*This is a very long version of my story. A brief summary is provided on the About This Site page.
In December 2004, I became painfully aware of the hurt and pain in our world and in our churches when I was confronted, mistreated, and forced from my position in ministry at my church in Bothell, Washington. This had been my church for twelve years, and I had considered the people involved to be friends and family. For a number of years the church had been undergoing hardship, and one wrong decision compounded upon another. Over those last few years, church attendance had dropped from about 900 to 125 people each week. I remained at the church and in a ministry leadership role because I wanted to be part of the solution. The conflict in my situation came from poorly handled transitions when my close friend and partner in ministry (a man) met someone, was engaged, and then married. A close friendship with another female was not something their marriage could handle, and his change in focus was negatively impacting the ministry and causing me a great deal of strain. I tried to communicate about the issues, but rather than dealing with these discussions up front, the relationships fell apart and a great deal of hurt and accusation led to destroyed relationships.
My partner in ministry went to church leaders and shared things that were not substantiated. As many of them had known him since birth, they believed him and did not check any facts about the situation. I was asked to meet behind closed doors with his mother, who was on staff at the church. Rather than the youth pastor or head pastor dealing with the issue, they had asked her to communicate to me that I was no longer allowed to serve in ministry in the church because they were convinced I was emotionally enmeshed with my co-leader. I was accused of having a one-sided emotional affair with this man, but that is not how I felt about him at all. I treasured him as a friend, but nothing further. I spent an hour and a half being locked in an office alone with this woman where I was raked over the coals with accusations and claims about my emotional instability toward her son. I was forced to leave the ministry I had been leading for several years within the following two weeks, and I was told that I could not provide the students or my co-leaders with the truth about why I was leaving. I was told the explanation I was to give to others, but I refused to provide that explanation as it was a lie.
This occurred while my co-leader and his wife were out of state on vacation so issues could not be talked through and resolved. The youth pastor was unavailable to communicate about the issue, and I had been blindsided by the issues and devastated to learn that my partner and the church leaders had been talking about me behind my back for weeks prior to this meeting. I told the woman that I felt that no care or support was exhibited for me through this process and so I would be leaving the church because I no longer felt the leaders trusted or supported me. This angered her and her communication with me became unreasonable. I had been forced to sit in a location in an office where I was physically trapped between a desk and wall and she was between the door and me. I finally was able to get her to end the meeting and she tried to force me to leave out the back door of the church so no one would see me. Again, I refused and I left the church through the front door. The following few days I was in crisis due to all that had happened. My entire world had changed. I did not know where to turn, or who to trust, and everything I had believed and held as foundations in my life had just been altered. My home, my closest friends, my faith, my ministry, my hope, my security, my identity, and my reputation had all just been ripped out from under me.
On Sunday, the youth pastor again was not available to assist me so I shared with the youth that I had been asked to leave because of decisions I had made that church leaders did not support, and that I would be stepping out of the ministry and leaving the church that week. They were shocked and traumatized by the news, and the church leaders were angered about what I shared. I was not allowed to speak to the youth alone again and everything I said and did was scrutinized and attacked. After I left the church I learned that many things were said about me that destroyed my credibility and called my purity and emotional health into question. The door to return to the church had been closed.
After leaving that church I tried to communicate with the church leaders, including my co-leader but they were unwilling to communicate unless I would meet with the woman who had abused me. The accusations and trauma I experienced from the time with her was too extensive, and I had been counseled to not meet with her because it would be unsafe. I suffered from nightmares every night, and experienced PTSD. I spent many months in counseling after that experience, and I had to hide where I lived, worked, and spent time due to threats that were made against me. I lived in constant fear. Slowly through counseling and the support of family and friends, I was able to start putting my life back together, but the process was slow and painful. The foundations of my faith had been so damaged that I trusted God, but I no longer trusted my own judgment about anything, especially my faith. I desperately wanted to be a part of church again and to be in a caring community, but I did not know how to find it as I did not trust my own judgment about what was safe, healthy, or truthful.
