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.

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