Tag: abuse

Why Trump’s Speech To Congress Should Scare The Crap Out Of You

On Tuesday evening, President Trump gave his first solo speech to Congress. To be sure, speeches are important as are congressional gatherings.

However, what is drastically more important and far more telling than speeches and tender political moments is our response to them—many conservatives, orgasmically licking their chops of jubilation upon Trump’s teleprompted performance. “Now that’s my president!” “It’s Trump 2.0,” “This is the best speech ever given before Congress.”

I was not only unimpressed, but mortified—fearing we have all slipped even deeper into the diabolic “art of the deal.”

For it should be a sad and horrifying day when, in our country, we elect a person as president only to jump for joy when weeks later, based on a speech, he is determined to finally and all the sudden be presidential. Seriously? Are we hearing ourselves? Shouldn’t that have happened a really long time ago? Besides, are speeches now the litmus test to what makes one presidential? I thought “grabbing pussy” was the new norm.

As much as I am trying to look on the bright side, where am I to go from this freakish circus show? I’m trying to give it time, I really am, but if I look towards his actions, the clown appears. If I look towards what he says, the clown appears. Somebody, wake us all up to this nightmare we’re being sold as the American dream—before it’s too late.

It feels like as a nation, we have tragically become the abused, enabling, and codependent spouse who repeatedly falls for flowery speeches, rhetoric, appearances, and empty promises that things “will be great” and the abuser has changed their ways. Have we sunk so low that we actually become delighted and relieved when a person of authority and leadership actually gives signs of having basic levels of decency? That’s not presidential, that’s just coming up to the level of being remotely human.

We have spent far too long blindly giving credence and weight to seductive voices with pricey lifestyles, fame, allure, and wallets. Our narcissism as a nation has postured us for exploitation, especially from among the religiously conservative. Like an alcoholic who knows they have a problem but can’t help themselves away from the Scotch, many have become addicted to whatever new cocktail serves their ideological and personal agendas. What used to be a Statue of Liberty standing as a promise and hope for the “least of these” has become a self-centered, political stripper pole of rationalization, purposed on serving the power of the privileged—scheming to seduce us all into seeing the substandard, abusive, and evil as being standard, healthy, and of God. If only we could see ourselves and the people we have become. 

No, I’m not trying to take anything away from the speech writers or the important moments of Tuesday evening. However, you know you are in bed with the devil when you are so desperate for moments that you can latch onto that serve to convince yourself that you aren’t.

That my friend, is a sure sign of a delusion that should haunt everyone of us.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

I’m White, Christian, Heterosexual, Privileged and Ashamed

There are moments in life where a truth can be so impacting it changes you forever—unhinging, transforming, and recalibrating nearly everything you once understood and believed.

I used to be a conservative, Evangelical, homophobic, sexist, racist, judgmental and spiritually arrogant pastor and person. In nearly every way, I was much the opposite of all that I am, hope to be, and stand for today. No, I didn’t have a child that came out as being gay or some moral failure or personal crisis that shook my foundations. The reversal of my heart and mind, and the dethroning of my bigotry, hate, privilege, and conservatism came solely from being confronted by the true nature of God, the pure message of Jesus, and the revelation of His heart and mind towards all humanity.

To think that I saw color where there is none to see—a choice in sexual orientation where there is no choice to be. To think that gender ever mattered in calling, gifting, or creed—seeing women as some lessor form of a human being. To think that I condemned in the name of Jesus where there was no Jesus condemning—ignorant of my white privilege that blinded my perspective and deafened me to the real voices crying around me. To think that I loved with restrictions, restraint, and conditions—believed I had exclusive possession of all that is Truth to the exclusion of any other perspective or position. To think that I embraced a life and faith lacking in true compassion—leaving God-imaged people marginalized, discriminated, abused, alone, and undefended. To think that I lived and proclaimed it all as faith, faithfulness, and the way, Truth, and life—I am ashamed. Not just ashamed—disgusted.

Look around.

