Friday, 28 February 2014

Person or Project?

In my last post, I talked about the desire within each of us to be engaged with as a person and not a problem, to be treated as fully human by our fellow man. I was particularly looking at the context of how Christians treat each other.

Person or Project?
Moving beyond that context, I’d like to explore how we treat those outside our faith. Do we simply love people, or do we treat them as projects - another notch in our evangelism belt, another recruit to ‘our’ church? Are we living examples of the good news of God’s love for all people or are we only interested in getting people to ‘say the sinner’s prayer’ so we can tick another box and move on to the next one?

After a recent shopping trip with my youngest son, the topic of marketing techniques came up in the conversation. I explained to him that marketing is all about creating a desire in people for products they may not even need. Rather than presenting your product and saying, “If you need product x, ours is a really good one to choose”, it has become a case of creating the need - convincing people that they need product x to begin with - and then pushing your particular version of it, using any and all means possible.

I can’t help wondering if we have succumbed to a similar way of operating when it comes to interacting with those who don't share our faith. Jesus told us to make disciples, but have we somehow turned that into a marketing exercise to make converts? Instead of simply living in authentic, loving relationship, do we fall into the trap of ‘loving’ others just so that we can convert them?

Are we interested in people beyond the context of their faith (or lack thereof)? Are they of worth simply because they exist? As men and women of God, do we recognise that every single person bears the imprint of their Creator? Do we believe they are made in His image and is that enough reason for us to value them?

As I was pondering these things, I came across an article entitled Seven Lies Christians Tell. Lie number 7 reads:
Finally, and most importantly, we lie (insidious and barbaric lying) when we pretend like we really, really, really love the other person when in fact we don't. We do not love people when we dismiss their story (including their hopes, values, beliefs and convictions). We do not love people when we do not empathically listen to them, as opposed to spending that time formulating a counter-argument. We do not love others when we reduce them to labels, caricatures, or opponents. If we love, then we will find them shockingly beautiful and fascinating creations. We will find their stories riveting. We will radiate affection. Humans know deep down when they are or are not truly loved.
Let's be people who truly love; who recognise the humanity of others; who actively listen to their stories; who treat others with dignity and worth just because we can!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

I am not an Animal! I am a Human Being!

I remember watching the film, Elephant Man when I was younger and being deeply disturbed by John Hurt’s portrayal of a severely disfigured man living in Victorian London. The treatment of John Merrick by his fellow man moved me to tears. But what haunted me most was hearing the cry from the depths of this man’s soul to be engaged with, not as a freak, but as a human being!

Deep down, I believe that this is the cry of each one of us – that there is something within every human being that yearns for recognition of our humanity from others.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently after another interesting encounter with someone from my ex-church. This person had taken offence at something I had done and had contacted my husband about it. Now I happen to have a very low view of triangulation so I made this person a friendly offer to meet with them so they could discuss their issues with me… with me!

I explained that their approach de-humanised me – treating me as if I was a problem to be dealt with, not a fellow human being to be engaged with, but that I was quite willing to engage relationally with them regarding their problem.

However, this person was not willing to sit down over a coffee (like two mature Christ-followers) and share their concerns with me about my perceived behaviour. And yet they continued (several times) to try to engage my husband over the issue!

Anyway, this incident re-ignited my ponderings over how are we called we treat those we call brothers and sisters and how it works out in reality. Do our words and actions make others feel validated as human beings or do they end up feeling as if they are an issue to be addressed or a problem to be solved?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

You Will O-bey Or You Will Be Exter-minated!

Ok, so the truth was bound to come out sooner or later... I have to confess to being a bit of a geek... just a bit...

And so inevitably I couldn't help but discern the similarity between the Daleks' mantra of 'obey or be exterminated' and the 'submit or be excommunicated' way of operating espoused by some christians. Christians and Daleks with so much in common! Who would have thought? See what I did there ;)

Anyway, as I shared in Part 4 of my story, the concept of enforced submission played a large part in the conflict I experienced as an elder in our church. One man had been  proclaimed by the board to be ‘God’s anointed’, a message he desperately wanted to believe. That same man seriously wanted to be seen as the leader, to be the one in authority over others. So regardless of his behaviour, or how he treated those ‘under’ him, I was expected to submit to him.

No matter how many times I tried to spell out the pain and distress his behaviour was causing, no-one wanted to know. (There are none so deaf as those who refuse to hear!) The board member who delivered the ‘submit or leave’ ultimatum to me said at the time, “If there had been any impropriety involved it might have been different.” I could only assume he was referring to sexual misconduct and, as crude as it sounds, all I could think was that obviously screwing someone’s wife physically was regarded as 'bad', but screwing them emotionally was just fine!

