An Open Letter to a Wounded Church Member

by Andy Wood on February 2, 2009

in Esteem, Five LV Laws, Life Currency, Love, Principle of Freedom

rejectionDear Daniel,

Thank you for taking the time to share your heart and concerns with me last week.  I respect your honesty, and am frustrated that you have experienced so many disappointments and hurts in your church relationships.  While I can relate to many of them, only you know how savagely this has impacted your life and the life of your family members.

I know it has to be a bit surreal to always feel as though, in your words, “you kept missing the memo” about what was expected beyond a simple faith in Christ.  And to be caught in between two conflicting women “leaders” had to have felt like a no-win situation.

I still don’t understand what the whole turf war stuff was all about.  But I do understand the tension between trying to show grace and love to someone in deliberate sin and yet not approving the lifestyle.  I guess until Jesus comes, we’ll still be arguing about that one.
Issues with pastors are especially sensitive to me, for obvious reasons.  How is it possible that the same guy who can so eloquently explain the love of God can be a complete control freak, manipulator, or immoral?  I don’t know, except to say that the gospel is always greater than the vehicles that carry it.

One night years ago, I led a couple to Christ in their home – about an hour before two church leaders lovingly confronted me about sin in my own life.  One thing I have learned is that unfortunately, pastors face the same temptations, idolatries, and failures as anybody else.  But the damage they can cause is exponentially greater.  Believe me, I know.

After being painfully reminded again that there really is no such thing as a perfect church, it encourages me to know that Jesus bought it, not me.  And your church’s problems are His to solve.  That’s not to excuse hypocrisy or politicking.  It’s just to say as best I can, you don’t have to fix every problem in your church in order to remain in it.  Nor do you have to run away in anger or pain.  He will have a spotless, virtuous Bride.

As I have thought often of our conversation, several things have come to mind that I wish you would think or pray about.  These are all very different – just thoughts worth pursuing.

Thought #1: Whatever problems your church may have, could you and/or Christie be a part of God’s solution?  You both have more wisdom and insight than you may be aware of.  Your people skills are excellent, and perhaps with a little polite assertiveness, you could be a major influence in restoring the church’s vision and potential.

Thought #2:  This may be the last thing you want to hear right now, but I wonder how much of what you’re feeling is due to the fact that you’re completely fried?  You sound like you’ve succumbed to “Mad Church Disease.”   You and Christie both have given and given and given.  Again, that doesn’t excuse the failures of church people.  But burnout does make it way more difficult to deal with those failures.  Maybe you just need to come up for air.

Thought #3:  Excuse me for sounding like a preacher, but I do hope and pray that if you leave your current church, you will avoid two traps:  dissing the church completely, or finding a church in which to be a wallflower.  It’s one thing to rest and heal.  It’s another to completely isolate yourself from other believers (and I don’t mean at Starbucks).  Consider the possibility that your happiest days in Church World were the days in which you were using your gifts.  If and when you make a church move, take your gifts and callings with you.

I’ve been on both sides of what you’re feeling right now.  I’ve been the one who was hurt, and the one who did the hurting.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ve hurt some people yourself.  In my case, all I have known to do when I was the disappointment is to say how terribly sorry I was for the pain I was responsible for.  My failures hurt people who didn’t deserve to be hurt, and that’s a responsibility I have had to live with.  All we can do from that point on is to leave the past to the mercy of God, trust the future to the faithfulness of God, and not accept failure as final.

I learned in failure that I have a choice.  I can be a Samson or a David.  A Judas or a Peter.  Samson failed, only to fail again.  Although he was used by God, his weakness destroyed him.  David failed, learned his lesson, and didn’t have his whole life interpreted by one event.

Judas failed, accepted failure as final, and quit.  (I believe God had a future for him, too!)  Peter failed, faced it, and was used by God to turn the world upside down.  In light of my own sins, I see my responsibility as a Christian – not just a pastor – to lead other people to face those same choices with their own failures.

Like you, I have experienced many personal disappointments of my own in church life.  Just like you, many people whom I loved and respected have literally crushed my heart.  Like you, I felt confusion, anger and hurt.  That said, I made a conscious choice to love those people, believe in them, and to do my best to be God’s instrument in healing and restoring them.  Daniel, if I didn’t believe there was a future for failures, I’d get out of the ministry.

