Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why I Continue To Write

I often question why I continue writing about this journey. Occasionally, I take a few weeks to mull it over and decide whether I want to continue. I take a hard look at my motives and reread old posts trying to decide if I accurately and honestly conveyed my thoughts. I try to decide if I said enough or if I said too much. At one point, I even thought I had signed off for good. But, I always seem to find my way back to writing.

I guess I continue to feel the need to explain myself because some have discouraged me from writing about my experiences or questioned my motives in doing so. I fear at times that my writing about the experiences of the last 2 years will appear to be vengeful…which is definitely not my intent. At other times, I fear that I’m too timid in sharing the rawness of the truth in what has happened…only revealing certain parts of the story for fear of upsetting someone.

For today, here are the reasons I’m still writing:

  • To survive…emotionally. Face-to-face conversations have been halted by those that I desperately wanted to continue a dialogue with and hoped to reconcile with. Some have said they are moving on with their lives. Some say that conversations can’t fix anything at this point…that we just need to forgive and pray. They say they hope we can still “fellowship”, but say they will not talk about the events of the past 2 years. When the conversations became too difficult, too painful, too challenging…they stopped talking and wanted to go back to exchanging smiles and pretending we are all ok. The words I longed to say now build inside me like steam building in a pressure cooker. I have no way to release them since no one is talking. Yes, I know the Sunday School answer. I should release the words and emotions to God and let Him take it from me. Have more faith. Pray more. Trust Him more. Believe me, I’ve tried. I continue to beg Him to take this from me. The truth is nothing helps like writing it down and getting it out of me. Interestingly, this feeling is the reason I’ve always disagreed with the parenting technique of telling a child, “I’m the parent. I love you, but we’re not going to talk about this anymore. I’ve made my decision and we’re done talking.” The abrupt halt to the discussion and refusal to hear another word builds tension, resentment  and feelings of inferiority. Why does one family member (whether immediate family or church family) get to be the one to make the call and quiet the other? Even as a parent, I feel I have a responsibility to hear my sons out and try to come to a mutual agreement that we can both be at peace with unless they are in immediate danger. I desire a mutual respect in our relationship born out of our genuine love and concern for one another. In a “church family”, it seems especially odd to me that we talk about how it isn’t Biblical to “bail” during conflict, yet we refuse to talk about the conflict and force the hurting members into a world of silence to deal with their pain.
  • The story needs to be told. When we were forced to resign in secrecy 25 years ago, I was afraid to speak because we were intimidated by church leadership into going along with their plan in silence to avoid them hurting our chances of finding another ministry position. Because we remained silent, we had to navigate the process completely alone. It was devastating. History has, in many ways, repeated itself in this same church in the last 2 years as church leadership once again forced ministers to resign and threatened them with losing their severance packages if they revealed to anyone what was actually happening to them. Even now, church leadership continues to intimidate people when they try to speak out about the injustices or press for a chance at reconciliation…threatening job security and “suggesting” they remove comments from social media. When will the cycle stop if everyone continues to be intimidated into remaining silent? How many more unsuspecting ministers will join the staff at this church based on the carefully crafted information presented to them in a deceivingly “normal” looking church profile…only to find themselves trapped in silence as they are forced to resign and uproot their families down the road? I can’t, in good conscience, as one who knows that pain first hand, remain silent any longer.
  • Others who share similar experiences in church ministry need to know they aren’t alone. There is healing in sharing the burden with one another. No one should have to walk this road alone.

So, for now I’ll continue to write. And for those church folks who question my decision to write about this experience, I say: If we had talked openly and honestly about what has transpired over the last two years…for as long as it took to understand one another…no matter how uncomfortable or hard it became…and searched Scripture together to decide how to proceed in a Biblical manner…then I would have nothing to write about. I would still prefer to stop writing and start talking if anyone is interested.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Wait Is Over

The day I feared has arrived. The very outcome that I knew was probable, but prayed it would be different this time, has come to fruition. There will apparently be no more waiting for the church leadership to be transparent about their actions that started back in February 2012. They have waited it out. Continued to release only what they want people to hear. Quieted those that tried to uncover the reality of the unfolding events.

They will move on now. They will bring a new staff to replace the one that left. They will tell the new staff that some of the previous staff members resigned when, in reality, they were forced into resignation using a process that even they (the church leaders I spoke with) could not defend as being Biblical. They will likely neglect to mention to the new ministers that a couple of previous ministers left…not because they simply decided to serve elsewhere or change career paths…but because they were so saddened by the deception that surrounded the process by which their fellow staff members were forced to resign that they could not, in good conscience, put their own families at risk by staying in such a place.

