Tuesday, April 29, 2014

#DangerDays: Drew Ward's Story

Today's #DangerDays guest post comes from my Twitter buddy Drew Ward, whom I have grown to love as a brother. Until now. A Duke fan? Really, Drew? As if the HIMYM finale bashing isn't bad enough! But regardless, it's an honor to have Drew share with us today. A bold step of faith into the danger indeed...

Hey guys, I'm Drew and I love Jesus, long walks on the beach, comedy movies, Seinfeld, comic books, live music, classic cars, the NY Yankees, Jets, Rangers (that's hockey – not those counterfeits who try to play baseball in Texas), Knicks, and gun to my head, I guess Duke basketball.  I have an aversion to belly buttons, Boston accents, eggs, and the How I Met Your Mother finale.  Seriously – thank you for taking the time to read my story.  I hope it blesses you and I pray that if you've experienced something similar, you don't feel like you're alone:  

How I walked away from an abusive pastor....

As a teen, I swore I would never live in this North Carolina town again!  And so I moved, several times, in fact.  Very long and complicated story short, my wife and I felt a calling and even a longing to come back to this area of western NC!  And during a visit here to scout houses/apartments, we attended a church service and we heard from God very clearly and directly that day.  He told both of us that He was going to be calling us to something big.  He wasn't going to say what it was, but only that we had better be ready when He called. 

So in May 2008, we make our move back.  THAT was a Danger Day in and of itself as took a gigantic leap of faith moving forward with our plans, not knowing for sure if the house we owned in Illinois would sell – but God came through and it did!  We felt a pull to a certain church and quickly became regular lay attenders and subsequently, members.  In late-2009, the youth pastor at the time resigned very abruptly.  We were called into the pastor's office one Sunday after morning worship during all of this and the pastor asked us to spend the week praying about a need that has come up in the church (we were unaware of what was going on) and that God had given him our names to fill this need.  My wife and I instantly recalled hearing from God that one Sunday afternoon just a year earlier. 

The next Sunday, we were offered the position of part-time youth leaders.  I was upfront with my pastor that I did not grow up in a Christian home, had not even gone to youth group as a teen, let alone led one, nor had I ever studied youth ministry in college.  I certainly felt behind the eight-ball, so to speak.  I was reassured and began the position.  I soon felt God's call to full-time ministry, enrolled at Indiana Wesleyan University in 2011, and after the first year holding this position, my pastor and I began to have discussions about a full-time position.  “After the first of the year” (2011) was what I was initially told.  It got to be July and nothing had changed.  I was working two other jobs, had a 2-year-old child, and was taking classes at IWU in addition to my role in the church.  It began to take a toll on my marriage.  My wife and I prayed about this and knew that there had to be changes.  We expressed the desire to the pastor and board members to go full-time and how our current circumstances were taking a toll on our marriage.  Long story short, we were offered the position full-time after an interview process, but our pastor never counseled us or offered any kind of support about the state of our marriage.  The only thing he said was, “You think you're overwhelmed now, well you're really about to be.” 

He was very clear that the bar of expectations would be raised upon going full-time, but he never taught me anything about how to meet these expectations.  I had no clue how to go about spending my days.  My tenure felt like four years of throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what stuck.  There was no teaching, no discipleship, no emotional support. I didn't even receive a mission statement or goal to work towards.  If there were any suggestions made, they were always very vague and never an attempt to actually teach me.  A vast majority of the feedback I received was strictly negative.  Other times, I would not receive any at all.  A great example of this was this past fall, I collaborated with another local youth group to do a series of 5th Quarter events after local high school football games.  I never heard a peep of feedback as to whether it was a good idea or not, or any kinds of suggestions.  This silence from a man who supposedly had a vision for our church to minister to our immediate community...

In January 2013, my mother was diagnosed with kidney, bladder and ureter cancer.  We had been making plans for me to head up a new Sunday School class directed at college aged and young adults.  This news changed a lot in our lives and obviously made taking on something new very difficult.  I expressed my concerns to my pastor in a staff meeting and his response was, “Well, if we push the start date of this back a month, is that going to give you time to work out your 'personal issues?'  Because this needs to be done right.” 