Late one night, in the midst of all that pain I was feeling, I was having a deep, ministerial conversation with one of my staff members.  I said something to him that I still believe – in fact, I cling to it desperately at times.  “When you can know everything there is to know about a person and still love them and believe in them, THEN you are ready to be a minister.”

forgivenessI don’t ever want to be disappointed again.  But I will be.  And when I am, the Lord will once again present me with a choice:  am I going to love them like Jesus did, or will I love them like most Christians do?  I have learned that what most church people call “unconditional love” is really sentimental ignorance.  It’s not that we love all these people – we just don’t know enough about them to be disgusted.

It may seem odd to think about offering life-giving ministry to people who have so deeply hurt you.  But honestly, running away is the easy thing to do.  That doesn’t mean it’s the best thing.
I dare you, by the grace of the living God, to speak well of them.  To act kindly toward them.  To pray boldly for them.

Do that, and love will take care of itself.  Even love for an enemy.

What?  You thought I was just going to pat you on the head and let you wallow in victimhood?

I am praying for you, my friend.  I deeply care.  And I’m very sorry.  But if you give up now, the hypocrites will win.

Take time to heal.  But please don’t run away.  If you do, in the words of Liam Neeson,  “I have a very particular set of skills – skills that I have acquired over a very long career.”  And I will find you!

Your friend and brother,

Andy

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Down South December 29, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Dear Andy,
There are some out here without a church at this time who
never asked to be pushed out of their church, but it happened
anyway. In my own story which started many yrs. ago I was in
the Catholic church (I grew up as Catholic and my parents
took me every single week until I was old enough to be married);
once born-again, as a young woman, I started attending a
biblically based Assemblies of God church in my town. I was
not familiar with anything there, and it took a while to make friends.
In the beginning things went fine, and I loved the deeper worship
services and the fact that I was encouraged to read my bible for
myself.I was basically starting over. The two churches were as
different as night and day. In the Cath. religion, I was told not to
read my bible for myself; it was up to the priest to read it to me
on Sundays. In the new church, after about 5 or 6 years the pastor
started coming against me and I’m not sure why. He abused me
emotionally and verbally, both public and in private when no one
was around. This went on for about 20 years. He would mutter
insults when he knew I could hear, but do it so no one else would
notice. A couple of other people did notice, though, and confirmed
what I suspected. After two decades of that nonsense, I met with
him a final two times in his office to see if maybe we could reconcile
and get things straight. He said he had nothing against me and
pretty much that I was imagining it. I knew I wasn’t but I took him
at his word and stayed in the church. After the last meeting, he again
insulted me in front of the entire church, this time from the pulpit.
He didn’t speak my name but everyone knew who he meant. After
prayer I decided to leave. God said “wipe the dust off your feet and go”.
It’s bad enough when the other members form cliques or treat you
like an outcast, but worse when the pastor does. I left and went to
another local church in my town.
I made the mistake of telling someone I knew from the first church
where I was going. The next week the pastor of the 2nd church came
against me in a Sunday morning service from the pulpit. He even
pointed directly at me. I asked to speak with him but he wouldn’t even
give me the time of day. He said he didn’t have time to meet. I think
someone from the first church got to him and convinced him I
was a rebel or a troublemaker or something and instead of asking me
about it, he chose to automatically believe it. Several people witnessed
it and yet no one came to my defense. It’s as if pastors can do or say
anything and no one will speak up and say it’s wrong. Many are being
driven out and often it’s the sincere believers who only wanted to serve
God in the first place. I say this respectively, but maybe it’s the
leaders who are the ones making excuses now. Maybe they’ve sown
the bad seeds and are reaping a harvest. Just something to think about.
I can’t imagine a person being in a healthy church with a healthy
pastor even wanting to leave that kind of church. Of course, no church
is perfect and neither is there a perfect pastor. Church people are also
not perfect, but this behavior has to stop with someone. If no one
says it’s wrong, and it needs to be stopped, no wonder it’s taken on
a life of it’s own. God has something to say about those that put a
stumbling block in front of those who believe on Him.
Signed,
One of the Wounded

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