Spiritual leaders

Later this week I will be participating in an event where I may cross paths with my old pastor. I know he is connected with others who will be attending the event. The fact our paths may cross is really weighing on my heart.

Near the end of April I had communicated with the pastor and elders that I could not remain in silence any longer about the situation because I knew that God was calling me to step up, to share my story, and to proclaim to others about the amazing healing the Lord had done in my life. They have been unwilling to work through and resolve issues. The response I received was that I was unstable and irrational, did not understand the Gospel, again was showing I was unrepentant, and that if I spoke I would actually damage God’s kingdom.

I have continued to try to respond in love and patience to these leaders, and have offered over and over again to resolve the issues with no progress. It took until the beginning of July for those leaders and my current pastor to agree to meet. My pastor has not wanted me to meet with these leaders because he does not believe they are willing to reconcile, and he believes it would be unhealthy for me to share with them. So far, even after meeting with him, they have not shown any openness or willingness to reconcile. I also know some others that were key in my story are no longer at the church. They also have been hurt and are dealing with a difficult road of healing.

I am not sure how to respond if I see my pastor. The last face-to-face interaction I had with him was last December when he had an uncontrolled outburst and made a public scene. I do not want to cause any disruption at the event, and I have concerns that the pastor will try to speak to me. His elders told me not to speak to him, and after the run in last December I clearly defined that he was not to speak to me again without witnesses (on my side) due to his outburst. If he tries to speak to me the only thing I know to do is to calmly remind him that we are not allowed to speak, and then to involve others if he tries to communicate further.

My heart is heavy with concerns for all involved. I am walking in faith, still knowing that God is capable of healing and restoring everything if we would surrender, so he is definitely capable of taking care of much smaller pieces of this, such as this even.  I am going to the event with a very open and hope-filled heart, trusting that the Lord will use it mightily to change things, and believing that He can be glorified in all situations.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

We studied Galatians 4 last week at my home group. That lead to a discussion about false teachers and how their methods can be contrasted to how Paul responded. I have seen many reports over the last few years about who false teachers are, and how to identify them, but being able to see it more clearly through scripture is very important to me. I don’t want to trust man’s description about false teachers, but I do believe scripture because I consider it to be truth, absolute truth.

Galatians 4:8-20 …. 8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.  12I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

In verse 17, Paul talks about “those people”. These are the false teachers. Through this section you can see how Paul pleads with them to return to the Gospel, the ways of God and the truth they have known in the past. Not only do they know God, but they are known by Him. He had captured their hearts and become the Lord of it, but over time other things and the deception from these false believers was capturing their hearts again and getting in the way of the Lord.

 False Teachers  Paul
  • followers of their teachings
  • observance of rituals and practices
  • conformity
  • zealous living
  • followers of Christ
  • maturity in faith
  • freedom
  • zealous pursuit of God
  • Teaching of their practices
  • Enslavement to incorrect principles
  • Teaching of the Gospel
  • Life through living God’s principles

This helps me to clearly see that if I am being guided to follow leaders instead of God, and am being lead to conformity instead of freedom by living God’s principles then I am being misled. It is a truth I need to implant in my heart and use as a test for every book I read, sermon I listen to, and leader I consider following.

What other scriptural truths teach you about false teachers?

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.

When I was in college I, like most students, took classes in different subject areas (departments) at the same time. I was a double major, but also had to meet all the prerequisites to graduate, so often I was taking four classes and was studying from 3 or 4 different subject areas at one time.

In the later part of my freshman year I learned a very valuable lesson that I have revisited several times in life. I had papers that were due in two different classes at about the same time. I was writing for both my English class and my Sociology class. Being a fairly good and very dedicated student I put my best effort into both papers and turned them in on time. A few days later I received both papers back.

Paper #1 the teacher gave me a moderate grade, told me that he felt my writing style needed work, said that I was not writing to an audience, and reflected that I did not cover my subject completely.

Paper #2 the teacher gave me a high grade, told me that my writing style was very easy to read and that I had done a great job on the paper.

Two different papers, two different subject matters. Two different answers.

The lesson I learned that day had to do with perspective. While there were different papers and different subject matters, there were also two different readers (my professors). One reader liked my style and connected with me, the other did not.

As we go through life we will find people who we connect with and others we do not, or others that we do not connect as well with/it is harder to connect with. I am learning that again as I am getting connected into a new church. At my last church I loved the people, I tried to make relationships work, and I was very committed. Just like with my paper I put forth the best effort I could at that time (which was somewhat limited since I was in a difficult season), but things didn’t click. Even today the leaders of that church speak negatively about me. Yesterday I received a message from my new pastor. In just a few words he expressed more care and acceptance to me than I have received in a very long time, “I’m grateful for your heart more than anything. It’s beautiful how he brought you into our presence. So grateful you’re with us.”

