Leadership in Today’s Church

(started in 2013 but didn’t publish until today 2017)

When you come to the webpage to write a blog, you automatically go to the first line…the “Title” line…and I have no idea how to even begin to write this, much less what I title it.  It is much bigger than I can wrap my mind around because it comes from a love of God’s people, the Church, which has taken years to progressively grow, love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, including family, from many different theological backgrounds and positions.  As I try to wrap my mind around around what I want to say, I don’t even know where to begin, nor where I’m trying to end up with this.  This is coming from the writing of my presentation for my internship here at Mars Hill Church, from a material we use called “Porterbrook.”  The presentation I was giving was on the section entitled “Understanding Leadership.”

Normally whenever I’ve read that statement or even anything with the term “Leadership” attached to Christian ministry I’ve automatically judged and disregarded reading anything further.  However, this time I was forced to read further, because I have to write a one page synopsis on this topic for the unit.  To let you in on my mental process into why I didn’t like the term “Christian Leadership”…I basically interpreted any teaching on leadership as a “Used Car Salesman Approach to Church Leadership.”  I saw any leadership resources as ways to teach “pastors” how to control, dominate, influence, manipulate, and coerce people in the church to do what you say and rally the congregation around you and your ideas, no matter how biblical or not they were, and not on biblical characteristics or the leadership of Jesus by the power of the Spirit.  While this may have some ground for truth in some resources, it was not necessarily generally true.  There are many pastors who strive to faithfully lead and love those who have been entrusted to their care.

“Leadership” – so what does this word mean?  What is it?  What does it look like?  First we have to remove ourselves from the view that this is talking about telling other people what to do and extract manipulation from its definition.

To try to bring some clarity to my next section, I also want to be clear about a few things that I don’t mean.  I do not associate Evangelicalism to patriotism (nationalism) – I do not believe that America is a Christian nation, nor has any favor of God as a country, so when I speak of the Church, I do not mean this patriotic “God Bless America” religion, who’s god is the Republican elephant or even trying to advance one nation.  I also do not mean Fundamantalism – a flight from cultural involvement and transformation and operating out of a sense of a “moral majority” mentality who desires to force Christian moralism upon the pervading  culture.

Democracy is one of the biggest nemeses to the leader is the innate Western issue concerning leadership, especially leadership in the church.  In this form of thinking, “my” opinion is just as valid as any other voice.  I was having a conversation with a gentleman the other day as we threw out the statement “I wonder if Facebook is the greatest demonic creation of our generation.”  As sinfully oppressed beings, we instinctively desire autonomy from any leading/ruling body or person.  Especially in this generation, we as individuals, do not want to be ruled over or led.  We want to do what we want to do, for others to accept us the way we are no matter what we do or say, because we are expressing our individualism, and we, in our own heads, are always right – or at least we’d like to think of ourselves.  The self is about the self, as the self is itself consumed with itself. The problem with democracy in society is not just that it is filled with broken sinners in need of grace, but rather that the democracy ideology itself permeates every area of our western culture.  Majority defines “right” and “wrong.”  There are many implications within the rising generations and how our “me” ideology has infected and will, for the next decade or longer, become the leading force of problems as a society politically, religiously, and economically.  This comes into play specifically as we teach the coming generations about leadership and those in authority.

We live in rebellion against “the man” as a culturally accepted norm.  Anything that is seen as corporate, big, ruled over by a leader is evil.  Movies and music have been made to depict any and all leadership as malicious as comparable to totalitarian warlords.

When I would envision someone in “Leadership” I saw them as this “used car salesman” types who had pizzazz, charisma, flair, eloquence, a chiseled jaw line, fine dressed, perfect teeth (like a worship leader I saw recently) whose intention was to manipulate me and pull the wool over my eyes.  But leadership is not about our ability to coerce others to do what we want them to do, believe what we tell them believe, convince them to “buy into our vision,” or even rally around us as a leader.  Leadership, good leadership, is about character and competence.  Leadership, namely Christian Leadership, is ultimately and always about leading people to the knowledge and worship of God.

How do we observe this is the scripture?  Look at each figure who God used as a leader in the story of God.

  • Abraham – fathered a people for God’s own purposes
  • Joseph – was key in God’s preservation of His people
  • Moses – deliverance and establishment of the covenant with God’s people
  • Joshua – led God’s people into the promised land
  • David – represented God’s good rule over His people
  • Nehemiah – Gave hope to God’s people
  • Jesus – Accomplished final deliverance and salvation for His people by placing His Spirit into His people
  • Paul – God used him to lead to the flourishing of God’s new covenant people
  • John – Showed Christ’s’ Church the final hope of God’s Glory and the rule and reign of Christ

These are just small attributions of each of these leaders and is not an exhaustive list, but seeing them in the frame of mind of being powerfully used by God as “Leaders” of His people throughout history.