The families who were crushed by the actions of this church will now be left to deal with an open-ended journey of grief. They will never have the opportunity to face their accusers nor attempt to reconcile. No one will come to their defense publically to separate the truth from the rumors. There will be no closure.

How many more times will history repeat itself in this church?




Sunday, January 12, 2014

Asking Why

The tide is turning in my heart. I can feel it. Slowly. But it’s happening. It’s as if a veil is slowly being removed from my eyes and I am seeing the world again. The world that kept bustling while I was unable to see or experience it because I was blinded by the darkness of hurt and sadness. To my surprise, the world looks much bigger with my new eyes. I’m seeing people I never noticed in the past. I have friends in places I’ve never visited. I think I like this new world. Which means I have to admit the thing I never would have had the stomach to say a year ago…maybe, just maybe, the hellish journey was worth it.

Nearly every day I’ve spent being unchurched (which now totals 10 months of my 46 years), I’ve learned something about myself or my faith. This is the reason I’m having such a hard time conjuring up a desire to return to church even though I know it’s frustrating some of those close to me.

A friend shared an article this week that pegged me. What a relief to know there is a pastor out there that understands where some of us are in the journey…all because he asked. He actually placed an ad on Craigslist asking for Christians who have walked away from church to meet him for coffee and conversation. He said “boatloads” answered. 

Here’s what he gathered from those conversations:

“People will fade out of a church, a club, or a movement. But people don't fade out of their friendships; friends would notice and come after them. Yes, the mass exodus from our churches is continuing and spreading. Those leaving, for the most part, are not mad at God; they're mad at his followers.

Despite what you will hear from some religious leaders in today's church culture, the average Christ-follower walking out the door is not weak, unwilling to commit, or intrinsically selfish.

The vast majority of these Christians are leaving for two main reasons: First, and foremost, they are tired of being treated harshly by other Christians. Second, they feel the church has lost relevance to its community and to what they are going through in their everyday lives.

Often the way we treat each other within our faith communities is still stunningly poor. You don't need an in-depth study to find out why so many are leaving the church. Just have some conversations with the people who have left.

I spent this last year having hundreds of conversations with great Christians who have walked away from the church. I actually placed an ad on Craigslist to interview some, and boatloads answered. Most were in their late 20s and early 30s. They were more than willing to meet for coffee and share their hearts. I found out some surprising things.

Most missed attending a local church. They didn't miss it enough to return, but many felt a longing to try it again. Many said they were happier now and felt more authentic about their faith in Christ. One of the most startling things I discovered was they almost all shared their faith way more with their friends since leaving church. When they weren't trying to close the salvation deal, or get their friends out to a church services, their conversations just flowed.”

From “We Need to Stop Eating Our Own” by Michael Cheshire


I would have answered that ad. I would have given nearly the exact same responses. In reality, my experience has shown me that very few want to know why you left and they certainly don’t “notice and come after you.” In my experience, the vast majority of my “church family” was indifferent. Some were probably relieved to see me go because we had differing opinions on the secrecy surrounding their church politics. A few encouraged me to leave and find another church once they realized that I couldn’t be persuaded to accept the deception surrounding the forced resignations of our ministers and “move on while letting the past be in the past”. A few encouraged me to find another church because they said they couldn’t stand to see me hurting. One deacon consistently kept in contact with my family…asking, listening and encouraging…for all of these 10 months. Just one. Mostly, there’s silence about why we left. Some church members will ask where we are attending church now. I think they will feel better when we are planted somewhere. But they almost never want to discuss the why. It’s just easier for most people to laugh and joke and talk about non-threatening subjects like the weather and sports and kids…pretending that our relationship is just as it has always been.  It’s easier not to ask why, not to pursue, not to engage. After all, if you ask, you might get an answer. And, what will you do with the answer? The discomfort isn’t worth the authentic relationship. Which leads me to wonder… what exactly do we mean when we refer to ourselves as “church families”?

And it also leads me to wonder something much harder and more painful…how many members of the “church family” left over the years I was there and I didn’t ask why? Did I even notice they were gone? Why was I a member of a church that was so large that I didn’t even know some of the members making it impossible to care about them?

My new eyes are helping me see some painful inconsistencies in my own walk. I’m not willing to give up seeing church from this perspective just yet. There’s too much to learn. When I return, I want to honor those who have been broken and wounded by “church” by abiding by the lessons God has taught me in the darkest moments. I never want to forget how it felt.