Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Call for Change in the Current State of the Church

This response is written out of personal hurt, healthy anger, and a greater appreciation and understanding of how God works all things for good for those who love him.

Most of you who are reading this love God. You have been an active part of God’s kingdom in a number of capacities. Whether you have been hurt by the church or have hurt others in the church (both of which I have done), I hope you can appreciate this response in the love of God.

Since high school, I have been privy to the inside workings of the church. I’ve always been keenly aware of my surroundings, the people within them, and how I fit into it all. God has granted me this ability to be able to discern and help other people, and this is a time that calls for it.

When I was a junior in high school, I watched my church crumble before my eyes. The national church of which my local church was a member adopted doctrine and practices that are unbiblical. When the media proclaimed that Gene Robinson, a homosexual who was in an extra-marital relationship, was ordained as a bishop, people unsheathed their swords, drew lines in the sand, and stood guard ready to fight anyone who crossed them.

Friends who had become more like family over the years suddenly ex-communicated one another; people fought in open church forums; and the leadership, not knowing what to do, fought quietly behind doors as to what action should be taken.

Three years later I took an internship at this church and watched the division grow. While I was (by choice) na├»ve, the internal division within the staff did not escape my knowledge. This was the most disturbing. What church can function and grow if no healthy leadership is in place to set an example? I left that summer hating what God’s church had become, vowing to never be a part of its leadership again.

Once at TCU, I discovered a church promising a new approach to God’s kingdom. Although confused as to why God was pulling me back into church leadership, I accepted a job there.

During my first few months, I showed up, did what needed to be done, and left without much commitment, much less any emotional attachment. In hindsight, I wanted to remain on the outside of any potential conflict and was naturally skeptical of it all. However, God had other plans.

After about a year, I had gotten attached to this new family, embracing the joys and heartaches that came along with it. That was about the time a consultant was brought in to help us with unity.

In those two days we learned a lot about each other and conflict areas were brought to light with a plan to attack and diminish them. After a few more months, those plans seemed to be swept into the corner. They ceased to remain a priority for us.

So once again, we were left with a lack of unity and no direction. I started to see the detrimental effects it was having on each individual staff member. There was no one there to help us.

The conflict and lack of unity grew until I left in November at my two-year mark. My leaving was bittersweet. I knew there was something greater for me out there, but I couldn’t help but feel the exorbitant pain this conflict had on me. Seeing my family slyly rip each other apart added hatred and bitterness to my already calloused heart towards church leadership.

As I was driving away from Fort Worth that early November day, I got a call that I was accepted to seminary. What a way God has in revealing the next step to us. So, I started seminary.

After my short time in this process, I have realized the extent of my aversion towards those in church leadership. My personal experiences have taught me that church leaders are anything but nurturing, loving, and close to God. I have been blinded by their humanness. I only saw the dissension, selfishness, and cowardly back-stabbing.

Many of you reading this may agree, some will not. And I thank God for those of you who have never experienced hurt by the leadership of His church. But in light of recent events and the history I have experienced, I call for a change to happen within the church, within God’s people.

I am studying spiritual direction right now and while I am not an expert, I can see that the most critical contribution to the downfall of the church is that leaders do not possess the knowledge or the courage to take care of themselves before helping others.

Leaders, being the “good Christians” they are, unhealthily put others before themselves as some type of righteous sacrifice to the service of the Lord. However, if they are not first and foremost in a healthy relationship with God, they WILL NOT be able to lead effectively.

A healthy relationship with God does not mean everything in your life is in order; it does not mean you don’t have issues to deal with. In a healthy relationship with your Creator, you will not have a perfect life. You will continue to fail. You will continue to fall. There will be nights you question, nights you cry, nights in which confusion overwhelms your thoughts. But in that healthy relationship, you constantly turn to the Father, knowing and trusting that He is present, and that that is enough.

I have no doubt in my mind that such lack of attention to self leads to divisions within the church. It starts first in the leaders’ personal lives. With so much pressure to perform in front of and take care of the body of believers, their relationships with God become a job suddenly void of joy, relaxation, and fulfillment. Instead, resentment, bitterness, and callousness consume the heart and head.

This inevitably leads to a self-imposed distance from God creating an inappropriate level of autonomy. This false sense of autonomy apart from God breeds a fear that unless they maintain control, the church will fall apart. (Ironically, when leaders give up control to our trusting God, such falling apart does not occur.)