We need to take our cues on leadership from Christ, His written Word, and His Holy Spirit within us; not from the business world.

Why is the church “dying”?

It’s simple . . . it’s not.

The Church, the bride of Christ, is not dying, nor can she.

There are many dead and dying “church organizations” in the world, but THE CHURCH, is indestructible, eternal, under the sovereign hand and protection of Christ, and will endure.

How easy is it to “plant” a church organization?

Things you need to exist as an organization:

  • 501 (c) 3 status
  • Pastor (CEO)
  • Secretary Treasurer/Clerk (CFO/COO)
  • Worship Service
  • Bank account
  • Givers to fill the bank account
  • Building that is built/purchased in the name of the organization
  • Board of Directors/Leadership/Elders/Deacons
  • Marketing/Missions/Multiplication
    • Website
    • Facebook
    • Flyers
    • Focus on evangelism
    • Door to door surveys
    • Other various “missions” programs
  • Small Group Bible Studies / Sunday School

Things you need to exist as the Church:

  • The Holy Spirit

This may seem overly critical and simplified, after all planting a church organization takes a lot of long hard work.  But the question is; should it?  Think about it, if the Church is a work of God, should it take effort on our part?  Yes.  Should it kill us?  No.  Could it cause us to be killed by unbelievers around us?  Maybe.  What is the work?  Proclaiming the gospel of life and watching the LORD save and bring spiritually dead people to life.  Being rejected and seeing many more spiritually dead people remain spiritually dead.  But as we see people come to faith in Christ, as we see people grasp the grace of Christ, we will see the Church grow.

How does it grow if there’s no 501(c)3 church organization with a building and structure?  Let’s look at scripture.  Where did they meet?  There are FAR too many scriptures to quote (and even if I tried, I would be guilty of proof-texting) that speak to this, so read the New Testament . . . yes all of it.  If you want a really great historical/chronological read view of the New Testament Early Church as who she truly was, check out the book that leads you through a beautiful view of the history and life of the New Testament Church in The Untold Story of the New Testament.  What follows is my interpretation of scripture and Church history based on biblical, historical, scholarship, and archeological studies.

The Church, the group of people who were given salvation through the indwelling Holy Spirit, began meeting house to house and also met together in large groups in the temple courts (specifically Solomon’s portico) to listen to the teaching of the apostles (the “sent ones”) until they were banned from all Jewish gathering places such as synagogues and the temple itself (which Jesus said would happen).  The majority of Church gatherings/meetings met in homes as the foundation of their time together.

Around the middle-latter part of the 3rd century there were some people who expanded their homes to build enlarged living/dining/meeting room spaces for larger groups of people (see dura europos).  Church buildings didn’t arise until the rise of Catholicism in the 4th century with Emperor Constantine.  *For more on this see Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity.  The majority of the Church met in homes in groups of about 20-30, or depending on how many people they could comfortably fit in each home.  They didn’t call themselves a “small group” of a larger “church organization;” they simply called themselves “the Church that is in ______________ ,” a community that manifests the presence of Jesus Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit in a specific geographical location, and every home that had a group meeting in their home called themselves a part of “the Church.”

They met together, but didn’t just meet with one another; they believed they were meeting/gathering with, manifesting, and experiencing the very presence of the living Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that dwelled within each of them.  They would hear from Jesus because they didn’t believe they were a bunch of individuals who gathered to read the Bible and discuss “what this passage means to me,” but would read scripture and ask, what is Jesus speaking, or let us express this to Jesus who is present with us.

This isn’t reserved only for the early Church, but occurs even still today!  In Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church we see things that happened scripture occurring today in many home Church gatherings that have stepped out in faith to live the scripture, live how the early Church lived, and not only that, but to believe like the early Church believed.  They believed they were saved by grace through faith, not bound by the law, nor licensed to sin, but freed from both the law and sin and made alive through grace.  They believed they were indwelled with the very presence of the Almighty LORD God and ruler, creator, and sustainer of this world and of the universe.  They believed they were holy and that whenever and wherever they met/gathered became a holy place because it was being filled with God’s holy people, the Church.  They did NOT believe that the Church was a building, an organization, a pastor, or even just a group of people who met for a meal, an event, a “service,” or a group therapy (as many believe today).  They believed that wherever God’s people met, who were indwelled with the Holy Spirit in order to manifest and experience the presence of Christ together, that was the Church.