Two different churches, two different viewpoints toward God’s word. Two different answers.

At times on the recovery journey things happen or days occur when our hearts are heavy, things seem out of sorts, or circumstances lead to difficult steps. How we choose to handle those times makes a big difference in where we go and how we move forward in the bigger picture. They may seem like small things but they do affect the bigger picture of where we are trying to go.

One thing I have been learning about is perception. Someone who is in the midst of the last stages of marriage expressed deep sorrow to me when they shared their spouse has a perception of injustices that were done in the past that they can not move past. This person has set their mind on a certain belief and even though others don’t agree with it they continue to stand firm in their convictions. Due to that the other spouse has found there is no further room for communication, compromise, reconciliation, or restoration.

If you have experienced relational struggle, abuse, injustice, rejection, or abandonment then what is your perception? Do you believe the others were completely in the wrong? Have you taken responsibility for your part? Are you willing to accept that your perceptions may in some ways be incorrect? Can you see ways others are holding incorrect perceptions? Could the perceptions you have be the cause of the problems in the first place? How do you respond when others have incorrect perceptions about you?

The elders and pastor of my last church hold a perception of me that is incorrect. I have tried to correct it but they continue to believe that I desire to hurt the pastor and the church. It actually is the exact opposite of my heart. I have protected them and spoken highly of them so many times. I love the pastor very, very deeply. They are Christians who are part of the family of God and as such there is no need for division, hostility, brokenness, or separation, and I do not have any intention or heart to divide or disunify God’s family. I keep trying to see the situation through their eyes, through their perception, but so far I can’t find that point. I want to take responsibility for my parts, to repent of all sin, and to rectify things. Recently I was told that the elders still are open to see my repentance and to reconciliation but the pastor will no longer be involved in any communication with me. There are perceptions held on both sides that keep us from finding common ground. I wish it was different. I wish our hearts were not hardened against God’s ways, and that we could choose love, forgiveness, grace, healing, and unity. I miss my friends and “family” that I am separated from at that church, and I am really concerned about the future impacts of this brokenness on the Christian community in Portland. May God continue to redeem this and bring repentance, truth, and life where other things exist.

Today is such a mixture and it is only 10:45 AM.

  1. Today is the anniversary of my abuse five years ago. It has been a day of dread for the last three years, but I approached it with joy, hope, and promise today knowing that God has changed my heart and life. I have been so excited for this anniversary because I knew that if it passed without dread that it was proof of Christ’s changes in my life. I was greeted by an amazing full arch rainbow that brought me such joy of God’s promises to us.
  2. I started with a quiet time today where I found a level of understanding and surrender of my heart, soul, mind, and strength unlike anything I have known before. It was an amazing time with the Lord and I came away feeling completely different.
  3. I went to coffee shop to work and my old pastor came in and approached me. Through a very tense conversation he told me it is clear I have not changed, that I have a divisive heart that is causing disunity in his church because I have refused to stop trying to resolve issues after he has told me to have no further contact with anyone at his church. I have tried to resolve things for seven months and he claims I keep twisting things and cutting off communication. We finally ended up with a counselor on the phone speaking to each of us separately (although the pastor overheard my entire part of the conversation).
  4. Now I stand before God again asking him to show me how my heart is not submitted, how I am divisive and disunifying. If there is sin in my life I want it out now! I am done walking this path and I want to change, no matter the cost. If these are things in my life I am blind to them and desperately need help to see them. I have already contacted my new pastor for accountability and support because I do not want to repeat any of these actions. I know I am a sinner and need the Lord’s transformation in my life.

I don’t know what the rest of the day will hold, but even through the difficulty this morning I am still able to stand with confidence that I have changed, that the Lord has transformed my life, and I know I still have work to do in my life but I know that I am on the right path to making that happen. My immediate reaction was to turn to Him in repentance and to ask for him to change me. I desire His truth, His perspective of my life, and obedience to His standards above all else. I wouldn’t have done that in the past and I am so joyful to know that I am making new choices, choices of  hope, redemption, and love.

Pastor Led                                                                 People Led

This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet and speak with two more couples who have been mistreated by spiritual leaders and who are bearing scars and pain because of it. Stories like these break my heart. It is not what God had in mind when he created us. He wants so much more for us. He wants us to experience rich and bountiful relationships with great love, commitment, and dedication to each other.

One of the stories I heard this weekend came from a denominational church. The couple involved worked for the church but were mistreated by the lead pastor. There was a church board involved, but they were there to support the pastor. There was a regional supervisor but he too was there to support the pastor. Even though these systems and groups were in place the support was for the pastor and even other staff were left unsupported, feeling they could not even voice their concerns or struggles without being seen as an enemy of the pastor. The husband has already left the church and the wife will also leave within a few weeks. They were incredible people so it is a huge loss to the church they are leaving.