It has been a long journey to come to the point of sharing my story, dealing with the pain and shame, and seeking a heart of redemption and restoration. It has been very hard to admit areas where I was at fault without condemning myself. I carried enormous shame and guilt over all that happened. My healing was very surface level because I did not have others walk with me in a manner to address the root issues or deal with the shattered foundations of my faith, but instead others wanted to lay blame on the leaders of that church and they just wanted me to move on and get over the issues. Over and over again I was told that I didn’t do anything wrong and I ended up not taking responsibility for things areas where I was responsible. It has taken a great deal of courage to understand that what I experienced at that church was spiritual abuse, and to embrace the truth of how it affected my life and my faith in God. For a time my masks and will power allowed me to fake my way through situations and to believe I was healing, but deep down the wounds and pain were still there. I had not yet learned how to allow the Lord to provide the deep healing I really needed. I had covered my own sin and false beliefs, not dealing with what I had done wrong while also taking on the weight of the wrongs others had done toward me and carrying it as my own.
It was thirteen months before I found a church I was willing to try to call home. I had tried some churches during that time and had been involved in a home group and a bible study at a church, but I had not been ready to try making an ongoing commitment to a church. I later learned that statistics show it will take most people who experience something on the scales of what I went through a period of 5-7 years before they try to reenter a church, and often they never become actively involved again. My counselor was very encouraged by my healing and courage to try again, so I thought I was doing well. It was difficult to trust and there were rough points, but I was able to call this church home and became actively involved in this church for about two years, even becoming involved in student ministry and hospitality ministry in the church along with regularly helping with outreach to the community.
About a year and a half after coming to the church, I started actively growing and some of the confusion and fear I had lived with began to change. For years I had lived with confusion, anxiety, mixed up beliefs, and uncertainty about how to live faithfully and righteously, but I had continued to work through my issues and had worked with others in the church to address those issues. Change began happening, but what I experienced was a huge crisis in my faith because I saw such a difference between what I knew about how to live and what I saw in scripture about the faith and righteousness God’s people exhibited. I had been so deeply disillusioned and hurt by “the church” and had been on the edge of walking away from being a part of any local community but after beginning to heal I was rethinking everything I believed about God. The incredible love I had for him was returning and my desire to live faithfully and in a deeply committed life was returning, but I also was seeing areas I needed to change. I trusted God, but I still had enormous struggle to trust His people and I didn’t feel safe with them. Deep down the issue wasn’t with them, but with me. I didn’t feel as if I was safe to be with them as I still carried such shame about all that had happened, and I blamed myself for all of it.
The crisis I began experiencing was as if I was playing a giant game of Jenga with my faith and life. I was taking out each piece of what I believed and determining if it was truth or a distorted truth, which was difficult considering I wasn’t sure what truth was at that point. I was throwing out much more than I was keeping, I had a lot of pieces I didn’t know what to do with, and the entire foundation of my faith felt like it was crumbling. I was stripping back my faith to the foundations because I learned it had been built on many incorrect things, I just wasn’t sure yet what the correct things to build on were. I turned to the leadership of my church for some direction and guidance but they did not know how to help me, and it ended up making the situation even worse.
God started something during those days that began to grow and change over the next few weeks. He began showing me that I had lived a broken life, but I didn’t understand brokenness at all. I began to see my sin for what it truly was, something horrible. I found incredible Godly sorrow over how I had been living my life, and strongholds of sin that had been a part of my life for decades began to crumble. The biggest of those were tied to my identity, self worth, and self image. I realized how deeply I loved God, and how much my sin of hating His creation (myself) had hurt Him over the years. I had called myself a Christian for almost 24 years, yet at that point I felt like I had never before understood what that meant. Much of this came because for the first time in my life, I started to understand what grace was, and I came to see myself as God sees me. I could not understand how God could love me after all that had happened. I saw my sin, and started to understand that because of my commitment and surrender to Christ, that my sin had already been taken from me, and that his love for me changed things. My entire understanding of God and faith started to change, and my trust in people began to be healed, but as I was to learn later, there was a great deal of work and healing that was still needed. This was just the start of the process.