So what about our dead and declining churches today?

We’re seeing dying and declining church organizations.  Why?  Because many are simply long existing social clubs that have used the Bible to preach morality, works, and “salvation” in an effort to continue existing.  They seek after new marketing strategies, adding young people to the mix to continue bringing in people, money, and time.

I’m reminded of the movie In Time.  In this movie, society has figured out a way to genetically modify people in order for their bodies to stop aging at 25, and then they buy, earn, give, barter, or steal time to continue living until they are killed or the meter on their arm runs out of time and they die.  Their time literally “runs out.”

The mindset is that we have to continue working to feed the church organization new people, new givers, new attendees, new “customers,” and new “investors” in order to buy more time for our church organizations to continue to exist.

What would the Church be like if it didn’t NEED an offering to exist?  What would that Church be doing, what would that Church be believing about themselves, how would that Church use financial gifts, goods, and services so that no one in the Church had a need and they could bless their unbelieving neighbors who had a need so that they could bring the kingdom near and bring others into the kingdom?

The Perceived Problem . . .

There is a mass exodus of people leaving church organizations specifically here in America.  Christian leaders are writing books entitled Autopsy of a Deceased Church or Growing Young among many others to try out different marketing strategies to “reengage” with culture, to “get church attendance up,” to stop the decline, and to regain church prominence in American society who is “kicking God out of schools and government.”  There has been the constant presence of “God” through “Christendom” (Christianity in social, political, economic, and cultural prominence) in America, with its peak in the 1950’s.  Since then, we have seen a massive decline over the years of both the amount of attendees, acceptance, prominence, and desire for involvement in church and by church in American society in all forms.

As I’ve said many times and will continue to say, I see this trend and I am grateful.  Many have written about the “rise of the nones” – meaning, there is a great rise in people who check the religion box “none” on survey’s.  This doesn’t mean that people are ceasing to be Christians, it simply means that people are ceasing to pretend to be Christians and are being honest.

The gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the LORD Jesus Christ is foolishness and offensive to those who are perishing (nonbelievers/outsiders).  Many churches don’t preach the gospel of grace because they want attendance to stay up in order to continue to exist.  Grace doesn’t sell.  Works sells.  Self-Help sells.  Church organizations with flashing lights, free food, and fun/cool market strategies to bring in the crowds sells.

Would your spiritual life in the Church be enough without a church name, without 501(c)3 status, with no offering, no church building, no administrative offices, no worship service, no Facebook, no website, and no bank account?  If Jesus and His presence aren’t enough, maybe you need to rethink what you were saved into or whether you know Jesus at all.

 


 

Do you sit there in your church building before, during, or after the service and wonder if this is it, if this the entirety of what Jesus came to build?  Do you sit there and wonder, “Is this it?  There must be more!”  I believe Martin Luther’s work is far from over.  What he began was LONG overdue, but he being a part of that which distorted Christianity to begin with in the 4th century, the Catholic church, he was only able to stomach so much change.  I believe there is currently and coming a “neo-reformation” or “continued reformation” that is bringing the heart of His Church closer to what she was intended to be and do and believe and experience.

The Church and the continued reformation cannot be “simplified” to one blog nor to one person.  As this is a much longer, larger, and convoluted discussion.  To start somewhere, check out my teaching series through Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity, Andrew Farley’s book The Naked GospelLarry Crabb’s books Understanding Who You Are, Connecting, and SoulTalk.  This is just to get started.

Be a part of what Christ is doing in the life of His Church, His Bride, His Body, His People, and see what grasping the power of the gospel of grace through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Better Together

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*Note: this blog post best read while listening to Mannheim Steamrollers “Earthrise” and “Return to Earth” from their “Yellowstone” album. 🙂 

In the movie “Wild” (if you have not seen this movie and still desire to, you may way to skip down a few paragraphs, so I don’t ruin it for you) there is a woman who has struggled with many trials in her life.  She grew up with an abusive father whom her mother fled from with her kids (her and her brother).  Several years later her mother died of cancer when she was only in her early 40’s.  This great loss spun her into a web of heroine addiction, numerous adulterous sexual escapades, and ultimately the loss of her marriage when her husband filed for divorce.  The result of this…?  She decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail 2,650 miles through the deserts, mountains, and forests of California, Oregon, and Washington…alone.  She was left alone with her thoughts and many expletives as she trudged the rugged terrain, averting her inner voice telling her to give up, surviving falls, fleeing perverted men, suffering bodily injury, and coming near dehydration.  It is a great story of “one woman facing all odds and coming out a stronger person on the other end” as she crossed the Bridge of the Gods on the Washington/Canadian border in this feat of heroic feminine victory.

