Church


Today marks another milestone along my journey of recovery. The abuse I experienced which resulted in PTSD, trauma, and many years of struggle occurred six years ago today. In some ways it feels like six decades of struggle I have walked through, but in other ways it feels like it just happened.

Each year has held milestones along my journey, but this year more than any other has been the turning point. It has been a year of big steps, significant change and healing, and moving clearly in a new direction.

  • Joined the core leadership team of a church plant, one that really wants to reach the lost and broken
  • Started actively serving with six organizations in my community (most of these organizations sought me out which was an answer to a prayer that the Lord would open doors when he felt I was ready)
  • Began networking with people in my community and all over the nation
  • Helped run a major medical/dental clinic to serve my community
  • Joined with a group addressing human trafficking and hoping to raise awareness in the church about trauma
  • Started a book about what I have learned through my journey
  • Recognized the roots of my issues come from deep shame and started that recovery journey
  • Began openly speaking about and sharing the testimony of the changes Christ has brought into my life this year+
  • Last week I was notified that the pastor from my last church is finally ready to meet and attempt to reconcile

As I move into next year I already know of two major milestones that lie ahead

  • I will be leading a recovery group for abuse and trauma
  • I will be a part of a special program. Through that I hope there are outcomes that raise awareness of trauma and recovery, and teaches that brokenness and “not being okay” are beautiful things.

Tonight I had a chance to share part of my testimony with a friend who didn’t know anything about my past. He listened and personally identified with parts of my journey of trauma and recovery.

As I left, he stopped me and going out of his way to make an impact he looked he straight in the eyes and said, “You are a hero. It is incredible to hear the story and learn more about the depth that exists. You truly are a hero.”

To those of you who are also on this journey of recovery, and who face the daily struggle to recover from abuse, I want to say “You are a hero!” You daily face challenges that others don’t understand. You find courage to keep trying. You stand up for others who face injustice. You take steps forward, even when you don’t want to. Thank you for your courage and strength. You are heroes, and you are making an impact and a difference.

The idea of whether we have permission to speak comes up a lot among those who have been hurt and disillusioned by and with the church.

Author/Speaker Anne Jackson is releasing a new book today titled Permission to Speak Freely.

If you or someone you know has been hurt by the church and has questioned God, this could be the book that will begin a road to recovery. Permission to Speak Freely is also an excellent resource for those in the church who haven’t been through the things Anne and many others have to help them to become aware of the dangers of living a life of condemnation toward others. The stories in Permission to Speak Freely can serve as a wake-up call to the church. Jackson’s book and ministry will help many in the church who have been wounded and left to pick up the pieces. – CBA Retailers & Resources Magazine

Today Jonathan Acuff at Stuff Christians Like posted an excerpt from the book, an excerpt showing some of the roots of Anne’s disillusionment with the church. He ends with this question, “Have you ever had an experience where how people in the church acted and what the Bible says didn’t line up?”

I share this not to draw you to more stories about what is wrong with the church. That is not my heart, nor do I believe it is something Jonathan or Anne would support. I share this because the discussion about having permission to speak, having a voice, speaking out, and confessing our need for each other and for a Savior is so important.

Pick up the book.

Lurk on the sites and learn more.

Find the courage to speak freely.

You have permission!

I do not know Ray Ortlund, or anything about his beliefs (so I am not endorsing him), but I came across a very interesting article by him today entitled What It Means To Be Truly Reformed. He believes in Reformed theology, and is discussing how even the word of God can be manipulated and twisted so that it is no longer true. If we are adding to or subtracting from the Word, then we are changing it. Many abusive churches do this, and as Ortlund says, it can even become a club used to hurt others.

I really appreciate how he closes the article, which is the excerpt I highlighted below. These four excerpts draw out the pieces I believe really apply to disillusioned and abused believers, but I encourage you to read the whole article.

Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian—or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

But no matter how well-argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.'” What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self.

Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us. What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

Ray Ortlund’s blog, Christ Is Deeper Still.

I recently came across this video. As I viewed it I considered what I want in a church, what I desire the church I am helping to plant to look like, but I also thought of home many people hear things like this and it breaks their heart. It isn’t the church they have known. For many people, church is not what they say in this video.