I came to realize that I was no longer supposed to stay at the church I had been attending. There were a variety of reasons why, but one of the core reasons is that I felt I could no longer support a church that was taking sin lightly, seeing relationships as expendable, and teaching an incomplete and therefore inaccurate view of God and his Gospel. I loved that church but I knew I had learned all I could there. My entire life has been spent in churches like this, and yet my life and what I observed in the lives of those around me didn’t match what I knew God could provide. I was seeking to deal seriously with sin and maturing in faith, seeking a group of people where Jesus is Lord over all areas of my life, and wanted to become passionately and deeply in love with God. I was willing to change my life completely to live that out.
I began pressing into God and asking Him what it meant to follow, to leave my church, how/when to do that, and asking where He was leading me. Over the next couple of months, He continued to perform healing and deal with sin in my life. He began showing me what I was made for and what gifts He has given me and He called me to use them. He confirmed to me that I would be moving from where I was living. I began seeking with all my heart to be in the place where I would thrive both by being in a place where I would be taught, guided and directed toward a deep personal walk with God and where I could serve and use my gifts to bring Him the most glory. I surrendered my life with abandon to allow God to change my circumstances and me. I began looking for where He might guide me. I talked to people about overseas opportunities, talked to friends who lived or were moving to other areas, looked at ministries and churches both in other states and locally in Seattle, and spent a lot of time waiting and listening. I wasn’t in a rush, but I didn’t want to miss what God might be telling me by not being open to any options.
I found myself being led to group that was planting a church outside of Portland Oregon. It was being planted by a church from another state. I had been listening to teachings from that church and had been impacted by their head pastor who is a well known speaker and author, but I didn’t know anything about the pastor who was planting the church. I researched him and found he was a strong teacher and had a specific heart for student ministry, something I also shared. As a nationally known speaker and ministry leader I felt he would be a strong local pastor, and hoped he would be able to lead a local community with the heart and passion he communicated to me. I knew that having a strong local pastor was important, but I also knew it is only part of what makes a local church healthy, and I wanted to learn to live a life of faith and worship. I wanted all 168 hours a week to be dedicated to God. My heart and interest was to be involved in not only the local church, but also in the local community where I could interact with and serve others. I was seeking to live a life that was truly centered on Christ and about Him, not about me. Life over the last few years had been hard and had held tremendous confusion especially about church and how people live as Christians, but God had brought great restoration over the previous few months.
So, in July 2008 I moved to join a church which had been planted in the spring of 2008 near Portland, Oregon. I knew that I was still recovering from what had happened in the previous church, but I faithfully followed where I believed God was leading me. I was still learning how to trust, walk in faith, and to overcome PTSD and other emotions tied to the abuse and trauma I had experienced, but I knew that I wanted to commit to a close community of believers. I believed this was the place where I would thrive both by being in a place where I would find a deep personal walk with the Lord, and also where I could serve to bring Him the most glory. I committed all I had to this community. I owe God everything and I wanted to live a life that gave Him the testimony and witness of that. I didn’t want to waste my life, and I wanted to live in such a way that my faith was in Him, not in man or me. He had done amazing things in my life and I wanted to share the hope of that with others.
Even with that heart, I was still at a point of rethinking the foundations of my faith and questioning the theologies, ideologies, and doctrines I had been taught because I was learning how they did not match with scripture. I believed that scripture was true, but I was certain my interpretations of it were often incorrect so I needed the support of others to learn, relearn, and straighten out all that had been twisted in my thinking. Part of why I had made the decision to move to Oregon was because the pastor had shared with me that he was building a community where scripture would be held up as THE standard, and as I was struggling to know how to apply it daily to my life I wanted to be in a community where I could learn to live by scripture. My commitment to live by God’s standards and have the Bible as the foundation of all decisions in my life was growing strong, as I knew that Christ was the answer to all the questions I held. I shared my struggles and questions openly with the pastor, and he committed to walk with me through this time in my life, however over time that didn’t happen.
About three months after moving to Oregon I finally met one-on-one with the pastor and we talked about how I was transitioning, and what support I needed. It had been a very difficult few months and I was struggling to find relationships with others in the church as I was the only single person in the church outside of those in their early-to-mid 20’s. As a church, we did not spend time together other than on Sunday mornings, and my job resulted in about 25% travel out of the area. I expressed that I really wanted and needed time with others to pray and look at scripture, but that wasn’t the model of the community groups we were about to launch. He and I met three times to talk about it and I shared the story of what had happened with the abuse a few years earlier and how that had shaken and twisted my understanding of truth and confidence in my own judgment. After sharing that story, we didn’t meet again for a couple of months, and communication changed. I felt he was less open toward me, and my request for support through scripture, prayer, and Christ-centered fellowship was not openly received. I asked for permission to share my story with others, but he did not want me to do that so I respected his decisions and I remained silent trying to grow in my faith on my own. The problem is I was not growing, in fact I was falling and my community was not there to support me.