Look at what many of us white, Christian, heterosexual, and privileged people have largely become—not all of us, but many—not always intentionally, but in sure reality. The Jesus-grieving sins of racism, sexism, discrimination, legalism, elitism, and condemnation are increasingly normalized, and even spiritualized as faithfulness. We have elected a childish, pussy-grabbing, womanizing, immoral, misogynistic, and xenophobic president—touting him as a kind of God-appointed savior of our country. Where our nationalistic, social, and political pursuits clearly conflict with the ways of Jesus, not to mention basic human ethics and morality, we conveniently turn a blind eye, and all of a sudden the “clear teachings of the Bible” aren’t so clear anymore and the compartmentalization of our faith becomes a worthy and important practice—smoke and mirrors were never so smokey and distracting. Still to this day, we harbor racism, act on it, and even spiritual justify it, not to mention sexism—all while ironically declaring ourselves to be the well from which genuine spiritual maturity flows. We can’t even stop the religious machine we have created long enough to seek true understanding in what it’s really like to not be white-skinned, heterosexual, Christian, privileged, or male—if only we knew how to listen as well as we know how to lean on and worship our own understandings. When a transgender person commits suicide at the hands of Christian condemnation, it’s like we don’t even pump the breaks or give a thought to reevaluating our faith understanding or position—arrogantly convinced we hold all the keys. Everyone else is always wrong and we are always right. Everyone else’s sin is destined for hell and ours is magically forgiven—thank God we believed the right things, said the right prayers, and made the right changes. Aren’t we all just so special.

While perhaps you are feeling oh-so special, I am feeling oh-so ashamed.

In fact, if this is what it means to be white, I don’t want to be “white” anymore.

If this is what it means to be Christian, I don’t want to be seen as “Christian” anymore.

If this is what it means to be heterosexual, privileged, or even American—you can have it all.

For Jesus flips the tables yet again, revealing that we, in our undeniable worship of being white, heterosexual, Christian, American, and privileged are actuality the ones who have become the deplorable abomination. The finger pointers and speck removers are once again revealed to be the log possessors whose preoccupation with changing the world for Christ has left us tragically unaware of our own Christ-less soul.

Against this I must stand, turning shame for all that I had believed wrongly about God, Jesus, and people into an unstoppable solidarity with all that God has created good, beautiful, whole, and affirmed.

This is my resistance, this is my manifesto.

In the footsteps of Jesus, I’m a human that affirms all humans.

I’m a white man who sees as equal every shade of color and gender.

I’m a heterosexual that affirms every other kind of “sexual” rooted in honesty, love, and committed relationship.

I gladly surrender my privilege and tear off the “Christian” name tag.

I will no longer join hands nor heart with a faith understanding that fights against so much of what Jesus embraces.

I refuse to love, accept, and affirm any less than God who is pure Love, affirms, accepts, and loves me.

For I am no better than any other—only different.

This is true of all people.

Grace and Truth has made it so.

All are loved, equally and beautifully made—each a masterpiece, eternally valued and secured.

I will be forever brave on behalf of the “least of these,” proudly counting myself as equal among them, and manifest the delight of Jesus who is eternally proud to live, serve, sacrifice, and call them friend—as am I.

Ashamed, I am no less. Brave, I am, all the more.

Grace is brave.  Be Brave.

Giving Grace to Difficult People

I find in Jesus, the perfect model for being a person of Grace. In fact, He is not just a person of Grace, He is Grace.

I think, for most of us, we want to be loving and extend Grace. Yet, when it comes to certain types of people and behaviors, we get frustrated. How do I give Grace to that person who drives me up the wall? What about the person who wrongs me over and over again? Does giving Grace mean I become a doormat for Jesus, devoid of having boundaries, never saying “no,” or creating space from certain types of people.

These are difficult and important questions that everybody wrestles with.  Hopefully this post can shed some practical insight on how to extend Grace to difficult people.

o.o1 – At times we are the difficult person-  The very Grace that we are having difficulty in giving or are not sure we should even give in the first place, is the very same Grace we need to be given. Chances are, right now, there is a person who is trying to figure out what it looks like to give Grace to you. The very issues you are wrestling with in giving Grace to difficult people may just be the same kind of issues someone is wrestling with in giving Grace to you. Those who truly know their deep, forever need of Grace are the ones most willing to extend Grace to others.

