Questions


It would be great if life was predictable. Some days I want a road map that tells me what lies ahead.

Unfortunately that is not what we have been given.

God wants us to live by faith.

Have you ever considered things may happen in life just to grow your faith?

This week I have been placed in a very difficult position between two people I care for immensely. Things have occurred that put me in a position where I am being pushed to choose sides. I am being asked to behave in ways that I do not agree with. It has been challenging for me to keep perspective, feel hopeful, or see things through any perspective that isn’t painful and hard.

The situation could lead me to frustration, anger, resentment, or broken relationships. I am trying to choose the exact opposite. I don’t want to choose between these two friends, I want to choose God’s way and relationship with Christ. Circumstances leave me battling to choose hope, to believe God is bigger than the circumstances, and to be joyful in the midst of this.

I am learning to ask different questions:

Do I believe God is who he says he is?

Do I believe God can change lives, minds, and hearts?

Do I believe God is big enough to either change the situation, or change me?

Can I rejoice in the Lord even when I can’t rejoice in my circumstances?

Some days the circumstances in our lives are difficult, but living by faith is a choice.

What have you learned that helps you get through difficult times? How do you faith a choice?

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I received information today about the “charges” from my last church. The information still is not concrete with specific actions that I did and how that was sinful, but instead are vague generalities about the pastors’ struggle to communicate with me and how he had heard from others in the church that I was sharing that there were communication difficulties between us. So I have been charged with 1) lack of submission 2) spreading discord.

The counselor who communicated this to me has again asked for specifics from the elders about who I spoke to and what discord I spread but as it took eight months to reach this point I doubt we will get anything more. They have stated that I am not repentant and that my communication to others about what has occurred is clear evidence of that. They are very upset that I have expressed to them that others who I have turned to for counsel feel I have been abused, and that there are unhealthy and inappropriate things in how the church is lead and how I have been treated. Those are not my statements, but have come from others. The leaders will not communicate with me directly, but they do not want me communicating to others to process through things, seek input about what I have done and how I can change, or even share my story and glorify God.

I again struggle to know where that line is between sharing openly and transparently about our journey and story, and not spreading discord. It seems like it comes down to the heart that it is shared with. If we are sharing with a heart to hurt others or slanders their name then that is wrong, but if we are seeking to be open and transparent it seems like that is honest and can be used to help others grow and heal. I recently heard someone express that we are called to be open and vulnerable, but we don’t need to be naked (share everything).

Does anyone have thoughts about what is appropriate to share and in what settings?

I don’t want to hurt anyone or cause disunity but it doesn’t seem right that I never am able to share about my story either. I want to glorify God and be obedient to him in all I do, and I feel like my story could bring hope and healing to some others who have walked through similar paths of pain and disillusionment.

The recent series I posted on Abuse or Church Discipline comes from trying to work through my own current experience with church discipline. Three weeks ago my church elders sent me an email dismissing me from the congregation and ending all contact with the church body. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and process this and I still am deeply confused about what has occurred.

Last summer I moved to a new town to join a newer church plant that was starting. It has been started by a nationally known ministry leader so I am cautious about what I say. First, I do not want to hurt his reputation or the reputation of the other elders or the planting church. However, there is a second hesitation, based on my pastor’s reputation who would believe me? Third, I still care very deeply for my pastor and hope that something can be repaired because I would like he and his family in my life.

I was abused in a church four and a half years ago. I have struggled to work through fears, insecurities, PTSD, trust for church leaders, and working through all sorts of issues around trusting my own judgment. After the abuse I have actually come to trust others more than myself, but at the same time am extremely cautious about being abused and manipulated because of that. So, I came here with cautions, but I was very honest with my pastor about what I had been through, my feelings and fears, my struggles with things at the new church, etc. Over time he started pushing on several issues. I now understand that he was trying to be a pastor and speak into my life, but at the time it came across as confrontational and as if he didn’t understand. I felt my boundaries were crossed and I started backing away because I was feeling unsafe and misunderstood. As I backed off he pressed further.

In April he became very direct and said that I needed to meet with he and an elder. I didn’t understand why, asked if sin was involved, and was told that I just needed to meet with them. It was the worst possible time for me as I was in the process of being laid off from work due to the economy, dealing with family issues, under huge stress due to a project at work, traveling due to work, etc. Emails escalated until he gave me an ultimatum that I had to give them a time I could meet or they would not communicate further, and I had already been told that if I was unwilling to meet that I was unsubmissive and would not be allowed to continue to be a part of the church. I felt cornered with no option but to meet with them. I did at their request, and through a two hour meeting they tried to address the communication struggles and why I had backed off from the pastor. I was told I had a huge fear issue in my life and was running away from God because I was not willing to communicate with them as my elders. They told me they felt I was unsubmissive and unteachable and I needed to change my attitude. I told them I wanted to but I was confused, didn’t understand how to change, and while I had come to this church to learn and grow I was overwhelmed and confused.  By the end of the conversation I was in trauma and later that afternoon/evening it was so bad I probably should have been hospitalized as I was near suicide, completely distraught, and under spiritual attack. However the elders were unavailable to assist and I had been told I could not turn to others in the church for assistance.