By February 2009, after four months of barely connecting with each other, I felt like the pastor and I were not clicking well and when I was asked for some communication about why I tried to again communicate that I needed more than just social hang time with others in the community. He challenged me to try to connect with others on my own, but still did not release me to share my past. I asked to take a step back from communication with him so I could work through the confusion I was dealing with, and I wanted to concentrate on developing relationship with others in the church. I felt like he was expecting more communication with me than he had with any other woman in the church (outside of his wife). The reason he gave was that I was a single woman in the church and therefore he felt that my spiritual direction needed to come from him as pastor since I did not have a husband providing this leadership in my life. I trusted and respected him deeply and I wanted his leadership in my life but I also believe that sometimes it is best to speak to someone of the same gender, and that it would be best to have others also walking through this journey with me and with him. This is a key part of community, so that the weight of the struggles would be shared in community. I was very concerned about looking to him to provide too much support because I knew I could easily look toward humans to try to meet my needs instead of God after all I had been through, and I knew the weight of my insecurities could be overwhelming to someone else. I loved him so much and I wanted to make his job a joy, not a burden. When I asked to take a step back from relationship with him he said that he would not allow it, and that he would not allow someone who would not submit to be a part of his church.
I continued to do all I knew how to respect his wishes and submit to his leadership but I felt I was not being listened to. I was seeing some areas that I felt were inconsistent and lacking integrity. This greatly concerned me, but I now see that many of them were coming from the shame I carried (or at least made worse by that). I was trying to work through and own those concerns rather than expressing them to him in a way that could be hurtful and dividing. I was very cautious to never share them with others. I also was beginning to realize that when I asked for spiritual leadership and discipleship I was told about Christ, but I was not led to Christ. During my meetings with the pastor we never opened the Bible or prayed. Christ came up in our conversations, but the time was not spent with Christ in true fellowship. Scripture and prayer were not a part of our church’s life outside of Sunday worship services. I had been told the church would be founded on scripture being THE standard for our lives, but it wasn’t looked to or followed in that way. Our time as community was built around affinity and congeniality such as eating a meal together, but was not spiritual community where we sought Christ and shared about him. While we talked about serving the community, that wasn’t truly occurring. I had been discouraged from serving on my own and as that was one of my greatest desires I felt stifled and cut off from expressing the gifts the Lord had given me. I was also discouraged from making relationships with others outside of the community. The pastor had communicated to me that he felt I did not need to turn outside of our church for any support or spiritual leadership, but I was not being feed and growing through what was being offered. I felt like a missionary who was alone and isolated from others who shared my passion for the Lord. I needed support, yet it was not provided for me, even though I was repeatedly asking for it. When the pastor did try to provide me with direction I was not guided to and empowered to make my own decisions, but I was told what to think and do, and was told that I did not need to understand but just needed to follow and conform. The direction that was given left felt like I was drinking from a fire hose because there was too much given in a style and method that was foreign to me. I could not take in nor understand what was being said to me, and I was never given Biblical references to study and learn on my own.
During this same time, I had fallen into depression due to issues with work, family, health and living in a new place without any strong friendships. I did not realize I was depressed because I had never experienced depression before, and no one was close enough to me to help recognize it and name it. I knew I was not in a healthy place and tried to reach out and express that to my pastor but we failed to connect and understand each other. I learned later that what I was experiencing was severe spiritual malnourishment. I was so malnourished that although I was doing all I could to receive what I was being taught and how I was being led I had a spiritual disorder that prevented me from receiving this information. I needed special spiritual care to recover and heal. I need God’s truth to touch my heart and soul. For five months, I had asked the pastor for support from our community and permission to share my story with others in the church but that door had not been opened. When he finally granted me that permission in early April, I reached out to confidentially share my journey and struggle with a carefully chosen female small group leader in the church. I shared the story with the request that she walk with me to help me learn to walk in faith and to overcome any areas where I was not trusting the pastor and elders because I knew I was in an unhealthy place and I did not want to cause any issues. Through her I learned of another couple that also desired Bible study/discussion and prayer. I spoke to them also about my desire for this, and mentioned that I needed the support of time in the word with others due to healing I was working through. My decision to share my story and need with these members of our church was labeled as causing disunity because I had said that my struggles in a previous church had led to issues of trust and confusion that were affecting my ability to connect with the new church. My heart was seeking resolution and unity, but the leaders viewed my actions as the opposite.