Sadly, this attitude is not new. Teaching that unquestioning submission is somehow 'godly', coupled with the insistence that this will guarantee some sort of spiritual 'covering' (protection) has caused untold pain and suffering throughout the body of Christ. It places one brother over another in terms of authority, it demands submission and it threatens dire consequences to those who do not comply. (How godly is fear-based submission anyway!?) And yet, this teaching is still being employed by countless leaders who insist on absolute submission to their authority, their vision, their rule.

As there is extensive teaching on this subject available on-line, I won't even attempt to replicate it here. But the following article is a great place to start: Under Cover: Authority, Obedience (& Abuse?)Another very useful website which explores this topic quite extensively is Covering and Authority.

Let me finish with one last thought. Throughout the New Testament, christians are encouraged submit to one another (mutually). It is a seen as a gift, something we can offer another, but not something to be demanded. Once we step over into that territory it becomes coercion, and that makes us just like the Daleks.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


If you were to ask any random group of people to define leadership, I imagine you would find most answers would be framed in terms of title, power and position. If you posed that same question within the church, my guess is your results would differ only in the use of the word ‘servant’ as a prefix.

Yet I suspect you would find that the addition of that word makes precious little difference to the observable behaviours of many in leadership. Personally, I have seen and heard of too many instances where leaders are willing to use their position to coerce, constrain and compel. Playing the authority card, pulling rank and enforcing conformity are all too common in the church today.

However, Jesus was quite adamant that we were not to operate in this way. When the mother of James and John started lobbying for position for her sons, Jesus actually disclaimed the authority to make that call. (See Matthew 20:20-27)

He then went on to say, “You know that foreign rulers like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over everyone they rule. But don’t act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest.”

He challenged his followers to put aside their desire for high position and prestige, and he set the example by assuming the posture of a servant. He was willing to abase himself before his own creation. He who could claim the throne of heaven stepped down in humility and love, serving those he could rightfully have claimed as servants.


Because he wanted us to understand that in the Kingdom he was establishing leadership is serving. Simply serving.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Am I Missing Something Here?

“Everyone will know that you are my disciples
because of your love for each other.” John 13:35

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, is famously (or is that infamously?) quoted as boasting, “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God's grace, it'll be a mountain by the time we're done.... ‎You either get on the bus, or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options."

I have to admit that when I first heard those words, I was shocked. Surely a pastor, a ‘shepherd’ of God’s people, wouldn’t really think this way, let alone speak it out! And then I got to thinking; at least he had the guts to be honest – there’s no ambiguity about the way he intends to run things. Buyer (or at least, sheep) beware!

But how many others in church leadership act out this attitude, one way or another, without maybe even seeing it - or being willing to admit to it? How many broken, battered people have been ‘run over’ by leaders who love ‘their’ church more than the people in it?

What is it that makes us so blind that we willingly damage our brothers and sisters - seemingly without conscience or regret? How do we possibly justify behaviour which inflicts such deep, sometimes mortal wounds?

Seriously! Am I missing something here?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A Former Leader's Journey: The Story of a Flock - A Parable

Click here to read the original post: The Story of a Flock - A Parable

I first read this blog post about a year ago and I remember feeling like someone actually understood and had put so much of my experience into words. I hope it brings you the encouragement it brought me.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

My Story - Part 5 - Abuse Survey

Late last year, I answered an online survey about spiritual abuse. I would like to share some of those questions and answers here, hoping it will give you a better picture of where I am up to in my journey.

How did you cope after making the decision to leave?

One day at a time! I talked a lot to a few safe people, debriefing, grieving, crying, venting my anger. I also started searching online to try and find help to heal and it was at that time I discovered that my experience was far from isolated. I read and researched everything I could find about abuse and what church was meant to look like anyway. As I have read the journeys and outcomes of other people’s experiences, I have gained new insights into my own.

Describe some of the positive and negative feelings which you experienced.

Positive: Initially I felt huge relief that I had removed myself from the bullying and abuse. There were moments of excitement at the freedom I was finding as I identified and jettisoned worthless ‘religious’ thoughts and practices.

Negative: Betrayal, loss, grief, loss, anger, frustration…

How did you process the various positive and negative feelings after you left?

Lots of talking, reading and processing and then sharing what I’d discovered. Then more talking.

Do you feel personally disillusioned with this church group?  Please describe.

Totally! These leaders were perfectly happy to see us leave the church wounded and broken. They have refused to deal with the issues and even now they will not meet with us, talk us and fail to even acknowledge our existence.

Beyond this, they are selling a lie – they say they have a better way to live, but when it comes down to it they cannot live by the standards they espouse.

Have you learned anything through your experience, and, if so, what?

So much! I’ve learned that the way we ‘do church’ is utterly bankrupt. It teaches most of us to be passive spectators while the ‘1st class Christians’ entertain us and tell us what to think and how to live.

I’ve also learned that there are text-book patterns to abuse. It’s like there’s a template of words and behaviours that occur regardless of the specific situation.

What advice would you give to others who find themselves in emotionally distressful or abusive spiritual contexts?

