Posts Tagged ‘Church’

It was over Sunday brunch that our weekend guests brought it up.  This deeply committed Christian couple who trained in missions, worked in Christian publishing, and he being and award-winning author of Christian books, she having been an administrative assistant for a mega-church pastor at one time, sat at our dining room table and very casually mentioned that they had not been attending church for several months.

After attending and serving in a church for over fifteen years, they finally realized that though they appreciated the pastor, the sermons, the ministry focus, they had not developed any real relationships in the church.  They only saw people at the church when they were there on Sunday mornings and, though they had attempted to develop relationships with people over the years by inviting them to dinner or to join a bible study, nothing ever came of it.

Commuting to this church was a 30 minute drive, but they had determined it was worth it.  Though they had also attended other churches over the past 40 years – when she was working as an administrative assistant at another church, they felt they should attend there, for example – they always gravitated back to this church.  But after realizing that they weren’t developing any “real” relationships, they decided it might be time to look for something closer to home.

Not that the church didn’t try.  They had attempted to create small groups based on location, based on interests, based on a number of things, but as our friends acknowledged, it is nearly impossible to force relationships to develop simply by putting people together on occasion.

They started considering churches in their area and he even visited a small church within a few blocks of their home.  He experienced that uncomfortable “stranger in our midst” feeling as he sat amongst people whom he had never seen before in his life.  The sermon was “fine” – nothing astounding but nothing to complain about – but it was obviously a church of “older” people who were comfortable with their group and weren’t all that interested in adding to it.

They would truly love to find a church where they can become integrated in community with other people beyond sitting in a pew and listening to a sermon, throwing a few bucks in the offering plate, and being pressed into over-commitments.  They are leery of churches in which there is a power-family that runs everything by threat of withdrawing their financial support or of churches in which the pastor and his hand-picked leadership have total control, doesn’t reveal their financials, and isn’t interested in developing personal relationships with anyone beyond their inner circle.

I suspect that these friends of ours are well on their way to becoming “nones.”  Because all of the things that they want in a church are nearly impossible to find these days.  Good, solid, teaching and preaching.  People who welcome, accept, and befriend one another both inside and outside of the church.  People who are equal in the sight of God and man regardless of their standing financially, socially, or politically.

It’s just too bad that we live six hours away because we are looking for the same thing and were it not for distance, we could be part of the community for which they are searching.   Because, what they have not been able to find, we have not been able to find either.  Is there anyone out there in our neck of the woods who is looking for these same things?  If there are, I would so love to find them.

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I remember well one of the first adult Sunday school classes I took at our former church.  It was being touted as a fantastic opportunity to take a class that was being taught by the high school’s head football coach.  Now, neither me nor my husband are big sports fans, but I was interested in learning as much as I could about walking in and living out my faith, so I signed up.

This particular town has a very successful football program (as well as most other sports in their school system), and so there is a great amount of “hero worship” when it comes to coaches.  I was initially amazed at the number of people who attended the class the head football coach was teaching.  But after only about three Sunday’s, the attendance began to fall off and by weeks four and five, less than a quarter of us were still attending.  

Although this coach was also a high school math teacher, it was obvious that teaching in a classroom setting was not his gift.  His class enrollment at the church was based solely on his fame as the high school football coach.  Once people realized that he was sorely lacking as a teacher, they no longer wasted their time attending his class.  

Over the years I noticed more and more that those who were declared “leadership material” were often sorley lacking in the skills (or gifts or talents, if you will) for their given “ministry.”  What they had instead was either social, financial, or political status.  The school superintendent’s wife became the office manager even though she had never worked a day in her life in an office.  A young man with the right last name and a degree in physical therapy but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket was hired as a full-time worship leader.  Though elders and deacons were “elected,” rumor suggested strongly that they were hand-selected base on their giving potential and societal standing.

For a few years, the church promoted a spiritual gifts class.  The promise was that through the class people would identify their spiritual gifts and the church would then know who would be appropriate or best suited to fill various ministry positions in the church.  Interestingly enough, the results of those classes were never considered when filling positions.  Once, when the women’s ministry was losing members in droves, I asked how the small group leaders were selected and I was told they simply invited women who they thought would be good leaders (meaning women with position, money, etc.).  I asked if they had looked at the spiritual gifts of these women to see if they were a good fit.  I was met with a blank stare.  It was obvious that spiritual gifts were far down the line of requirements for ministry.

Nepotism became rampant with the senior pastor, his brother, his wife, and his children all on the church payroll.  The business manager, his wife, and his son, too, were employed by the church.  Several couples and their offspring have held various full and part-time positions over the years.

