It was a typical day in the foothills of the Cascades with cloudy skies, a slight mist, and just enough wind to make for another challenging run. I had downloaded an audio book by some guy named Christopher Hitchens, and the title alone made me very uncomfortable. I can remember thinking, “Well if God is paying attention I might just get struck by lightening.” And despite having been a pastor for several years, and a professed Christian since I was 6 years-old…I honestly wasn’t sure God was paying attention. In fact, I was beginning to completely question His existence as I pushed the start button and began listening to “God is NOT Great.”
Tears fill my eyes as I end that last paragraph sipping rye whiskey in a bar that is loudly playing Mumford and Sons . I am no longer a Baptist so I’m allowed to drink in public, but the tears are because it was such a dark time in my life. For those of you who don’t know me I should give you a little background.
As you’ve likely guessed, I was not your typical pastor in many ways, but the one thing that made me unique is that I was on one of the top rated morning radio shows in Seattle. Our bigger than life host (The Fitz) often referred to me on the show as Pastor Tony. And at the time I was married with three beautiful children, and working for a local church as an associate pastor. I truly did my best to live out my faith on and off of the radio. I loved Jesus with all my heart, and believed He offered people peace, hope, and unconditional love.
The morning show was (in my opinion) truly incredible, and well put together by the host. Fitz was a young man transitioning from the party days of his youth to a responsible father and husband, and put the H in ADHD! Our original cohost was a talented Seattle radio legend near the end of her radio career. She was a self proclaimed cannabis loving hippy who proudly leaned as far left as she could get! And there I was, in midlife trying to figure out how to pay my bills, and spread the “good word.” It was the best sitcom on radio!
As I said, during my time on Seattle radio I was an associate pastor to a congregation of amazing people that I grew to love. They were kind to me and treated my family extremely well. I hoped to spend the rest of my life ministering in the Snoqualmie Valley, but over time I had a major problem with the leadership. So I resigned from the church. At that point I did something I would soon regret…I agreed to an exit interview with the board of directors.
My masters degree is in clinical psychology so I was once a licensed mental health counselor. I think I’m fairly good at spotting someone who is narcissistic. And as I made my exit…I made that unofficial diagnosis of my boss. I would then learn I was not the first to recognize his lack of integrity, and the staff had been “turned over” approximately 4 times in a 6 year period. Meaning, I was one of many to leave the staff, but rather than the board removing the leader (who was the problem) they would allow some amazing people to leave the church very wounded. And that was the beginning of the road very far from home.
Your first thought may be, I knew it! He was just bitter and resentful at the church, and took it out on God! Maybe, but it was more than that for me. The Bible (scripture) has very clear guidelines for who should be in leadership of a church, and if a person consistently falls outside of those guidelines they are to be removed from leadership. So rather than get angry with the board of directors (which had been hand picked by the pastor) I actually began to ask myself some pointed questions. Questions that weren’t rooted in anger or resentment. I just thought maybe…just maybe I had been too serious or even “religious” in how I viewed the church and Bible. And my mind began to race with judgmental questions like:
- Do Christians really care what the Bible has to say?
- Is the Bible really the inspired word of God?
- What is church? Is it a business? A club that meets on Sundays?
Please understand I was not asking myself rhetorical questions. I was about to embark on a journey to find the answers. And one of the first steps was to begin reading books, blogs, and articles written by people who believed the Bible was no more than a book on the shelf, and God was NOT great. In fact, He did not exist!
As I write this I realize I may have to take you back even farther in my journey during the next post. So get ready to feel like my therapist, but sadly you won’t make $150 an hour! As we move forward my goal will not be to convince you that God is real, the Bible is inspired, or you need to turn to Jesus! I honestly don’t believe I have the power to do so. I simply want to share my story.
I will address where I am now with those pointed questions. And I feel as though I should end this post by letting you know that I love the church, and hope you have found a place to examine your faith and connect to others. A place where the leaders have integrity, and you are constantly encouraged to live life to the fullest.
Please subscribe to the blog so that you can follow me a little farther into the darkness before we head back home! I hope that my story will encourage you to ask the tough questions, and to reach out to a God that I believe is very real and loves you deeply…even when you question His existence.
P.S. Most posts will not be this long