09 June 2013

Better Not Bitter

Not sure what to title this piece but I want to talk about “church hurt” from the perspective of a member and not the leader. Surely, I can attest that leaders are hurt over and over again in the church and I will write from that perspective in another blog. 

I’ll borrow this title from a facebook friend:
Better not Bitter!!!

Maybe you were a member of a church for years, served and sacrificed your time, talent, and money.  You trusted the pastor and expected that the word, the prophecies, and the promises were ‘sure and amen’. Your faith was radical tenacious and you were determined and committed to live fully for God. You found a church where you could spiritually grow and use your gifts for His purposes. Palatable, eager, and open and thrust into the church world with promise and the journey ensued. Conversely, somewhere along the way your promises were dashed, your faith quenched, and your view of church has become distorted.

It’s impossible to detail everyone’s experience in this blog and I am sure many of us have a story or two of how we were hurt in the church. First, let me go on the record and say that there is no perfect church and there are times in a loving, life giving, healthy church that someone may get hurt by a well meaning pastor, member or get into a conflict or misunderstanding that causes some kind of hurt or pain. Quite frankly, hurt happens in our life and within our families because we are human and there are times when we hurt others and others hurt us. This is reason Jesus asks us to forgive and why we have to ask for forgiveness. Therefore, this blog writing is not an attempt to neither discredit the church nor negate the fact that being a part of a church should challenge you! At times, in a life-giving church the word will rattle your equilibrium, deal with your sin, and cause you to get upset. When it is done in love and it should stir you to grow as a person and challenge your theology, mindset, and ultimately draw you closer to Jesus- then God has led you to the right church and you should continue to serve, grow, and use your gifts to win others to the gospel within your current church. 

Unfortunately, quite a few judge the entire church by her extremes, failures, and those who are hypocritical. To the contrary, I wholeheartedly believe that “the church/God’s church” is the hope of the world and that we are called to be a part of her. When she is healthy, it becomes a life-line for us and other lives that we touch through her.

HOWEVER, wherever there is the REAL, there is always the FALSE and what is false never cancels out that which is real. This writing is about the false, extremes in the church that are abusive, legalistic, controlling, centers around worship of man and not Christ, and/or teach heretical things from the word that cause people to get confused, fooled, or deeply hurt. This condensed summary will bring some hope and prayerfully a desire for healing to those who may have experienced these extremes and were left wounded and disengaged. Some of who also experienced abnormal practices of a flawed system that left much heartache and pain from the “Mega Church”, “Prosperity gospel”, “Kingdom Now”, “Superstar” and “Super-Faith” “Worldly” or “Religious” church movements of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and up through 2000’s. This is not an indictment on all Mega churches because not every large church is flawed; however, this blog desires to give some understanding, healing, and enlightening to those who were affected in a negative manner in a church whether large, small, Baptist, Pentecostal, traditional, charismatic, or the like. Again, I always write from my experience and the experience of others and I use the word as my foundation to uncover or reveal truth. I am not an expert but as a minister of the gospel, I love to write and explore topics in the church that may be a bit controversial but a reality in the church and warrant some exploration as well as discussion.

Again, this is a blog and for the sake of time and space, I will only highlight a few unhealthy and abnormal practices that are extremes and have caused hurt and disengagement. Finally, I will end my writing by giving a few biblical, practical solutions to start the healing process and give hope to those who desire to connect or reconnect to the church. I will use the topics I mentioned previously in this blog to engage this discussion.

The abusive extreme in church is a system where the pastor or leaders uses the word and their authority to control and keep people in bondage by stealing a person’s innocence, money, and preying on their vulnerabilities. These type leaders whether pastor or titled prophet, prophetess, or apostle can be subtle because many times they appear to be anointed, have your best interest at heart and may initially show you love by helping you and speaking to your heart. However over time, you begin to see their selfish tactics and manipulating ways. Unfortunately, some of these leaders abuse members physically and sexually causing persons to lose trust in leaders and the church. The very place where you went for healing and freedom became a place of torment and hurt. Mental, physical, and or sexual abuse can be devastating and can cause people to become depressed, enraged, disengaged, and mad at God and His church, and even suicidal. But there’s hope. (keep reading)

The extreme of a legalistic/religious church focuses on the rules, orders, and protocols. You can’t where make up, pants, or do certain things. You may find that you are required to be at church all the time, at every function, and act a certain way. Legalistic churches can sometimes become very judgmental regarding a person’s sin or failures in life. In the Biblical record, these type churches are sometimes compared to the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible. They are so focused on the externals and put very little emphasis on the internal changes of the heart. Thus, this is why Jesus confounded these types when He challenged their thinking. A paraphrased example includes the time a woman fell in adultery and they wanted to stone her to death and He says to the crowd “he without sin to cast the first stone”. They were so concerned with her sin that they did not love or try to restore her but were ready to kill her. Many times legalistic leaders prescribe rules and regulations on the members when they can’t even live up to those standards themselves. Often they are against women in ministry and will not allow women to preach or fulfill their calling while diminishing their gift and convincing others that women are not called to teach, preach or pastor. This type of church becomes mundane, boring, and ritualistic and it eventually can cause people to dislike and disdain the church and also walk away hurt.