The pastor and elder communicated with me that I was not to speak to anyone in the congregation about this topic again, and if I did so it would be viewed as disobedience. I had one face-to-face meeting with the pastor and elder, but the timing of the meeting was the worst possible timing for me and I was unable to function well at the meeting or receive what was said due to stress, depression, confusion, and great spiritual disillusionment. The meeting brought back so many memories of when I had been abused that all of the trauma of that came rushing back. I ended up having an emotional breakdown later that day due to all that I was experiencing. I needed spiritual and medical care, but I had nowhere to turn because I had been told I could not communicate with the pastor alone again, and I was not allowed to reach out to anyone else in the church. I did not seek to share further about these issues with anyone in the church, but when the woman I had already shared with asked me for an update I explained to her that we were working on the issue, I had started seeing a counselor the pastor had recommended, and I was trusting that God would work help us to work through the issues. I had complete faith that things could and would be worked through.
I continued attending church, receiving instruction through the sermons, and attending our community group so that I could be a part of the community and so I could learn and grow from others in community. I switched to attend a different community group that was praying and having some spiritually based conversation, and immediately I started noticing a difference in my health and my connection with others. I needed community, and knew that it was through relationship with others that I would heal. As I had been asked to not speak to the pastor or elder alone, I avoided contact with them on Sunday mornings. Later I was told that it was awkward to have me still be a part of the church but not receive their instruction and not interact with them, and that others were noticing the lack of communication. I did all I could to follow their direction and receive their leadership, and still do not know what instruction I did not receive. After the meeting with them and expressing that I was in crisis, there was about a month of silence between us. Even though I had told the pastor I was in crisis, no one in the community provided me support during this time. I finally contacted them again, asking to resolve the situation because I was doing better but I asked to have the woman I had spoken with at the meeting for support and to help me hear the things I could not understand on my own. At first, they agreed and offered a time to meet, but before I could verify the time and date would work for her they cancelled the meeting and said they would have to get back with me. A day and a half later they sent me an email explaining they had already spoken with others in the church, and they communicated to me that I was no longer welcome at the church and no one would have further interaction with me. In one instant I had moved from being a part of a family where I was loved, cared for, and protected, to a place where I was alone, abandoned, rejected, outcast, and lost. The pastor and the elders disfellowshipped (excommunicated) me from the church telling me I was unsubmissive to his leadership. They claimed I was speaking to others, causing discord, and exhibiting no faith in God.
I was not taken through a discipline process, or through the Matthew 18 process. The church leaders felt it did not apply to this situation because in their perception I had already exhibited that I was not respectful of their leadership. I had responded in the most loving and submissive manner I was capable of due to my depression and the emotional and spiritual turmoil I was living with, but they viewed it as lack of faith and sin in my life. I learned, after being disfellowshipped, that this church believes in a theology called Lordship Salvation. I had never heard of it, and through researching it I have learned that the beliefs are very conservative and it is common to believe that any ongoing struggle with sin/brokenness such as what I had walked through for the previous 4+ years is a sign that the person had not committed their life to the Lord. Those who believe in Lordship Salvation feel that if someone had committed their life, then they would not have that ongoing struggle. I have researched this in scripture and do not agree. I believe our sanctification (becoming more like Christ) is a process we experience over time. I became a Christian in 1984, but after the abuse I experienced in 2004 I accepted some incorrect beliefs and failed to allow the Lord to lead and heal my life. That was sinful and I now understand the negative and costly impacts that made in my life. I admit that I made mistakes and I did express struggles regarding communication with the pastor to two women in the church. I tried very hard to claim the communication issues were my responsibility and to express my enormous care and support for the pastor, but my words had already caused damage. I never had a heart to hurt or disrespect him, I just had been trying to find support from the community and people to share with me in looking at God’s word and praying so I would grow and be healthy. I am so thankful the leaders helped me to see that my communication and interactions were not appropriate, because I have now grown and changed tremendously. While this situation was incredibly painful and it was so hard to learn about and accept my failures, it lead to such change in my life that I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Although the pastor is unwilling to reconcile with me, I believe this pastor has been one of the most impactful people in my life, and the impacts of his influence on me are still being uncovered. He placed me in a position to choose faith or to give up. The situation left me with nowhere to turn but to myself or God, and I knew that I could not save myself. I chose faith, and it changed my life.
