Have you ever reevaluated a major decision that you made in life?
My wife and I drove 60 miles from the Inland Empire to Orange County to watch our grandsons a few days ago, and along the way, I told her, “After we left our last church ministry, maybe we should have moved to southern Orange County instead of Phoenix.”
I was second-guessing a decision that we had made six years before.
At the time, moving to Phoenix made sense. We had lived there in the past … I had family members there … friends invited us to stay in their home … and the desert is a great place to heal.
On the other hand, moving back to Orange County after a 29-year absence also could have been a wise move. Our son and his family live there … as do Kim’s twin brother and his family … as do many friends … and we could have rented a house, adjusted to the lifestyle, and mapped out our future much quicker.
Most of us probably second-guess major decisions that we’ve made on occasion. We did what we thought was right at the time … followed the light we had … and hindsight is 20/20, right?
But it’s another thing entirely when family and friends second-guess your decisions.
Here are four decisions of mine that others have questioned over the years:
First, I was second-guessed on where I went to seminary.
Nearly 30 years ago, a district leader of my former denomination sat in my office before a worship service. He asked me how the ministry was going.
I was in the midst of a horrific conflict which resulted in nearly 25% of our people leaving the church … so I told him that the ministry wasn’t going so well.
He looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “You went to the wrong seminary. That’s your problem.”
I went to Talbot Seminary … now Talbot School of Theology … for many reasons. My father went there … it was close to my home … I had friends there … and I admired many of the professors.
It took me five years to earn my Master of Divinity degree at Talbot. I received a solid theological education at the school.
Why did this Christian leader think that I went to the wrong school?
When I first came into the denomination, I was told that Talbot grads were not well-received … that they tended to take their churches out of the denomination.
I also learned that if you went to Bethel College and Seminary, you became part of the denomination’s “good old boy network” … but if you didn’t go to Bethel, you had to prove you belonged in other ways … like growing your church very large.
But when I had to make a decision as to where I was going to go to seminary in the spring of 1975, I knew nothing about either the denomination or Bethel … yet years later, denominational leaders held me at arm’s length for not attending their school. (How irrational.)
I visited the Bethel campus twice. Over the years, I heard many of their professors speak.
I’ll take Talbot every time.
Under God, I know I made the right decision … even if others disagreed.
Second, I was second-guessed for becoming the pastor of my last church.
In January 1998, I resigned from my position as senior pastor of a church in Silicon Valley. I was absolutely exhausted and needed a place to recover.
I ended up serving as the teaching pastor of a church in Arizona alongside a long-time ministry friend and colleague.
While there, I was contacted by another pastor friend, who asked me if I would consider becoming his associate pastor.
A search team at his church was reviewing resumes – they eventually combed through 85 of them – and my friend wanted me to become his associate. He would retire … and I would become the senior pastor.
As I described in my book Church Coup, that’s exactly what transpired. I came to the church as associate pastor in June 1999 … was voted senior pastor-elect in April 2000 … and became the church’s second senior pastor in December 2000 after my friend/predecessor retired and moved to another state.
In my mind, the handoff went flawlessly. I felt loved and well-received, and the church grew steadily and joyfully.
Even though our campus was located on just a single acre of land in one of America’s most resistant communities, our church nearly doubled in size … the offerings nearly doubled … we built a new worship center … and for years, we were the largest Protestant church in our city … by far.
So by any objective measurement, the church was a success.
However, I knew that some people in the church – including a few key leaders – would always be more loyal to my predecessor than to me … and that whenever they had a problem with me, they would complain to him … and he would listen … maybe even gleefully.
Two years before my eventual departure, my predecessor came to our community, and I invited him out to lunch.
While we were eating, he told me about a conversation he had with our current district minister. Referring to me, the district leader told my predecessor, “You picked the wrong man.”
Outwardly, I remained calm. Inwardly, I was fuming.
Here it was, seven years after my predecessor had left the church in my hands, and he was telling me that by choosing me, he had made a mistake!
I know why he told me that. It had nothing to do with how the church was doing.
It had everything to do with who received the credit for all the good things that were happening.
He really wasn’t second-guessing me. He was second-guessing himself … but he tried to dump that conversation on me, and I didn’t bite.
Under God, I know I made the right decision … even if the person who chose me later disagreed.
Third, I was second-guessed for allowing my wife to become the outreach director in our church.
A few months after I became senior pastor of that church, the church board and I decided that we needed a full-time director of outreach to help our church reach out to our community.
We posted the job opening in many places, but received only 20 resumes.
When my wife heard about the position, she wanted to apply for it.
Some pastors might have said, “No, you’re my wife, and since you’re related to me, you are not allowed to apply for this job.”