However, one thing kept running through my mind…the most meaningful part of this story was not her facing all odds and coming out the other end a stronger person…but the most tangible and inspiring moments during her journey were the interactions she had with people along the way.  At the beginning of her journey, she was inspired to not give up because she met and a man and his wife who inspired her to keep going.  Her toenails were falling off and her energy was being stripped away because she carried a bunch of meaningless and worthless accessories with her, her shoes were way too small, and a man she met who served the hikers on the PCT during the summer season helped her lighten her load by showing her the things she actually needed and the things she didn’t. She talked with many people along the way, and finally she met a small boy and his grandmother along the route who sang her a song his mother wrote about the heartache she was feeling from her deep sense of loss.  They left and she dropped to her knees in tears.  During this part of the movie you could sense the raw emotion of healing that was taking place in her heart.

As I watched this movie, one thing became glaringly evident – the most impactful and meaningful moments of her journey were not the myriad of hours she spent in her own head alone with her thoughts and emotions (maybe because it’s almost impossible to effectively communicate that through film), they were in the encounters with other people – humans who also faced great difficulty; humans who were walking alongside her on the journey of life; humans who were growing, learning, changing, struggling, celebrating, wrestling, and walking out this thing called “the human experience.”

The most poignant concept to me about her journey was that she realized what it truly means to be human – we are better together.

As a fire dies by separating the logs and sticks from one another, so does the human heart die when separated and compartmentalized from others.

There was a study done in 2006 on the homeless populations of America and in Calcutta.  The population of homeless in America were mostly ostracized, untrusting of one another, alone…but the population in Calcutta were bonded into communities on the outskirts of the city.  They lived in Homeless cities, shared their lives with each other, shared their food, shared their shelters.  They were recorded as having a rate of happiness and satisfaction three times higher than their American counterparts.

I lived in Seattle in 2013-2014 and got to experience this same phenomenon – homeless communities that shared everything from their lives, to their food, to their shelter.  These communities, even though moving several times, are still thriving and are the center for many ministries that partner with them.

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There is something beautiful and honorable about climbing to the top of a mountain by yourself and sitting at the top and gazing upon the beauty below – however, add a group of friends and family sharing in the awe and wonder of the moment and you have a deeper more impactful mountain top experience.  Sharing life with others is the precipice of the human experience.

Let me be clear – I’m not saying you have to be around people all the time.  Introverts need their time away from people to energize themselves and – I would argue from experience – extroverts, no matter how much they enjoy being around and being energized by people, still need time to themselves.

What are some good reasons why we need one another?

  1. Joy – from my experience people laugh and have more fun with others. When people share life together, there is a camaraderie and connection among them that can become inseparable.  They say we are more likely to keep photos, no matter where it’s from or of what it is taken, if there are people in the photo.  Take a picture in St Peter’s Square, at the Pantheon, or in Yellowstone and you may or may not keep it or even look at it again.  However, take a picture of you and your friends at the top of Half Dome or in the Roman Colosseum and you will be more likely to save it, share it, enjoy it, and show your grandkids in 50 years.
  2. Grief – in my experience in the Church, the best environment to grieve the loss of a loved one, the loss of job, or other occasions of grief, if the person who has a community of friends and family around them and spend time with them walking through grief together tend to grieve more effectively and positively – unlike the woman in “Wild” whose grief led to her a lifestyle of slavery to vices and addictions.  The more one in mourning isolates themselves, be it because they are embarrassed, they don’t want to bother other people with their “problems,” they don’t think others will understand, they are untrusting, they “just don’t want to be around anyone right now”, or they “just need space” the more they will feel isolated, ostracized, lonely, and depressed.  Living in our own head when we are grieving is the worth way to grieve.  While alone time is important, we can get consumed by our own thoughts, temptations, and seduced by any number of coping mechanisms and destructive vices.
  3. Memories –  Genuine memories are made when people walk away from experiences with others…on the ride home we feel joy, satisfaction, and sense “I am loved” “I am not alone” “I have value” “I have purpose.”  Again – what picture will we remember?
  4. Hope – In Church ministry there is a phrase we use for comforting those in great tragedy and mourning – especially in those early moments, for instance, sitting in the hospital with a family who has just disconnected the life-support of their son – this phrase is the “ministry of presence.”  Simply being physically and emotionally present is comforting to the brokenhearted.  That is the power of human relationship if nothing else.
  5. Help – Community and relationships help give a pool of knowledge and support, from changing your oil, to filing our taxes, home repairs, dealing with relationship or parenting issues, life struggles, and other life skills.  When someone has a positive and strong community around them they are more prone to avoid lifestyle vices like drugs (both legal/prescriptions and illegal/illicit), becoming an alcoholic, or suffering alone with disorders such as depression, bipolar, and anxiety.  Studies have also shown that parents (especially single parents) who do not have a strong community of friends and family around them when raising their children are more likely to abuse their kids (ranging from physically, sexually, emotionally, verbally).  As they say “It takes a village to raise a child” and today’s research is discovering why.  We help one another with the daily things in life.  How do I know this…? How many questions do you ask Siri on a daily basis that could ask a friend?  It’s even called a “Lifeline” on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”.  We are each other’s lifeline for knowledge, wisdom, comfort, and help.

