Before I start with this chapter I would like to apologise for the long hiatus since my last addition to this story. Things have been moving rather quickly in my life over the last few months as I have been gradually taking up Ministry again for the first time since 2003. Having said that, let us continue with the story.
The time is late 1995 and I am well into my second year at Morling College. Much of what has happened over the past 12 months or so has started to fade into normality and Alison and I are now starting to settle down into a steady pattern of work and study.
Towards the end of 1995 I had the pleasure of being involved in an outreach programme that the college runs each year. A particular part of the state is chosen and differing teams head out and spend a week or so with different churches carrying out all sorts of Ministry.
This particular year Alison myself along with several other students from the College went to Baptist Church in the southwest of NSW. During our stay in there we were to come face to face with one of the downsides of Ministry. The church was going through a time of healing after what was apparently a time of conflict which ended up with the resignation of the pastor.
Most of our time was spent just sitting and talking with people and letting them express their concerns and struggles. That particular August was quite a cold month in the area and we were afforded accommodation within the manse which fortunately had very good heating.
As I sit back now reflect on this particular episode of my life I have been able to glean several truths. Firstly, not all pastorates turn out well for either the church or the incoming pastor. Personality clashes and personal agendas tend to muddy the waters somewhat and I have seen this is a recurring theme not only within Baptist churches but all congregations in denominations.
Secondly, conflict within the church seems to be circular and tends to come around about every seven years (approximately). Issues that have not been dealt with properly tend to re-occur until such time as a church has an opportunity for proper healing. Likewise, pastors who take on churches with conflict tend to become embroiled within that conflict themselves unless they are aware of the dynamics beforehand.
This reflection has become more and more relevant as I have moved through Ministry in one form or another. Just as the church we visited on outreach was struggling to come to terms with what had taken place so to the church in which I was presently serving had a pastor who had encountered conflict of a major scale in his previous church.
From an outsider's point of view, it would seem that he was poorly treated by his previous church and was blamed for all of its failings. This left an indelible imprint which was to come to fruition in the form of a breakdown for that particular pastor. To say that I was exposed to the best and worst of church life during my second year at college would be an understatement.
Likewise, I was to encounter all sorts of underlying struggles amongst many of the people who attended college. As I have mentioned before many struggled with the critical way in which Scripture was analysed and one's faith was tested by what becomes seemingly unimportant issues such as apparent contradictions within the text. (The topic of church conflict is something that I will deal with in depth at a later time as it is an important issue and should not be brushed over)
As Alison and I moved forward with our journey and into our third year at college we were faced with the issue of where do our children belong. It became increasingly evident during the first two years of college that it was unreasonable to ask our children and in particular our two boys to follow us from church to church and meeting a meeting. As I was working at a Baptist Church in southern Sydney while we were living near Eastwood in the northern suburbs it was difficult if not impossible for them to form relationships of any lasting kind.
We eventually decided to for want of a better expression to cut them loose and allow them the freedom to choose where they wished to worship. Fortunately, they have become involved with the boys Brigade at Epping Baptist church and would attend any and all events that they could. Fortunately, facing our trust in our Lord is the protection and guidance of our boys was to be for them at great learning experience in how to deal with responsibility.
Early in our third year at college we saw the departure of the pastor of our church part due to the strains of Ministry. His departure meant a greater emphasis on my role was student pastor especially in the area of pastoral care. Our Sunday lunches became even more important as some within the church struggle to understand the sudden departure of the pastor.
It became evident that there was an undercurrent of conflict even within our local church. Nothing that was immediately evident at the surface level but rather there was tension within several relationships amongst differing members of the church. This along with the increasing study load at college prevented me from offering to take up the pastoral role in any way other than what I was already doing.
It had become obvious to me that if I was to get through my studies at college that they would need to be the primary focus of my attention. I realised that because I had not studied since I left school in any meaningful way and if I was to pass my exams et cetera I would need to find a part of my nature that was always volunteering to take on projects as I had to my years working as a mechanic.
A quirk in my personality dictated that I was very perfectionistic and tended to drive myself harder than most. I was coming to understand as I worked my way through the struggles moving into a new way of living that I could no longer rely on my own strength to deal with issues with which I was presented. I was learning a new way of living and relying more and more on my relationship with our Lord to help me to overcome my own inadequacies.
It was to be this relationship that allowed me to journey through the suffering that I was yet to face and come out the other side without being bitter and twisted.