BAD NEWS. My pastor is leaving.
It could be worse.
I could be her dad.
He and her ma live here in the greater metro area.
Pastor Molly Simpson is moving to another state. She’s taking her husband and two pre-school-age children with her.
Not grandma. Not grandpa.
Not uncle. Not aunt.
Not any of the “me’s” who fill our church.
- People who have worked alongside her. On the Honduras mission trip she told us to pray for people at the clinic if we felt comfortable doing so. I don’t think she knows it, but I peeked after she snapped a picture of me praying for a lady and her kids. I saw Molly turn and walk away, wiping her eyes.
- People who know a little about her spirit. One of her biggest worries as a pastor has been that she would disappoint people. She doesn’t want to let anyone down. Maybe our congregation should use that against her: convince her that we’re all disappointed she’s leaving. We could call the campaign: Save Pastor Molly.
- People who have seen her grow as a preacher. She preaches in the shadow of one of the best preachers in the country, in my opinion. She hasn’t gotten to preach very often. This is a multi-campus church that usually gets its sermon by video from the main campus. On the other hand, she has learned preaching from the best. She’s the better for it.
She preached a tearful sermon on Sunday. A sermon for hurting souls.
I sat in the second row. Sitting in the first row, directly in front of me: her dad, her mom, her brother, her sister-in-law.
It seemed to me that her mom was trying hard not to cry.
Before the service started, I gave her a hug and said, “I feel your pain.”
“Not to the extent,” she said. Her eyes filled. She tried to fan the wetness away with her hands.
“I know,” I said.
As Molly began speaking, her mom and dad wiped their eyes time and again…from sermon start to sermon finish.
Something like a wet sponge seemed to fill inside my chest.
I ached for Molly’s mom and dad, for I count them among my friends.
I ached for Molly, because I knew she was hurting.
I ached for myself, because I love Molly and have been proud to have called her my pastor.
Listen to me.
Already speaking in past tense, as though my campaign to Save Pastor Molly will never get anywhere.
There was a moment in the sermon when Molly lost her composure.
I don’t remember what she said. I just remember her collapsing face.
She looked over at her family. Just a glance. That’s all it took.
She must have seen the row of painful faces. If her eyes carried her back into the second row, she got more of the same.
Molly’s husband is a minister, too.
He had put his career on hold for the past eight years while his wife led a campus plant that has grown into a congregation of about 800 souls meeting each Sunday, with around 2,200 souls worshiping with us on Easter.
Now, Molly’s husband will minister to the youth of a distant church, while Molly gives her ministry career a sabbatical to nurture her daughter and son at home.
Molly says she found it too hard to be a mom and a full-time minister working 60 hours or more a week.
I spoke to her boss before the worship service on Sunday.
I said I’d have cut her a deal, to reduce her workload.
Boss Lady, a gentle spirit, said they did, adding, “We’re like that.”
Here’s the thing—which is magnified for ministers like Molly, who hate to disappoint people: our expectations of a pastor are unrealistic.
We expect too much. So someone is always disappointed. And our pastors know that.
Let’s say Molly is on a rigidly reduced schedule of, perhaps, 30 hours a week. A crisis comes. We expect her to show her face in overtime. When she doesn’t, we’re disappointed.
She knows it.
She feels it. And it hurts.
I remember when a friend of mine got sick and the pastoral staff didn’t make it to the hospital in time pray him into surgery. So I prayed him there, moments before they wheeled him away.
Heck, I thought, the staff is the staff, but we’re the church. We ought to be doing more of that stuff anyhow.
Perhaps if we did…. Ah, I don’t know.
I do know this. If I were a pastor, I’d rather have people sad to see me go than relieved to see me go.
– – –
I imagine Molly helped pick the closing song on Sunday.
Chris Tomlin wrote the lyrics:
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city.
But I’d feel more confident about that if we could…
Save Pastor Molly.
PS: For those wondering, I did get Molly’s gracious approval to post this blog. In the email I told her, “It’s not too late. Change your mind.” She said she knows, but “I’m not changing my mind unless God tells me to.”
Note to God: Tell her to.