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.