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Man Chooses to Forgive Fellow Minister

One of my most painful leadership lessons came shortly after I graduated from seminary and began to work in a church as a full-time pastor and leader. I was asked to be on a committee that worked with incoming seminary students who were training for full-time ministry. One of our responsibilities was to determine if students had financial needs.

At my first meeting, this group looked over four requests for financial aid from a special denominational fund. Years earlier, a church had closed and had put all of its assets in this special fund, which was to be used to help train future pastors and leaders for the denomination. Each request was handled quickly and efficiently; any students with need who planned to go into ministry in our denomination would receive two thousand dollars a year. Because my wife and I had struggled financially through our years of seminary, it was a joy to approve giving money to these seminary students.

After we had made the approvals, I commented to the chair of the committee that I wished this fund had been around the past three years because both my wife and I would have qualified for these grants and could have borrowed $10,000 less in student loans.

I had assumed this fund had just come into existence. Each of the years I was in seminary, I had asked my pastor if there were any sources of support for struggling seminary students. Each time I asked for help, I got a speech about how hard things were back when he went to school. He told me that I should "learn to eat cold beans out of a can." (I'm still not sure how my character would grow if I kept the beans in the can and refused to heat them.) He had assured me, on many occasions, that there was no support available from the church or denomination) and told me I needed to suck it up, and eats lots of beans…cold, if possible.

As I sat with the committee members, I was stunned to hear the chair say, "This fund has been in place for over a decade." I was dumbfounded. You see, the place that I had filled on the committee was previously occupied by none other than my pastor for the past three years. In a private conversation, I asked the chair if there was any way this person hadn't known about these funds being available for me and my wife, and confided that we had struggled profoundly while in seminary. (We had lived well under the poverty level all three years.) He assured me that my friend and partner in ministry had voted to offer this money to many other students over the past three years.

I was saddened.

I was angry.

I felt sick to my stomach.

The chair of the committee tried to console me and actually investigated the possibility of giving us this support retroactively as payment toward our student loans. But the decision was that doing so would set a bad precedent. I swallowed hard and decided to consider it a lesson learned.

Out of this, I committed to do all I could to help seminary students get through school with minimal debt. I also learned to forgive someone who had wronged me. I had to decide whether I would feed my bitterness or find a way to forgive. It was a battle. I honestly considered not forgiving him. But by God's grace, and in the shadow of the cross, I chose to forgive.

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