Disillusionment


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!

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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?

Lately I have not been feeling that well, and I have noticed that I am not thinking as clearly as I was not long ago. It began to concern me that some of the confusion and muddled thinking from my past might be returning. I started to question if I was falling into depression or if there was some more serious issue at work.

Then I remembered, we are what we eat.

Last year when I fell into crisis and became depressed, I also learned that what I was eating and drinking was affecting me. I was dehydrated, and my body was responding to the artificial ingredients and starches I was eating. I was not eating an extraordinary amount of these things, but at that time it was more than my body could handle.

Stress affects us in many ways. When we are under stress, the foods and beverages we eat and do not eat can affect us to a much greater extent than they might at another time. Different people will be more susceptible than others to certain foods. Prior to this time, I already had issues when I ate too much wheat, and I have to monitor that intake every day, but during the difficult time last year I was also affected by other starches, especially sugar, and by artificial ingredients.

When I removed the wrong foods from my diet and increased my fluid intake there was a dramatic change.

I lost over twenty pounds, my thinking became clearer than the spiritual changes already created, and my energy increased significantly. Over the course of the last year foods have been reintroduced and I had been eating pretty normally. Lately I have been in a very busy and stressful season, and I stopped paying attention to my diet and health. The issues I faced last year may have resurfaced, causing me problems once again.

When we are under stress, our diet can add to any feelings of frustration, confusion, and disillusionment.

If you are feeling those things, take a few minutes to look at any changes you could try in your diet for a few days. Take a moment to think about the music, media, and activities you are “feeding” on also.

I changed my diet two days ago and I already am seeing changes. God made us as whole people, and we need to treat more than just the spiritual areas of our life. Spend time caring for your whole body: heart, soul, mind, and body.

One of the things I have learned through my journey over the last few years is that there are easy days and days that are more difficult ones. The last few days have been some of those more difficult days.

I am still learning that there are conversations which engage and bless my heart and soul, and others that may cause me struggle.

Unfortunately I am still not very good at recognizing ahead of time those that might lead to struggle and then avoiding them.

Recently I engaged in a conversation that has caused me struggle. One of the hardest pieces for me over the past year has been learning to deal with the love I still feel for my last pastor and the people of that church, and having absolutely no outlet to express it since they will not speak with me. In this conversation someone voiced an opinion they hold which left me conflicted. It is their right to hold their opinions, even if I do not agree with them. I do not believe this person had any intention of saying anything that would cause me to struggle, but the truth is it did.

Struggles come in all sorts of forms, and we don’t always know when they are headed our way. We can not always avoid them.

We can however prepare ahead of time to deal with them when they arrive.

In this situation, the root of my struggle is twofold 1) I am left asking what the biblical truth is about a specific subject 2) My heart aches that someone has spoke negatively about someone I care about, even if our relationship is currently broken and unresolved.

For the first issue, the best way to respond is through time in the Bible and in prayer. The Lord knows the truth and he can reveal it to me. He alone defines what truth is. Men may disagree, but the Lord knows how to take multiple scriptures that speak to different sides of an issue and to bring them together to make sense. I could have prepared ahead by spending more time in Scripture before this conversation, and by recognizing this area of uncertainty, however since I did not do that I need to turn to Scripture quickly and not let the questions and uncertainty fester and cause me confusion or distraction.

The second issue is more difficult for me to deal with in my relation to others. On my own, I have spent time mourning the loss of these relationships and allowing the Lord to minister to my heart. Each time this comes up I have to go back to him and allow the Lord to comfort me on a deeper level. I continue to try to reconcile the broken relationships and have to deal with the constant disappointment associated with that. I also have to protect my heart and soul from anger, resentment, and bitterness.

When I speak to others about my story I have faced some very hard conversations and pressure. Over and over again I have been told to have nothing to do with the people from my old church. I have been told to let go of the past and to move forward. I have had to listen to great criticism of others, and have faced a lot of criticism about how I have responded. There are some people I have encountered who hold a great deal of anger and bitterness in their hearts. They get angry about things that are not a part of their story due to resentment and offense they hold in their heart. I have been told to turn my back on others and to not work through the issues. I have been told it is okay to forget them. I have been told I am justified to feel angry, hurt, and to be unkind and unloving toward others.

I just can not agree! No matter what others have done or will do to me I have to choose to follow what the Lord has shown me love, sacrifice, and truth.

The Lord has changed my heart and healed it so deeply that I can not even understand much of what I have been told by others. I do not feel offense or anger. I do still live with the pain of the brokenness and disunity that exists. My heart desires love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Today my heart hurts. I wish the world would be a place where the only conversations I even could engage in would bless my heart and soul.

