David's Story

"I resigned from the parish, and from ministry. I spiralled into depression."

I trained at Moore Theological College in Sydney about 20 years ago. I failed my 4th year project and that meant that I had to do a subject the following year to complete my degree. I also got amber-lighted in the ordination process in 4th year because of a comment by a parishioner. The two things meant that I didn’t get ordained the year after College.

We started that year, with two kids, in a parish working for a Senior Minister who had never had an Assistant before, but who had a lot of management experience from the secular world. He had a very particular way of doing things and I didn’t fit well into that model. He also had a very limited amount of experience in full time ministry. His position was unplanned: it had been intended that he be the Assistant in the parish he was in, but the Senior Minister took a new job in a bigger church in his final year at Moore, and he was made Senior Minister because that was the plan anyway. (Some bad decisions there, in my view.)

The year started with big plans to train me in the ways in which he didn’t get trained. But since I wasn’t ordained, and was intending to be ordained, that was a diocesan responsibility. The Bishop of the area felt that it would be unfair to leave all of that on the shoulders of the new Senior Minister. So, the Bishop got involved in my training. Once a month we would meet, with the intention that in the following year I would be ordained as a deacon.

We met for six months, once a month, on my day off. The very first meeting with the Bishop set the tone for the rest of the year. We sat down in McDonalds and prayed. The Bishop then produced an email (of which I had absolutely no knowledge), which pointed out some criticisms of me from the previous year. We proceeded to look at all that I had done that was wrong. Very little was suggested as to how I would improve. The meetings just got worse after that.

Various things stick in my memory from that time, like the Senior Minister being cranky with me for being late to a meeting with him because I was meeting with a man who was headed for jail. The final straw was when in September I told the Senior Minister that we were expecting our third child in March. He looked me straight in the eye and said: “I can see that when this baby is born you’re going to collapse in a screaming heap. I’m not prepared to take that risk with my congregation. So, you’ve got a tough choice to make.”

I spent a few weeks talking with people I knew and whom I respected. Only one person told me to fight. The others said: “Oh well, I guess it seems you weren’t meant for ministry.” A Senior Minister, for whom I had worked as a student minister, told me that I was suited for ministry and had a lot to give. But one voice compared to the voices of the Bishop, my Senior Minister, and others, didn’t carry much weight.

I resigned from the parish, and from ministry. I spiralled into depression. I was facing the fact that I had spent five years out of the secular workforce. Furthermore, we had bought a house and then sold it before going into college, and while we were in college the price of houses had doubled.

I went into sales for four years. Then I got a phone call from the Senior Minister I mentioned before who was encouraging me to stay in ministry. He was now in a different parish and wanted me to do the youth ministry. He asked for part time, I gave full time. To his credit, and the credit of the parish, over a period of three years I ended up with a full stipend as the capacity of the church increased. While I was working with him I re-entered the ordination process. I was ordained and started the presbyter process. While I was meeting with the Bishop, he asked me about the situation eight years previously. I said “I guess I just wasn’t the right person to work with [Senior Minister’s name]”. His reply was: “Is anyone the right person to work with [Senior Minister’s name]?!” I looked into it and found that no one had stayed with him for more than two years.

The finances of the parish took a turn for the worse. It became clear that we would not be there the following year. We took a role next that was part time. I had secured funding to work part time with a parachurch ministry. Between that role (two days a week) and the parish work (four days a week) I had a full stipend.

I came into the job as the youth minister and evening service co-ordinator. The evening service was highly dysfunctional. The previous Assistant copped a lot of blame, but in hindsight I can see the problem was systemic in the congregation, not with the things he had tried to do. The youth work was highly dysfunctional as well. They had a bunch of kids coming, but there was little interaction with the Bible. It was a high energy, high input, and, I believe, a high drop-out rate for leaders. The leaders were exhausted.

I suggested some drastic changes to the youth ministry. The two main leaders were dead set against the changes. One of the main leaders was the Senior Minister’s daughter. She didn’t think any of my changes were any good and didn’t want to try them. The other leader seemed to have a “dump-truck” mentality, with the vague hope that the kids would stick around, even though we had been manifestly unable to get any transfer from youth to church. This church was one at which a key top youth leader had previously worked. The leader (not the Senior Minister’s daughter) had been at the church when that youth leader was there, and he said to me that what I wanted to do was exactly the way that the youth leader had worked back then. I distinctly remember him saying: “The only people in our evening service who were around in those days were the kids discipled by him, and who were in that ministry group then.” But let’s not do things the way he did, whose results are here in the church, let’s do things the same way that we have been for 5-10 years with no results to show for it! The fact that none of the church kids came to youth group as well was seen as disappointing, not a major problem.

To be fair, when all of my ideas got knocked on the head I disengaged myself from the ministry as much as I could. Later that year we had a meeting with the youth group leaders and the Senior Minister. I was basically torched in that meeting. Senior leaders were critical of me and my skills. It was decided that I would pull out of youth ministry and take over Scripture in the schools.

The following year there was no youth group in term 1. In term 2 the youth group split into a younger and older group, just as I had suggested. The younger group, which was run by younger leaders, was run in the way that I had suggested. Suddenly church kids came to youth group. The older group didn’t start until term 3 and was run exactly as it had been the previous year, and the numbers were bad. I must admit, I did feel vindicated!

That year the funding I had for the parachurch position ran out. The parish, which had $200K in the bank, decided that they would fully fund me for that year, but the following year I had to leave. There was no appeal made for funds for my role. Since then, I’ve been working outside of the Sydney diocese.