0.02- Grace is unconditional- We live in a deeply conditional world. You do this, I do that. If you do this, I’ll do that. You change, I will change. You take the first step, I’ll take the next. You say “sorry,” I’ll forgive. You change your behavior, I’ll draw closer. This is why Grace is so difficult and revolutionary. It goes against so many of our relational impulses. For many, Grace is blasphemous, offensive, and unrealistic.  You expect me to do what? Grace is unconditional. There is no condition for which it cannot and should not be extended in some form or another. There is never a moment where Grace is not the best response. In fact, the only times when Jesus was recorded specifically in the Bible as being angry, His anger was directed exclusively at people who withheld Grace from others. You want to know what angers Jesus? Sin? Nope… withholding Grace! Apparently, that’s worse than sin itself.

0.03 Grace protects your being- Grace enables you to give to the ungiveable, love the unlovable, and forgive the unforgivable without loosing yourself. Grace is not the absence of being hurt, offended, or used, it is your divine capability to give Grace non-the-less.  Ironically, it is in the withholding of Grace that offense, hurt, and being used are given life and power to stain and erode within you. Giving Grace disarms all offense. It is not denying nor pretending their is not a problem. Rather, it is the sure solution to the effect of the problem on and within you, and the only potential solution to the problem with or within the other person.

Grace costs you nothing to give because it is supplied by your Father, you cannot out-give the supply. It is what shelters you, protects you, and guards you in all your relationships. It is what keeps you from becoming the very person you are having difficulty trying to deal with.

Conditional love, however, lowers your shields to the hurts of others and gives them harbor and perpetual life within you. Conditional love grows the disappointment, resentment, and bitterness that comes from unmet expectations. Grace does not always say, “yes.” but refuses to say “never.” Grace is not the absence of boundaries, but an understanding that most boundaries that constrict the flow of Grace are not boundaries but a barrier.

The true danger in your relationships is not in the giving of Grace, but in the withholding of it. Withholding changes nothing and erodes most everything. Grace changes everything and erodes nothing. It is this irrational, indiscriminate compassion that is called Grace. It defies everything we have learned and believe works in a conditional world.

0.04 Grace confronts religious pride and injustice- There is a purpose in giving Grace to difficult people (of which we all are difficult at times). It is to heal, restore, and reconcile. Some difficult people are difficult because of their pride and/or behaviors of injustice. Ironically, Jesus confronted these types of folks very sternly, and yet gave great compassion, patience, and understanding to broken, sinful people.

What do people of pride and injustice have in common? Their refusal to be people of Grace, receiving it and giving it. They take away, when giving is what should be done. They punish when correction will do. They hold out rules and regulations when freedom and encouragement is what would gain the influence. They pretend they have it all together, when they don’t. They condemn, judge, and sow seeds of guilt and shame into people’s lives.

Yet, Jesus was and is Gracious to these folks nonetheless. They very fact that He didn’t go any further than giving them harsh comments of confrontation, stopping short of drop kicking them into hell, shows His abundant Grace. Sometimes, the deepest expression of Grace to these kinds of difficult people is in what we stop short of doing and saying. Walking away, kicking the sand of your feet can be a deep expression of Grace.

See, Grace is most attracted to people who know deep down they need it. Jesus spends most of His time making sure the broken, humbled, and hurt receive it instead of trying to convince the proud and unjust to receive it and give it.

With some people, the more you give Grace, the harder their spine stiffens. The more you try to confront their pride and injustice, they more they dig their heals into the ground. What should we do? Give Grace anyways, and still confront when necessary. Yet, spend more of your time extending Grace to people who aren’t hell bent on living against it in their lives and in the lives of others.