There were some who were shunned and forced out for getting divorced while others were welcomed, embraced, and given an elevated position after admittedly contributing to their marital break-up.  People of lesser-than means would give inordinate amounts of time and barely get a nod while someone who simply graced the church with their presence on Sunday mornings was made over and celebrated.  Often, the senior pastor made a bee-line to a local multi-millionaire family patriarch, while rushing past everyone else in the vicinity.  

One morning, the senior pastor raced past an elderly gentlemen the, flippantly asking him, “How are you?”  A few moments later, another gentleman approached the pastor and told him that he had ignored the man’s response. He had told the pastor that he wasn’t doing very well.  The pastor hadn’t even heard him. He wasn’t important enough.

Wouldn’t it be something if there actually were a place where people were allowed to serve based on their God-given gifts and abilities rather than their name, where they live, what they look like, how much money they make, their position, etc.?  I’ve never heard of a place like that.

I’m From Iowa

Posted: February 22, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Remember just a few weeks ago when the candidates and media were all a-flutter about the Iowa Caucuses?  I am an Iowan – born and raised.  I only left long enough to get my college degree, do a bit of grad school, and my first year of teaching.  So that was a six-year hiatus.  Otherwise, Iowa has been my home.  

We live on an acre of beauty in a 1912 prairie-mission style home surrounded by trees, flower beds, and, of course, outlying fields of corn, soy beans, and hay.  So, our caucus site was in a little country church on a worn gravel road a few miles north of our home.  We arrived early because parking is at a premium at this tiny church.  Still, my husband dropped me at the door and had to park in the lot up the hill.  They had a record attendance of 99 folks at the caucus that night.

Only four people spoke on behalf of their chosen candidate – one for Marco Rubio, one for Ted Cruz, and two for Mike Huckabee.  Most of their speeches encompassed the speakers’ belief that their candidate was the most Christian and espoused the most Christian policies – unlike, of course, Donald Trump.  They brought up abortion and gay marriage, Planned Parenthood and illegal immigration.  And, of course, how these topics are central to the Republican Party and getting the United States back to being a Christian nation.

As I listened to their comments, I realized that these neighbors of mine are, like many Christians, out of touch and suffer a severe disconnect from the realities around us.  I wanted to stand up and tell them, “You lost the abortion and gay marriage debates a long time ago!  When are you going to stop trying to legislate morality and start ‘voting’ with your actions?  Because if you had voted with your actions years ago, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

This morning I read a blog post by a very prominent Christian.  He was deriding Christian Trump supporters and his rhetoric was so hate-filled and foul-mouthed that I couldn’t read the entire post.  I skimmed the last half of it and kept thinking that what he had written so embodies much of what is preached and taught in churches and Christian circles.  Not that they should be all namby-pamby and dripping the flower-children nectar of free love, but to spew hate and venom at people for choosing to support a candidate some self-appointed Christian leader has determined would be better suited for president seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle “black,” doesn’t it?

I will just bet that there is no candidate – or Christian – who has a lily-white background.  And if they claim to, I would seriously question their honesty and integrity.  In fact, I’m a bit impressed that there is a candidate who freely admits his “indiscretions,” and we don’t have to wait for other candidates or the opposite party to unearth what we deem to be less-than-favorable qualities and actions.  Wouldn’t it be something if all of the candidates (and Christians – especially leaders) put it all on the table and said, “Here you go, folks.  I’m not perfect and I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I’ve learned from them and pledge to do an even better job because of them.”  

And what if, instead of deriding people for supporting a particular candidate, Christians would take a look at who among those candidates votes with their actions?  Who gives the most to help others?  And doesn’t boast about it?  Because where his treasure is, there his heart is also.  If he’s giving away a sizable chunk of his treasure, he’s probably the most Christian candidate out there.

There are big names out there in the spiritual abuse world.  Big name perpetrators.  Big name authors of blogs and books and Twitter feeds.  Big names whose social media accounts explode regularly over big names.  Big names getting the word out about big names who have committed outrageous acts of abuse.  And, of course, any time those outrageous acts are committed with any hint of ties to churchianity, we recognize them as not just sexual or domestic or physical abuse, but as spiritual abuse.

What we don’t see so much of and where we don’t see explosions on social media is spiritual abuse that manifests itself in ways that are not so easily recognizable.  Not so outrageous.  Those suffering abuse at the hands of church leaders who don’t have a widely recognized name or church affiliation.  Those who have not been sexually abused or forced to stay in abusive marriages.  Those who have been shunned, ostracized, ignored and avoided, not allowed to serve or attend, who grovel in every way possible to try to reach an unreachable bar of acceptability. 

