This will be a roughly-formed thoughts post with poor grammar and little attention to cognitive flow. It is as much a journal entry as anything. This has been stewing and forming in me for quite some time…
I subscribe that there are two brands of pride in modern society – as outlined by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: Pride-Conceit, and Pride-positive encouragement/love. Neither really require further explanation right now.
Pride-Conceit in Christian church leadership is explosively detrimental. It is the antithesis of leading people to Jesus Christ.
If you could imagine a special incendiary device that – upon ignition – takes years to build up explosive velocity – buried a few inches deep in a pile of sand. Each grain of sand representing a family or a believer in the church’s staff or congregation. Those far enough away from it to still be part of the pile but not yet directly affected by the explosion are not even aware yet that an explosion occurred… but eventually they’ll fall inwards to the void left by those closest to the explosion (the leader(s)) and have exposure to either a great shock themselves, or the eventual burnt-out husk that remains.
Those grains of sand that were expelled… some of them burnt or melted beyond recognition: A few of the closest are scattered so far that they refuse to even engage in the church profession again for the depth of their scars and still burning of their wounds …. others a bit further perhaps – forever wounded from the battle of the heart that they are paralyzed from their calling for months or years – afraid to ever trust a church leader again.
So much hurt.
The ones that remain – who weren’t scattered, consumed, burned or expelled (maybe yet?) – what’s happening to them? Are they becoming part of the flame that burns others? Are they dying to worship a false God? I was – for some time – both.
Hundreds of beautiful people that I had the pleasure of knowing served along with my family in such a church, both before and after pride ignition, for so many amazing and troubling years. All of us who have spoken have related that we’ll never find another place like that again… and the place that is left behind now is nothing of that original time. There is no return, because it doesn’t exist. Perhaps it never quite did in the way we imagined. Perhaps God himself gave us that experience together for this reason alone – but was it His doing entirely? I suppose that alone makes some sense.
It’s certainly not there now, no longer existing… what’s left is empty, formless and false… it’s like the reflection of bright spirits that once stood in a room before their images were burned into the walls by a nearby explosion – their flesh instantly sublimated but a rough outline of carbon imprinted on the white-washed tomb walls. All that remains are the ideas of incredible greatness, all but completely consumed by the fire of Pride-conceit.
There were some truly amazing times that we shared. I don’t regret those times at all, I wouldn’t take any of them back. It’s tough to know exactly when the first spark occurred or the blasting cap was really ignited. When did we mistake that spark for the fire of God, that it became the consuming fire of pride? Why couldn’t we tell the difference? Was it always there, waiting to destroy us?
I come to a saving knowledge of Jesus at this church, because through some process I don’t comprehend – the actions of these leader(s) were chosen to be used in this way for me. I will never regret that or count it as false or lost. That trajectory change in my life was as real as the keys I type on to you today. Many were just like me. They are my brothers and sisters today. As scattered and burned, many of us have united in our experience and managed to continue as family. That alone seems divinely arranged.
If you’re reading this with a critical eye – I think it’s important for me to aside this to you right now: This was not some petty church split. Nobody decided to take down this original church because of some minor theological differences or political ideology. ALL of us without consulting one-another but somehow of the same mind and heart – all of us left as quietly as we could for a myriad of our own reasons – being sure to be blameless in the falling of this church (which still exists today, it has not organizationally fallen). None of us wish to be found responsible for it’s fall. None that I have found went with any intention to “steal away” members or influence anybody. All went away in deep sorrow and pain, with unfinished business. We tried with our entire heart and soul to make it a better place, investing our everything into it, sacrificing deeply. All of us wish for the healing and rebuilding of this church and these leader(s) in God’s image, we all believe it to be possible although perhaps difficult to imagine. In most cases, it was the members of the church that remain that immediately cut our contact – not unlike what you see in a cult – as if we never existed. Many to apologize and rejoin our lives when they themselves finally find themselves “on the out” – just as we did.
What disappoints me the most though is my own actions. I did this. I cut people out of my life when they left my church because I honestly believed that they were too scary to talk to. I bought into the lie, the shame, the embarrassment, the guilt and the judgment. I rationalized incredibly poor leadership behavior and even explained it away to others… hushing them out. I helped in the process of hurting people, I even helped hurt my wife… but eventually my family was hurt far far too much, and left standing on the outside. In hindsight, I can’t believe I let it go on for so long. The things that I believe God himself seemed to orchestrate to get my family out of this church and onto his clearer path were extreme, and I ignored many of them for years. It wasn’t until I was met with direct deceit, direct betrayal, specifically tangible lies supported by real evidence, intensely direct oppression to the unity of my marriage, and a negative impact on the lives of my children – all of it together – that I finally relented my blindfolded dedication and took my family away. It took all of those things together to get my attention. What a tough decision that was.
I (and the many like me who are still working through this) have spent and continue to spend months of bitterness, questioning, crying, and wondering over what happened… and where we went wrong… and what we did wrong.
I’m drawing a line today ^^ See? there it is.
It’s not reasonable that a church and it’s leader(s) should do that to so many people. SO MANY people I’ve met, who have affirmed that I’m not crazy or losing my senses over what happened (and continues to happen). With clearer hindsight, I can see so many things now that were so wrong… so anti-God…. so anti-Love…. so anti-truth. A church cannot continue claiming Christ and have left so many in the wake in this form… not THIS MANY people.
People will always leave churches for a myriad of reasons, but not this many… not this hurt… not this broken or troubled… not this burnt. This isn’t my fault anymore, and it isn’t theirs. I won’t buy into the lie that there’s never a good reason to leave a church, that’s cowardice and complete bull.
I ran into an old friend recently who shared his experience with me. His experience was so much just like mine, and also completely his own. He was a brother in arms for years. I hadn’t spoken to him in months because I didn’t believe that I could. I thought he was still part of it. I hugged him so tightly.
In our conversation he said to me… “I am the worst Christian ever”. He believes that to be completely true.
That remark shook me deeply and made me angry. He’s probably one of the kindest and most wonderful people I’ve ever known and serves and has served as an inspiration and role model to me for almost 10 years now. I accept that he knows he’s a sinner and in need of salvation, but there’s a difference between holy humility and the kind of false shame that the leader(s) like the ones we shared can give you (if you let them).
There’s nothing good about shame. Nothing useful. Nothing holy. Shame is not guilt… guilt can be useful. Shame is just lies, and genuine self-hate. There’s nothing in the Christian God about shame. It is the work of pure evil… and that is to say… Pride-Conceit.
Today I draw the line. It is not my fault. It is not my friend’s fault. I didn’t do this and I won’t accept shame over it any longer. I am a free man in the name of Jesus Christ and your false religion of shame and embarrassment will not make me a slave again.
Furthermore I vow to fight against these forces and lies in anyone I encounter who God brings to me. I will tell them the truth. They are loved, they are worthy, and they are NOT a bad Christian because they left a broken church or a horrifically broken situation. I will no longer hide behind the fear of hurting those who remain or guilt over being blamed for the church’s slow descent. I will stand behind the truth of what happened and what’s happening, when it’s appropriate, when it’s needed, and when God informs me that it serves the cause of Love. No more, and no less than that.
God, please grant me the strength, peace and wisdom to follow you in this – and not my own dangerously prideful emotional responses. Please fill me with your spirit and words, and not my own. I’m trusting you in this, with my freedom, with my heart, my passion, and my Love. I praise you only in the name of Jesus Christ, my savior. Amen.