With such obsession with control, church leaders soon bury themselves by taking on the weight of the church. This premature burial leads to hostility towards others and eventually an unwillingness to look beyond personal agendas and see the greater role of leadership as a means to nurture, love, and guide the body of Christ.

As I said earlier, most people reading this have experienced the detrimental effects of church division, and I know I am not the only one to uncontrollably weep over such circumstances. Having experienced this a number of times and by the grace of God, I am able to see the overarching problems that arise within church leadership. Accordingly, I call for a change in the current state of the church:

First and foremost, do not give up on the church. Without mutual support and love from within the body, no change can happen.

Stand firm in the knowledge that God, while having seemingly turned his back, has done so to re-establish our utter dependence on Him and Him alone.

Remember that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. No leader should ever be so highly viewed as Him who was grotesquely nailed to a cross in order that we should have freedom in this life.

These next ones are written specifically for leaders:

Take care of your relationship with God. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are currently in leadership, or even if you think you are to do so one day, seek out human relationships that will strengthen your relationship with God. This not only means close friendships, but also seeking the guidance and wisdom of someone who is aware of how God moves and works and reveals his being in this world. This should be someone who actively listens to God and undoubtedly lives in His presence.

If you have any psychological or emotional issues, seek professional counseling. These issues WILL negatively affect your ministry. Oftentimes as leaders, we feel as though we need to not admit we have problems. Guess what? People relate more to those who are scarred, walk with a limp, and sometimes need to be carried. People want to know they are not alone in their hurts and sufferings. They need to be shown what to do with it. If you sweep it all under the rug, what example is that showing? SEEK HELP. If we are to effectively guide and direct people, we need to manage our own downfalls that stand in the way of relating to God. Sometimes prayer is just not enough. I know that may sound unbiblical, but professional counseling is a powerful tool. I speak from experience.

Finally, remember to love. None of what I said above counts for anything without love. God is love and since he dwells within us through the Holy Spirit, we are certainly capable of loving one another. Love does not mean accepting the status quo. It means having enough compassion and courage to quietly rebuke our brothers and sisters for the greater good of God’s kingdom. God is the end-all in this. Remember that.

These are the words of my heart. This is my soul laid bare. I weep continuously for the state of the church and because of that my voice needs to be heard. If you have any questions about what I have stated or even wish to refute such statements, please contact me so we can discuss openly and honestly. I do not have all the answers. I am not perfect. But I am confident in my role within the church and live in the loving presence of God my savior and comforter, ever aware of how he is moving throughout my life. And for that I am thankful.

4 comments:

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  2. I like your idea about where these problems begin--in the leaders who are performing for the community and (by implication) in the community that demands they perform.

    Church can't be a performance. God is building a Kingdom, not producing a Broadway show.

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  3. This is so true on so many different levels. Being older than you, I have experienced this leadership situation a few times, and everything you said is so valid. I thank God for your gift with words, for you have given thought and voice to what many people feel but can't describe. I ache for all that is going on, but your clarity and love for God speaks volumes. Hugs.

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  4. I'm really digging your take on your own journey - well stated, well captured!

    I'd like to take one of your points a little further. I 150% concur that Jesus is the Head of the Church and not the local shepherds. I fully agree that we, the people, have put pastors/priests on WAY to high of a level.

    So why do we expect them to be all-but _only leaders_? I greatly appreciate your admonitions to leaders to be healthy. But it seems that the overall post lacks the perspective that God is also working in the heart as well as the actions of the leader. It is as if a leader needs to lead more perfectly than the rest of us are willing to follow (as a comparative analogy).

    If God is the end-all, then He is the end-all in not only the leadership done but the leader as well (ex. Fuller Sem. professor Bobby Clinton's works, Ralph Mattson's _Redeemed Ambition_, etc.).

    King-to-be David's time of running scared proves remarkably interesting in that God has us see David's character/soul development almost to the exclusion of his leading activities. Yet he spent almost all his time leading. Why are these accounts inspired to be written like this? I am suggesting it is not only for the points you make above (development of the character/soul/heart of the leader) but ALSO so that we can all see that God uses leadership situations to continue to work on the life of the leader! and not just the followers or some variant of God's-work-on-earth.

    Okay, I think I got a little more pokey than I expected. I really agree with your post! I think one point could go further, but a step forward on any of these fronts would be GREAT for the universal as well as local expression of God's People!

    SOOO glad you're in the track you are! I, personally, think you'll do awesome.

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