Reverend Joe Westlake left the church when his ‘term’ was up. In those days, and in many Baptist Churches still, the pastor has a ‘term’ of time where he is called by the Church to Minister. In is a patently defeatist method. What happens in reality is that the Church knows that if things don’t ‘work out’ with the pastor, there is no need for real conflict, they just don’t ‘recall’ them. The Pastor knows that if he is not enjoying the ministry, or seeing results, they can just move on with no embarrassment.
But that is not real. It is not truthful. Such a system thrives in a culture where people don’t deal with the real issues. In my experience, and having studied it, I see a pattern emerging in many churches with this system. If a Pastor is a good sort, they normally get ‘recalled’ for a second term. But at the seven year mark, and it normally is seven years, the reality starts to hit. This pastor is here for the long haul. Little things that annoy people start to grate even more. The pastor may start to have real influence and start to lead after seven years. This freaks out the ‘rusted on freaks’ and they start to angle for change. Because ultimately most of us are selfish…and we don’t want change! And many don’t want to be led.
But it is my contention that a Pastor and their church should see themselves in a marriage…in many ways. God has called them there, and until He changes that call, they should stay.
But I digress! Joe Westlake left, the longest staying pastor in the Churches 50 year history…up till that point, and eventually they called me as the Senior Pastor.
I ‘enjoyed’ a few months of relative peace as I started to institute some changes to the way we did Church. Subtle changes like song selection, trying to get consistency. But the truth was I did not really know what I was doing. I did not have the drive or understanding at that time in how to implement the changes I knew were needed. We tinkered with the service, we started practicing as a worship team. I had a great support in a lady called Janet Gethin. She played piano and had been there since she was born. Along with Anne Marie Taylor and others, we set about trying to bring some meaningful change to the worship and style of service.
But we all came to the conclusion that greater change was needed so I started looking for a ‘Worship Pastor’. Eventually I found someone, he was married to my sister! Eliot’s appointment would turn out to be the most significant decision and important decision I ever made in ministry life. And not just because he is a skilled worship leader, passionate and people focused. It was also because the changes he would bring about were needed, and needed my unwavering support in the swirling clouds of conflict. He may have reconsidered his decision to come if he had known what we would both have to deal with in the years to come.
We took his appointment to the ‘vote’ at the members meeting, and there was only one vote against. Of course this vote against would come from the person who caused me the most grief in my Ministry Life so far.
But Eliot came, and we started implementing change to how we did church.
Fresh music, fun, inspiring times. We tried to keep some of the old, and bring everyone with us, but that was not always possible. We also struggled for many years with only a few musicians, or at times only one or two others!
But all the time Eliot led the worship team, and the worship time with strength and grace. I too supported him, to be honest, taking many criticisms and darts because I strongly believed in what he was doing, it needed to be done, and I was leading the change. But many saw that he was upfront, so they criticised him.
I am convinced that there is nothing harder in ministry life than transitioning a church. You choose your pain.Planting a church is hard, but at least you get to set the culture and values. The pain is a lack of resources. Going into a healthy church can be painful, as you try to set the next vision.But going into a Church where things have been the same way, and it has been an unhealthy way, for many years…thats tough.
In those early years I knew what needed changing, and so we set out to change it in the only way we knew. Worship is the spiritual ‘tip of the arrow’ The Devil hates God being worshiped…thats the truth, and God calls us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. We were seeking to implement worship that was meaningful in a contemporary culture, and true to the word and who we are as believers. It should also be enjoyable. Church should be fun! And if it is not enjoyable, in the best sense of the word, what are you doing it for?
The worship wars showed the Church I was serious about change, and we went through them. One Tuesday morning I was in the church and two senior ladies burst into the sanctuary. They were upset because I had brought a digital projector into the church, and in the process moved their wall hanging from the front wall to the side. I don’t think you have lived until you have had two 75 year old ladies screaming at you on a Tuesday morning! After they stopped screaming at me, and walked away, I was lost for words. I really did not understand what was was going on. I have been characterized by running from conflict, and by wanting people to be happy, I am a people pleaser.