Arrogance is not a quality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Arrogance is about self. Arrogance is about fear. Anyone afraid to let you into a conversation is fearful of what you have to say. Anyone so absolutely sure that he is right and you are wrong is simply covering for his own deep-rooted insecurity. I was brought into the church as a pastor. I was brought in to lead. I ended up marooned at this place where I could not preach my convictions, I could not teach my convictions, I could not write my convictions. So, on August 5th, 2007, I went home. Which was when things got really bad.
The Sunday previous, I had a 10-minute meeting with a former
member whose name I won't even infer because that might cause
division between he and his wife who remains, so far as I know,
a member of that church. In those ten minutes I heard more truth
than I'd heard in the full year previous to that, confirming
things I'd already known, learned and believed. By the direct
inspiration of God, the following Sunday, I went home.
I didn’t make a scene, I didn’t start an argument. I didn’t
point any fingers. I didn't badmouth the pastor. I didn't try
and split the church. I didn't accuse anyone of anything or
defend myself from any accusations. After morning worship, I
quietly packed up my keyboards and went home. I wouldn’t be
coming back. Two and one-half months previously, I had submitted
my 30-day notice as co-pastor of the church. In the previous ten
months I’d served there, I’d accomplished absolutely nothing.
Scott, the senior pastor, was a man of great vision and great
strength. However the same strength that made him a strong
leader made him, inevitably, a lousy follower. Scott was,
simply, unable to follow anybody at any time about anything.
Scott had to lead. Scott had to meddle. Scott had to overrule
and undermine every effort anyone made. In the year I ultimately
served there, Scott never, not one time, supported any
initiative I made. Never backed any plan, never supported any
idea I had. The only plans or ideas Scott supported were his
own. He openly criticized and lectured me in front of others
like I was a child and not his pastoral equal. He undermined
every single thing I did—down to and including my efforts to
change the tiny light bulbs in the exit signs. A kind and
thoughtful man and a dedicated Christian, Scott was also the
meanest, most capricious bully I have ever known. His obsession
bordered on psychotic, losing him as many members as he gained.
I was brought into the church as a pastor. I was brought in to lead. Scott interfered with and blocked every effort I made to lead and then openly criticized me for not leading. In March of 2007, I wrote my resignation. I kept it in a drawer in my office for weeks, along with a DVD containing all of the graphics files and the websites I'd designed for the church, while praying about the decision and struggling to find some way to communicate with Scott. Scott was the kind of guy you simply can’t talk to. He’s an absolutely lousy listener. He has a brilliant mind, and is one of the finest debaters I've ever met. He's also fiercely competitive and that competitive instinct often overrides his pastoral skills, Scott being seemingly unable to distinguish between winning and achieving his goal. As Christians, our goal should be, first and foremost, to please God rather than ourselves. Nobody likes losing, but as Christians—most especially as Christian leaders—we can, many times, achieve a greater good in not pressing so hard to win every fight that comes our way. I, personally, am usually much more invested in achieving my goal than I am in winning the contest at hand, having long ago discovered I can often trade in my little ego boost (winning) for the much more enduring and substantial win of achieving my goal.
Scott was one of those guys who listens for about three minutes and then starts talking. And talking. And talking. And talking. And cuts you off every time you try to get a word in edgewise. And talking. And keeps on talking, telling you what’s wrong with you and how to fix it. Lecturing, with a condescending know-it-all smirk. Until he simply robs you of your will to live, and you just give up. At which time Scott's megalomania convinces him that he's won you over to his point of view, his ego simply refusing to bear witness to the more obvious truth that you'd simply given up.
Scott’s ego was so immense, he couldn’t tell or perhaps didn’t care that you’d checked out. That he was no longer having a conversation with you so much as browbeating you. That he had transcended simple discourse and even pastoral advice a half hour before, and was now simply berating you for being stupid. The subtext of every conversation, every consultation with the pastor, was Scott telling you how stupid you were. Why he was right—always—and you were wrong—always.
And, yes, he was right. Every single time. In the twelve months I was ultimately there, I have never, not one time, heard this man ever admit he was wrong about anything. That’s some batting average. And it is, sadly, quite common among our pastors. I suppose it has to do with some fear of losing their jobs. That being a leader, in their minds, somehow means always being right. It is precisely the same disease President Bush suffers from: a crushing inability to admit he is wrong. Bush’s refusal to change course in Iraq is more about protecting President Bush than it is about protecting America. And, in our black church tradition, many, many pastors are far too invested in protecting themselves than they are in doing what is right.
Last year my pastor saved my life.
I’d been experiencing dizzy spells and migraines. I
figured it’d just go away, but at a church meeting I
became so dizzy I couldn’t stand up. Couldn’t drive. So
I went and laid down in the office we pastors shared.
Scott, the senior pastor, suggested it might be high
blood pressure. I’d never had high blood pressure. It
had never been noted on any checkups or physical exams.
But Scott insisted I go to a doctor and, sure enough, it
was high blood pressure. Extremely high blood pressure.
I was told I could stroke out or have a heat attack,
literally, at any moment.
I think the many positive aspects of a relationship are important in terms of putting that relationship in perspective. The senior pastor at my church was a very thoughtful and kind man, one of the kindest and most intelligent men I’ve ever met. A warm, thoughtful, engaging guy who loves the Lord. Who'd give you the shirt off his back and who has dedicated himself, tirelessly and without reservation, to God's service. I can say, without hesitation, that he is truly genuine, a man of great faith, who fervently believes in the redeeming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is, first and foremost, a zealot. A fearless evangelist eager to share his faith with others. Where many if not most of us are paralyzed by shyness and fear of rejection, Scott marched boldly forward, and expected everyone else to keep up with his pace.
In retrospect, I believe if I’d joined the church as a member rather than been recruited as a pastor, our relationship would have been much different. I remember, from the very beginning, telling Scott I didn’t need to come aboard as a pastor, I did not come seeking position or title, I did not come asking for a salary or compensation. I came because God sent me, because God wanted me in that place, to do His work according to His will. I didn’t need a title in order to do that.
I interrupted the vote at the church meeting where I was
voted in as co-pastor, saying, “Hey, hold it: You folks
need to really think about what you’re doing, here.
Maybe we should wait awhile longer before holding this
vote.” I was told by a deacon, “No, we don’t need to
wait. We trust Scott and Scott trusts you. That’s good
enough for us.”
But it really wasn’t. You don’t vote a pastor in by proxy. You need to be led by the Holy Spirit. It was fine for the church to trust Scott. What should have happened is the church should have trusted me. This fault, in the very foundation of my pastorate there, is what inevitably led to its disintegration.