friend #2 had met Friend #1 the same time I did, the year before and really liked him. They had kept in contact during the year and my church planting friend #2 invited the other to be a future church planter for his church, hiring him away from our process and putting his church in the position to plant a new church in the future. With both of them, on the same staff and in the same city and with both being friends, I decided that I would have a conversation about what it might look like to go on staff with them at the church that they both were a part of. It would get me out of the mess that the church that I was a part of was in, allow me to be more directly part of the planting process, and would give me the opportunity to work with folks I knew, rather than having to forge multiple new relationships with people from a new church. There were wins written all over the move.
I took the job at the new church.
Within the three dots above there was alot that happened. There were things said, and things that were done that I wish I could go back and change. Much regret has been made of the three dots between those two statements. I wish I could back and unsay some of the things that I said. I wish I could say things that I didn’t say. I wish I could have been more astute to listening to my wife, who was not at peace with the decision to go to a different church. She was at peace to leave the position that I was in, but not at peace with the move I was about to make. At one point, she called it an escape route. Looking back it was. Looking back, I learned a ton in those moments. I wish I could go back and figure out a way to exit the context that I was in, more gracefully. I burned alot of bridges on my way out, without any regard to those around me. I wish that I had not begun to drink during those times that were painful. I wasn’t drinking regularly, but when I did, it wasn’t at all social. It was all to medicate.
After I took the job at the new church, I tried to settle into a new routine of life. But I was pretty damaged. I didn’t realize how damaged I really was. After dealing with years of trying to figure out how to operate in a context that was ‘rules based’ and powerfully under the control of a micromanager, I was now on the staff of a man who was a super delegator who wanted to make sure that he was doing only the things that only he could do. At first, that was a blessing. I was able to use my gifts and abilities to help the church take steps forward in areas that weakness was present. I was about to help mold and shape the future of a church in ways that I didn’t even know were possible. During this season, I got people involved and on board with the church who had not been involved before. I had the opportunity to use my gift of administration without fear of being dragged to the principal’s office for messing something up as I had experienced for years before that. Best of all, I was able to do this all with regular interactions with the other two amigos. We were tight. We were friends.
We prayed together regularly. We talked strategy and implementation and ideas. We talked about the future of what the church could be like, what church planting might be like, and how we could reach all of our city through our church. We dreamed alot. We talked alot. We prayed alot. We preached. We studied. We worked hard. We vaped alot.
And we began to see ourselves as the ‘us vs. them’ group, when people in the church had an issue with the leadership, we would immediately go on the defensive. In the end this didn’t serve us well. During these times, I hid behind my friends, and was unwilling to take the shots that were fired my way. I didn’t feel that I deserved the shots that were coming from all directions, being so new on staff. And I was incredibly entitled so that didn’t help. I remember in one meeting where I had clearly mis-stepped and overstepped my boundaries, squarely placing the blame on being new when I clearly knew that it was just a mistake that I had made. My drive for perfection was so powerful that I couldn’t form the words to say, “I was wrong.” I was wrong, and I should have admitted it. In the end, this was my end.
Not quite six months into my time with my new church, I realized that we were on a money trajectory that was going to bury us. We were outspending the giving extravagantly and we had very little in reserves that wasn’t already spoken for. I was watching these numbers on a daily basis because that was part of my job. I was watching the bank account drain and having to sign the checks that we were writing to pay the bills that we had to pay. Giving direction to our administration on what bills to hold, and what bills to pay, damn near killed me every time. I was having to think about paying our staff so that they could feed their families. And in my pride and arrogance, I didn’t let anyone else in on what I was experiencing. Others were aware, but there was always a more rosy picture painted then was actually reality. I never wanted to show my own weakness in the area of money management. Now, looking back, I’m not completely sure why I didn’t reach out for more help. There were people far better at money management then myself willing to come around and circle the wagons to help us move forward. I didn’t do that. Had I been more self aware, and less arrogant, I think we might have navigated those times to a different end, a different outcome.
There are alot of reasons that things went the way that they did. And not all of blame was to be placed elsewhere. I own some of the blame that went around during that time. Yes, the building was dilapidated and we needed to spend far more money than we had to make it presentable. Yes, we overhired staff, because of elder decisions that were made to bring staff positions on before we were ready. But we also hired those folks, at some level because I thought it was going to help us grow. Yes, we weren’t in a great cash position when we dropped several thousand to try and plant a church. But I own the blame that I didn’t manage any of that well. I didn’t manage any of that well, either organizationally or personally. Organizationally, I was lackadaisical and argumentative. I lived in self protection. Personally I worked hard to find ways to numb the pain of letting the church slip through my fingers. I left the office early, and began coming in early, so I didn’t have to encounter people. Encountering people meant that I had to talk about the painful things that I was experiencing. I would find ways to have a drink of alcohol, so I could forget about what I was experiencing. I would find ways to self entertain, to forget about the storm. It was a proverbial shitstorm.
At the end of the day, the elders had to act and move and make something of a situation that wasn’t really repairable. I was fired. Officially, I was laid off, as I thought that would have a better chance of rehire at another context in the future. I remember one of the elders asking me if it would be better to be fired or better to be laid off. Looking back, I think either would have been equal. Being fired would have been more accurate and may have been the right outcome of the situation.
Prior to my being laid off,
The three amigos had spent several months in discord, arguing about how things should have been done, and placing blame squarely on one another. We found ways to undercut the very influence that the others had. We gossipped profusely about what was happening in the lives of the others. We had heated arguments, where bridges were burned, never to be restored. We had our last interaction together, the three of us at an elder meeting where each of us spent the majority of the evening trying to cast blame on others, and ultimately alienating the others from any sense of camaraderie. After the meeting, I walked out, knowing that I would need to pack my office up the next day and communicate to staff. I was able to take the easy route out, as the other guys had to stick around and pick up the piles that had been flung.
The next morning, I packed up my office. For the second time in less than a year, loaded it all into my truck, and took it home. Most of it never came out of those boxes again, and ended up either at the used book store or in the dumpster. The next context that I was a part of, I didn’t want to bring any of it out as it brought the pain all seething back in and around me. I told the staff that the elders were laying me off, careful to paint a picture of the reality as best as I could so that things could move forward somehow. I had one last discussion, face to face, with my boss, and then left. We had one more, maybe two more phone calls, otherwise, we just exchanged text messages, usually during times when I was reeling in pain, and self medicated. I had a couple of discussions with Friend #1 and they usually centered around trying to figure out what went wrong. At some point, I alienated him as well, as I attempted to stick my nose back into information that I had no business investigating. I wasn’t in any position to give advice and should have just been taking advice at that point. I should have exited and stayed gone.
The three Amigos is my own personal testimony of my own personal selfishness. There are many should of, would of, could of’s that I think back on. I hurt so many people. I did damage to a church when things seemed to be rolling along just fine. Before I came, I’m sure there were issues that the church was dealing with that were unrelated to me. And after I left, I’m sure that there were issues that are still being dealt with unrelated to me. But related to me, there are an entire set of issues that I’ll forever regret, and try to forget that I caused. I cannot say “I am sorry” to enough people to make up for the pain that was caused. But I can live everyday as an apology to those that I did damage to and caused pain within. I’m still working on that.
To my two friends. I loved our time together. I enjoyed each and every day where we got to work together, dream together, and play together. I never wanted it to end like it did and wish I could go back and change so much. I wish that we could still be friends. But I know that will never happen. I wish that we could still get together and hunt deer, shoot guns, and find solace with each others’ presence, but I know that will never happen. I hope that you are able to find those things in other relationships in the future. Know that I will always look fondly on those days.