hard decisions Posts

The Hardest Thing I’ve Had To Do as a Leader: Part I

hardest leader

Without hesitation, fire my worship director.

I was in Little Rock, Arkansas at a Song of Solomon conference, and he was our worship leader. It was five years in at The Well, and I remember thinking, this guy is fantastic, and wondered while I was teaching, is there any chance I can get him to move to Fresno? So after the event was over, I awkwardly hung around like a groupie waiting to ask him out.

“Hey, you want to go out for pizza?”

He said, “Yes.”

So we were eating pizza at a place called Damn Good Pie (and it really was), I knew immediately he was the guy.

He was our first full-time worship guy. Up until that point we had a crew of volunteers that carried the worship load. He was amazing. He was one of my best friends. We hung out. We BBQ’d together. We laughed. Our wives hung out. Ministry-wise he was phenomenal and together, we had great chemistry.

But he started spending time with his assistant. A lot of time. And it became a little bit concerning. I would walk in and see them sitting together on the couch laughing and talking. I said, hey, are you okay? Is this relationship on the up and up? He said, yeah, yeah we’re good. We’re good. She and my wife are friends. It’s cool. Then one day they were singing Phil Wickham’s “Divine Romance,” and I remember watching the chemistry on stage, and thinking, oh no, something is not right. I don’t know what it is but something is not right.

It was early morning. 7 a.m. He busts in and says, “I’ve go to talk to you.”

“What’s going on?”

“I blew it. We crossed boundaries we shouldn’t have.”

He goes on to tell me what happened and I bring her in with another gal on staff and said, “Tell me what happened?”

“What did he tell you?” she asked.

“I don’t care what he told me, I want to know what you have to say.”

“I want to know what he said.”

“He said enough.”

She tells me what went down and it starts the chain reaction, which begins with him asking, “What do I do now?”

“You go tell your wife.”

“She’s going to kill me.”

“Then take it like a man. You have got to go tell your wife.”

He had crossed moral boundaries that any of us can cross if we’re not careful. My hope was to be able to restore him. I’ve never seen anyone restored after moral failure. So I really wanted to see if there was a way that we could work through this, but I was too close to think objectively. I was too emotionally connected. All I wanted to do was find a way to keep him – keep him in my life, in my church, on my team. But once I began to distance myself emotionally, I knew as a leader I had to think objectively, not as a friend.

I remember sitting and listening to his wife, with him by her side, tell me the rest of the story. You know – the real darkness lurking beneath the water that comes out over time  – and the more I listened, the more I realized this was a disqualifier. I have to fire him now. There’s no restoration here. Not into the same position of ministry. It wasn’t just his job, it was his position as a spiritual influence in our congregation. He was a leader, a pastor, and a huge platform presence in our church. He was on stage as an example to the multitudes. He represented Christ and his position on the team eliminated the margin of error.

We were sitting on my back patio—the same patio that had been witness to ministry carnage, job transitions, marital confessions, and everything in between. I told him, I’ve got to let you go. But I want to walk with you, I love you, I care for you. This is still your church and when you decide you want to worship with us, I want to know so I can greet you at the door.

It was extremely difficult for me to let him go. He was my friend and I was deeply grieved by the weight of the decision. We shared a great conversation through tears. He was not surprised. In fact, I think he knew the inevitable outcome from the start. But we walked down that dark road together.

A week later, he and his wife came. And I greeted him, literally at the parking lot, and proudly walked him in. Crying together, I walked my friend into church. He sat down in the back left, right by the pillar and I sat with him hugging until it was time to walk on stage.

This church is a home for the broken. We want to restore the broken. Not back to their job – that’s not what it’s about – but back to health in their marriage, in their spiritual life, and in their community. And we tried.

It’s been years since I’ve seen my friend.

They came for a short while and I think the wounds were too deep for his wife. She wanted to get a fresh start, so they moved. For many years, he was driving a delivery truck.

He would stash black crows around as a reminder of his sin—as a reminder of the temptations of sin that surrounded us as men. They served as symbols of the sin that could so easily entangle if we are not vigilant. He would put them in places to remind himself: Be careful. They were everywhere. He put one in the chandelier at the North Campus and I keep it I keep it as a reminder of my friend and of the carnage that immorality can bring to us all.

The irony is I get accused of not caring about people, and that’s not true. As a leader, I care deeply about our staff. All of them. Here’s a guy who was close to me, a friend, a guy with incredible musical talent and pastoral chops, who fell and I saw it coming.

I’ll never let it go again. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Never again. There’s too much at stake. In some ways, I felt like I could have stopped it…  if I would have pressed more, but sin is deceptive, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy thought. But I saw it coming. I saw it coming from a mile away.