This pastor was an amazing man. I had served on the church board with him and supported him to the church body. The church had grown tremendously under his care.
Having just returned from the mission field after a year of service, things were noticeably different now in my church. He seemed focused on the building project and being selective about his time. Before, he was generous with the gospel and one could easily get in contact with him. But now, he seemed secluded and sequestered. He seemed unapproachable.
In my quandary, I sent a short letter to the missions board with whom I was just serving under asking for advice on how to deal with this pastor and church that I loved. The next thing I know, that letter had been passed to the bishop, then to the superintendent, then to the pastor.
The pastor called me into his office for a discussion.
Unfortunately, this discussion did not go well and my loyalty was questioned and I was placed on "probation." The next Sunday, the fellowship time before church was very arduous. I recall a group of my friends standing in a circle and I came up to the circle to talk with them and the group dissipated. I went to other friends and they were very short with me and discussions seemed strained. I believed that it was my own paranoia and my perceptions so I gave it time and prayer.
The following week a letter to the church from the board came out and my signature (as a board member) was on the bottom with other board members. I knew I had neither approved of nor signed it and I asked the pastor about it. He said, "oh, we have your signature digitized on the computer so we put it on there." I told him that I was very uncomfortable with my signature being used without my actually signing it or approving of it. Again, I was accused of not being a team player.
For the next few Sundays, it became increasingly difficult to attend. Other board members would hardly speak with me, friends that I had in the church no longer acted like friends. As this was a church in a denomination in which I was raised, this was difficult and I needed a firm answer from God if I was to stay or leave.
It was agonizing.
I was waiting and praying for God to tell me what to do. I attempted conversations but was repeatedly rebuffed. The pastor would not meet with me. I loved this church, this pastor and the people who attended there.
One Sunday, after church, as we were driving away, I looked back at the church and I saw a hand with a branding iron emblazoning the word "Ichabod" above the doorway. I thought about Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I had no idea what the vision meant. I had no idea that Ichabod was a biblical name, especially a name with a specific meaning.
Interestingly, that week, in my personal Bible study, I came upon this verse: "She named the boy Ichabod, saying, "The glory has departed from Israel"..."
Well, the verse hit me hard. It was clear what God was saying. Reluctantly, we started to attend another church. About a month later, the pastor sent me a letter saying that he was sorry that I had left but understood why and wanted to reassure me that people wouldn't be bothering me about attending. So, he tipped his hand. He inadvertently let me know that he had told people about me.
That hurt. I had no idea what he told people about me.
As I write this, and the experience is well over 20 years ago, I still feel a loss.
Interestingly, I heard that the pastor and this church left that denomination and became an independent church.
The church is very large and appears to be helping a lot of people. So, I don't know what it all means.
I do know, however, that God was very clear with me about leaving. I'm not saying that the church is bad or the pastor is bad. I'm just saying that particular church was not for me. There are a lot of good people in that church, people who earnestly want to do what God desires.
I still pray for God's direction in that church.
BE A MAN.