Perhaps the reason there is so much unhappiness, depression, anxiety, boredom, and a sense of darkness over the lives of millions of people both here in America and worldwide, is that we have forgotten what it truly means to be human.  Many have lost their love and affinity for the outdoors, sitting in awe of the earth and sitting in wonder, feeling small, and taking in it’s beauty, and doing so with friends.

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Humans are hardwired for community; to share our very existence with one another.  We have romanticized this “one man/woman show” where we beat all odds and accomplish great things at all costs.  The problem is, is that most often the cost is friendships and community.  What if we started evaluating our lives, not by the amount of dollars to our name or possessions we have, but by the quality of our relationships?  What if the things that were most important to us became people.  In our society we have made people a commodity and things the object of our affection.  Many use relationships as a means to an end to accomplish financial and positional goals, in order to buy things, comforts, and independence.  They get to the top and find it’s a very lonely place.  What if we loved people and used things, rather than using people and loving things?

What if we grasped what it truly meant to be human?  What if we didn’t rise to the top at the cost of relationships, but because of relationships?

Be the change you wish to see in your culture.  This may seem a foreign concept to many…show them the way, press on towards joy!  We are better together!

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8 Responses When Your Church Leaders Fail You

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While I know there are many other stories than mine (which I have written here), and yours may be much different than mine and I know for many of you the stories may be more difficult and painful.  I thought it helpful to consider these 8 responses to what to do when church leaders fail you:

 

1. Don’t demand something from the person who hurt you

We often think that someone who has hurt us OWES us something. They owe us an apology, a severance, a reinstatement of us back into our position, or a public confession of how they hurt us (even if it was a mistake and not a sin).  This is not a reflection of Jesus who took upon Himself God’s penalty for our sins and mistakes.  To portray Christ, we need to first see how He lived, that He desired above all things – repentance.  Repentance is something that involves them and God first and foremost, as David said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4), even though he impregnated Bathsheba and murdered Uriah.  Others were implicated in his sin, but He sinned first and most damnably against God.  But remember, we also sin against people through rebellion and make mistakes through our own folly, so we need to seek repentance before God and experience His forgiveness and then if people are implicated in our sin,  seek their forgiveness and restoration in our relationship with them because Jesus desires unity in His Church and most importantly, for us to “Love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34-35).  As Paul says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  We forgive, not because they have done anything to merit our forgiveness or to deserve our love, but because we put on the character of Christ as a new creation with new desires, with supernatural abilities to be exude kindness, humility, patience, and have compassion for people so as to be able to forgive people with the same veracity that God in Christ has forgiven us.  And so our indignation is calmed and our vindication is made complete because of what Christ did for both my sin and their sin on the cross.

 

2. Don’t demand your own penalty upon that person

We can often feel vindicated by asking for them to step down from their position or even a public announcement of their sin and shame both maybe in public media fashion (as is the trend today with big digital “Christian” news and gossip blogs).  As Paul states, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).  As this is used in many wedding ceremonies for a husband and a wife, yet was actually intended as an admonition to the church in Corinth, imagine a healthy, loving, Godly marriage.  They work through their problems because they are covenanted together, they love one another, and work for the good and unity of their marriage.  So we are to fight for unity and oneness in the church because we are covenanted together as the body of Christ.  I don’t seek the public humiliation of my fiancé, nor will I demand a public shaming of her when we are married, so why do we seek this form of humiliation upon those who love and serve us in leadership?