Please hear my heart, I love pastors and I truly believe we should be supporting them. I have some good friends that are pastors and I love the pastors I live and share with now. At the same time I believe we need to have systems in place that support them when needed but also hold them accountable when needed. If the systems we have in place only support the pastor and do not provide any support, care, counsel, or openness for others to even share then there is a type of favoritism and lack of authenticity that will exist.

Christ Led

I have attended churches with boards, denominational leadership, elders, and one where there were only staff members. All of these models have issues. The only model that I believe is scriptural is that of elders/deacons. I am left wondering though if there is a good church leadership model, one where there is accountability but also support for the pastor, staff, and the people of the church. The only point I keep coming back to is the difference between a pastor led church, a people led church, and a Christ led church. I am now a part of a Christ led church and I see a stark contrast to anything I have ever known before. It is still managed by sinful people who will have the problems along the way, but I hope that when struggle happens that our first action will be to turn to Christ’s leadership and to ask for his direction. I keep thinking that is what Christ wants us to do and how we should truly live as believers.

This week will mark four months since being removed from my church, and two months from having the pastor tell me that there is no avenue for reconciliation and restoration. It has been a long journey, and one I have anguished and grieved over how to walk through this and communicate about it because I desire a heart of love, grace, forgiveness, hope, and mercy.

On Friday I finally shared my story with family and friends. Until that time only four people knew what had happened and two of them I had shared with face-to-face just recently. Since the very beginning of this journey one goal has been on my heart – I want to walk through this in the way that Christ would, I want to live in a way that is worthy of the name Christian. It would be very easy to take on bitterness, anger, malice, slander, gossip, and to walk in brokenness, but that is not what God would call us to. I knew that when it came time to share with those in my life I would be sharing with non-Christians, Christians who have been hurt and abused, Christians who were disillusioned, Christians who do not have a strong faith or Biblical foundation, in addition to some very godly people. I wanted to walk through this in a manner that would be a light and witness to everyone.

One of the biggest questions was what to share and how much to share. Due to the nature of my story and the fact that others have not been willing to walk through this with the same commitment to Biblical standards, reconciliation, and restoration there is still brokenness that exists. I have waited this long hoping that would or could be worked through, or that I could at least testify that we were working toward it. Unfortunately that has not happened. So, I was faced with the dilemma of how to share with honesty but with a heart to not hurt, slander, or cause disunity. I don’t know if I walked that line well enough. Some would say yes, others will say no. I have had to lay it at God’s feet and ask him for forgiveness and further training if I made mistakes. I do think I walked through it well enough to be a positive witness.

This weekend I received emails from a variety of friends, but it included a Jewish friend and a non-Christian, both of who I have known and walked with for over 13 years. The reinforcement they gave about my heart, my witness in their lives, and the love I have shown them I have for people and for God deeply touched my heart. I love the encouragement and support from God’s family, but there is a piece where I sort of expect it to be there. (I am not sure that is good, I am just being honest here.) To have the words shared by those who do not have relationship with God and to know that my life is a witness to them is deeply encouraging and reassuring.

Now that the news has been shared I feel like I can finally really step forward and move on. I have decided that I will not hide my story. I have no desire to hurt those involved in any way, and I am praying that God sanctifies my tongue and heart to keep them pure. I will not live in bondage and secrecy either. There is freedom in being able to tell my story, and with that freedom comes healing and hope. I have already had people asking me to share my story and my journey, and I want to turn the tragedies in my life into a witness that brings hope and healing to others.

The goal of this blog is to help others find a path of restoring their heart and coming back to God and hopefully to the church. As this chapter in my life has now closed I am really looking forward to embracing the opportunity to be more of a light to others and to focus on them instead of my journey. I do believe though that I now have even more practically knowledge and wisdom about how to walk through restoration and to find hope again. I praise God for that everyday!

I recently read the book Conversation Peace by Mary A. Kassian. My purpose for picking up this book is to take a hard look at the roots of my communication and to identify areas where I can change to improve future relationships or even possibly find ways to open up reconciliation and resolution with my last church. In the book she gives some very practical sections about how to change and tools that can be used to implement change. Those sections hold the power to change if we want to implement them and see a real difference in our communication. The key there is how much effort we want to put into the process and if we truly desire to change our hearts, souls, and minds and let God transform us. The only real truth we will find in this life is God’s word and if we allow it to work in hearts transformation will occur and will lead us to be different people.