After being disfellowshipped from that church, I hit rock bottom. I didn’t know why anyone would ever trust me or accept me into a church again. As my pastor was well known and connected both locally and nationally, I doubted other pastors or ministry leaders would ever even listen to my story, let alone trust me and openly welcome me. What I learned is that I was entirely wrong, and that there are people who wanted to hear my story, to walk with me, and to help me find truth and healing through a close and healthy relationship with Christ. I made the most important decision of my life, to turn 100% to Christ, to cry out in my unbelief and ask for his help, and to listen to him first and above all other counsel. I made a decision to stay in Oregon despite being out of work and no longer having a church or any friends in the area. Part of the reason why was that I became determined that it was time to deal with all the sin and misunderstandings in my life, and while I loved my friends and family I was sure they would continue to give me similar counsel to what I had already received and I knew I needed to see and respond differently. Christianity as I knew it was not working for me, and I knew that Christianity wasn’t the problem. Something had to change, and it had to be me!
I continued to attend counseling with the hope that relationship with the church would one day be restored, but I also knew that counseling would not provide the care I needed. I pressed into God, and went in search of discipleship. Thankfully, God knew what I needed and he provided the perfect resource. I spent months in discipleship where we looked at the foundations of my beliefs, addressed issues of sin and areas of unbelief, and where we worked on the root issues that lead to the disillusionment and faith struggles I had been walking through. Every time we met we dug into scripture, prayed together, and looked only to what God said about how to live out a life of faith. I was devastated by the sin I saw in my life, but the truth of the price Christ paid and the forgiveness and freedom I found through his gift finally sunk into my heart and I really understood what forgiveness and grace mean. It had become clear that my deepest core issues were that I didn’t really understand the character of God, and I didn’t understand my own identity. Working on these two issues has changed my entire understanding of Christianity and life. During these few months I had very little human contact outside of these sessions, so God had a lot of room to speak into my life, however I was also at great risk because I was outside of the protection of being in God’s family and his Church. I had been handed over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5), and as I was a believer who wanted to be in right relationship with God and others who had not been through a proper discipline process I was under an incredible attack from the enemy trying to get me to fall and to believe that I was broken, injured, and beyond the love, grace, and forgiveness that even God could grant me.
I spent two months trying to respond to the situation of conflict with the church as a case of discipline and seeking to repent and reconcile. Finally, the pastor and elder agreed meet with face to face, but through that meeting it became evident that I would never be allowed to reconcile with the church body. At that meeting, they communicated that they did not even believe I was a Christian. Their words shook the assurance of my salvation. It crushed me that anyone could look at my life and even question the love I had toward God, and the commitment I made to Christ. I had made such progress over those two months, but I again was shattered by what occurred and I wondered if I would ever be able to return to a church. I knew that I needed to be in community with others to heal and grow, but I had just been told I was too unhealthy to be a part of God’s family and that they didn’t believe I would ever change. I couldn’t see how any church would want someone that was as lost, broken, and troubled as I was. I didn’t understand that God’s love and grace is far greater than my imagination.