The controlling and worship of man and not Christ church may start off with leaders who love God, are anointed, and desire to see people’s lives changed but somewhere along the way they lose their center of Christ and things become centered around them and not God. Instead, people begin to worship them and listen to their every word. Very extreme cases find leaders using verbal threats laced with spirituality to cause people to stay with them or their ministry and convince them to do exactly what they say. Due to pride, they are not aware that their greed, celebrity status, and self-centeredness turns people from Jesus to focus on them. Also, these leaders often refuse correction and very rarely repent publicly and often their idolatry and sin is exposed publicly which can cause people to lose trust and disconnect from the church.

The type of church or ministry that teaches heretical things from the word can cause people to get confused or fooled. This type is a very dangerous church because it leads many astray and confounds their minds and hearts before they even know that they have been deceived or hoodwinked. It can cause people to chase after a nebulous or a false reality that keeps you in pursuit of things, the promises of God, or man rather than God himself.  And at the end of the day, you may find that you have given your heart, soul, time, money, talent, and life to something that was false and offered false promises. Unfortunately the sound bites from their messages can be subtle and disguised in inviting you to strive to obtain monumental or extravagant goals, desires, visions, and/or dreams in order to achieve success in God.  These leaders wrap this heretical theology in commonly taught or preached cliches which state: “give to God and you can reach your destiny, you are little gods, God’s calling you to nations, or you are called to be a millionaire” which is commonly associated with the “Kingdom Now” theology. (Google it)  Consequently, you may strive to excel to find and reach these monumental or worldly destinies to feel approved in God. Within this message is a standard that realizes each person doing something great for God. If the pinnacle is not reached, this false standard can leave one feeling discouraged and un-fulfilled. The constant trying, striving, and consistent reaching can lead people to believe if they have not accomplished “this great destiny” that they have failed themselves, failed others, and ultimately failed God. Honestly, there are many types of heresies out there. But if the message fails to focus on Christ and His simple message of love, sacrifice, and doing His will it may be considered heresy (deviation from the true foundation of the word). Christ wants us to first love Him with all our heart, go and make disciples, and help the least of these. This is your destiny and He will show you the path of how to fulfill His will. His word tells us the last shall be first and He who wants to be great must be servant of all. When we serve and help others, it relieves the stress and counteracts the false message which relieves depression or worry. If we are doing God’s will daily and He is pleased- then we are successful. However, some have left the church because they became confused, felt like a failure, you never got the millions prophesied, and the bubble bursts in the message and the messenger and you begin to see the truth of this false teaching.

So maybe this is not your story or your friend’s story exactly but you can relate to one of the examples above (legalism, heresy, control, man worship, false messages, or abuse). Or maybe you’ve watched on the sidelines and seen people get hurt and refuse to connect or reconnect to the church. May be you just need some time to heal before praying and asking God to lead you to a healthy church. Maybe you’re just disgusted with what you’ve seen and feel that the American church is falling into a state of losing her relevance, power, and believers have become complacent and discouraged and left church. Remember what you’ve seen and/or experienced does not define “the church” and again where there is the FALSE, there is also the REAL. Again, there is no perfect church but I believe we are in a time that the church will have her finest hour. Yes, God had to exposed her leaders, purged her, destroyed man worship, abuse, extreme prosperity messages, and maybe you were a causality but now is the time to not just talk about the problems but become a part of the solution by one answering the call to be that authentic leader or reconnecting to a life-giving church and help others heal while reaching a dying world. 

Before doing this my suggested solutions to heal and reconnect include:
  1. Acknowledge if you have been hurt in the church and determine if it was an extreme factor that caused you to disengage or become discouraged with church. Then, follow a prescribed, godly path of healing and forgiveness which may be inclusive of counseling and letting others love you back to life. Pray and ask God to help heal the hurt and pain. Discover if there is anything from your past that may have accelerated this hurt to become more intense and allow God to bring forgiveness and deliverance.
  2. Do a thorough comparison of the teachings you’ve heard to those in scripture, and accept the solid, foundational truths from the Bible while rejecting that which was imbalanced and untrue.
  3. Have a willingness to actively change and leave that which you learned and abandon that which imitates and duplicates unhealthy practices and pray and ask to lead you to a church or church family that can affirm you, cause you to grow, that teaches a sound word, and challenges you to be Christ centered and is fun and loving not perfect! :>)
  4. Let your desperation and hunger for God and His glory and not man compel you to forgive those who deceived you and believe that there are people of God who look like Him and His love flows freely through them. Open your heart to receive His love and trust again.
  5. Have a desire to please God and not man and don’t judge “God’s Church” based upon a hurtful negative experience of a church.
  6. Seek God with all our heart, soul and ask for His leading.  Those that know how to fast, and pray—do so to discover His divine will and way and become willing to follow the path of Christ no matter the cost.
To the leaders: In every generation, we must fully acknowledge the error of our ways as well as our predecessors in hopes to stop the cycle of imitating and duplicating unhealthy teachings, behaviors, practices and endeavor to teach a balanced word with loving actions that produce healthy persons and families. Though we are not perfect, our hope is to be a source of healing and not hurt. We should allow our influence to lead people to Christ and not ourselves. We must be willing to acknowledge our sin, become transparent when we fail, and not allow our ambition to ruin our witness and distort our love. We must become touchable like Christ and be servant leaders rather than be served. Finally, we should pray for leaders in the church and believe God for restoration and become a part of the solution and not the problem. Titles, regalia, prestige, and stuff should not be our aim and when we function in those gifts, people will know us by our function not our title. There are many leaders out there and we may not have a large platforms, mega churches, or TV personalities but we must be faithful to those God has given us to lead. No we are not perfect but if our heart is pure and motives right, God can do more through us to reach people in His name!