My church is open and inviting

My church is a place where there’s always going to be a merciful response to what I am going through

They accept me for who I am

I can come, regardless of what’s going on in my life

It is a place where I feel safe

My church is a place of forgiveness

It is grace filled

It is a place where there’s mercy for me

My church is a great place to learn about God

There’s always something new, and I always seem to relate to what is going on

My church is one of the most creative and inspiring places that I go every week, sometimes twice.

It’s a place where my kids have a great time, and they’re learning, and I know that they are safe

My church is where I can come and use my talents and can help other people

My church is a place of healing

It just gives us that extra support that sometimes is hard to ask for

Anything I go through, there’s other people and probably a group that are going through it too, and I can join with them

My church is open and inviting

It’s Grace filled

Fun

Loving

Creative

Peaceful

Healing

Accepting

Real

Full of God

Invigorating

Welcoming

Freeing

Honest

It’s a place where God is alive

It’s my soft place to fall

My church is where my family has started a story

It’s a place of hope, healing, forgiveness, and grace

My church brought me back to life

It’s a place that I will always call home

What are some things you would say “church” is to you?

Ideally, however, the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says – and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places

I read an article this morning at Out of Ur, the online blog of Christianity Today International.

A friend told me that Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant should be required reading for every pastor who has served for at least five years. That was how long it had been since my ordination. I picked up a copy.

Peterson claims that there are two common types of unhealthy clergy. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs need to feel needed. They consider healed people to be numbers, accumulated to suggest pastoral effectiveness.

Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, faithful, and prepared people. Managers plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. Once again, people become numbers.

I have both messianic and managerial tendencies. It is too easy for congregants to become statistics, which I can use to inflate my sense of clergy effectiveness.

That realization prompted me to search for a new pastoral identity….. (The full article by Magrey deVega is available at http://www.outofur.com/archives/2010/04/the_pastor_as_d.html)

Are there other common types of unhealthy clergy?

If leaders that are guiding as messiah’s or managers are both unhealthy, then what is a healthy role for leaders?

What attitudes, convictions, and examples can people look for in leaders that show signs of a good heart and strong healthy leadership?

I am walking with a friend right now who is going through a similar depression, spiritual struggle, and crisis to what I experience 10-12 months ago. For the last couple months she has been through an incredibly dark time that has been one of the hardest seasons of her life. She has struggled to hear God, to have confidence in her faith, and has been emotionally distraught and stressed.

When I went through this time last year I tried to express it to my pastor, but he didn’t understand.

When I expressed my struggle I was told I needed to trust the Lord and go through the motions. I was told that we do not need to understand everything and that I needed to attend fellowship even if it was an uncomfortable place for me (since all we did was hang out and have dinner but no spiritual fellowship and I was in such spiritual need).

  • My friend’s pastor has advised her to take the time she needs, to let us know how we can help, and those who know and love her are reaching out to her and offering support so she does not need to initiate.

When I expressed that I was having questions about my faith and understanding about God/Christianity and wondered if I had some misconceptions I was told that I was not a believer because I was doubting.

  • My friend has expressed her struggle and has been told that others will stand with her, help her to work through questions she has, and that because of the Gospel we will never let her go or reject her.

When I asked for support and resources I was told that all I needed was within the local church. I was discouraged from reaching outside that church.

  • My friend’s pastor encouraged her to find a counselor and now she is on medication to help with anxiety and depression.

When I wanted to share with others to get support I was told that I could not share my struggles because it involved miscommunication with the pastor and would cause disunity in the body.

  • My friend’s pastor has encouraged her to share how she is doing and invite others into her journey and struggle so she has people around her praying for her, uplifting her, and supporting her.

When I was in crisis and expressed that to my pastor he never responded and neither did others in the community, and a month later I was told that I was not allowing him to speak into my life so I was sinning by being unsubmissive and was excommunicated from the church.

  • Today my friend expressed that she is not able to serve in a way she had committed to for a ministry. Others have come around her to not only fill in the gap but to minister to her in deeper ways.

I know I walked one of these paths as the person in need and one as the person walking alongside, but the two stories are very, very different. One story led to anguish, pain, rejection, and abandonment. One has led to support, community, unity, strength, and empowerment. My friend’s story is not done yet and I do not know the outcome, but I know that God is actively involved and ministering to her. I know that he is involved and being called upon by a community that is standing with her. I know that he is being allowed to minister to her because her community of Christian friends (that goes far beyond her local church) are standing with her in prayer, strength, and hope.

It is amazing to see the people of God stand together when there is a need!

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