 

3. Receive grace

The gospel is that Jesus came to those who would murder Him to bring restoration between mankind and God.  He laid Himself down, He humbled Himself, He sought the good of people, and to fulfill the will of the Father.  He lived the perfect lives we could not live and died the death we deserved, so that He could bestow His righteousness upon us for our imperfect lives, and become the substitute dying in our place, bearing our sins in His death, so that we would then be resurrected with Him and He was raised from the dead. Those who believe in His name are empowered with the same Spirit of grace.  When we sin or make a mistake, we don’t have to have fear to hide it, to be shamed by it, or to live in fear because of it.  The ultimate wrath for our sin and shame was placed upon Jesus and we don’t bear that anymore.  We bear consequences for our sins and mistakes, but we must first know and experience the grace of Christ and then we are free to accept responsibility, apologize when we have wronged someone, and seek restoration because we know that God desires peace among His people.

 

4. Give the grace Jesus gave

In this way we experience the Kingdom.  Jesus came to inaugurate the coming of His kingdom.  The miracles Jesus performed were His kingdom bursting through into the world showing us that there will be no blindness, physical ailment, pain, sickness, or even death.  There will be plenty to nourish all, no worries about money, and we will have perfected relationships.  This is how the kingdom of God penetrates this world.  The church is the place and the people that God is using to do this in this world.  It’s supposed to be weird, because it’s different.  We turn the other cheek, give our tunic also, give to those who ask, not seek back what is stolen, and love when others hate us.  Why?  Because that’s the kingdom.  In God’s kingdom there will be no one who strikes us, who steals from us, who begs from us, or who hate us.  And this is how we portray what that kingdom looks like.  Give grace to the one who hurts you, who, by their folly or sin, have a harsh impact on you and your family.  The only way we can still seek vindication is if we have not first experienced the grace of Christ and let Him heal our hearts.

5. Don’t rally opposition or “recovery” relationships

When I was hurt, I would seek people who were also hurt by this church and its pastor, would have lunch with them, talk about our stories, and why they were the worse kind of people.  We would celebrate their folly and revel in their struggling.  I would feel justified and somewhat vindicated by doing this.  I would publicly shame them in class when we would be talking about church discipline and would use any opportunity I could to simply point arrows over their walls and join others in doing so, in the name of “Recovery.”  This isn’t how Christ desires for us to find healing and restoration.  I don’t know of any teaching in scripture that says, “if restoration doesn’t work, blast them publicly and force repentance out of them by openly shaming them before unbelievers.”

 

6. Seek wise counsel if considering moving on, and move on graciously if you do

Really seek wisdom as to why you are deciding to leave a church.  It is far too common in our day to leave a church and move on to another one, and often times for menial reasons.  There are many stories of churches splitting or people leaving churches because of differences of opinion over which side the piano should be, if Adam and Eve should have had navels in the mural they painted on the wall and other such nonsense.  There is much foolishness in the people.  We need to meet with, wrestle with, and be open to hear from those who are wiser than us, not going to someone who will tell us what we want to hear and justify us in our indignation, but someone who will speak the truth in love with us, to ask us questions to make us think, consider, and contemplate our decision and ask them to pray with and for us through making this decision.

 

7. Pray for the good of the person and the ministry you are leaving

It is very difficult to hate someone and desire their destruction when we are praying for God’s heart for that person because Jesus loves them, He created them in His image and likeness, their identity is not in the sin they committed against you, but is found solely in Christ Jesus.  When we pray for God’s bride, the Church, He makes it difficult for us to remain hateful and vindictive against His people because He loves His Church, imperfect as they are.  If the church is preaching the gospel and faithfully teaches the Bible, pray for the church and the pastors who have hurt you, pray for their good, that God would work in and through them, that He would work to soften and mold their hearts to become more like Christ, and for Him to be made much of in that church if they are struggling to teach what accords with sound doctrine.

 

8. Continue to love Jesus AND the Church, His bride

When we have been hurt by the people and the institution that represents LORD that we believe in and worship, it remains difficult to associate the continuation of worship after we have the situation. If things get to the point where you’ve sought reconciliation, consulted wise counsel, prayed fervently over the person, the church, and the situation, and you come to the conclusion that you need to move on, I would encourage you to get plugged into a church that loves Jesus and preaches and teaches the Bible as soon as you can.  Don’t dottle around, dating churches here and there, never landing anywhere, becoming one who has a “private faith” – this disconnects you from the body of Christ. This cultivates a heart of bitterness, strife, anger, and resentment making it all the more difficult to join another church body.  It is very important to understand this last point: You will never find a perfect church, that will serve you perfectly, love you perfectly, and that will make no mistakes or hurt anyone. We are an imperfect people serving a perfect Saviour and we need to lean into Him, trust Him, find our solace in Him, and He will give us rest for our weary souls and help us to love the Church, His bride.

