Supporting others


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!

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.

One area that people can struggle with after any form of abuse is the fact that they have been victimized. Accepting that we have been victims is different than taking on the mindset of being a victim. Part of the healing process is moving from victim to survivor to thriver. Victims are stuck in their abusive situation (at least mentally stuck there). Survivors have gotten out of their abuse. Thrivers live and share what they have learned, helping others to move through the process. It is possible to be stuck in our abuse and not move past the place of being a victim. If we do that we take on a victim mentality.

There are different views in Christian circles about the victim mentality. Some people dwell on it, others trivialize it, and others can spiritualize it.

“Unfortunately, there are those in the Christian community who trivialize what they term the “abuse victim mentality” and belittle the experiences of those who have been hurt by pastors and churches. To disparage or scorn such accounts of abuse will only further isolate the victims and drive them away from the church.”  (Stress-Making Churches by Ronald Enroth at http://www.geftakysassembly.com/Articles/AssemblyTeachingPractice/Enroth.htm)

“Jesus was at all times, in control of what happened to him. He was going to choose exactly when and where he would allow the full extent of the abuse of man to be shown in all its gory detail. The whole situation never left Jesus’ control for a moment. The one thing Jesus never became until he chose that role consciously, and for a purpose, was a victim. Victim mentality is never of God. If we are in Jesus and know our Heavenly Father; then we too have the ability and right to be in control of our situation and it is good and right to do what brings us most peace. “

“Jesus refused victim mentality. He was never going to give satisfaction to man, or to demons in being cowed under by the power of abuse. He knew his own worth as God’s son, and nothing could alter that. He was in control of His own destiny. If we are following Him, then we also can take charge of ours. The only form of control we ever need to accept is that of the Holy Spirit and the will of God for our lives. The will of God is never that we should continue to be abused.” (A Devotional for the abused by Minister Jacky Hughes  http://jesushealsabuse.informe.com/viewtopic.php?p=1769)

As Christians what should our response be to our abuse? How can we accept that we have been victims, deal with it in healthy ways, and move to be survivors and thrivers? I have met many people who are not yet survivors, but very few seem to be actually living with the victim mentality willingly. How can we help others move forward and not get stuck? What has worked for you?

dont_quit

I recently was listening to a podcast by Francis Chan of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. He shared a story of an encounter where he met a man on an airplane who started telling him about the spiritual journey he had recently been on, a journey that was causing him to feel disillusioned by the hypocrisy he was seeing and experiencing from people who call themselves Christians.

 

Francis said, “The more I listen to you honestly the more angry I get. I just get so angry when people do that, and you’ve got to understand that those are the exact people that Jesus just couldn’t stand. When someone comes under the guise of being a religious leader and then takes advantage of someone else or uses someone else, man it is so so ugly in God’s sight. You’ve got to see the way Jesus just reamed on these people who did that.” The man proceeded to say he was done with it. Francis’ responded, “You can’t do that. Don’t do that. The church needs people like you. You are the exact type of guy I would like to have in my church because you are real and you can’t stand the hypocrisy. You can’t stand someone coming in and putting on a smile, and a lot of us have done that. I have done that. You can’t stand the dishonesty and you want to confront it. Those are the very people we need in the church, but what happens is those are the people who get frustrated with they church and they go ‘forget the church they are a bunch of hypocrites’ and they leave. But you are the one that I want to stay, and let’s get the hypocrisy out, because that’s the stuff that Jesus couldn’t stand either. “

 

Jesus did hate the hypocrisy that was found in the religious leaders, religious activities, and the unfaithfulness of those who claimed to be like God. If you are disappointed, frustrated, and grieved over the brokenness of our Christian circles and churches you are not alone. There are some leaders and churches out there that are honestly seeking to be faithful. They will have times they don’t hit the mark, but they need those of us who have been hurt, disillusioned, and are fed up with the lies and hypocrisy.

 

Don’t give up! Hang in there and keep sharing your heart and your story. You are a voice that God can use to call people closer to him and who he can use to call out the hypocrisy and unfaithfulness in his Church. Let him use you!

One of the things I have learned as I have gone through this journey over the last three years is that very few people understand what I have gone through and how to support me through this process. If they have not been through something similar or have not supported someone else who has their understanding is really limited. I have had to educate others, including my pastors, their spouses, and other church leaders. Some people have a hard time understanding and believing that abuse can happen, and often the damage that has been done will be minimized or denied. Also, most people want to speed up the recover time. Not only does the victim want the process to be done, but those supporting them don’t understand why the victim can’t get over their issues and heal.

A counselor I have seen who has also experienced spiritual abuse said it typically takes a victim 3-7 years to reenter a church. By that she means they take 3-7 years to become a regular and active member also they might attend church prior to that with reservation and caution. Personally, I immediately began attending other churches, but have faced a great deal of struggle trying to reintegrate into a church (more to that story to come).

 One of the tools I have found useful in helping others to understand what I have been through and how they can help has been an article by Sharon Hlderbrant, M.A. titled “Recover from Spiritual Abuse – How Can You Help?(http://www.dtl.org/cults/article/abuse.htm) In this article she talks about how others can help a victim. She touches on areas such as: Trust, Emotions, Truth, Self-Understanding, God’s Character, Honesty, Going to Church, and Untwisting Scripture. I have found it to be an excellent article that is very on target to what I have experienced. It is not completely comprehensive, but I find what is included is definitely on the correct track for me experience.

My advice: Be patient. Whether you are the victim or those supporting the victim give time, grace, space, and reassurance to all those involved. The recovery may be difficult, but it is well worth the tears, struggle, and process. Nothing is more important than who you are to God and he desires for each of us to be healed and restored to abundant relationship with him.

One of the things a person who has gone through abuse, significant loss, and sorrow experiences is a need to both connect with others and be cared for by them. Often we fail to connect with and care for those who need it the most. Part of the reason is we don’t know how to handle their story, their loss and pain, and we fear that it will become our pain.

“Being in the presence of deep pain is frightening. It’s too messy; there are too many unanswered questions. “What do I say?” people ask, as if pain needs to be bandaged and plugged instead of released. And so they withdraw from sadness and grief. That, of course, leaves the hurting person alone with looming fear and sadness, forcing her to God for help. “Please God, fill me, heal me, nurture me. Do you really know how I feel? Can you really fill the gnawing pain that’s ripping me apart?”

Quoted from Pieces of Glass by Sarah Kay

Is there someone in your life that is dealing with sadness and grief, someone who might be hurting and feeling alone? How could you reach out to them to show encouragement, support, or care this weekend? Sometimes the simplest gestures (a hug, a single flower, a card saying you are thinking of them, or just five minutes of time) can provide healing and hope.