Thursday, 30 July 2015

Life After 'Church' Abuse

He leads me beside still waters...

It occurred to me this morning that Monday this week was the third anniversary of my resignation from 'church leadership'. The night before, I'd attended what turned out to be my last-ever elders' meeting. At that meeting I was told that my choice was, in effect, to submit to abuse or resign. Although I went to bed that night, I just couldn't sleep. And so, in the early hours of the morning, I got out of bed and emailed these words:
"When I originally stood for eldership it was out of obedience to the Father. I believed He had called me to bring who I was and what I do to the table to bless and serve [ex-church]. I also believed that we were elected as a team, accountable to each other and to the body; that we all had unique gifts and callings which were valued by each elder and that together we became so much more than just the sum of our parts. Over recent months I have increasingly felt that what I bring is no longer received or valued, and that trust and accountability has been lost. 
In the midst of this, I have never been more confident of the Father's call on my life. As I shared at the board meeting, God has been confirming again and again who I am and what He has created me to be and do. I know what He has laid on my heart and have seen good fruit come from my engagement in that. My validation comes from the Father and not from holding a position or title so, as I now believe I have the Father's release to do so, I am tendering my resignation from the eldership of [ex-church]. I remain committed to Kingdom relationship."
At the time, I genuinely believed that if I did what they wanted, then things could be worked out. Maybe by stepping aside people would feel less threatened by what I was saying. But the questions I'd raised could not be un-asked, so it seems that in their eyes I was the threat.

I learned the hard way that there is no room for the Kingdom where the mentality of empire-building (and king-making) has taken hold.

And as they say... the rest is history...

So why am I sharing this? Because (as I've said before) my experience is not unique. While the details may vary, the basics of my story get repeated every day - played out in churches of all types all around the world. And real people suffer real heartbreak - damaged by the very ones who'd promised them love and healing.

And to all those who are still living the nightmare, still doubting that they'll ever feel whole (or smile) again, I want to speak hope.

When I wrote that letter three years ago, I was too traumatised by all that had come before to be able to see clearly, and I had no idea what would happen or where I'd end up. I certainly had no inkling that it was actually a step towards a new life of freedom and wholeness.

And yet, reading it again after all this time, I see clearly that I was already on the journey. That I was already being guided towards the freedom and abundant life that Jesus promised - but which had always seemed to allude me.

It all felt too much like defeat and loss and betrayal, so I had no idea then how free and alive and whole I would come to feel! Yes, it took time. Yes, it got worse before it got better. Yes, I'm still journeying. But, these days I know a peace and rest within myself that I wouldn't exchange for the world.

At the time I thought I'd lost the things that represented the pinnacle of my faith life, but in reality all I had lost was a load of man-made 'religious' rubbish. I finally 'get' what Paul was talking about when he said, "everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him." Philippians 3

I lost a 'title', but Jesus had told us not to take them for ourselves. I lost a 'ministry', but ministry can, and does, happen wherever and whenever I find myself engaging with others. I lost 'relationships', but it seems they had been based on my performance and compliance to other people's agendas. I lost 'love', but it had only been conditional, so it wasn't real in the first place.

None of the things I 'lost' were of any value after all. In fact, they'd been as unwholesome as garbage, as noxious as sewage.

What I have discovered and embraced since then has been priceless. Because I've found Life* - free, abundant, joyful.

So if you've just been 'thrown under the bus', or if you've been on the journey of healing for a while and some days despair of ever being truly free, please hang in there. It won't always be like this. There is hope. You can make it.

Because however long and hard the journey might be, there really is Life after 'church' abuse.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Are Celebrity Christians Above 'The Law'?

In the 2000 movie, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the two cartoon characters are arrested and brought before 'Judge Cameo' who, as soon as she recognises them, dismisses the case against them stating that "celebrities are above the law".

Now, in the context of the film, it was funny - even while it took a clever jab at the attitude that condones and excuses the bad behaviour of the rich and famous. No matter what they've been accused of, no matter how they've behaved, they are not to be held to the same standards as the 'common' man - simply because they are famous!

But in real life, that attitude is far from funny.

And when the 'celebrity' involved is the head of a mega-church, there's nothing at all to amuse us.

Yet, sadly, Hillsong's 'Fearless Leader' Brian Houston recently provided another example of this very attitude.

After implying that he had decided to cancel his planned interview with Mark Driscoll at this year's Hillsong Conference, it then became apparent that he had merely been playing semantics to avoid a legitimate protest of his actions. The interview went ahead - it was just pre-recorded rather than live - and it was screened on Day One of the Sydney conference!

Brian Houston's words and actions were, at best, disingenuous, and some people might say that they were deliberately deceptive - that Brian Houston lied to silence the protest and to avoid any accountability for his actions.

People have been protesting Mark Driscoll being given such a high-profile platform (by a 'celebrity' leader) when there are still so many unresolved issues, so many unanswered questions and so many unreconciled relationships left in the wake of Mark's own celebrity leadership. Some people suggested that it would have been more appropriate to be interviewing some of the 'bodies' Mark Driscoll had thrown under the Mars Hill bus rather than being seen to lend legitimacy to a leader who had caused so much pain and heartache to his brothers and sisters.

But regardless of whether we think the interview should or should not have happened, there is one significant question to be asked, "What sort of message did Brian Houston's actions send?"

I don't know what he was thinking or what motivated him to take the action he did, but I do know what message I received from his behaviour. That somehow, this man thinks he is above the standards of honesty and integrity of an 'ordinary' follower of Jesus. That he feels entitled to be arrogant and dismissive of his brothers' and sisters' pain because he is a leader, a 'somebody', a person of greater prestige and importance than those lesser mortals.

That is exactly the same sort of attitude that many experienced first-hand in their interactions with the subject of the interview, Mark Driscoll.

And the tragedy is not only that this attitude seems to be rampant within so much of the leadership of the institutional church, but that those who follow these 'celebrities' see nothing at all wrong with it. Scores of people commented on social media, blindly supporting the leaders of both Hillsong and Mars Hill. "Don't question our leaders!" was the constant cry. "We idolise these men and they can do no wrong," was the implication. It sounds horribly reminiscent of the Israelites' foolish demand for a king!

And yet, according to Jesus, celebrity has no place in the Kingdom. Those who would be 'great' are called to be the servant of all, and the lives of those who would 'lead' must be above reproach.

Does that sound like the celebrity culture we have created and called 'church'?

Friday, 3 July 2015

In Which I Am Grateful For My Loss!

This past week, with social media bristling with the noise and reaction to the American Supreme Court's decision regarding same sex marriage, my strongest emotional response has been one of gratitude for being hounded from the IC (institutional church).

That might sound strange... but I can explain.

You see, I spent most of my life in the IC and it taught me well. It taught me that there was a right way to think and a wrong way. It taught me that there was an acceptable way to behave and an unacceptable way. Most of all, it taught me to fear.

To fear anything that was outside the prescribed and approved thoughts and behaviours.

And so with fear and outrage running hot across the internet, and memories of how I, too, used to live in that space flooding in, I was overcome with gratitude for the freedom and rest I've discovered since IC and I so painfully parted ways.

I didn't have to react to what the newsfeeds where screaming at me. I didn't need to fear the sky was falling in. I didn't feel obliged to jump in and 'defend' anything.

I just sat with God and relished his love and his peace, knowing he was immeasurably bigger...