Unfortunately, life brings struggle, but I know that God can use every single struggle to bless, grow, change, and draw me to be more like him. That is where I want to go!

Sometimes circumstances leave you behind a rock and a hard place, and no option looks or feels good.

That is how it may feel to be authentic and transparent about your life.

You know your past, you know the story, you know the good, the bad, the lame, the extreme, and you know the parts that might live better hidden under a rock. Do you have any of those pieces? Pieces of your story that you are not proud of? Pieces of your story that you may be coming to terms with, but others don’t want you to tell? Do you have pieces of your story that could hurt others, and therefore you are not sure what to do with them?

When my life intertwines with others, then my story becomes our story. My story no longer exists alone.

It is hard to learn to own our story. We may be willing to accept the parts of our story that we feel responsible for, but not those parts that are imposed or inflicted upon us. When our stories involve others it is difficult to know how to own our story, and what to share with others. That is especially true if the story could hurt others.

Some of us have stories where we are hurt, disillusioned, and victimized. Church and spiritual abuse typically occurs at the hands of leaders, and many people feel it is wrong to speak against leaders or to say anything that might damage their reputation. However, not being allowed to share our stories can leave us in silence, shame, and bondage. Those things are not healthy, and they keep us from being authentic and transparent. They keep us from growing and having healthy, mature, and authentic faith lives.

Sharing our stories does not need to be a black and white issue. There are some guidelines that can help in knowing when, where, and what to share.

1) Own your story: Are you willing to accept your story for what it is? This includes being realistic about what happened, and not denying it. Accepting it means being able to state facts about what happened with little to no shaping of your own perspectives and agendas. It also means taking responsibility for your part of the story and accepting things you did wrong. In my story I had to accept my sin, my failures, my false theologies and beliefs, and my poor communication and relationships.

2) Check your heart: If you are going to share your story, take time to ask why. If you are only telling your story because you need to work through issues, then choose an audience who will help you do that. This will typically be people you see face-to-face, and I believe it is best done in community and relationships and not just in a counselor’s office. A time may come to share your story (or elements of it) to a larger audience like a bible study, a church group, in a written newsletter/article, on a blog, or in a book. Knowing the condition of your heart and why you are sharing are critical when you start to speak beyond those who are closest and most intimate with you. If you are not sharing for the right purposes, then please stop and take your heart to the Lord to have it changed.

3) Guard your words: When our stories intertwine with others, anything we say can reflect poorly on others involved. Checking our heart is the first step of guarding our words, but even if our intentions and purposes of sharing are correct, we still need to be very careful that our words are shaped in a way to redeem, build up, strengthen, give life, and encourage. Our words can hurt and destroy. Take time and make very determined effort to speak words that will bring life, hope, and healing. You do not need to tell everything to express your story, and if you are testifying about what God has done your focus will be his work, and not the deeds of other humans and how they might have failed you/God/others.

4) Seek to bring God glory: What better purpose is there in sharing our story than to bring glory to God? This actually might be the only reason to share our story beyond our closest circle, but our stories are also a work in progress and always changing. If all we do is seeking to glorify God and to bring him glory then our words, our purposes, our heart will all be focused on that. We will not have room in our heart or mouths to speak things that lash out, destroy, or bring malicious damage to others.

5) Give grace: Give others and yourself a great deal of grace. Even in the best of situations there is room for things to be misspoken, misunderstood, or shared with a perspective others do not share. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Be willing to correct and change things in your story if needed to clarify so others have the correct understanding. Be open when others are critical about you sharing, and allow them to speak their disapproval. It might be that their disapproval will change if voiced, or there could be room for compromise. Also, give grace to yourself. Sharing your story may open the door for shame, guilt, criticism, anger, frustration, or denial to surface. Take the time to feel what comes up, and to walk into the painful and difficult parts of the journey. Be realistic that you are a broken person who needs a savior, and even with all the Lord has done in your life up until now, there is still more that needs to be done.

If it is time for you to share our story and the situation is correct, then share it with a heart to glorify God. Speak with boldness, grace, and love.

Tell of how the Lord has brought you through, opened your heart/eyes, and how he is writing you a new story. You do not need to live in silence, shame, guilt, or secrecy. Be honest, be transparent, be authentic and real. Your story is your own, all of it! Sharing your story and confessing things might be the door that opens your life up to the freedom that only Christ can bring.

One of the comments I hear from church leaders about those who are struggling with their faith and with disillusionment is that they are not mature. Recently I came across the work of Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich about the stages of faith development. Their research and concepts are built on over 2000 years of history and theology.

Hagberg and Guelich define six stages of development, and a seventh component: The Wall.