0.05 Grace does not invite sure physical danger- Giving Grace to difficult people doesn’t mean that if you are physically abused or are in a physically abusive relationship, you should just take it.  It’s one thing to give Grace knowing that you might be endangering yourself physically as Amy and I did in adopting two of our daughters from China. The plane could have crashed, we could have been hurt traveling in sketchy parts of China etc. But, to invite sure physical (or even emotional) danger to you or those you love in the name of Grace is likely unwise. You can still give Grace to difficult people while creating necessary physical and/or emotional space. A good rule of thumb is, if in giving Grace you put yourself in a circumstance that will certainly damage you ability to give it because of the presence or level of physical or emotional harm, than chances are, you need to create some distance that allows you to give Grace, but not be harmed or have harm brought to the ones you love in the process. The stronger you are in your sense of identity in Christ, the more you will be able to give Grace to emotionally toxic people without losing yourself in the process. It is Grace that grows this strong sense of identity in Christ in you.

0.06 Grace receives from God and gives to people-  With God, it is better to receive than to give. But, with people, it is better to give than to receive. Spend your time allowing God to be the supply of comfort, security, value, worth, applause, happiness, meaning, courage, etc. in your life. He is the One who can meet these needs completely and consistently.  With God, spend much more of your time receiving the needs in your life than trying to give to Him.

Yet, with people, spend much more time giving to them from your well of Grace, instead of turning to them to be your supply. When we turn to others to receive, we create a level of “expectation” into the relationship. When we turn to people to give, we create a level of “uncondition” into the relationship. It is impossible to to give Grace and yet have connected expectations in return. If Grace is not given unconditionally, it is not Grace.

Difficult people, in some ways, become much less difficult when we aren’t trying to change them or get them to meet some relational expectation. Rather, we are simply trying to give Grace, and in doing so, we bring to the table the very thing that actually changes everything. When we stop trying to change and get certain things from people, we actually can bring to bare the one thing that can change people and behaviors… Grace.

Recovering From A Disappointing Dad

As a father, I know over the course of my parenting I will have many areas where I don’t measure up and will have times where I disappoint my children and God who entrusts them to me.  No father is perfect, and being a faithful father is tougher now than perhaps ever before.  Every dad, to at least some degree is a “disappointing dad.” Only our heavenly Father is perfect and leaves nothing lacking.

Yet, there are those fathers whose disappointment factor rises to a level of leaving severe scars and deep unmet needs in their children’s lives.  They are the abusing, absent, or abdicating dad.  Some fathers abuse their children, emotionally and physically. Other fathers are absent from their children’s lives as they bury themselves in work, hobbies, distractions, or keep an emotional distance from their child’s life, sometimes to the point of abandoning their children all together. Other fathers abdicate their role to the mom, coaches, schools, churches, and culture as a whole as they refuse to lead, set the example, take responsibilities, and become an active, beneficial part of their child’s life. This is what I am referring to when I speak of “Disappointing Dads.” Fathers are to be the lead example setters, coaches, spiritual directors, protectors, correctors, monitors, providers, and time involved persons in their child’s life.

The role of father in our culture needs to be reclaimed and restored in our culture. Our society has portrayed fatherhood as one big joke, and fathers like Bart Simpson and Ozzy Osbourne are leading the way. Unfortunately, many men have gladly kicked backed in their recliners and adopted the mindset they see on television.

Sadly, just ask any school teacher, the carnage from “Disappointing Dads” is everywhere. Kids, mothers, families and society as a whole are paying the price big time. Furthermore, though this reality is probably worse now than ever before, there are previous generations now in their adult years who are trying to recover from “Disappointing Dads.” In fact, gen-“x”ers (now in their late 30’s to late 40’s) were the first to be named “Latch Key Kids” as their pre-boomer parents were off chasing the American Dream and living their own post-version of the 60’s.  The fathering trends haven’t gotten any better since then, but only worse.  I suspect the counseling, psychiatric side of the economy will be doing well for many years to come as these generations age.

Obviously, when it comes to recovering from a “Disappointing Dad” finding a good, Christian counselor is likely going to be a must. There are so many layers and connections that only a trained counselor can help you integrate into your life and faith in a way that is going to bless you and glorify God.  Yet, here are few steps you can take that will surely help you recover.