First and most important, you are not the problem! You are not to blame for the way someone else chooses to act, you are not “asking for it”. You are not just a trouble-maker, you are not going insane, you are not making things up. This is real – and it’s wrong!

Second, you have permission to keep yourself safe. You don’t owe the abuser anything, you do not need to make it safe for them. You don’t need to compromise or accept bullying, abusive, blaming behaviour towards you.

Number three, don’t let anyone push you into the ‘just forgive and move on’ lie. You need to take the time to work through your emotions and let God lead you through the stages of grief and healing. Just saying the ‘magic’ words means nothing, but there will be many ‘christians’ who want you to be ‘nice’ and not rock the boat.

In the midst of this, find 2 or 3 safe people with whom you can share and debrief. People who are willing to stand with you and protect you as you attempt to deal with things.

What have you found to be most helpful regarding your “spiritual recovery” from a negative church experience?  Basically, what types of help did you find both necessary and helpful to move you forward in Christ after your disillusioning church experience?  What worked for you?

a)  Someone to confide in                                       
Having a few loving, supportive friends to walk with was absolutely essential. Having their permission to talk honestly and openly - to be angry, grief-stricken, whatever I was feeling without being fed the horrible cliché of ‘just forgive and move on’.

b)  Comfort from certain Scripture passages                   
It really helped reading through the gospels and reminding myself how much Jesus was hated and persecuted by the religious leaders of His day.

d)  Participation on blogs
It wasn’t really so much about active participation, but often just reading other people’s stories, finding comfort, encouragement, wisdom in what was shared.

f)  Book(s)                             
Snakes in the Temple – David Orton
So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore - Jake Colsen
He loves Me! The Relationship God Has Always Wanted With You - Wayne Jacobsen
The Naked Church - Wayne Jacobsen
This Is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended - Keith Giles
Pagan Christianity – Frank Viola & George Barna
Reimagining Church – Frank Viola

g)  Other
Overarching everything was the fact that God was working in and through each circumstance, bringing me through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. I lived by clinging to Him and being absolutely real with Him (and a few real ‘brothers and sisters’).

After this experience how was your view of God’s Word changed or affected?

I’ve become terribly wary of the word ‘biblical’. While I believe absolutely that the bible is the inspired word of God, I have also come to believe that there are very few ‘absolutes’ (eg Jesus was the son of God) and so much of what is preached as truth is just our imperfect interpretation of God’s living word.

I think we have superimposed our cultural understanding on the word of God and insisted that everyone subscribe to our way of thinking.

How would you describe your journey with Christ today?

Very real and very relational. I would also point out that it is a journey - I am not where I once was, nor am I yet where I will one day be. But here and now, this is where I am with “I AM”.

As you have reflected once again on these experiences, were you able to thank God for lessons learned and for new freedom in Christ that you have discovered?

Absolutely! J

My Story - Part 4 - I Submit & 'Resign'

In the weeks following that meeting with the board, there were many communications (mostly via email) which just deepened the wounding. As dramatic as it might sound, I felt like I was fighting for my very life. I begged for someone to listen to me, to hear what had been going on and help me find a way out of my pain. By this time, elder M had given up hope and resigned his membership. I desperately wanted to believe there was a better way to go, that people who claimed to follow Christ should be able to work this out together, that we didn’t have to stay trapped in an endless repetition of history!

I really tried to do what I was told – to just “forgive and move on”. I put my trust in these people and tried to accept that it was somehow my fault, that there was something wrong with me. But it was tearing me apart. I was screaming out that I had been bullied and abused by J and yet I was being told that I should submit to his “godly authority”. And I just couldn’t do it! So I endured one last bullying session where board member L delivered the unanimous ‘advice’ of the board to either submit or “consider my position”. That night I resigned.

But, of course, that didn’t actually deal with any of the problems. Apparently, I was supposed to just smile and pretend nothing was wrong but I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room (especially when it was emitting such a foul stench!). Eventually, I wrote to the elders to express my distress at being told, effectively, to sit down and shut up. Their response was to “relieve” me from the preaching roster and from my position as prophetic ministry lead. I really don’t think they could see the irony in that – I objected to being silenced, and they responded by silencing me further!

And so, we limped to church for a few more months, desperately clinging to the hope that someone, somehow would be able to ‘do something’ about the whole sorry mess. During that time, I was treated like a pariah. My own brother disowned me, his wife screamed at me in the school car park when I tried to talk to her, Board member D felt ‘led by God’ to preach for 3 weeks running about ‘Jezebels and False Prophets’, my personal conversations at church were monitored and I had all sorts of false accusations flung at me (apparently I was “murmuring against God’s anointed”). During this time, there were two new elders appointed who both just happened to be close friends with elder R, but the final straw for us was when the elders released a document re-writing history and dismissing any concerns that we had tried to raise. It was a bureaucratic masterpiece, but a relationship killer.

And so we left.