Monday, July 14, 2014

Isaiah 61, Romans 8 and all that jazz

Five years ago at this time I was preparing to move to a foreign country to be a volunteer missionary. It was something I felt I was meant to do and was extremely excited for the opportunity. I had no idea what to expect and had all sorts of expectations all at once. There are parts of that experience that I would not trade for anything including the friendships formed, my Spanish language skills and my Arequipa family.

After I had been there about 8 months, my cousin Brandon died tragically. It hit my entire family like a freight train and being isolated from them made it worse. It was the first time I had experienced grief like that and I suspect I will never fully recover. Amid my grief, I chose to stay because I felt that was the right thing to do. I guess I figured that most people don’t get to quit their jobs when they’re grieving, so I would keep going.

About six weeks later, something happened within our organization that I considered extremely unfair and hurtful to someone on staff. The boss man called and invited those of us who were upset to sit down for a chat. I went to this meeting with the intention to voice my concern and ask what the reasoning was for the action taken. I was greeted with contempt and hostility- and I in turn responded with contempt and hostility. This person accused me of “not liking him” (well, I definitely don’t now) and conspiring against him (which I did not) and THEN used my grief against me saying he thought I should leave the organization because my grief was dragging the team down.

Brandon’s death was the worst moment of my life…that conversation was the second.

I walked around for a long time feeling like a failure, being angry and allowing that conversation to define me. I felt hurt, betrayed and pissed off to the point of obsession. My vision was so limited, as it tends to be when in the middle of difficult times. 

Well, it’s been four years and I still feel hurt but I am also incredibly thankful.

I am thankful that I can now see the light in dark places because I survived that whole ordeal. I am thankful that I can share this story and hold out hope to anyone who feels like the rug has been ripped from under them. I am thankful for the things that would have happened differently (or not at all) if my plans hadn’t been destroyed by that guy…

Like meeting my husband. 

Yes, I am thankful. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For the Record

Before I begin I’d like to thank Papa and Annie for being the best friends my parents ever had. I’m so glad they realized that pastors are allowed to have friends. I love you. (There are others, thankfully, but you two will always stand out!)

As a pastor’s kid, there are some misconceptions I would like to clear up.

  1. The pastor, pastor’s spouse and the pastor’s children are not perfect. (I cannot stress that last one enough.)
  2. Nor are they closer to God than everyone else in the church.
  3. The pastor’s family fights. Sometimes the pastor’s family fights on Sunday mornings on the way to church causing the pastor to get out of the vehicle and walk the rest of the way to church and never carpool on Sunday morning again.  
  4. In the case of number 3, it is very difficult for the pastor to get up and preach an inspiring message. Give your pastor a break. Seriously.
  5. Your pastor’s spouse (particularly those who happen to be women) carries the weight of every criticism and attack you launch on the pastor and pastor’s children. Stop expecting them to want to be around you and attend all your “ministry functions” when you’ve done nothing recently but chew the pastor out.
  6. The pastor and pastor’s spouse answered a “call” to ministry. The pastor’s children did NOT. They do not know all the answers so please stop turning to them every time there is silence in your Sunday school class.
  7. For that matter, your pastor does not have all the answers. Especially about how to fix your kid. For all you know, your pastor’s kid is more broken than yours. Confide in your pastor, seek counsel, but don’t be pissed** if he/she doesn’t have quick fix for you. The good news is YOU also have the ability to seek and hear from God. 
  8. Your pastor’s family needs him/her more than you do. Do not hold it against your pastor if sometimes he/she has to say “no”. You should want your pastor’s family to be healthy.
  9. Though your pastor and spouse are flawed human beings, they are there because they love God and your church. (At least I hope that’s why. You may be unfortunate enough to find yourself in a church with a certified narcissist who just loves the sound of his own voice. If you suspect this, please RUN to the nearest exit and never look back.)
Okay, now that I’ve shattered your rose colored glasses, let’s get down to business. These misconceptions about the pastor and pastor’s family are a result of an invisible line drawn between pastor and congregation. Believe me when I say that this line is detrimental to the wellbeing of the pastor, the pastor’s family and the church. This separation creates loneliness for the pastor and pastor’s spouse, unrealistic expectations for pastor’s children, and the temptation for your pastor to abuse the position.

Maybe you like the lines because it makes you feel good to follow someone who seems to have it all together (seems is the operative word here). Yes, your pastor has probably spent more time studying the Bible than you have, but that is as much your choice as his/hers. Stop thinking (or letting your pastor think) it is not your place to ask how he/she is really doing or to inquire about a decision he/she has made (respectfully, of course!). Don’t conspire or attack, but go to your pastor with kindness and the intent to erase those lines and create a new kind of relationship.

Bottom line: The Church is a body. It works together. The parts all need each other. This INCLUDES your pastor and pastor's family. Your pastor needs you as much as you need him/her. Don’t let your pastor (or anyone in the church) get to the point where he/she believes he/she is the most important part of that body. When this happens, it is only a matter of time before your pastor’s family and your church are completely destroyed. 

Trust me on this one. 

**sorry, Mom, I tried to find another word but that is the one that fit best. Grammy would approve. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Power or Service?

After college I knew a guy who was a monk in the Catholic Church for a while. Ever bothered by the fact they do not allow women to be priests I asked him what the reasoning was. He told me that the priesthood was a position of service, not of power. I loved that! But then he said that a woman seeking priesthood was probably doing it for the power and not from a heart of service or she would just become a nun. (All my feminist friends just groaned in disgust).

