Shortly after the Leadership Team rejected our membership proposal, Josh went on a much-needed sabbatical and I tried to figure out what would be next for me. I had assumed I would spend the summer of 2014 working on rolling out a more formalized system of belonging at UBC. Everything I had budgeted and dreamed about was geared toward that end. For a time, I felt lost.
But in my previous 14 years at the church a pattern had emerged, and this would be no different. After disappointment and heartache, I would be disillusioned for a time, and then settle into a period of acceptance and peace. It happened after John Mark and Josh were hired, in the aftermath of our change in leadership, and now it would happen again after the disappointment of the rejection of our membership proposal. I had tried to give strong leadership and voice to something exciting, and it failed. I always had big dreams for the church, but more than that I was loyal to it. Regardless of how upset I became, and how many times I mentally walked away, I always came back.
Even though I am a naturally anxious person, I began trying to practice the spiritual disciplines of contentment and gratitude. I tried to not worry as much. In fact, around the time we were making our membership proposal, another thing was going on in the life of the church that allowed me to practice not worrying.
In February of that year, with his new Senior Pastor responsibilities wearing heavy on him, Josh looked at the financial situation of the church and decided something big had to happen if we were going to be able to thrive in the future. He recommended to the Leadership Team that they consider either restructuring staff benefits such as insurance, or cutting positions out altogether.
The problem wasn’t just how much money we were taking in. We had always operated under limited means because of the economic realities of being a charge made up largely of college students. We were actually bringing in from the congregation about as much money as we ever had, without relying on outside sources like we had to in the past. What Josh saw as the primary issue was the ratio of fixed to variable expenses in our budget. In a healthy church, less than 60% of the budget is spent on things that don’t change– Staff salaries and benefits, building maintenance, keeping the lights on, etc. The rest is spent on variable “ministry expenses.” It becomes financially dangerous if the fixed expenses of a church are around the 80% mark. In most years we hovered around the 90-95% mark. Under these conditions, one of two things has to happen– Cut expenses, or bring in more money. Josh believed we had tried to increase our income for years, and that it was now time to think about making big changes.
(It bothered me, and still does, when the variable expenses of the church were called “ministry expenses,” because it assumed that the work of a pastor wasn’t “ministry” unless it included “doing stuff.” As pastors, we helped save marriages and walked people down from suicidal thoughts. We assisted people in tending to God in their everyday lives and we fixed toilets and mowed the lawn of church properties. How is that not a “ministry expense?”)
Josh’s suggestions brought a lot of worry to all of us on staff. None of us were financially dependent and all depended on our meager salary to survive. And we all, having been a part of the church before coming on staff, loved UBC deeply and wanted to remain part of the community.
Thankfully, and I believe wisely, the Leadership Team made, essentially, two decisions: First, they would wait a year before making any drastic changes to the staff structure of the church. Second, they would ask Josh to lead the way in making sure we didn’t have to make those changes. After this decision, I was visiting with one of the members of the Leadership Team who helped ease my anxiety. I committed myself to not carrying the extra burden of things that were not mine to carry, and placed the future possibilities out of my mind. It was during this time that I was working with our Membership Discernment team, which helped.
When he returned from his sabbatical, Josh had turned cold to me. We didn’t talk. He never walked through my office like he did before, even though it was the quickest way to get to other places he normally went within the church.
The truth is, our friendship hit a rocky patch as soon as I came onto staff. But in every other difficult time, one or both of us always made an attempt to keep our personal connection strong, even when we were butting heads pastorally and professionally. This felt different. I could tell he was having a hard time with this distance, and the reasons for it. I suspected he was holding something back from me, and I wasn’t going to be the one to initiate the hard talk.
Eventually, though, he had to have it.
Around early fall, in my office he told me that the HR team had encouraged him to have some difficult conversations with everyone on staff, and this was to be mine. As I shared before, Tye and I often had a difference of opinion on the approach the church should take with regards to identity and reaching out to newcomers. We each represented a distinct belief, and everyone else was often caught in the middle either choosing sides, or proposing middle ground. Josh rarely, if ever, sided with one of us, opting instead to let us verbally duke it out until some sort of solution emerged, which sometimes happened, sometimes didn’t. I usually felt that Josh sided with me in theory, but felt that the zeitgeist of the church was more in line with Tye’s philosophy of ministry. He was as stuck as we were.
In our conversation, after hedging his words carefully, he told me that he could not support my vision for the church and the way I felt it should go. I knew it was a difficult thing for him to say, because I knew that he genuinely cared for me. Despite all we had been through, we loved each other. But I guess he felt this was the time he needed to be honest.
What he said meant everything, and at the same time it meant nothing. I asked him point blank, what does this mean? Are you asking me to start looking for another job? Are you telling me to fall in line with your vision for the church? He never gave me an answer, and I knew it was killing him inside. Deep down, I knew what the answer was, but until he verbalized it, I wasn’t going to. I believed the onus was on him, not me.
Then, later in the fall, two things happened. I fell in line, and Tye left.
I stopped fighting. Like every other time when things didn’t’ go my way at UBC, I put my loyalty to the community ahead of my belief about what direction it should be going. I stopped being outspoken in staff meetings, except when I was asked to be. I offered my suggestions for the newly created fundraising team, which was formed out of our financial difficulties, but I was content when my guidance wasn’t heeded. I even gave my approval for things that I had fought against before, like fundraising letters and marketing campaigns. I tried my best to become a team player.
And then Tye announced that he was leaving to begin a ministry at another church in the Texas Hill Country. This was a complete surprise for everyone involved, but it was a good move for Tye. He has family in the area where he was moving, and he was about to be a first time dad, which made it a good time for he and his wife to be in a more stable place.
This raised a question and an assumption on my part. The question: Now that Tye was no longer here, would Josh still continue to “take sides,” or would he forge his own path for the church? The assumption: Since the church is in a difficult place financially, we would probably wait a while before we hire another Worship and Arts pastor, which would free up some of the budget.
Because of David’s history at UBC, and our location near a Christian university and a burgeoning arts scene, is was not difficult to find very talented and gifted people to lead in the musical worship of the church, without hiring them as a full time pastor. In fact, over the years we had people practically beg us to allow them to do this. I assumed that, for at least a while, we would take advantage of this wealth of talent in our midst. It seemed like a no brainer.
But just days after Tye’s announcement, the Leadership Team announced that it would begin looking immediately for Tye’s replacement, and it would continue to be a full time position.