First of all, I wanted to acknowledge that I have been quite distant the past 3 years. It’s taken me this long to get healthy enough to write anything publicly. Why, you may ask?
Now, let’s be clear, I haven’t been blotchy, snotty red faced sobbing for 3 years. But I have seen some of my darkest days that I thought would never end. There are still traces of the past season I believe will mark me forever. And in this moment, I turn my attention to you.
Last weekend, an announcement was made at a local mega church that blindsided a congregation. These people that had been faithfully attending since its inception 30 years ago. What started with an announcement which felt more like a eulogy as the elders on stage announced the retirement of the founding pastor ended with statements as great things in our future still lay ahead. Shock, disbelief, anger and confusion do not even scratch the surface. The well intentioned passage spoke just minutes after the bomb dropped on the congregation was on the Great Shepherd in Psalm 23 and “lets just look to our Shepherd now!” while the majority of people sat unhearing, untouched, in disbelief. Sheep are dumb, but they ain’t stupid. Classic bait and switch. Like visiting an emergency room, they sat numb and motionless with their gaping wounds and dazed expressions.
It’s like telling a child their parents have died…. but don’t worry, we got you new parents!
Although the transition was in discussion with leadership for a number of years, this upended the church because they were not privy to these convos and so has caused incredible division. The comments which started on the Facebook post were pretty mild at first and have grown to be more vitriolic by the hour with “let’s start a demonstration!” or the bold assumption it’s an elder takeover/ church coup, that they (the elders) are of the devil, or suggesting that this founding pastor who is pushing 80 years old should start a church elsewhere. The bewilderment mixed with vicious attacks has added fuel to the acidic fire and the crowd unfortunately has grown wild with over 1000 comments from all over the country in less than 48 hours. It’s a collective knee jerk reaction to something so disorienting- the people just want answers; they want to hear about the retirement of this pastor from his own mouth. With plenty of room for imagination, the narrative is this was a powerplay, a force out.
If truth was clearly told upfront as people are bleeding out their heartache, there would be tears, sadness, but more understanding and peace. Because there are more questions than answers, many are left feeling angry, without a voice and without their shepherd. The rug has been swept out, from the surface it doesn’t seem fair, or even decent human behavior, especially in the church.
And as hard as this is to say, there are two different sides of the story. Brace yourselves.
For those on the receiving end of this news, the wave of grief and disbelief is more than one can bear. The questions coming in are more abundant than one can sort out alone. One cannot get the deep comfort online that’s so desperately need in a time like this. And when the world already feels unsettling, a church that has projected stability all these years is comforting. Now the veil has been pulled back and what’s been seen cannot go unseen. The positive remarks from those in leadership or on staff regarding this decision seem to overlook the grief of those now receiving the news. What gives? The feeling of being lost or disillusioned is this deep dark cloud looming ahead, and no one can escape this storm. Have we been blind to something? Is there more to the story?
This church in particular has struggled in the past with being honest and transparent with transitions.. So this new reality is shocking, and disorienting. I feel for you. You loved your pastor, have followed him all these years and have seen him through many seasons. There is a deep connection and gratitude people have with a person who has shared the gospel with them, transforming their minds, their lives and families. This cannot be overlooked. I am one in that number.
For those who have been on the inside, this comes as a relief, an answer to prayer. It’s like someone finally did something.
The only thing I can truly say that brings comfort to those in grief is a verse that the Lord clearly showed me as I was in the season of blotchy red faced, can’t-get-off-the-floor tears- In His gentle kindness he brought me to Jeremiah 6:14. It came the morning the church finally made the announcement about my husband’s departure, two plus months after we’d left. There was a picture posted of him spliced in with next upcoming worship leader with the caption: “The best is yet to come!”
We were devastated.
We felt forgotten, swept under a rug. Bewildered. Silence from those we’d been in ministry with for over a decade. Didn’t get to say goodbye, share our story. Left those we worked with closely confused, hurt and some even angry. The conflicting turmoil we felt was on another level. Yet no one knew the category 5 devastation we were experiencing on the inside.
Silence. Broken to the core.
The Lord must’ve known that day among many, many others was going to hit us like a high speed train going southbound to nowhere but He wanted us to know that we were seen by Him. And it was not ok. The specific verse He gave is sobering, calling out God’s people who have been ordained as leaders over His people that had grossly mishandled them. This was offensive to God and He was going to bring a severe judgement. (*I highly encourage you to dive deep in the book of Jeremiah)
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
I’m sorry. I really am. It’s not supposed to be this way. Your wounds need tending to on a deep level, don’t sweep this under the rug. Lamenting is a Biblical concept and although we in America enjoy an “overcomer” narrative to skip over the hard parts, so much of the psalms are dedicated to seasons of mourning. Time and space are needed for grief or disillusionment to be fully processed, wisdom to be cultivated within the questions unanswered. Reach out to a friend, a counselor. Bring your heartache to the Lord. You have a Shepherd who is near to the brokenhearted and can lead you well especially in the darkest valley. You are not alone.
Now we take a look at a different perspective from those within the walls of this particular church. This is the room of the fortified castle you may have thought existed but you were never allowed in. It was safe to not know, might I add comforting, knowing the servant were catering food, and the king was giving orders, everything humming along like a well oiled machine.
