Being told that I needed to leave the church just 3 months ago has created significant changes in me. My initial reaction was probably typical. I was so incredibly hurt that the leadership of the church did not care about me or my family enough to even have a conversation regarding the ways in which I was abused by the judgment and condemnation, ostracism and shunning that I had experienced over a period of more than a decade.

Being a Christian and part of a Christian Body carries implications. We are told that we are adopted by God into His family and that family is manifested here on earth in the form of “the church.” I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so becoming a Christian and being adopted into a Christian family – the church – connected deeply with me. While everyone else was getting together with extended biological family for Christian holidays, Sunday dinners, and pretty much every other family-oriented event, I was drawn to spend that time at church. My husband and I would volunteer for whatever opportunity to serve was available – nursery, serving coffee, and, early on, as a musician, I would sing in the choir, play in the worship band, sing on the worship team – whatever needed doing, we were there. This was family for us and this is what family does – we serve one another.

Even during those ten-plus years of being told I could not serve, I still went along with my husband while he volunteered in children’s ministry and at the coffee bar. This is what family does. Even when one can’t be fully invested – for whatever reason – we show up anyway, in thought, in person – whatever way we are able. Even when I wasn’t “able” to serve, I was able to show up. And so I did. It was enough while I waited for others to be led by the Lord to tell me the truth, to reverse their decision, to see me as worthy and valuable enough to be acceptable. It was enough to be able to show up and be present.

We had shown up and been invested for many years and even when there were judgments and condemnations happening that I didn’t understand and couldn’t find a way to work out with those who were unhappy with me, I stuck it out. Most of us can’t or don’t give up on our biological family. How much more committed I was to my spiritual family – my church – and especially the leaders even though they had been the ones who had bestowed judgment or, at the very least, allowed judgment to be bestowed upon me without reason or proper protocol.

So, the pain that I experienced in being told we were to leave the church was excruciating. Yet, that pain was accompanied by hope. Hope that the knee-jerk reaction that we were met with would give way to reconsideration. Hope that someone would call, show up on our doorstep, send an email and ask that we be willing to talk. Even if the result was that we no longer be a part of that “family” – that Body of believers – I had hope that we could work together; that we all could be confident that every attempt had been made to reach a God-glorifying conclusion.

As the hours turned to days, and the days to weeks, and the weeks to months, it became clear that none of the leaders of what we thought was “family” had any interest at all in reaching out to us. Why this surprised me can only be chalked up to the same naiveté that I have had for the past nearly-two decades as I endured the condemnation and ostracism that rained down on me. I have always thought the day would come when at least the senior pastor, whom I trusted because I believed from his sermons that he truly “got it,” – I thought the day would come when at least he would be able to acknowledge the ways in which I had been wrongly treated or, at the very least, the ways in which that treatment had been wrongly meted out. If the leadership had reason to ostracize me, certainly he would acknowledge that proper procedures had not been followed.

But, as hope faded, hope also grew. I began listening to the truth of what God had to say about me rather than waiting for men to tell me what God has to say. The first thing God had to tell me was that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I had just been left and forsaken by my Christian family – thrown away like so much unwanted trash. Yet, God whispered repeatedly, “Ellen, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am not like them and they are not like Me.”

I used to hope to hear those words from the people at church. And here I was, the church loudly declaring that they found me so unacceptable that we couldn’t even have a conversation. Now, some people have commented to me to be careful. They tell me that “the church” did not abandon me – only certain people in leadership. But, I want to clarify that if this is what you are thinking, you are remiss. Not only have I not heard anything from the leadership, I have heard nothing from the people whom I counted “friends” in the church either – except for one person. Only one has not abandoned – left and forsaken me. So, please don’t think that I am only talking about leadership at this point.

Yet, over the past three months, God was clearly telling me that He is not like them – meaning that the “church” that had tossed me aside was not a “church” at all. Because the true church is like God. Not that they are perfect, but they certainly try their best. And even when they fail, they do their best to make things right. So, even after a knee-jerk reaction of telling us to leave, there could have been – and still could be – an attempt to do this as God would.

God never leaves nor forsakes. The “church” has thus far proven in the amplification of their silence, that they are not the church. Leaving and forsaking is not what Christ would do and, as head of the church, what His church does will reflect that – even if rather poorly. To make no attempt at all implies that there is no connection to Jesus as head of their “body” and therefore, they cannot be the church – the body of Christ.

Coming to the realization that the leadership and our church “friends” were, in effect, nullifying the “church’s” position as the body of Christ by refusing to “never leave nor forsake” opened my eyes. This, I had not expected. As one who had depended on the church to validate me as a member of their Christian family, I discovered that I was truly validated once that “family” abandoned me.

Not only could I see my position as a child of the KING – one truly adopted by God, my Father – but I also came to fully embrace what I had always “known” but had looked to the church to make real to me: that no person on earth has the right to judge me or to cause me to question my position as His child.

Not that the church – the true church – doesn’t have a responsibility to rebuke or hold one another accountable, but this was never done in my experience with the church. I was never told, “Ellen, we have some concerns and here is the evidence. Now, we want to come along side you and work with you so that we can grow together with you in love and good works.”