And because the abuse they suffer isn’t “outrageous,” because the abuse they suffer isn’t so easily identifiable or so newsworthy, they are left to wonder if they are making too much of it.  They wonder if they are just being too sensitive.  They wonder if they just need to try harder, pray more, give more, do better, be better, pretend better.  They keep their heads down and their mouths shut because maybe it isn’t really abuse if it isn’t outrageous enough to garner attention from the famous ones.  

Maybe their abuser isn’t really that bad.  Maybe their abuser isn’t really an abuser at all.  Maybe they just got their feelings hurt or they just misunderstood or maybe they should try one more time to work it out, to make that appointment to have that chat that, if he would just listen, would make it all better.

Please understand.  You don’t have to be the victim of someone famous to be spiritually abused.  And just because the famous folks who call out outrageous abuse aren’t talking all that much about the stuff you are going through doesn’t mean you aren’t being abused or that it’s not that bad.

It is that bad and you need to know that even though it’s not what the rest of the world would call “outrageous,” you do not deserve to suffer spiritual abuse from anyone – no matter what form it takes or how well-known the perpetrator might be.

You deserve to be listened to and heard and supported and cared for and encouraged and helped on the road to healing.  

Let the famous ones explode over the abusive actions of the famous ones.

Those of us who are not so famous . . . We are here for you.

We are approaching our second anniversary of being told that we were not to return to the church.  Whenever I think about that day (which isn’t often), I remember calling my (former) friend, whom I will call “Martha,” and telling her, “We are going to lose all of our friends.”

“No, you won’t!” she insisted.  “There are lots of people who love you and they aren’t going to abandon you.”

Martha stuck with me for a few months.  But then the expectation that we be shunned kicked in and I haven’t heard from her in at least a year-and-a-half.

Funny thing is, Martha (and a very few others), had heard or read my story of how the church leadership had been abusing me for over a decade, long before we were kicked out.  This small inner circle of friends knew about my blog and some had even followed it (one still does) and not one of them made the decision to shun me simply based on the fact that I was telling or sharing my story, either in person or on the blog.

Those who had heard my story were compassionate, empathetic, confused about the reason (as was I), and supportive.

Until we were tossed aside by the leadership.

At that point, nothing had changed.  I hadn’t embarked on a campaign to promote my blog to the masses.  I hadn’t made loud or overt public statements to the congregation or community about the abuse.

The only thing that changed was that the leadership became aware that I had “told.”  

Isn’t it curious that while the people I had “told” had been “told” months and years before and our friendships blossomed and grew as a result of my transparency until the leadership found out.  

I can only surmise that for those who had been my friends to admit that they were “in the know” about what the leadership had done to me for over a decade, would bring condemnation upon them, as well.  So, they had to feign ignorance, shock, and chagrin on behalf of the leadership – which also required that the act in a manner that convinced the leadership of their agreement and support.

And that meant shunning us.

Friendships that fail due to fear of being judged by church leaders.  

Well, I don’t have to tell you what to think of that.

I recieve many messages thanking me for sharing my story of spiritual abuse via this blog.  People ask if they may use what I have written in their book project, as part of a spiritual abuse presenation or seminar.  People applaud my “courage” and often express their personal fear that, were they to tell their own story, they would suffer serious consequences.

 The desire to tell their story is framed in several ways.  Some know that telling will help them to heal.  Some want to warn others, or, at the very least, open the eyes of those who cannot see.  They hope that by telling, their friends, family members, church comrades, even acquaintences, will finally come to a place of acknowledgement that what happened was wrong and abusive.  Some long for vindication – for someone to hear them and champion their cause; that someone will seek justice on their behalf since no amount of their own effort has resulted in even the most meager of resolutions.

Yet, they have already concluded that in telling, they will not find any of that for which they are longing.  They are aware that telling will most certainly bring additional condemnation, deeper suffering, fewer friends, less support, ostracism, shunning, loneliness, exile.

I’ve been there.

For years, I didn’t tell a soul what was being perpetrated upon me.  Not only because I was ordered to keep silent, but because I feared that all of the things that I longed for depended upon my silence:  I would lose my friends.  I would be condemned.  I would be ostracized and shunned.  I would be lonely and be forced into exile.  

I wanted to keep my friends. And not only keep to them, but I wanted a deeper friendship to grow and blossom in the years ahead.  I myself did not want to acknowledge that I was the victim of abuse.  Admitting or claiming that I was a victim was akin to telling the world that I was not strong enough, not faithful enough, not wise enough, not good enough, not mature enough.  Mature, good, strong Christians don’t get themselves into situations in which they are abused.  Mature, good, strong Christians have a perfect, happy, prosperous, generous, fruitful life.  Not that they are without struggles, but their struggles are simply opportunities to impress the world with their deep and abiding, unwavering faith.

