Posts Tagged ‘pastor’

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.

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 just have to say I had the best time yesterday!  I and my family went to an auction.  One of our former church’s plants has bought an old building in the town where I teach and they were selling off old (and I mean OLD) doors, windows, cabinets, trim, etc.  

Now, you have to understand that my husband and I were repurposing long before repurposing was cool.  We live in a 103-year-old prairie-mission style home on an acre in the middle of mid-west farmland.  We completely returned our home to it’s original style (it had been “updated” back in the 70’s) using old trim and doors from the local city hall when they renovated, as well as various other sources.  Our entire kitchen cupboards are done in old doors, tile from the ReStore, and various other repurposed items.  (See photos below.)

Now, our penchant for repurposing is in our children’s blood.  Our son and daughter-in-law bought a gym floor and we helped them tear it apart and install it in their entire main floor and then my husband refinished it.  Unbelievably beautiful.

So . . . this auction of old windows and trim was right up our alley.  My husband and I weren’t interested in much, but our kids were looking for baseboard material to set off their maple floors.  There weren’t a great deal of people at the action so no one was lost in the crowd.

Of course, there were a few folks at the auction from our old church – as well as the pastor of the church plant, whose involvement in my abuse you will find in my story.  My younger son and my husband arrived at the auction before the rest of us.  He was greeted by the pastor and visited a bit.  When I arrived, the pastor gave me a side hug and a “long time no see” and we chatted for about one sentence each.  Later my husband commented that it is important for him to “make sales” to help fund the renovation of this building into a church.

Another person from our old church who was on staff there and transferred to the church plant was also at the auction.  He didn’t speak to me, but he did comment as we all went past him in a hallway that he makes way for babies (I was pushing my granddaughter in a stroller).  

There were four other people there who knew us from our former church: a car salesman and his wife, a banker, and one other couple.  Not one person approached us, waved at us, spoke to us, or acknowleged our presence.  The banker made a point to walk past us several times – perhaps so he could see if we would speak to him – and enough times that it was not merely a coincidence.  Especially since we had a one-year-old in a stroller and so we were staying far away from the acutioneer and the crowd so she would not be a distraction.  The banker had to go out of his way to walk past us each time.

After we left the auction (no, we didn’t buy anything) my husband commented on how unhappy those church members were.  They all looked bitter and angry – and my husband pointed out that they have always looked that way.  

And we talked about how it must have irked them that we were so happy.  There we were with our family – our sons, daughter-in-law, grandchild – and we were full of smiles and laughter, sharing whispers and winks, looking for all the world like we were the happiest people in the building – because we were.

This morning I have been pondering how fun it was to be at an auction (we love auctions), how unbridled I was to be in the presence of people who were involved in my abuse – every one of those church members had a hand in it except one wife, as far as I know – and how my happiness was palpable while their bitterness was etched on each of their faces.  

How sad for them to live under the constraints of a “faith” that leaves them wearing such scars emblazoned on their faces while I, on the other hand, exude the joy of living in the freedom which has set me free. 

Look who has the upper hand now. 

   

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.

I truly believe that one day my former pastor will stand before God and God will tell him, “I gave you all of the knowlege you needed to handle the situation with Ellen correctly and you intentionally chose not to do so.  I even gave you more than a decade of opportunities to correct the situation – opportunities for you to apologize, to respond to her concerns, to answer her questions, to tell the truth, to seek restoration – but you didn’t.  Time and again I gave you the chance to rain upon Ellen my love, my grace, my hope, my mercy, my joy, my encouragement.  Yet over and over again, you disregarded what I would have you do and you went your own way – treating Ellen with disdain, judging, persecuting, ostracizing, disrespecting, and diminishing her until she nearly lost all faith in Me.”

I think my former pastor is banking on the fact that God is a forgiving God and even though He knows that the pastor mishandled the entire situation, my former pastor believes that God will accept him into heaven because God is a loving and merciful God.

I suppose we all think that way because we all have times in our lives where we are given the opporunity to make something right but don’t and yet, because of our faith in Jesus, we have a hope that we will be with Him in paradise.  Yet I also believe that those who are placed in leadership and authority over God’s people have good reason to be fearful if they have treated people the way that my former pastor and his cohorts treated me – if for no other reason than because they have caused this little one` to stumble.

In fact, I think this is why we believers are admonished to fear and love God.  For my former pastor to ignore what God clearly desires in the relationships between pastors and parishioners tells me that he does not have a fear of the Lord.  If he did, he would do the right thing if for no other reason than because he would have a healthy fear of millstones.  

This is exactly the situation in our former church.

 

Source: Church, Stop Hiring Preachers and Performers To Be Your Pastors