0.01  Grieve the Loss

Life is full of loss and pain. The hurts these cause in our life become most harmful when we don’t properly grieve.  So much of the dysfunction in our life is a result of a loss that has not been grieved completely.  Grief is God’s way of healing us from pain and loss in our lives.  Grieving is not an easy process, but it is a necessary process for finding healing and purpose within our pain and loss.

“Disappointing Dads” leave our lives with loss and pain. This pain and loss often centers around areas where they fell short as fathers and/or took something from us. That is why there is disappointment. God knows we can’t go back and remove the pain or undo the loss. This is where God’s gift of grief comes in. Grief enables us, through the power of Jesus, to integrate the pain and losses of life into our present and future in ways that ultimately bless us and glorify God.

The basic stages of grief are as follows… 1) Shock 2) Painful Feelings 3) Acceptance 4) Meaning 5) Empowerment

This process requires us to go through all 5 steps in order. And even though we may get through all five steps, it doesn’t mean we  still won’t have moments where we revisit one of the other steps. However, as you go through these steps, God is able to transform you and your circumstances to the place where you discover the tremendous purpose in pain and a ministry from within your misery.

I strongly encourage you to listen to the message series, “Rise Above: Defying the Gravity of Adversity” located on this website. This message series will guide you step by step through discovering the purpose within your pain and how to get to a place in your life where you actually have overcome the pain and loss you have experienced.

God fully understands and cares about your experience with a “Disappointing Dad” and desires to come along side of you as your Heavenly Father and heal those wounds. Walking with Him through the steps of grief will be a significant part of your healing and transformation.

o.o2  Renew and Release

One of the most powerful verses in the Bible that applies to an issues like this is…  Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. 

There are two critical ideas presented in this passage. 1) When we hope or long for something to come into our lives that for whatever reason is very likely not going to occur, it creates pain and suffering. 2) When our God given hopes and longings are fulfilled, it brings growth and life to our being.

One of the most destructive things “Disappointing Dads” leave in our lives are unfulfilled hopes and longings.  God created us needing and deserving of fathers that meet critical needs in our lives. Furthermore, God designed our fathers to shape and mold our futures in ways that honor and foster God’s plan for your life. Unfortunately, when those needs, longings, and positive influences that only fathers can give do not occur, it leaves our lives filled with longings and hopes that are unfulfilled. In a very real sense, your “Disappointing Dad” owes you big time.  Maybe they owe you your innocence back, the childhood you deserve, the attention you should have been given, the father you should have had, etc.  Unfortunately, with many “Disappointing Dads” they either can’t repay what is owed you, or they refuse to do so. Either way, you have a “hope that is deferred” or said another way “a debt that isn’t being paid”  What happens? We live our lives hoping that somehow or someway these needs will be met by the person that should have met them in the first place, our father.  We look for the apology that is likely never to come, the change of heart or behavior that is likely never to change, and the list can go on and on. What’s the result? Our hearts grow sick with bitterness, disappointment, anger, frustration, guilt, and alike. We want to love our father and for our fathers to love us the way it was supposed to be, but that reality very likely just isn’t going to ever happen. That reality makes us sick in more ways than one.

So, what are we do to? Be heart sick the rest of our lives holding onto the past and feeling emotionally incomplete and cheated, many of us having the scars to show for it?  No.

God came up with the most brilliant solution to the pain and loss people create in our lives, especially “Disappointing Dads.” The solution is… forgiveness. Now before you wig out and click off this post thinking there is no way you are going to forgive the dad that screwed up your life, please hear me out.

Forgiveness does NOT mean that what your dad did or didn’t do is somehow now “o.k.” Forgiveness does NOT mean that the relationship is automatically reconciled or restored. Forgiveness does NOT mean you have to remove healthy boundaries and feel good about being around that person, what happened in the past, and what the relationship is like now.