This man also accompanied us to an international youth convention in Louisville, Kentucky over Christmas break in 2012.  Our first night there, he publicly lambasted me in front of five of my students about being “unorganized.”  The only decision that had not been made or planned out was what time to have breakfast the next morning.  I never received an apology for this.  In fact, I swallowed my own pride and apologized to him for being disorganized.  I apologized for this and several other things during my tenure which I had no business apologizing for, just to attempt to preserve unity in the body.  Recently when I announced my resignation to my students, one of them asked us after service if the pastor had done something to me to cause me to be leaving because she “remembered how he did me in Kentucky.”  I had another young man in my youth group we made a special connection with.  He is an angry kid, going as far as to attempt suicide last year, but God allowed us to really make some inroads with him.  He still reaches out to me from time to time, and called me at Christmas time asking me out of the blue if I “got in trouble with the pastor in Kentucky.”  I didn't give him a straight answer and he said, “I was just curious because I was at the hotel Starbucks one morning and he was in line with the other ladies from the trip complaining to them and just going off about how unorganized you were.”  That was his takeaway from such an awesome and life-changing event.

The last straw for me was when I was physically threatened in front of my wife the day before Thanksgiving.  Earlier that afternoon in a staff meeting, I was giving the pastor some details on a mission trip to Brooklyn, NY, which I was planning to take some of the youth and some people from church.  One of the people I chose to chaperone was a good friend of mine who attended this church with us for six years.  My thought there was to give this man a chance to serve.  He's great with the kids and really doesn't get to serve in church as much as he'd like due to his job in a retail establishment at irregular hours.  Also didn't hurt that he's about 6'4 and 280 pounds – very beneficial going into a rough neighborhood!  Our pastor – who ironically always preached on and drummed up giving opportunity to others – assumed I just wanted to take my buddy just to take him, and even told me so, going so far as to suggest I was lying.  I went home from that meeting in tears.  I told my wife that we needed to really pray because I really felt like this was it.  He never trusted me, he never respected me, and I just no longer had the energy or the zeal to continue the struggle.  This had been a matter of prayer for a couple years, but God told us through prayer on this day to express our feelings to him before service that night and I'd have my answer as to what to do.

That night, I expressed my feelings to him that I honestly felt like resigning and wanted to talk about things.  He jumped to the defensive immediately.  My wife was crying and pleading to him that we didn't want things to get to that point, that church has meant so much to us, and we just want to get on the same page.  He said to her very sharply, “Well if you don't want things to get to this point, then why are you in here in my office talking about resigning?”  I interjected, “Because you're my PASTOR!”  I admittedly said that in an animated fashion, but was very careful not yell at him.  He swung his office chair around, leaned forward, glared at me and said, “You wanna raise your voice to me?” like he wanted to fight.  God told me that I would have my answer by his response.  I meditated on it a couple days, but the day after Thanksgiving, I emailed him my notice and never even got a reply.  We haven't spoken to one another since. 

God never promised me that it was going to be easy – just that it was going to be big. 

God gave me a new job just 3 days later and called us to an amazing new church home that next Sunday.  Here I sit five months later on 1/3 less income than I was earning, but with three times the peace of mind I've had in years.  I'm also working a job where I work from home and can keep my 6-week-old daughter.  We're also at a very awesome church where I'm playing the drums, and under a very awesome teaching pastor.  (One thing I've learned from this whole experience is that there is a HUGE difference between a preacher and a pastor.)  I'm currently on the sidelines of professional ministry and sort of at a crossroads about what may come next.  I once felt like Christian counseling was what I wanted to pursue, but now I don't feel that way at all.  I don't know where I'm headed or what's next.  I voiced these feelings to our current pastor a couple Sundays ago and you know what he told me?  “You know, I think that would have been a big waste.  Not for everyone, but for you specifically, it would have been a waste.  God has BIG things for you!” 



  1. Anonymous4/29/2014

    Drew, thank you for your courage and sharing your story. You were brave to leave and step out into the unknown. And brave to confess to Carl that you are a Duke fan! Blessings to you! ~ Chris Cooper

    1. No problem at all, Chris - my pleasure! Thank you for the good words. And fear not, I'm a casual Duke fan! (if that helps, haha) God bless.

  2. Leaving when you do not know what is next is hard. Waiting for God to let you in on what is next is harder. Thanks for your reminder that faithfulness leads to blessings- but not always the ones we expect or would choose. This post will hit home with so many. Thank you, my friend.

    1. Thanks so much, man. It's funny, during that ugly scene in the pastor's office when we were voicing our feelings of resigning, he said, "You be sure you pray about this." (As if I hadn't been) I replied that I had been and he interjected, "Oh, you mean the 3 hours since our staff meeting?" I didn't even bother mentioning that it had been a matter of serious prayer for over a year and that God told me that his response would be my answer. I don't know what's next, but I've seen God open soooo many new doors already. I'm excitedly anxious. :)


Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!