To those on the inside, I see you, you’ve suffered. So the news of this may even come as a major relief, God has finally answered the prayers you’ve been begging Him for years.
Are you fearful when you go to work? Can you be authentically yourself and are your gifts and ideas welcomed within this church? Can you say what you feel without being fired or gaslighted? Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the case. Many on staff have been limping on eggshells for years, trained by the culture within to do nothing and say nothing. There’s a real fear of losing a job if they speak out against “God’s anointed”. Red tape everywhere.
Was this a power play? Yes, it actually was. The redemptive part is that the elders (who loved this man dearly and walked with him for decades) finally did something about it. What goes on behind the scenes has not been ok for a number of years and only recently have these men been aware. It’s been toxic, unhealthy and may I be so bold to say spiritually abusive. There has been very little direct confrontation of the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, if you remove one person, that are still quite a few people that have let this continue, unchecked for years. Like clockwork in an abusive family, one person strikes the hammer and the rest scurry around enabling the behavior. Now the congregation is fully aware that something isn’t ok but can’t quite put their finger on it. When you tell the people “everything is fine”, yet not even address their brokenness, nor the health of those on staff, it’s unbearable.
What happens when a pastor refuses to heed the elders? Upon this exodus, the great and powerful Oz may have positioned himself as the victim and unfortunately, taken the community down with him.
Now who is to blame?
In the fascinating podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, following the story of against-the-grain Mark Driscoll and his explosive megachurch in Seattle that came to a sudden collapse, the question goes back to: Who killed Mars Hill?
We all did.
Maybe WE ALL have been a part of the problem, played a role in a man’s demise, never questioning his decisions, unbridled authority or isolation, left following the spirit of God to set up our own safe and comfortable kingdoms. We’ve succumbed to image management, bowing the knee to formulaic Christianity and didn’t even know it.
What do we do now?
Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Repent, therefore, so that times of refreshing may come. Direct people towards Christ not application theology. How many times do we teach a formulas within church walls, only for it to fail? Do they then walk from Christ and say He has failed?! If we’re teaching on Acts, are we not living it out? Tear the whole thing down, right down to the studs, only then will there be a chance to rebuild anew, by His unmerited and exceedingly undeserved grace alone. Is there any other way that would touch the heart of God quite like repentance? Judgement begins with the house of God, right? It’s up to Him to have mercy. Let’s not turn a blind eye to reality. What if chaos was created so that there could be order?
Restore me, and I will return,
For You are the Lord my God
Surely, after my turning, I repented.
Quick caveat, there are real pastors who have been truly shepherding their people within this church, I wholeheartedly believe that. Pockets of solid, truly gifted, compassionate pastors that have been crying out, authentically broken over the years over the disfunction, over the bodies left in the wake of destruction, but have continued on being faithful with what’s been entrusted to them. God bless them, truly, truly. They remain because they have hope for the God’s people and He hasn’t forgotten them.
With that, we take a moment to acknowledge the REAL work that has been done within the church and more importantly, the soul of the believer. What’s eternal matters. His word doesn’t return void, ever. God chose to use an imperfect man to share His message of redemption and therefore changing the trajectory of a person’s life. Doesn’t His grace go farther than our own imaginations?! Could we throw really the baby out with the bathwater? I think not. May God use each of us, as imperfect as we are, to share His kindness and redemption with others.
Although we are no longer present, we still feel deeply for those we love and can empathize with those walking the dark road of disillusionment. My husband was a pastor on staff there for a number of years. The shepherds heart he has for the spiritual health of these people scattered is overwhelming. The show cannot just go on. These are real people, with real issues that must be addressed. If you want to have a healthy church, talk about the things that matter. Our culture is shifting so quickly- racism, gender issues, abortion, politics, segregation of the vaccinated/unvaccinated, the church could be the safest place on the planet with REAL answers: one’s identity in Christ, the REAL GOSPEL- to be outspoken in preparing the parent to be the pastor at home, for a pandemic or persecution. Biblically speaking, what does transparency and role of repentance look like moving forward?
This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls…
For those of you who left the church last week or years ago, hurt, confused, angry… I see you and more than that, He sees you.
For those whose faith, marriages, jobs have been shipwrecked over wounds inflicted by this church, He sees you and hasn’t forgotten you nor any of the things that have transpired between then and where you may find yourself now.
Yes I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt…
Those who are staff at the church now, feeling battered yet relieved, He sees you. A new day has come! Your faith is precious in His sight.
For I have satiated the weary soul,
and I have replenished every sorrowful soul.
For those who celebrating now that the guard has been changed, let me gentle caution you: don’t forget His people for your personal gain. Sure, branches may be pruned but does God not leave the ninety-nine to go after the one? Who is that one person now? What does real care look like to a hurting body? Again I ask the question, what does transparency and the role of repentance look like moving forward? Listen carefully to His leading, these are His people.
But this is what I commanded them, saying,
‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people.
And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’
He still and always has been El Roi, the God who sees. When the time is right, may He fill you with His unshakable hope and lift your head as He is beginning to lift mine.
Gripped by His Grace,