It was about five weeks before I contacted the elders again and expressed that I wanted to close the loop on things and move forward. They had not contacted me during that time to see how I was doing or if I needed anything even though they knew I had been in crisis. We went back and forth a few times on email because they wanted to meet and I wanted to be sure I understood why since the last meeting had been so devastating for me. I was waiting to hear what time would work for them when I received this email.

We have come to a conclusion with regard to your relationship with ________. Your actions and words are in no way acceptable for a believer.  You have twisted truth in order that you can have control.  You are not teachable and you show absolutely no signs of submission to the Lord or an understanding of the gospel. And, now you have sought to drive a wedge of disunity within our body.  If you don’t understand this and are confused by it, this just further demonstrates your twisting of truth.  We suggest you consider the other church relationship examples in your life that have not ended well.  The constant in all of these cases has been your involvement.  We have spoken with everyone whom you have developed relationships with at ________ and we have explained the process leading up to this conclusion.

You are no longer welcome to associate with anyone involved in ________.  You also need to know that no one at ________ will pursue communication with you or respond to any communication from you.

A response to this letter will not be opened.

________ Elders

After receiving message I went to the pastor’s house and asked to talk, he told me he would not speak with me and we were through. He said information had been expressed to my counselor, but after speaking with my counselor the information was little more than this email message.

It has been three weeks. Both my counselor and I have asked to meet with the elders but so far we have not received a response. No one from the church has reached out to me. I am unsure if I am even safe to go to another church as I have been labeled as a false believer and a threat to God’s church, and based on my pastor’s reputation no church really should accept me into their church.

I still don’t know how to process this whole situation. It appears I have been removed from the church because of the fears and struggles I have in trusting church leaders, a lack of understanding regarding elders roles and submission, and twisted understandings of God and scripture (which likely stems from poor teaching and previous abuse in my life).

I am not against church discipline, in fact the more I learn about it I think if it is done right it is probably the most loving thing we can do to people, but I wasn’t walked through a clear process, and the resulting decision to remove me from the church and cut me off both from the church body and possibly from other church relations leaves me feeling as if my pastor has communicated that I deserve to spend eternity in hell and there is no hope of repentance or change in my life.

Life is hard right now. I am still unemployed, have no church, have no local friends, and spend my days wondering if I can ever be in right relationship with God and restored to God’s church. God is showing me a lot of things and teaching me through this but trying to sort through it and not lose hope is a daily battle.

My heart is to hear God’s truth in the middle of this. Have I walked in sin? Absolutely, but I want to recognize what I have done and change. I desire a right relationship with God and others. Have the elders done something wrong? Maybe. There definitely were other options of how they could have walked this out, but they addressed sin and had a heart desiring to see me change and to protect the church body. I can’t be upset at them for that.

What comes next in this process of recovery? Trust God and believe in his word.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)

There was a hit on this blog today where someone was seeking information about what is appropriate to share with a pastor. That is a great question, but I don’t think there is a single correct answer. I think there are many components that feed into the decision such as gender, age, past relationships, interactions and approvals of spouses involved, accountability and visibility of communication by others, subject matter, amount of time needed for sharing the subject matter, and need for professional services (authorities, legal, counseling, etc.).

I think it is easier to define some of what is not appropriate to share with your pastor. This is not a complete list, but rather is a list to start you thinking about the issues from a biblical viewpoint.

  • Do not share anything negative about any other person, we are to preserve unity with everyone
  • Do not gossip about anyone else
  • Do not share information that you do not have direct facts about as you could be sharing misleading or inaccurate information
  • If your pastor is not your gender, do not share information that could be viewed as inappropriate between genders (e.g. sexual struggles)

The other question I would challenge you to ask is why you are desiring to share the information with your pastor.

  • What are your true, heartfelt motives?
  • Do you want to vent about something?
  • Are you expressing greed, envy, deceit, anger, frustration, temptation?
  • Do you feel you need to express remorse or repentance to your pastor in order to be forgiven of sin?
  • Are you seeking Godly counsel about how to resolve an issue and move closer to people and God?
  • Are you seeking Biblical direction or wisdom about something?