Stage 1 – “the discovery and recognition of God” (33)
Stage 2 – “a time of learning and belonging” labeled “the life of discipleship” (53)
Stage 3 – “the productive life”
Stage 4 – “the journey inward” – “a deep and very personal inward journey” that “almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it” (93). Wholeness looks a lot like weakness at this stage.
THE WALL
Stage 5 – “the journey outward” where our “focus is outward, but from a new, grounded center of ourselves” (133). At this stage, “we surrender to God’s will to fully direct our lives, but with our eyes wide open, aware but unafraid of the consequences” (133). We possess a new-found confidence that God loves us fully, just as we are.
Stage 6 – “the life of love” where God’s love is demonstrated through us “to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible” (152). By losing ourselves, we find ourselves.

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Most evangelical models of Christian growth and maturity stop at stage three. The church primarily focuses on stages 1 through 3, and the highest numbers of people are found at stage 2. This raises a question about how the church, church leaders, and programs support and guide people beyond stage 3.  Many church leaders do not know of or understand anything beyond stage 3, and when they witness the struggle of stage 4 they question and judge the person’s faith. This results in many people leaving the church when they experience stage 4. They find the faith they once held and the heart they served with in stage 3 has changed. Faith as they knew it doesn’t work any longer.

At stage 4 our understanding and views of God and faith are radically challenged. This can be so disruptive that we may feel we are losing our faith. Those around us may feel we are hopeless, lost, and they may even question if our faith was real. We may question our own faith and wonder if we ever understood what we believed. Stage 4 is marked by questioning, exploring, doubting, sinking into uncertainty, wrestling with issues, falling apart, rethinking belief systems, and experiencing a crisis of faith. “Our sense of God is shaken and we can find no new direction, only more questions” (197).

The reality of stage 4 is that no one would choose to walk through this kind of experience if given the choice. Stage 3 is a comfortable and fulfilling place. The church recognizes, approves, and support of people that ”arrive” at this level of faith development.  Why would we move from the productive and fulfilling life when what lies ahead is a road of struggle, questioning, and redefining everything we have built our life upon. Stage 4 involve an experience of “The Wall”. The Wall is not something we can go over, under, or around. It is not something we can fake our way through, or simplify. The only way to move past it is to go through it. “Sometimes people drop off the journey totally at this point. Overwhelmed by pain or crises in our lives, we absolutely cut ourselves off from God” (107). Sometimes people want to turn back to stage 3, seeking the comfort and ease of what they have known before and often church leaders who do not know the way through will encourage this also. Going through The Wall may be the most difficult thing we ever experience. We must come to a point of accepting who we really are, with all our imperfections, failures, and sins. It is only through this acceptance and through a complete surrender to God that we will move forward. Some people place The Wall at the beginning of stage 4, and some place it at the end. It may vary depending on the person’s journey, but stage 4 and The Wall are intricately linked.

The stages of faith development are both sequential and cumulative.  We move from stage 1 toward stage 6 one stage at a time, and we must experience each stage. However we do not stay at a single stage. Once we have experienced a stage we may move backwards and forwards revisiting different aspects of a prior stage to learn and grow at a new level. It is difficult to comprehend a stage you have not experienced. We may be able to grasp the stage immediately ahead, but not those that lie further along the journey. This is especially true for stage 4 where the doubts may be seen as disbelief, disillusionment, and a complete departure from faith.

The stages are normal. For those who are unfamiliar with the normalcy of stage 4 in Christian experience, their newfound doubts feel like an abandonment of faith rather than faith’s rediscovery and enriching. A faith-map that helps them see this as a normal and necessary step along the way to the life of love is priceless.” (Richard J. Vincent)

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I was one of those who was unfamiliar with the existence of stage 4. I did not see it as normal because I did not even see it existed. I felt as if my doubts and questions were a shattering of my faith, the loss of all I believed, and a dark chasm that I might never recover from.

This model of faith development has helped me to understand the journey I have been on the last few years. Some call Stage 4 and The Wall by other names such as the Dark Night of the Soul. No matter the name that is used, it is helpful for us to come to understand the process. Far too many churches only teach, understand, and accept faith development up to stage 3. Those who know and understand the other stages have a powerful opportunity to minister to and care for those who are on a journey that few will walk through.

Additional information about this faith development model can be found at:
http://www.theocentric.com/spirituality/christian_living/stages_of_faith_a_map_for_the.html
http://www.janethagberg.com/critical_journey/index.htm
http://kathyescobar.com/2008/06/10/a-nifty-chart-for-the-journe/
http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/about/pdfs/JOURNEY_THROUGH_THE_WALL_Toby.pdf

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