Hurt By Church Leadership

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I was born and raised in the home of a career youth minister.  By that I mean, my dad has been in ministry since before I was born, since he was 18, and is still doing ministry today, over 40 years later. I have been in church all of my life.  I was baptized by my dad when I was 13, and I’ve seen the LORD do awesome things in the ministry with him that I have been able to be a part of.  Our family experienced such amazing blessings from being in ministry.  We have also experienced some of the greatest pain because of the church that we have ever experienced.  Some experiences have rocked my faith and my calling to ministry to the core.  I write my story as a way to help communicate what God has been doing in my own life and to help others who may have gone through what we experienced, are going through what I have experienced, or who have not yet but one day will go through what I have experienced.

 

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  It was Youth Specialties Conference 2004 in Anaheim, CA.  My dad and I went to the Captain Kidd’s across the street from Disneyland.  It had been an awesome conference thus far, and then my dad dropped the bomb on me, “I’m being forced out.” This night would start a chain reaction that would boil one of the greatest trials in my faith.  My dad was being forced out, and, to my knowledge, for no good reason!  The church had seen the greatest numbers it had seen since it had existed, teenagers were being saved, the ministry was thriving, families were joining so that they could be a part of the ministry under my dad.  Then I started to see how much politics had gone into much of the decision making process, opinions, unmet expectations, jealousy, frustration, disagreement, not from the pastor but from a small, but vocal, group of opposition.  It just seemed that the leadership crumbled under their opposition, but then it seemed they were going along with it, forcing him out because they took the side of the oppressors.  I had so many thoughts, “What’s wrong with our family?” “Why don’t they like us?” “How can they not like my dad for standing up for his leadership responsibility?”  It seemed to boil down to wise decisions that my dad had made that led to a rebellion by a few and there was no way of stopping it.

 

There was a much longer and, honestly, hazy downward spiral in my heart.  I became hateful of those who opposed my dad, had a “it serves them right” attitude when the numbers in the church plummeted, a refusal to even hear a sermon from the pastor because of my hatred and bitterness, while still desiring to play drums in the orchestra under my “California Grandpa” who was the music director.  I was so mad! I hated the Church, not just this one, ALL of them.  I opposed organized religion and everything these local churches stood for: pride, power, position, oppression, control, numbers, strict obedience and adherence to the opinions of those in leadership, and above all keeping everyone in the congregation happy by people pleasing, coercion, and manipulation.  I tried to run to another church, but the pastor there, thankfully, pointed me back to settle things with the pastor and to at least be at peace with them as I was leaving.  One night at a communion service, the pastor was saying that before we could take communion we needed to go and make relationships right if we knew that someone had a grudge against us or if even we were the one with the grudge, so that our act of communion with God will not be hindered.  Before I knew what was happening, my feet were taking me up to the altar where the pastor was standing, and I stood there weeping as I confessed being so angry and bitter against him, and asking his forgiveness, and he, weeping now too, forgave me and giving me a hug, I felt such a weight of bitterness and anger lifted off of my shoulders.

 

Now, I would love to say that that was the end of it, but it was really a struggle the next years ahead of me.  I had healed my relationship with him, but when I saw things from the church, posts on MySpace and Facebook in the coming years still brought bitterness, even all the way up to this morning, as I was spending time in the Word, which is what inspired me to write this.  God has done a massive, and I mean MASSIVE, work in my heart to bring me back to a place where I LOVE the church.  I love His bride.  She’s not perfect, she is unfaithful, she is vindictive, she is prideful, she is broken, but she has a good groom waiting for her, who is sanctifying her washing her with the water of the Word, who loves her more than I do, who desires good things for her, and is working through her in this world for His glory and our great joy.

 

As I was sitting here thinking about my current church and the “controversies” that are surrounding our leadership, I was brought back to the time when I was, myself, on the receiving end of what many of those who have left my church have experienced.  I look with so much grace upon my leadership because I love what the LORD is doing in our midst, how He is speaking greatly and soundly through our pastors, and trusting that they are saved by grace brothers who still struggle with imperfection and sinfulness and who have occasionally made unwise and rash decisions that hurt people and affected families for years.  One decision could cause years of spiritual torment, doubt, bitterness, and pain.  This puts the burden on us in ministry to seek hard after Christ.  Ministers have to be diligent in this area because there are so many who are “disenfranchised” with the church because of our folly.  We are growing by God’s grace, desiring that people see Jesus, sometimes despite us because of our faults.