Rather, forgiveness means you are canceling the debt. You are emotionally releasing your father of the debt they owe you that they cannot or will not repay.  Through forgiveness you are fulfilling the longing and hope you have for the father and childhood you did not receive by canceling the debt. In so doing, you are moving from bondage to the past into life for the present and future. You or no longing looking to your father to be or become someone to you that they cannot or refuse to be or become. The hole that your father left in your life is now able to be filled by the presence and provisions of God. Unforgiveness keeps this from happening and prolongs the pain and suffering that was caused years ago. Forgiveness stops the negative pattern, and our emotional enslavement  to it.

Forgiveness is very likely going to be the only thing that satisfies the longing and hopes left in our lives from the blood sucking of “Disappointing Dads”  Forgiveness removes the leach of their behaviors from continuing to suck the life out of us long after our childhoods are over.

Forgiveness is not easy and takes the power of God working in our lives, but it is perhaps the most critical step in recovering from “Disappointing Dads”

I strongly suggest reading my post “What’s Up With Forgiveness” for more details on what forgiveness is and isn’t and how to apply it to your life.

0.03  Take up Your Cross

I believe the purpose of your life can be found very close to the pain in your life. Taking up your cross, at least in part, means being willing to use your experiences of pain for the glory of God. Additionally, it carries with it the reality that we will all have crosses to bear as we do our best to live our lives and make the most of them for God’s purposes.

Recovering from a “Disappointing Dad” is a life long  journey.  Sometimes, you will make great strides forward and other times you will have to “fight the good fight of faith” as you battle to create a better future.  God knows you and your needs better than anyone. Jesus’ invitation to “take up you cross and follow me” is a sure indicator that 1) Jesus wants you, baggage and all 2) Following Jesus is the best way to live (though it may not be the easiest)  3) The best chance and only chance you have to take your disappointments and turn them into destiny is by placing them at the feet of Jesus.

You won’t ever be able to truly leave the pain and loss all behind while on this side of heaven, but you can take it up and follow Jesus. As you do, your pain and loss will be transformed into peace and gain. It really is true. That’s the miracle of following the Master!


When Church Hurts

I believe God’s church is the hope of the world through Jesus Christ. When a church is healthy and vibrant it is the best thing going on the planet. As a pastor of 17 years, I have experienced the best and worst of what a church can become and do.  There is no greater thrill than to find your place in God’s church and accomplish with others what you could never achieve on your own for the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom. Through God’s church, vital needs in life our met that can’t be met anywhere else.  Indeed, church is a beautiful thing, praise be to God!

However, there are many who have not had the best experiences with “church.”  Some would even say that they have been badly hurt by their church experiences. At the extreme level, there are those who have encountered spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse within their church life. The documentary, “Deliver us from Evil” is a sobering, disgusting example.

In a recent report from Focus on the Family, “Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, and say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church.”

I am sure that what constitutes as a bad church experience is a highly subjective matter of personal opinion. Furthermore, I have often seen where a bad church experience has become a convenient excuse for people to entirely disconnect from church and adopt a spiritually lazy life. The “church” has often become an easy blame and a perfect scapegoat from what are really problems with the person themselves and not the church as a whole.  Churches are never perfect, but they aren’t always the problem.

Yet, there are many who have had legitimately hurtful church experiences that have had much more to do with the unhealth of a church than anything about them personally.  These instances are disappointing and discouraging to say the least. It’s unfortunate when people who are trying to be good, go to a church gone bad. From my experience, I could even go so far as to say that in America we suffer from a church health crisis. This reality is truly the elephant sitting in the Christian culture room.  In the name of christian, political correctness, not many want to really say it or even see it, but the truth is, in America, we have more clubs with crosses on top of them than mission centers focused on spreading the Gospel and creating worshipers of Jesus.

Dave Olson, the director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, has made some interesting projections regarding what is going to happen to church attendance in America if current trends continue. According to Olson, only 18.7 percent of all Americans regularly attend church.  If this number continues to decline at the current pace, Olson says that the percentage of Americans attending church in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.  Other research has concluded similar findings. According to a study accomplished  by LifeWay Research, membership in Southern Baptist churches will fall nearly 50 percent by the year 2050 if current trends persist.