This section of the book on the leaves/fruit, roots, and soil was especially powerful to me as it spoke directly to what I have seen in my own life, that the soil my roots are planted in affect the roots and therefore the leaves/fruit. Because my life had a lot of unhealthy soil (beliefs) in it, my roots (attitudes), and leaves (outward language and behavior) was also unhealthy. I desperately needed to change the soil and was trying to but my roots were rotting and I needed a deep work that only God and the Holy Spirit could perform in my life. By God’s grace and in his timing I found believers who were willing and able to walk this course with me, but my heart grieves over how these truths are not well known and understood by leaders in our churches. Our churches and ministries are focusing on the roots and the leaves/fruit but we really need to focus on the most important factor – changing the soil. Once it was clear to me that I was living with the soil of deceit and that some of the teachings I was under added to that I was able to identify that I needed to find the pure soil of truth and once planted in that change happened very quickly and deeply.

Our words and behavior are like the leaves and fruit of a plant. They are above the surface and can be observed. Our attitudes and thoughts are hidden like the root of a plant. Some roots of bad speech are envy, pride, malice, arrogance, bitterness, and lack of self-control. But just as in the case of the temperate rain forest, there is a third factor that affects the plant – and it is the most important factor: the soil. The soil represents our deepest beliefs and values. (page 52)

According to Scripture, two types of soil can exist in the human heart: the pure soil of truth and the contaminated soil of deceit. According to Jeremiah 17:9, the predominant type is deceit: “The heart is deceitful above all things…” But what exactly does that mean? What is deceit? The dictionary defines deceit as “the concealment or perversion of truth for the purpose of misleading.” The Bible gives additional information. It explains that the essence of deceit is failing to acknowledge God (Jer. 9:3,6). The word acknowledge means “to assent to the truth or claims of.” When I acknowledge God, I assent – I agree – with his truth and his claims. If I disagree with his truth and his claims, the bible says that I am living in deceit. Deceit is a condition of the heart that occurs whenever God’s truth is concealed, perverted, or denied. A deceitful heart fails to acknowledge God. It does not believe God’s words, value God’s ways, think God’s thoughts, or adopt the same attitude that God has. Our hearts are misled – deceived – whenever we are out of line with God. The Bible clearly indicates that the soil of deceit is responsible for the evil that shows up in what we say. Deceit allows evil in all its various forms (such as envy, pride, malice, and bitterness) to take root in our hearts. These attitudes and thoughts then sprout into faulty words. Paul described it like this: “Their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers in on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing …ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know” (Rom. 3:13-14, 16-17). If we are lacking peace in our interpersonal communication, we would be well advised to examine the soil of our hearts. Chances are that our words are anchored in contaminated soil. (page 53)

Curing a plant of root rot therefore requires more than just treating the leaves, stems, and roots.  It requires that the soil be removed and replaced.  You can’t really beat the disease without changing the soil in which the plant is grounded.  It’s the same way with us.  We can try to change our negative words and behaviors-or even try to uproot wrong attitudes and thoughts-but we can’t really beat the disease until we change the false beliefs and values deep in the soil of our hearts.  And for that we need God’s help.  Thankfully, he does not give up on us or discard us as I did with that African violet.  No.  He is committed to helping us purify our hearts. (page 58)

The first part of the cleanup plan is confessing our sin – owning up to the fact that contamination exists. The second part is renouncing our sin. To renounce means “to cast off or reject” – renouncing means “digging the contamination out.” In the previous chapter we learned that the Bible says there are two types of soil: the pure soil of truth and the tainted soil of deceit. The plan for cleanup means that we dig out the contamination of deceit, throw it away, and fill our garden with the purity of God’s truth. It means that we get rid of sinful thoughts and actions and begin to think and live as God instructs us to. (page 62)

Can you see places where your soil is the soil of deceit instead of the pure soil of truth? If you have come out of an unhealthy church situation there is almost certainly some deceit in there. Take the first steps toward curing your root rot, change your soil. Go to God’s truth, confess any sin that has not been dealt with and turn from it and toward God. The truth, God’s pure soil of truth, will set you free!

My counselor called this morning and said my pastor called to find out how I was doing and to discuss things.

I had already closed the door and revoked permission for my counselor to speak with my pastor so that I had a safe avenue for communication. He said my pastor sounded very caring and pastoral on the call and seemed to genuinely be interested.

I had worked so hard over the last week to move on and to accept that communication with that church was finally closed and I was starting to open myself to other options for my future. I truly desire reconciliation so that each of is is right before God and unity in God”s family is restored, but as this has continued on the pain has actually gotten worse instead of the adage that “time heals all wounds”. At this point I am very cautious toward any further contact with this pastor and church. So many jumbled thoughts and emotions are swimming through my head again.

God, I just want to be faithful to you and glorify you….no matter the cost. Show and direct me how to walk through this path and be the very best witness for your kingdom that I can possibly be! I love you more than the air I breathe and I will do whatever you ask, I just need to know it is of you. Help me walk in faith, fortitude, and wisdom.

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