Shane and I met and graduated from a local Bible college with the intention of giving our lives to ministry. In our early years of marriage, Shane led worship at a small, dying church. The old people there did NOT like us or that “geetar music” my husband played. We got pretty sick of not being wanted and pushed around, so we left and my husband accepted a position leading worship for the children’s ministry of a local mega church. We seemed liked at the mega church, which was refreshing. However we had a similar struggle with the mega church as we did the dying church: we were giving all we had, but we were not being poured back into. (This is very common with church leaders by the way. If you are in church, seek out ways to encourage your leaders and hold back criticism. They receive PLENTY of criticism!) In the Summer of 2012 Shane accepted the worship pastor position in a newer church plant. All of our previous church ministry had left us dry, so we blunty asked the pastor and his wife to invest in our lives; to minister to us as we continued ministering. The pastor and his wife welcomed us with open arms.
I found out the pastor’s daughter was doing something she shouldn’t be doing. Shane and I tried talking to her about it privately, but she wouldn’t let us. We felt we had to bring it to the attention of the pastor and his wife. Two days later, the pastor asked us over to his home for a meeting. The pastor’s wife read us a 7 page letter of “facts” about the matter, all of which only involved accusations against me ruining their daughter’s life. They told me it would take them a while to forgive me. Later that evening, the pastor met with my husband privately, and fired the both of us.
We did not willfully leave church. Shane begged the pastor to reconsider his decision the night he fired us. I was falsely accused of spreading lies against the pastor's daughter and as a result we were both kicked out of the church. I have never felt so utterly worthless in my entire life. I asked God to use me in ministry. I followed His rules and standards the best I knew how. In trying to do the right thing I was accused of wrecking lives. I lost 20 pounds within a month's time because I had absolutely no appetite. I toyed with the idea suicide because I really believed the lie that I was a terrible person. It's been two and a half years since this event. I only knew the pastor and his family for 10 months, and I STILL find myself thinking in whatever negative situation I find myself in: "It's because I'm a terrible person."
After years of not feeling accepted or fitting into any church we were in, then being thrown to the curb by “the one” we thought truly loved and accepted us, it is REALLY hard to even consider going back.
HOW CAN YOU RESPOND TO ME AND PEOPLE LIKE ME?
- I would like to ask first and foremost, please refrain from telling me and other "unchurched" Christians that we need to return to church because 1) "not all churches are like that," and 2) "because God and the Bible command it." Asking those who have been hurt by churches and church leaders is like asking a woman in an abusive relationship to return to her abusive husband because, "God commands wives to submit to their husbands." Yes God hates divorce and yes, husbands should love their wives and wives should submit to their husbands, but stating those things to someone who is hurting is not the proper way to show them the love of Christ. You might believe we need to be in church because "the Bible commands it," but saying this to us when we've been broken is not the appropriate time or place. You will turn us off and that statement makes it SO much harder for us to even consider the idea of returning to church.
- Remember that only a few years ago I was you. Shane and I were as involved in church as you could possibly be. We never imagined we would not be in church. We secretly judged those who weren't in church and tried to get them to come to our church because we believed in what our church had to offer. We believed church could fix people. It wasn't just a place we attended...it was our entire identity. When you believe God calls you into ministry as a teenager and then you're kicked out of ministry in your twenties, what do you do then? Who are you? We had a complete identity crisis.
- Please stop posting articles on Facebook titled, "10 dumb reasons to leave a church" or "An open letter to unchurched Christians." Labeling my decision to not be in church as "dumb" is demeaning and besides, being open about your opinions gets more likes (or "high fives" as my husband says) from those who agree than it does change people's minds or lives. We need love more than war and posting stuff like this for all to see can feel very targeted and like we are under attack. Guilt is not love.
- Please try to empathize with us. I'm not asking you to agree, just understand that we are not you and have not gone through the same things. As human beings, we all act and react to things differently. What seems like not a big deal to you might in the same situation, feel very dramatic and substantial to another. I know some of you, if placed in my shoes, might not let the bad course of events hinder you from attending a different church. However, no two humans are alike and none of us know the whole, intimate story.
- Please do not leave us, but forgive us and try to understand if we've left you. Those who left us (facebook de-friending and/or stopped talking to us) after they heard about our story hurt us as much, if not more, than the pastor and his family who kicked us out of their church. Same goes to those who judged us harshly when we needed love. I had to de-friend some friends and even family members who harshly judged me because I no longer felt safe letting them know about my life. Shane and I do not have a community we feel we belong in. Please help us to not lose hope in being accepted, loved, and finding the place we belong.
IS MY SON BEING TAUGHT ABOUT GOD?
A funny thing happened when Shane and I were kicked out of church: In order to keep learning and growing it was up to us to study and exercise prayer. We could not rely on hearing a sermon or having a church leader teach/remind us of God and theology. I am grateful for my time in Bible college because I learned how to properly study the bible and am confident I am theologically grounded. With that said, it is Shane's and my responsibility to teach our son about God and the bible. We read to him from a children's bible at night and pray with him at bedtime. Shane and I find it awkward and forced if we study things together, but we study things separately and talk daily about what we are learning and how we are growing. We pray together, encourage each other constantly, and I feel like we're growing more spiritually now than we were when we were in church. We're definitely studying more now than when we were church leaders.
I used to feel ashamed of myself whenever someone who heard I wasn't in church threw Hebrews 10:24 -25 at me. But the most wonderful thing happened. A friend was building a farmhouse table for her dining room and announced she was carving that verse on the bottom:
"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."
After I found out my friend was doing this, I went back and read the full chapter seeking context to the verse. I found Hebrews 10:24-25 is telling us is we need each other, but it seems more on target the way my friend had in mind than sitting in a room listening to a sermon. We need to hear about what the Lord is doing in each of our lives, how He is working. We need to pray for each other, love each other, and encourage each other on our journey as Christians. My husband and I LOVE getting together with our Christian friends to hear about how the Lord is working in their lives, and we love to tell them about what He is doing in ours. We crave and need those meetings.
I hope we end up back in church in some sort of context, but right now we are still hurting and wounded from the past. For now, I hope I can still do ministry for the Lord somehow through telling my story and heartache. I think as humans, we all need to know we are not alone and I definitely need to be reminded that I am not the only one struggling with this matter. Jesus loves us misfits. His grace is sufficient, no matter what person or even church leader tells us otherwise. We are VALUED and WANTED by the Lord. I believe we are all involved in spiritual warfare here on earth, and a constant battle we have to fight is weeding out the lies we are told in order to listen to what Jesus says about us. Who Jesus says we REALLY are.
I know I am not alone in my pain, and I am thankful for my pain because I have learned so much more about His love and grace through it. Unchurched and churched friends, let us consider one another to stir up love and good works.