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Did God set me up?

It was August of 2000. I was sitting in a session at a Conference themed, “Dealing With Sexual Addiction In The Church”. I was proverbially “killing two birds with one stone”.

The first “bird” was the history of the church I pastor. The church began in 1949. I was the ninth pastor in her history, but the fifth pastor in the previous 20 years.

All four of the pastoral transitions previous to mine were painful for the previous pastor, their family, and the church.

Three of the four transitions had to do with some kind of sexual indiscretion. The last two pastors marriages ended in divorce. These transitions would occur in the fourth or fifth year of the pastors tenure.

At the time I was attending this conference, I had been the Senior Pastor for almost three years. I was appointed the Senior Pastor after having invested my first eight years here as the Youth Pastor and the next four as Associate Pastor. I had experienced, endured, and anguished through the previous three transitions.

Our leadership had given a tremendous amount of time to praying and seeking God regarding this history. We had spiritually cleansed the church property and our own lives in about every way conceivable, believing that what God had in store for our future as a body of believers was bright and filled with vision.

There was something to this “sexual addiction” stuff that I had been hearing about. Given the leaders involved with putting this conference together, I thought it wise to participate and learn what I could.

During one of the sessions, the speaker was addressing the addictive cycle common in any addiction, regardless of the substance (ie., alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex, etc.). I will never forget hearing about the addictive cycle and sensing God whisper to my heart the words, “Paul, I want to begin to deal with work addiction and perfectionism in your life.”

At the very moment I sensed it, I had one of those “life flashes before your eyes” experiences. In the blink of an eye, I could see the faces and hear the voices of a number of family members and friends over the last several years who would share their concern with me about my work/ministry life. They would express their observations of how out of balance my life was and how my family and kids would end up paying a steep price eventually if I didn’t begin to address this lack of balance.

Here’s the second “bird” I was killing with the one “stone”: Having just been accepted at a local Seminary into their Master’s of Divinity program, my first class was wrapped around this conference.

We would attend the conference during the day and stay for class in the evening. We would leave the conference at the end of the week with a specified amount of time to read the assigned books and turn in papers for the grade.

During the class, I re-acquainted with a friend from Youth Ministry days. We shared some meals and swapped war stories from the years gone by. During the last class meeting, I felt urged to share what the Lord had spoken to my heart with someone before leaving the conference. It didn’t even dawn on me that my newfound friend would be the person.

Not until, that is, as we were leaving class, out of the blue he said to me, “I feel like I have paid a price in my ministry for putting my family first sometimes.” As soon as he said those words, I instantly knew he was the Lord was setting this circumstance up for me.

After sharing with my friend, he prayed for me and we went our seperate ways. A few days later, I sat down with Colleen, knwoing I needed to share it with her too. When I did, there a flood of emotions were released. I had no idea where the emotions were coming from or even what they were.

I knew I was to also share the experience with my church staff. Somewhere around the first of September, I took some time in a Staff Meeting to do so. The same thing happened, and I didn’t understand it. I just couldn’t hold back the tears and emotions. So I just let them flow and figured God would work out everything else.

One thing I always felt I did right in my years of pastoring was to form a relationship with a mentor. I needed a “pastor”. I think every pastor needs their own pastor!

Early on in my pastorate, I asked a man who I knew could fill this role if he would let me buy him breakfast once a month for this purpose. Our relationship in the past led to my request and I was glad he accepted.

My monthly breakfast with him was coming up …. on the last Friday of September! I knew I was to share with him the phrase the Lord spoke to my heart during the conference. That Friday morning, I did. The emotions were just as raw as the previous two encounters with Colleen and with the staff.

As my tears flowed, I remember him saying to me, “Paul, I am not kidding you. I was coming to this breakfast to share those same areas that I am observing in you over the lasts several months. I believe God is up to something. All you can do is flow with it.”

That was the day that all hell broke loose …. my sister-in-law moved in and Chris was diagnosed with leukemia. It was the day that led to the longest three months of my life!

It would be months before I began to recognize and process the grief and despair of my burnout in such a way that would cause me to believe that God had set me up for this. Today I can say that He not only set me up for burnout, but He also set me up for recovery. Through my recovery, He showed me that I could live again!

© 2008 Paul D. Kuzma