Is church health entirely to blame for the decline of people going to church? No. Is it a big factor? I would say, yes.  If the saying, “As the family goes, so does the community and the culture” applies, than the saying, “As the church goes, so does Christianity” must also have some relevance.

Does the American christian church have a lot of work to do? Yes. Do people who attend churches additionally bare a lot of  responsibility for their own church experiences? Yes, absolutely.

So, what do you do when Church hurts?

o.o1 Examine yourself- The last question that people typically ask after having a bad church experience is, “Was any of this my own fault?”  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Taking time for some soul-searching discernment will partner with God to help you move forward and grow through your experience.  Bad church experiences can get very emotional and personal.  Seeking the counsel of objective people who can speak the truth in love into your life would be a great step.  As my mother would say to my sisters and I, “It takes two to tango.”  Don’t be surprised if you find that part of the bad experience you had with church is at least in part your responsibility. It may or may not be your fault, but it may be some of your responsibility. Are there occasions when people are burnt by church entirely separate from any wrong doing or responsibility on their part? Yes, absolutely.  Yet examining yourself will help to know what role if any you played in the negative experience.

o.o2 Gain perspective- As you take a hard look in the mirror, it will be important to really get a clear perspective on what actually happened. So often, in the midst of a bad church experiences, the truth and the facts can get highly distorted and emotionally charged. There typically are many issues at play behind the scenes… power, vision, structure, authority, heart, faith etc.  Obviously, you may never be able to piece together everything, but doing your best to step outside of the experience and see thing clearly will be helpful. Conflict in churches is usually about issues of vision. Two or more people simply have different visions for things. Unfortunately, these issues of division get spiritualized and emotionalized. This is when things get ugly and hurtful. Most churches don’t have a shared vision to begin with nor a clear definition of what are essential issues of unity and what are not. Many churches are set up (likely unintentionally) in ways that breed conflict and harbor it.

Therefore, most bad church experiences are really symptomatic of underlying problems within the church’s DNA. Again, you may never be able to connect all the dots, but realizing there are probably a lot pieces to the puzzle that led to your negative church experience helps you to own what is your part and disown what is not.

o.o3 Curb expectations- Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of church life. First, they think that people who go to church should be perfect. I firmly agree that church life should manifest a higher relational and moral standard than that of the world, but churches aren’t perfect.  Not unlike the world, there are moments of conflict in church. How churches handle conflict and prevent it in the first place is what’s critical.  Expecting church life to be conflict free and even hurt free is unrealistic. Second, many people expect church to be primarily about them. From the style of worship to what is offered for their children, many christians are spiritual consumers with a mindset that church should be about meeting their personal spiritual needs. They approach church like a spiritual vending machine.  Thus, when some aspect of church becomes a little challenging, uncomfortable, or disheartening, they are quick to cry foul and label church as “not for me.” Well, in some ways they are correct, church isn’t just “for you.”  Rather, church is primarily to be about people who are far from God. Therefore, when we expect church to be about aligning our hearts, lives, and resources towards a common vision and mission to reach people far from God and grow in Christ-likeness it is then that we are much better positioned to field the moments when church hurts.  When we expect church to be a place where we connect with a spiritual family as we come under the authority and care of the shepherd of the church, we adopt a mindset of much better expectations. In fact, the expectations shift from “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I contribute?”

o.o4 Choose carefully- If you ask most people why they go to the church they attend it’s typically primarily for emotional reasons… their friends or family go there, it’s convenient, it’s politically beneficial, it benefits their work, they have always gone there, they were married there, they like some ministry that is offered etc.  Though many churches have developed membership classes where people are instructed on the vision, design, and beliefs of the church, most people don’t look into these aspects of a church. So many bad church experiences could have been prevented with a well developed and required membership class that the entire church must attend and buy into. Secondly, when a church is structured properly and the right people are serving in the right roles, bad church experiences are greatly reduced.