It took a number of weeks, but I finally found a new church where I was openly accepted. I did not go looking for a church that would let me in, but instead I wanted a church that would help me deal with issues, see my problems clearly, and that would help me to deal with the roots. I was very honest with the new church about what had taken place at the last church, and the processes I was going through to learn and heal. They taught me that no one is beyond the grace and love of God, and they showed me through not just words but also actions that they believed it and lived it out in how they loved on people. Through the new church and the continued discipleship, I learned that I had been taught and was living by legalism and works righteousness. I came to realize I did not understand grace or the freedom that comes through pure faith in Christ. I had always known I was forgiven for my sins, but I had never come to understand that I truly was a new creation and had a new identity because of my choice to follow Christ. I had lived my life trying to do the right things to earn God’s love, and didn’t understand that I couldn’t muster up faith and save myself, but that faith and salvation were gifts from God. This church is the first church I had ever been exposed to that clearly teaches the Gospel by being Gospel-centered. My old church had said I didn’t understand the Gospel, and they were both right and wrong. I understood the parts I had been taught, but I had never been taught the full Gospel and now that I was being exposed to it my life was radically changed. Since being excommunicated from my old church, every pastor I have met with has prayed with me and looked at scripture with me. That has made all the difference! Men can provide some spiritual wisdom and leadership, but it is the Word of God and His truth that changes lives.
My new church walks with people through the truth of God’s word, opening scripture together, praying together, physically touching others through hugs and tender care, and laying on hands for prayer and healing when appropriate. Experiencing those things while also continuing to pour myself into my personal pursuit of truth and faith in God and searching for answers has lead to amazing transformation and change in my life. It didn’t happen instantly, but over a few months there was amazing change. I stopped looking to my own understanding and other humans for help, but cried out to God, knowing that he was the only answer to my need. I couldn’t solve my problems, and I needed a savior more than ever before. I walked through grief and sorrow unlike anything I had ever known. The discipleship provided the spiritual care I needed to overcome my spiritual malnourishment. I came to recognize a great deal of sin and lack of faith in my life, and I learned how to authentically repent of that sin, turning from it and to God and his ways. The sin in my life centered on wrong beliefs, and understandings I had about scripture and how to live as a Christian. I took responsibility for my false beliefs, my unredemptive words, and the unGodly condition of my heart, changing and submitting my life to the new truths and understandings that completely altered my faith and walk with the Lord. I let go of my past and embraced God’s future for me. I learned that I carried an enormous amount of shame, and that I still held deep pain from being forced to leave the ministry I had been a part of and hurting the students I had been a mentor and role model for years earlier. I was able to get to the root of these issues and understand how they affected my faith and my interactions with others. All of this resulted in such deep and lasting change that I daily am amazed by the work the Lord has done. I no longer suffer from fear and confusion that dominated my life for five years. I have virtually no PTSD symptoms. I have found joy and hope, and my sense of humor which had been stifled for years has returned. The depression I suffered from has lifted, other than occasional days where I struggle with the lack of resolution with my past church.
The Lord has done such dramatic work in my life that less than a year after being excommunicated and wondering if I could ever even attend a church again I have found a church home and have been invited into ministry. I am now actively serving in the community more actively than I ever have, and I am working to help others who have been hurt, disillusioned, and left abandoned, especially through religion and by people of faith. I have never loved people and God’s Church like I do today. I am actively involved in planting another Gospel-centered church where we hope to reach out to those who are last, least, and lost in our community. It is my heart to help others find the redemption and change I have found through Christ. I also am now serving and sharing with others through advocacy, speaking, training, equipping, and being a voice for the disillusioned of the world that are looking for the hope of the Gospel. It is my hope to help educate and guide others about how to walk alongside and care for those that are abused, disillusioned, and confused in a way that restores unity, administers radical grace, and gives people a new chance at life. It is my hope to show that everything can be healed, resolved, and restored through Christ, and that spending time in scripture and prayer are the key. We can’t just talk about him, but we have to have relationship with him and community is vital in the healing and restoring process. I continue to recognize how broken and sinful I am, but I have come to understand exactly why Christ was sent to save us, and my need for his salvation. He truly does save us! I want to share that good news with the world.