I was the one who begged to be told what I had done to bring about the judgment that I had experienced. I was the one who repeatedly pleaded for help and was only met with silence. I cannot say that I did nothing wrong. How can I know when no one would tell me? I can only say that whatever it was that I supposedly did, no one would follow church – or biblical – policy. No amount of asking them to please tell me what I had done to merit being told I could not serve my spiritual family – the Body of Christ to which I belonged – ever resulted in so much as a response, let alone actual answers. And in the end, no one could acknowledge that they had failed in doing so. My husband finally demanded that there be an acknowledgment – an apology. And it was at that point that they made it clear that it was easier for them to simply tell us to leave.

As The Lord spoke to me about who I am in His eyes and opened my eyes to the reality of who the leadership of the church – and therefore the church itself – is, I experienced complete freedom! It was as though the grip that fear and unworthiness had on me was released in a single moment. Joy flooded my soul and has never once left me. And as that grip was released, I also experienced a deep change that I had not in any way expected.

I began to understand the deep grace and love that God has for all of us. Not just those who follow “the rules” – whatever rules might be on any of our lists. But that He loves THE WORLD. I have become so disappointed to realize that those who represent God – those who call themselves Christians – are so judgmental and self-righteous that they spew condemnation and hate toward any and all who do not keep the “rules” that they believe are God-ordained – or even rules that simply make their lives easier. You know, the “yes men” kind of rules: don’t point out the problem or we will declare that you are the problem kind of rules. And then there are the mainstream kind of rules, as well. Whether it is rules about gay marriage or what movies people should see or who is right about baptism or who we should be seen with – all myriad of rules espoused by the minions of Christians across the globe.

And it has become clear to me that the only rule we who call ourselves “Christian” should really be adamant about keeping is “love one another.”

Now, I realize that many Christians believe that “loving one another” includes blasting people with what we believe are the rules they should be following. But, isn’t that God’s job? Isn’t it His job to convict people if He thinks they need to be convicted? Isn’t it “God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”?

Since when did love include judging and condemning? Since when did love include a long list of rules that, depending on which Christian author, preacher, worship leader, or teacher you like best causes you to lob grenades at Christians or non-Christians alike because of the rules based on the author, preacher, worship leader, or teacher they like best?

Since when is love leaving and forsaking?

Now, I realize that the same can be said of me just in writing this. Someone is going to declare that I am judging and condemning those who judge and condemn. Especially as I write about the church who judged and condemned me. Please know this: I was the one who made each final attempt to communicate. I begged for Matthew 18. I was not the one who said – well, they said nothing. I couldn’t get a response.

My door and my heart are still open. I am ever ready to come together with the church leaders to reach a conclusion that is God-glorifying. I don’t write to judge or condemn. I write to encourage others who have been left and forsaken. One day, I would love to write that we came together and God was glorified in ways we could never ask or imagine. That would be the best post of all.

Also, know that I don’t write because I am still hurting. There are some hurts that may never heal, this is true. I miss my friends and the many good and right things that were and still are, I hope, happening in that church. But, I am experiencing joy and freedom and peace and love like never before! God is good and He was especially good in taking me out of a horrible situation. I so hope others who have or are experiencing wounding at the hands of church family will find hope and healing by knowing that they, too, can have a deeper relationship with God when they are no longer a part of an abusive system.

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Comments
  1. I think you’re finally getting the idea, you have to find your identity in God alone, and not in human beings.
    Pity it’s taken you 20 years to figure it out! Never mind, better late than never…

    • Ellen says:

      I think it’s a common thread for many who have been the victims of spiritual abuse that because it is so subtle in the less “cult-like” churches, we get sucked in so easily. Plus, we assume that these are “normal” people and that even though they may be “behaving badly” they will eventually come to their senses and things will get back to “normal.”

      We spent about 5 years in our first abusive church – a story that I have shared on this blog. We spent far longer at the second church because of the cognitive dissonance – always wanting to believe what we were hearing from the pulpit even when what I was experiencing was entirely the opposite. We believed so many lies because our questions were not addressed and we made assumptions that if the senior pastor only knew the truth, he would step in and help. What we were lied to about was that the senior pastor was behind the whole thing. At least that’s what his brother’s final communications would indicate. Still, we were not allowed to have a face-to-face conversation – the shepherd can’t speak with us because he can’t be seen as anything but “Mr. Nice Guy.” So it goes . . .

      I also believe this is why so many people are out there who have been spiritually abused and they can’t/don’t say anything – because it’s not some blatant cult-like situation. It’s perpetrated by fine, upstanding, well-loved leaders and to speak against them only brings the wrath of everyone who loves them to bear. So, they remain silent and they stay home on Sundays. Hopefully, as I write, people will discover that abuse can be so incredibly subtle that no one sees it until they have been damaged over a long period of time.

      The other side of it is that we who hang on for years and years are trying very desperately to be Jesus – to follow what He would do. We stick it out because we believe in forgiveness and reconciliation. To walk says that we aren’t being faithful to what we say we believe. That’s a hard thing to come to terms with – and I must say, those of us who spend those years must rest in the fact that we are the more gracious and forgiving for doing so.

      • You’ve not told the full story of your second church, but from what you’ve said I think it is reasonable to assume that it is the senior pastor.
        The junior pastors would not have acted as they did unless they knew they had his support.

        Anyway, there’s no way back now. Particularly if they’ve been reading your blog, in which case by now they must think you are the devil incarnate. They certainly won’t ever forgive you for that!

      • I think you really need to get on and tell the final part of your story. For completeness’s sake.

      • Ellen says:

        I just posted Part 3 but you will need a password. Email me at whenchurchhurts@yahoo.com and I will send it to you. And I will tell you why it is protected.

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