 

In all of this, I have come to the conclusion that, while the church that fired my dad made a mistake, and one that directly impacted the life of my family, it was MY sin of bitterness, unbridled anger, and frustration, that led me to cynicism, unbelief, faithlessness, and heartlessness against God’s people. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that this church fed my pride, but then my idol failed me.  I have no one to blame for how I responded to the situation but myself.  How these last years of wrestling with this would have been so much more fruitful, if I had believed the gospel and its universal claim to be for all of God’s people, even those whose sins and mistakes have had a direct impact on me, Jesus loves them, they are His sons and daughters, as I am their brother.  Now I can say with my whole heart that I love and pray for the best and God’s blessings upon him and that church, as well as the church I’m currently serving and worshiping in.  I love the pastor and pray the LORD would bless him, work in him, and work powerfully through him during his ministry at the church. Where there was hatred and a hardened heart there is love for the Church and a tendering heart.

Why Have You Forsaken Me?!

When Jesus died on the cross, some of his last words were “My God, My God, Why Have you Forsaken Me?!”  This brings up some questions and difficulties.  

First – we see the connection Jesus was making on the cross to Psalm 22 (as you’ll see in my previous post).  By speaking these words Jesus was quoting a famous passage from the scriptures that the Jews had memorized, taught, and interpreted for hundreds of years.  But Him speaking them from the cross, with His flesh ripped to shreds, His hands and His feet pierced through with nails, and crowned with a mocker’s crown of thorns, Jesus was interpreting the scripture for them.  He was saying “LOOK AT ME, I AM THE FULFILLMENT!” 

From the cross, Jesus was saying, “Remember,” which was a common theme from the Law and Prophets, “Remember what was said!  It’s me!  I am living the moment you’ve been reading about and waiting for right in front of your eyes.  Don’t miss it!”  

Second – we observe that the Father did not forsake Jesus for the entirety of His time He was on the cross.  Quite the opposite, Jesus was the at the forefront of the Father’s attention because the Father was unleashing the entirety of His wrath upon Jesus at the cross.  His attention was fixed on the Son.  This was culminated was the final abandonment of Jesus by the Father as the ultimate wrath God could bestow on Him.  As R.C. Sproul has said, “…forsakenness was the penalty for sin that God established in the old covenant.  Therefore, Christ had to receive the full measure of that penalty on the cross.”  

The ultimate penalty for sin is the complete and utter separation from God, His grace, His presence, His affection, and His sovereignty.  At the cross, Jesus experienced the full extent of the Father’s effective wrath and His separation, completely destroying His body and ending with His finally giving up on His own soul.  In that hour when the Father had forsaken His Son, Jesus let out a loud cry (which I still have yet to see in any of the depictions of the cross).  I can envision this like the blood-curdling, hair standing up on the back of your neck, soul-wrenching cry of despair.  (I almost envision this sounding like Wesley’s cry in agony and pain from the classic movie “Princess Bride”)  I can envision Jesus crying out so strong that the cross shook from the violent convulsion of Jesus’ body as He cried out from His utter pain, agony, and despair because of the withdrawal of the Father’s presence.  This was the crux of the crucifixion.

Lastly – To understand the abandonment, propitiation, and death of Jesus on the cross, we need understand what Jesus was doing.

Jesus had come to die – to absolve the full wrath of God – for sinners.

Jesus was perfect – lived perfectly – died perfectly – to make sinners perfect.

This is what we call the “great exchange.”  – Jesus’ righteousness for our sin – Our unrighteousness for His sinlessness.  

To understand the forsakenness of Jesus on the cross is to understand God’s wrath fully poured out on the unbeliever.  Jesus died in the place of God’s people, those who would believe in Him.  But sinners, those who do not believe are still under the power of sin and condemnation of the Father.  So when they die, they will suffer, die, and be abandoned/forsaken by the Father because of their sin.  The same devastating wrath that was poured out on Christ at Calvary is the wrath that will be poured out upon the unbeliever, and those who die without faith in Christ will utter the same words, “Why have you forsaken me?” And His answer will be, “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  

 

Will Jesus’ words bring life to you, that He was forsaken for your sake?  Or will you stand before God and hear the Father say, “depart from me”?  

Christian – this ought effect how we proclaim the gospel. We need a sense of urgency; people all around us are dying (death has a success rate of 100% – all of us die) and they are going to experience wrath of punishment and separation from God for all eternity as we stand idly by!  Be a part of God’s restoration and reconciliation of sinners.  Be used by God to bring the dead to life!