The counsels we seek in our lives will either lead us to God or away from him. Just because your pastor is a person who is in an identified position of service for God, doesn’t mean that their counsel will always lead you to God. God sent His Son to us, and when Christ died we were given the Holy Spirit as our counselor. First, we should be turning to the Spirit for our counsel. The Spirit knows God’s heart, will, and vision better than we ever will and it will never lead us astray if we follow it will our whole heart.

A couple weeks ago I was told that the pastor I have turned to for support, direction, and understanding as I have been trying to heal and restore trust in the church and church leaders no longer wants relationship. From what I have been told I emailed him too much, overstepped boundaries, and there is a feeling that our interactions are “unhealthy”. On one side I am angry, on another side I understand and agree. I have been very honest with him that relationship with me would be ugly and messy. Of course it is unhealthy, I am wounded/broken/damaged and trying to heal. Either way I look at it though I am faced with some really tough questions and there is no one to answer them but me.

  • What does it mean to trust a church leader/pastor?
  • What should our response be when we are hurt? Forgiveness? Anger?
  • What if those who hurt you seem to be making “worldly” decisions instead of “Godly” decisions? (e.g. their responses are very self-centered and don’t match scripture)
  • If church leaders don’t trust you then can you stay at a church?
  • If you fail at multiple churches is there reason to believe the next church will be different?
  • If you ask others what you are doing wrong and they can’t come up with specifics how can you discover what to change?

I have done a lot of reading over the past few years regarding healing hurts, forgiving, restoring trust, and recovering from trauma. One of the things that has been repeated in various texts is the idea that if we are wounded in relationship, it is through relationship that we will be healed. The hard part is that we have been wounded and will not function well in the next relationships so we are likely to mess the next relationships up. This can become a cycle of broken relationships, poor decisions, more broken relationships, more poor decisions, etc.

Something I have not seen written anywhere is the idea that if we are wounded in a church/ministry/spiritual environment it is through a church/ministry/spiritual environment that we will be healed. I have known for three years that the root of my issues are spiritual. I have tried repeatedly to tell that to others but no one seems to understand. I have been in counseling and my counselor spends more time telling me what is wrong with the people I choose to trust and spend time with than telling me anything about me.

The process of healing, growing, changing, and recovering can be tough, messy, ugly, and painful. Sometimes there are bumps along the road. Sometimes there are bloody accidents that take your breath away. Don’t lose heart. If you are breathing and living then you still have a chance for things to change. It takes work, humility, brutal honesty, and deep looks inside but no matter how long you have been in bondage or lived in brokenness you can change! I have been living in sin now for over 25 years and those chains are starting to break and I am finding new life. More of that story to come soon.

One of the most painful parts of the process of moving forward after experiencing a trauma (physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental) is dealing with the questions that arise.  The first, and possibly most important part of the process is accepting that questions are normal, can be very healthy, and are an expression of your quest to work through issues. Actually if you are not wrestling through some questions, doubts, fears, concerns, frustrations, anger, etc. then you are probably not working through things in a healthy way. You may be in denial or minimizing the issues. The type of questions, frequency, depth, and style will vary depending on who you are, what you have been through, what type of support system you have, and where you were at emotionally and spiritually before the abuse occurred.

In my situation the abuse occurred by trusted leaders and close friends/mentors. The situation was especially traumatic for me because the people were so close and trusted. Also, my abuse occurred in a church. That shook the foundation of my beliefs about God, the church, my faith, my understandings of God, and how I fit into the world. Even as I have walked through portions of my recovery I have learned that there are stages and layers to the questions and the healing.

It is normal for someone who has been abused spiritually to have a lot of questions about God and their faith. It is normal for someone who has been abused in any manner to have questions about how God could have allowed the abuse. It is easier to avoid the questions, to run from them, to deny them, or to give them a quick brush over than it is to consider them

“So is it any wonder that many of us do not want to ask God why?  The response we demand may be one that causes even greater pain and uncertainty.  How much easier is it to brush aside these questions and stick with the answers found in Theology 101. Considering the “answer” I received, it’s fair to ask: Is it worth asking why?  Without hesitation, I would say yes.  Asking why is important for many reasons.  It keeps our communication lines with God open and functional.  It is honest, a quality God heartily endorses.  It brings us to the core of a problem, clearing away the insignificant issues.” Doug Herman in the book Faithquake.

The questions are not easy to work through, to understand, or to get answers to, but the journey through them is one of the most valuable things you will do as you work through your healing. Hopefully you will find others to walk with you and support you through the questions and the struggle, but even if you do not have that close support pursue after the questions and the answers. You may not be at a place to consider God and his part in this, but if he is real (which I believe with all my heart) then he will be with you through this process.