I guess I don’t think in those categories. I hated to rule anyone out in advance for any reason. I just wanted the best person possible.
Besides, the precedent had already been established because my predecessor’s wife had served as office manager/small group leader for years.
Because my wife applied for the position, I told the search team that I would stay out of the first round of selections altogether.
My wife was the only person to make it to the second round.
Should I have ended the process right there?
The search team was enthusiastic about Kim’s passion for the position. And when the church board finally hired her, the decision was met with great acclaim … for the most part.
One woman came up to my wife and told her, “This is a mistake.” But several years later, that same person came to her and said, “I was wrong.”
Kim was an ideal staff member. She outworked everybody else on staff. She brought creativity, excellence, and enthusiasm to everything she touched.
Several years before, when she worked for the largest day care company in Silicon Valley, she became one of the organization’s five top executives. She was sent to failing schools to turn them around … which she always did.
Kim has boundless energy. She can start ministries … recruit a host of volunteers … run large events … and do it all with style and a smile.
Over time, I knew some people resented her … not necessarily because she was my wife, but because she became too influential. She almost did too much good.
After 8 1/2 years of ministry, some leaders … wanting to get rid of me as pastor … sensed they didn’t have anything solid they could use against me … so they went after my wife instead.
Their plan succeeded.
Even though we were cleared of any wrongdoing by an outside consultant as well as a 9-member investigative team from inside the church, her ministry … and mine … were over.
Because people attacked my wife as a way of attacking me, I’ve heard some people say, “Jim never should have allowed Kim to be hired in the first place.”
Under God, I know I made the right decision … because we grew larger and better with her than we ever would have without her.
Finally, I was second-guessed for starting my current ministry.
When I left my last church after a 36-year ministry career, virtually no one thought I should go back into church ministry again.
And I didn’t want to become a punching bag … er, pastor either.
One individual … who had always been supportive of my ministry and had given me good counsel over the years … told me before I left that I should teach in a seminary.
I tried to tell this person that I needed a PhD to do that, and that my Doctor of Ministry degree would not get me hired anywhere.
Six months later, she and I spoke again. I told her about my plans for Restoring Kingdom Builders, and she told me that I should become a professor instead.
I tried to tell her that I didn’t have the drive or the funds to enter a PhD program, and that even if I completed one, I had two chances of being hired: slim and none. (I’m both the wrong age and the wrong ethnicity.) And someone close to me told me that there are 400 resumes submitted at some Christian schools for every open position.
But I’ve been waiting to be involved in a pastor-church conflict ministry for 13 years … and now God had given me the opportunity.
It’s a part-time position. I have a small salary. I’m not very prominent, nor do I desire to be.
But I believe that I am doing what God called me to do, and for that reason, I am incredibly content.
Under God, I know I made the right decision … because I’m helping far more people now than I ever did as a pastor.
Let me conclude this little article with three quick thoughts about Christian second-guessers:
*There’s always someone around who will second-guess any major decision that you make.
Didn’t Paul’s followers second-guess his decision to go to Jerusalem? And didn’t Peter second-guess Jesus’ announcement that He would be crucified?
I once knew a couple that abruptly left Silicon Valley and moved a few hours away. The decision was more emotional than rational, and as I recall, they hadn’t even consulted with God about it.
At the time, I told my wife that I thought they made a bad decision … and maybe they did.
But I didn’t tell them how I felt. It wasn’t my decision to make. It was theirs.
I might ask people a few questions to see if they’ve thought through their decision, but I can’t play Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
We must give them the freedom to succeed … or fail … on their own.
*The time to second-guess someone’s decision is before they make it, not years later.
It’s fruitless … heartless … and even hurtful to tell someone years after they made a major decision:
“You shouldn’t have married that person.”
“I never thought you should attend that college.”
“Why didn’t you become a computer programmer instead of a pastor?”
What’s the point of rubbing it in?
Such remarks only serve to wound people … and to try and demonstrate your superiority.
Whatever it’s called, that’s not love.
*We are ultimately responsible to God for our decisions, not second-guessers.
Yes, we should listen to people – especially wise, mature, godly people – who question some of our decisions.
But sometimes Christian leaders in the same organization don’t always agree.
I remember a major decision that I made 25 years ago. It impacted my entire congregation.
One district executive told me that I had made a mistake.
Another district executive told me that I should have made that decision years before.
Who should I have believed?
I did what I believed God wanted me to do … and I’ve never looked back.
When you make a major decision … if God is in the center of it … resolve to learn from your mistakes and look forward.
As the great baseball pitcher Satchell Paige used to say, “Don’t look back … something might be gaining on you.”