For the past year I have tried to communicate my repentance to the pastor and elders of my past church and to find reconciliation. I understand the effect of disunity and brokenness and how damaging it is to the family of God, and I believe nothing would bring him greater glory in our situation than resolving things and forgiving. So working for resolution and reconciliation has been incredibly important to me. I believe that loving others and seeking to walk in unity with believers is at the heart of the Gospel, and I love those in my past church with a love that comes from my heart, a heart that has been changed because I have been loved and forgiven by Christ. So far, little if any progress has been made toward that. They continue to express they do not believe I am repentant, yet they have been unwilling to speak with others who have walked with me this year or provide information about what they feel I need to repent of or how to demonstrate repentance. The counselor I originally worked with at their request has stepped out of the situation due to their continued refusal to resolve the issues. As my new pastor feels I am repentant and in right relationship with God, there is a core disagreement with the leaders at my old church. Due to this, my current pastor does not feel it is in the best interest of our church for him to meet with these past leaders. He is helping me to understand that there are times in life where others will not forgive and reconcile, but the apostle Paul taught us we need to keep focused on the race we are running and not be held back by our past. Scripture also teaches us to pursue, to never let go, and to love unconditionally with an open door where the lost can always return. I would go to tremendous lengths to reconcile and restore these relationships, but I cannot put my life on hold waiting for it so I am moving on and pursuing after God’s call on my life with all my strength and faith.
I understand that I hurt this pastor and caused him a great deal of stress, and for that I am extremely sorry. I did the best I was able to at that time, and have offered to rectify things and have asked repeatedly for forgiveness and reconciliation, but so far, the leaders have chosen to feel offense and to not forgive. I believe these leaders did the best job they were able to do as they had never worked with someone who was experiencing PTSD and past spiritual abuse and disillusionment from that abuse. Few people have the compassion and empathy to walk that journey unless they have been trained and they have a very clear understanding of God’s call and mission to reach the lost, captive, and broken of the world. These leaders were not willing to receive help from others. I believe these leaders were not able to stand strong and persevere with me when it was most needed because they tried to love in their power instead of allowing the Lord to transform the situation. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:7), but unless that love flows from a heart that is renewed and changed by God we will burn out and not be able to endure. It also depends on how we view relationships, because if we hold a view that relationship is expendable, then we will be willing to let go and give up when times become difficult. Love is a choice, one that we need to stand firm with when things get difficult. The leaders were unable to find the faith to stand with me during this time and walk into the mess of my life with me or to invite others to share with me and support me. They prioritized the needs in that church for unity and peace, over loving me and entering into the “mess” which comes from walking closely with someone who is need. I do not fault the leaders for any of this, and realize that they did the best they were able to in these circumstances. I still feel such love, compassion, and grace for them. I continue to believe that the pastor’s intentions and heart were good, and I believe that Christ is fully able to reconcile and restore our relationship.
Others in the church were counseled to not communicate with me after I was disfellowshipped (something that occurred to others who were removed from the church also). I do not know what they were told but I am guessing it was stated that I was causing disunity. Since May 2009, the members of the church have refused to communicate and interact with me, even those who had called me friend and told me they loved me. Since the leaders were not able to walk with me, the church was taught to reject, abandon, turn their back, and disfellowship someone under the auspices of preserving unity. This is probably the hardest part for me to deal with because I feel my friends, my family have been misled, deceived to walk in sin, and taught untruthful and unGodly practices. Paul pleads with the Galatians to not turn from the Gospel they have been taught and my heart aches with this same plea toward everyone in that church, including the leaders. It has been incredibly difficult as I love these people, think of that church as my family, and would go to great lengths for them, especially for the pastor and his family. I am very concerned about how this disunity and not living by God’s standards affects our community and the awful witness it gives to others in the world.
It has been very painful to love others so much, have a heart that is seeking to live righteously and to repent/reconcile, but to be told that forgiveness is not available even though I have found such incredible love and forgiveness from God and restoration in other areas of my life. My heart and soul have changed so much that I am not able to hold anger, hurt, or offense toward those in my old church who have rejected me and hurt me so deeply. It still is my heart to walk in unity with these leaders and this church, not just in congenial agreement but in truly reconciled heartfelt and Gospel focused life together. It is my hope and prayer that one day they will reconcile and I will be able to stand with my friends and brother (the pastor) again in a restored relationship that brings God glory and testifies to his power and healing hand. Until then I will continue to live unashamed of the Gospel and proclaim to the world the impact God has had on my life and how I am changed because of all that God has done in my life.