Some might say that telling my story was an exercise in stupidity.  What good did it do, anyway?  I lost all that I had hoped to gain: my church, my church friends, my status as a mature, good, strong Christian, my  identity as an up-and-coming leader in a prestigious church community.  

And yet, from this side of telling my story, I can say with certainty that telling was what led to the most transformational season of my life.  I discovered that the truth truly does set us free.  I was freed from relationships that were a farce – based only upon what I was willing to do or give to people who had no desire to reciprocate.  I was freed from spending inordinate amounts of time trying to earn the favor and status of people who had not one whit of care or concern for me – or pretty much anyone else, for that matter.  I was freed to spend time, energy and money on people who truly do value me – family and friends who want to be with me whether I have anything to offer them or not – besides my self.

I thought my life was full when I was toiling at the mercy of the church leadership, spending many hours and many dollars trying to win their favor and having little to no time for my family or friends outside of the church.  Now I know the enexplicable joy of spending hours loving and being loved with virtually no agenda except to love and be loved.

I wish I could tell all of those people who send me messages and emails about how much they want to tell their story but can’t find the courage because of their fear of all that they might lose that it’s okay to lose those things.  It’s okay.  Because on the other side of your story you are going to discover that all that you feared losing – it’s okay to lose those things.  Because you are going to find so much more.

I know.  I lost them too.  And I’ve never been happier.

My friend, Rebekah Gilbert, has written a great blog post about Fear.  Her thoughts turned on a light bulb in my head because I realized just how true her words are.  You see, the spiritual abuse that was meted out to me had one purpose only:  to create fear in my heart and in my life.

Perhaps the perpetrators’ ultimate goal was to get me to leave, but they did this in such a way that over the decade-plus years of spiritual abuse, I became terrorized.  And, just as my friend, Rebekah, realized, once I began to stand up to my abusers, the fear that they had placed on me returned to them.  Such great fear that their only recourse was to ban me from the church.  Their original intent of using fear to cause me to leave didn’t work.  And when they realized that I was a person to fear because I was telling on them through my blog, again, their solution was that I needed to be forced out – to leave.  Finally, they accomplished their original goal.  

It really comes down to how we choose to react when faced with fear:  Fight or Flight.

When faced with the fear that they forced upon me, my response was to fight.  I stayed the course and did all that I could to rectify the situation.  For more than a decade I tried.

But when the church leadership was faced with fear, their response was flight.  Because they couldn’t defend what they had done, nor did they have the wherewithal to work toward rectification.  They demonstrated fear, panic, lack of character and integrity, lack of faith.  And they proved their disregard and disrespect for me, for the church, for Christ, by their unwillingness to stay the course and try to reach that very pinacle of what Jesus died for:  grace, reconcilliation, restoration.

Of course, they can spin the story to suit their needs.  They can tell those whom we considered friends and associates at the church anything they want to make us look like the bad guys – especially me.  They can use all of the power of scripture to shore up their argument that I am the problem and I deserved to be ostracized, judged, persecuted, shunned, and ultimately banned from the church.  And I have no recourse or ability to respond or defend myself because they have convinced people that they are right and even if they didn’t say it out loud, the people know that their response is to no longer associate with me.

Once again, there is that fear factor.  Because people know that if they are caught having any kind of relationship with us, they may very well pay the penalty of not being part of the “in” crowd, the “inner circle,” or simply  whose worthy of pastoral care in times of crisis. This was blatantly demonstrated only a few days after we were tossed out of the church when one woman took the courageous step of meeting with me.  One of the pastors’ daughters was in the coffee shop where we met and this woman was incredibly fearful that the daughter would report to her father that she was with me that day.  She even told me that she was considering stopping by the church on her way home to explain to this pastor why she had decided to meet with me.  She was desperate in her need to attempt damage control.

So today I am in wonderment that, as Rebekah points out, the bible repeatedly says “Do not fear, do not be afraid.”  And yet, our churches function almost entirely on fear.  Is this really what God intended?  Is this really what the angels meant when they said they were bringing good tidings of great joy? For ALL people?

I want to encourage you that if your church or your pastor or your leadership is instilling fear in you or in anyone, rather than joy, you might want to reconsider whether or not that church is where you should be.  God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.  If you feel like your church is doing some crazy-making in you – that is not a sound mind.  And I know from experience that crazy-making is a direct result of fear.