Ben called me early the next week to tell me Josh would be our new teaching pastor. We had both, Ben and I, grieved Kyle’s death together as friends, though in different ways. And since he knew Josh and I had also become close friends, he wanted to give me the news before I found out through the grapevine. (He was unaware I had pieced it together myself.)
Josh and Lindsey came over to my house shortly after I spoke with Ben. I didn’t know if this was their idea, or if Ben suggested it, but I appreciated the gesture regardless. Neither of us knew what to say, so we mostly just sat on my front porch, trying our best to stammer out thoughts about the situation. I asked Josh to tell me a little about the process of the previous week—who initiated the conversation, what were the terms, etc. He, like John Mark before him, was very caring and thoughtful in communicating to me that he understood the depth of the friendship I had with Kyle, and wanted me to know that he would in no way try to “replace Kyle” in the life of the church. It was a short visit. Not much more was shared, except for hugs and a general sense of care and understanding between Josh and myself. At that point logistics about the situation were mostly unclear, but what was clear was that Josh would be our new Teaching Pastor.
(Side note: This wasn’t, however, as clear as it could have been. I would discover many years later that the agreement was for Josh to preach on a trial basis through the fall of 2007, and a more permanent decision on his future with UBC would be made at the end of that time. That this was not communicated to me, or anyone else in the church was just another indication of what a complete mess UBC was with regards to communication and administration.)
The next few days were a whirlwind of complicated emotions for me.
First, there was Kyle. It was always going to be the case that when we found the person who would follow him in the role of teaching pastor, it would be a milestone moment in my grieving process, as well as that of everyone else who cared about Kyle. This is natural, and likely happens when any new pastor joins a church after the loss of someone so beloved, especially when that loss is so sudden and tragic.
And then there was my friendship with Josh. We had known each other for only a year when Kyle died,(Kyle was actually the one who introduced us,) and were very good acquaintances, on our way to becoming great friends. In the months and years after losing Kyle, Josh and Lindsey, along with Britt, Holly, Jonathan, and my friends Tom and Beth, had become my primary source of life and community. This was accelerated once Jen and the kids moved to California to be near Harris and I found myself with time on my hands. I was sincerely happy that Josh and Lindsey would be remaining in Waco. The possibility of permanence within the community I was connected to was beginning to solidify with Josh’s hiring as the Teaching Pastor. I also felt Josh, based on the one sermon he gave, was gifted for the position. His first sermon was light years ahead of the first sermon I heard Kyle preach, and any of the handful of sermons I had preached at UBC up to that point.
But then again, there was the frustration with the process, or lack thereof. Two weeks prior Josh had yet to even graduate from seminary and was just another student with an opportunity to preach for his church. And now he was the Teaching Pastor of that same church of 800-1000 people. Even for a church system run by elders, not bound by procedure to take into account the voice of the congregation, this seemed hasty and incredibly unwise.
This had emerged as the theme of church governance at UBC. Regardless of how good or bad the decisions were, (hiring Josh has proved, over the years, to be a great decision,) the manner in which decisions were made felt insensitive to the the congregation, especially those who had invested so much of ourselves in the community. This was exasperated by the fact that the sermons we were hearing from guest preachers, and the books we were reading in our small groups, were all pointing to a way of “doing church” together that was rooted in community, in “sharing life” with each other, which seemed to imply a shared voice in decision making. From my vantage point, there was a disconnect between what we were saying we valued and what we actually valued.
Then there was this, something I have only recently unearthed in myself and come to terms with. As I shared before, I knew in the wake of John Mark’s hiring that I had a desire to be a pastor at UBC. But I assumed that after I came to terms with the fact that this wasn’t going to happen, everything would be fine.
Although there were two pastors in the first few years of the church who left for other positions, the template for staff at UBC seemed to be one of permanence. Kyle had been there 6 years before he died, and planned on staying for many years to come. David was a founding pastor who prided himself on saying he was grounded to UBC and Waco, and Ben had reached a point in his pastoral life at UBC where he, nor anyone else, could imagine him doing anything else. I knew I was not a good enough preacher to be our Teaching Pastor, so I figured, even before Josh was hired, that that ship had sailed. I had come to peace with this. But once Josh was hired, I felt again the sting of being left out. Not just left out of the chance of being a pastor at UBC, but of having a voice that was of any consequence in the life of the church.
This feels like the dirtiest thing about myself I will write in the entire story of my life at UBC, the statement of pride that makes me squirm even now, many years later: I believed I deserved to have a voice that was consequential. I wanted to matter in a way that went beyond just leading the occasional small group and cleaning the bathrooms. (Something I did for many years.) I knew this was unhealthy and the result of sinful pride, but it was what I was feeling. I learned as a child that the Christian life was about service, about emptying yourself of all your desires and entitlements, in the same way that Christ emptied himself. You are supposed to do whatever is asked of you, and suspicion is cast on anyone who desires to have a place of leadership within the church. I believe all of this is true. I am simply confessing my sin.
I was in my room, at my house, and I broke down like I had not done since standing beside Kyle’s lifeless body. I was on the floor, weeping. I was happy for Josh, and that he’d be around for a while, yet I was sad for my lack of a voice, and disgusted at myself that it mattered so much to me.
I decided to leave UBC.