Monday, February 21, 2011

Sucker Punch

I had a few doubts about taking the Director of Student Ministries position at Wesley Memorial UMC in 2001, but nothing that kept me from accepting their call.  I knew that they were a mid-sized church that their leadership saw as much larger than it really was.  I knew that some of the lay leadership was very possessive of their power.  I knew that space was at a premium and that a building campaign seemed stalled.  But one of the reasons that none of that seemed important to me was the leadership of the senior pastor, Jerry Sweat.  He was young, energetic, innovative and a wonderful preacher.  The congregation loved him, and it was easy to see why.  Marilyn and I quickly fell in love with Jerry, his wife Denise and their 3 kids, 2 of whom- Ryan and Ashley- were in the youth group.  The last question I asked Jerry before accepting the position was a personal one.  I wanted to know if he thought there was any chance the Florida Conference of the UMC would move him the following June.  He assured me he was not going anywhere.

Once I had actually started work at WMUMC I discovered Jerry was not perfect.  He was not much of an administrator.  He was disorganized at times.  Our wonderful secretary, Vickey Paggio, kept a bowl on her desk for him to leave his car keys in so he wouldn't lose them.  He would forget to pick his kids up from school.  He would double book appointments and meetings.  He would delegate tasks that didn't match his gifts and allow people to work.  Sometimes these people needed more direction than he gave them, and this would bite the church big-time later on.  But as a spiritual leader and teacher, Jerry was top-notch.  And we made a good team.  Jesus was leading the way, and after a couple of months on the job I was feeling like we were going places.

And then in early December of 2001, after I had been in Tampa less than two months, Jerry called a staff meeting to announce that he was leaving to accept a position at a huge church in Jacksonville Beach.  Health reasons had forced a pastor to retire early, and they needed to fill his spot.  They could not have chosen a better man.  HOWEVER...I suddenly felt like I had been left high and dry- again!  I was losing my #1 supporter.  I was losing the director of our youth choir (his wife).  Denise was also the leader of the Praise Team that Marilyn was singing with and a key figure in a very fragile contemporary worship service.  I was losing 2 key youth.  After my experience at FUMC-Kissimmee with The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named, I had no confidence in the Florida Conference and who they might send as Jerry's replacement.  They would be with us through January, so we would have some time to gather ourselves, but I was distraught.  It was indeed a sucker punch, and I had no idea how or if I was going to recover from this one.  I would be praying hard that God would give me strength and answers.  In the meantime, there was student ministry to be done.  More on that Wednesday...

Because of Jesus,


  1. I hate to admit this, but I think I am that pastor. I am gifted in teaching and preaching, but not gifted at all in administration.

    I am learning though. Can't wait to see what happens Wednesday.

  2. Kevin, lots of us are that pastor. Administrative gifts and spiritual gifts are very different. Give me the spiritual leader every time!


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