Before you consistently attend a church you should know…

1- What the vision of the church is.  

If a church can’t tell you specifically what they are about, what their values are, and where they are going, you probably don’t want to get on board. Furthermore, if you sense there is division in the church, you will probably want to avoid it.  Churches that are family run or without demographic diversity should be entered with caution. A church should be able to tell you specifically what God’s vision is for them, what they are focused on, what their values are, and what their goals are for the future. Ask the leadership these type of question and then also ask attenders of the church. If you consistently get conflicting answers, you may want to keep church shopping. Furthermore, if the church can’t give you clear answers, that may be a symptom of deeper problems.

A great follow up question is, “What have you done in the last six months towards the vision and future you just spoke of?” A church is becoming tomorrow what they are doing today. If they talk a big talk, but can’t show you how their current ministry is leading towards the future, you may want to proceed with caution.  Unfortunately, some churches can be like a used car lot, they will tell you all kinds of things to close the deal.

A church should have a vision that 1) reaches people far from God and connects them to His Church 2) grows believers into spiritual maturity as they learn to follow Christ and reach nonbelievers 3) minsters to the poor and needy 4) builds healthy, spiritual community 5) equips people for spiritual service and leadership 6) and worships God with passion and Truth.

A church should be a mission center, not a maintenance ministry.

2- Where authority and power are placed.

Churches can become very political. Unfortunately, many churches are structured democratically in ways that attract political, power hungry people. If you detect that the pastor/and or staff are seen and handled as merely the hired hands, you probably want to take note. Pastors are leaving churches and even the ministry at staggering rates. Most of the time it’s because of an issue of power where a group of people or families want to run the church. On the other side of the coin, if you see a pastor/and or staff that has no accountability set up with other pastors/elders, you should also take note. Pastors need to have the freedom to lead and shepherd a church, but when you see them dictating people’s personal lives and taking the lone-ranger approach to ministry, this could be problematic.  The best system I have seen of accountability is where a pastor/and or staff  have a group of outside pastors that serve as an accountability team for their leadership and the overall ministry. This can also be formed with elders within the church as long as those elders are appointed (verses elected), approved by the congregation, and have been trained and tested. Healthy accountability never seeks to manage leadership, but rather to protect it.

3- How people are equipped and placed to serve.

Bad church experiences can be created by having the wrong people serving in the wrong places. In many churches, people are serving in ways that are based on merely what they want to do or feel obligated to do. This can be a prescription for negative experiences.  When people serve merely from the motivation of self-satisfaction or desire, people can tend to get “sticky fingers” and personal agendas.  They get territorial and see their role or area of ministry as “theirs.”  We want people to serve in their area of passion, but not selfishly. Secondly, when people get roped or guilted into serving, they end up serving in areas outside of their passion and giftedness. This ends up being a loss for them and a loss for the ministry. On top of all this, when no discernment is given to spiritual maturity, people end up serving in areas beyond their ability to do so and a negative situation is almost certain to arise.

Finding a church where people are placed and equipped to serve by the staff based on their passion, spiritual gifting, and maturity apart from guilt, obligation, or personal desire alone is critical.        

4- What the beliefs of the church are.  

Most churches have a statement of their beliefs, make sure you have familiarized yourself with them before getting deeply connected. Furthermore, make sure that you are familiar with all their doctrinal beliefs. Not all critical doctrinal beliefs are necessarily articulated in a church’s beliefs statement.

5- What the church’s stance on critical issues are.

What does the church believe about politics, abortion, homosexuality, Calvinism, divorce, Masonic Lodge, racism, Bible translations, tithing etc.?  Sometimes we get so inspired by our first experiences in a church that we don’t look under the hood before we get involved or join.  Yet, these are the kind of issues that come up down the road that can lead to negative experiences.  Make sure you go into a church “eyes wide opened” and thoroughly look behind the scenes to find out what that church is all about. First impressions are great, but can also be deceiving.  A ounce of upfront discernment and information seeking can pay off tremendously later on in preventing negative church experiences.

 

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