I do not know if this is the Catholic Church’s official reasoning, so I won’t hold it against them, but I was very confused by whether or not he believed the priesthood was an act of service or a position of power. Now before all the Protestants reading this think “thank God we’re not like them” I’ll stop you and say, we are the same. Our pastors may get spouses instead of cool hats and robes to wear, but the same issues exist on our side too.

The majority of people who enter ministry do so with good intentions. I truly believe that most people who feel called, destined, led, whatever, into church ministry want to share what God has done in their lives and thereby help others. This desire to do “God’s work” is not the problem. The problem is when that work is no longer done in response to a hurting world. When the work someone does in the church (be they pastor or lay person) becomes about anything but helping those in need, it is only a matter of time before it becomes a problem.

Imagine with me for a moment someone who has a job they do in the church. Once upon a time they did that job because it was something that needed done and they volunteered. However, now they’ve been doing it so long that God forbid anyone come in and do it differently or try to steal that position. Or consider a person who has substantial wealth and gives faithfully to his church. He began giving money as a way to help the ministry but now uses it to make sure everyone knows his opinion about how things should be done is the only one that counts. Or the pastor who was once eager to learn how to lead, is now convinced that he has it all figured out and anyone who questions him should move out of the way.

Crazy, right? It is crazy, but sadly, extremely common. Serving has turned into self-serving. Acts that were once done to draw people to Christ have become ways to attain self-importance. The people in these scenarios forgot that The Church is not about me, it’s about them.

Am I saying that people should not continue to serve in one position for fear they will abuse it? Certainly not, we all have gifts and we should use them. However, I do think it illustrates the need for accountability for everyone involved in the life of a ministry. Church should be a place of conversation, where lives are shared and people find acceptance and belonging. 

But, when a person holds on too tightly to their “position”, conversation stops, egos run rampant, people get bulldozed and the church becomes 


Monday, June 9, 2014

It took me almost 4 years...but I'm BACK!

For as long as I have breathed, my parents were involved in ministry and from the age of eight, my dad was a full time pastor. This means I spent the better part of my childhood and adolescence within the walls of a church. I have been incredibly fortunate to meet wonderful people and know the love and support of an enormous church family. But this post is not about them...

Like all parents, mine definitely tried to shield me from the ugliness of the world. For them, this also meant shielding me from the ugliness within the church.

I was twelve when they could no longer protect me from the truth. My father, who has always poured his whole self into whatever he does, was sobbing in a way I did not know a father could. He had, like always, given himself (and our family) over to an opportunity he and my mom believed was God’s call on our lives. He announced his resignation to our church in Kentucky and we were weeks away from leaving, but that afternoon there was a phone call and everything changed. After months of planning and life rearranging, all that was agreed on was ripped away.

I don’t know if my dad ever fully recovered from that, but he has pressed on in ministry to this very day (way to go, Daddio!).

What I do know is that this was the day I knew church people, particularly those in leadership, were capable of the deepest wounds a person can ever receive. 

Of course, this is not news to anyone who owns a television or has read an article about the countless priests who have molested kids, pastors who have had affairs with church members, or deacons who have stolen money from their congregations. These stories are all over the news because, in addition to being serious issues the public should be aware of, the media loves to watch the mighty fall. Stories like my dad’s, stories like mine, do not make the news. They do not make the news because the collateral damage is not dramatic enough to be entertaining.

Well, this story is not meant to entertain, and it certainly is not for the media to launch more attacks at the church. It is my sincere attempt to ask church people, especially those in leadership, to consider whether or not what they are doing is drawing people into the presence of an accepting, loving Christ or not? If it’s not, they should stop, fall to their knees and plead for mercy.

Let’s fast forward to my college years. Long story short, it was a square peg/round hole kind of situation. I do not know what it was exactly, but I just didn’t fit. Part of me was proud of this, and I kind of enjoyed being the sandpaper. But I was too young to fully embrace the beauty of being different and I suffered a lot between the desire to be accepted and the need to be honest.

My 21 year old self had written a little devotion piece to be published on my Christian university campus and someone in a leadership position was not thrilled about what I wrote. Basically I said that the consequence of being expelled would probably prevent a person who needed help with an issue (such as alcoholism) to seek treatment. Okay, okay, so I accused the system of choosing a high gloss finish over authenticity. That’s fine, it’s their prerogative to want me to change it because I pointed out a flaw in their system. It was, however, very unfortunate that members of leadership accidentally blind copied me to their email that was not very nice about me (although they did accuse me of being “subversive” which I now take as the highest compliment of my life). And it is especially unfortunate that this person also called me into a meeting that I still regard as the fakest interaction of my life.

Those people have probably not given me a second thought, but I have considered deeply how a person in leadership could have been so threatened by stupid 21 year old me.

Well, it’s taken me 12 years, and a few more awful experiences in the church, but I think I've pinpointed what was so off about that situation and what I now believe to be the biggest problem of the church: the quest for POWER and CONTROL.

Power is a dangerous thing, especially in the hands of people who believe their cause is from God. Sadly, the church seems to be filled with people who have forgotten that The Church is a place of service, not a place where one exerts authority over others without question.

I’m gonna stop here for now but I’ll give you a hint, when leadership in the church ceases to be synonymous with serving the needs of the congregation and community, the church is doomed.