The Healthy Church

The truth is there are no completely healthy churches. We live in a fallen world and we are all are broken by sin.

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Christ went in to reverse the whole conception of leadership: The leader was to serve. Diane Langberg, Clergy Sexual Abuse

From the time people in Jesus’s day began to hear that He was the promised Messiah, disappointment and disbelief began to spread.  Jesus fell short of the expectations that people had. They’d wanted a king who would bring prosperity and peace to the land and their lives.

His rag tag bunch of followers were a disappointment, too. Certainly, the real Messiah had better things to do than hang out with the dregs of society, but Jesus made them a priority.

It doesn’t take much evaluation to determine that things have not changed much since that time.  The world is still looking for a strong leader to save us all from the chaos in the world and bring us peace, comfort and prosperity, and those of us in the church are no exception.

But Jesus has always been more concerned about our souls than He has the peace of the world around us. Our physical lives in this world are only a speck in the eternal scheme of things.  God wants to heal our souls so that we can spend eternity with him.  He knows that true rest and peace in this world is not possible without Him.

Those who followed Jesus were weak and needy and knew it and their outward lives revealed it.  They’d given up a long time ago trying to cover it up.  They had sought what they needed in the world and it had left them sorely disappointed.

Those who still placed their hope in their ability to control their lives in their current circumstances, clung to their comfort and sought a leader who would keep them there.  Their hope was still in what they could see and they didn’t want anyone to disrupt it. Therefore, Jesus was a disappointment.

To deny the reality of our brokenness and need and to attempt to cover it up is to miss an opportunity to meet Jesus.

To look for strong leaders who will help us live in comfort without entering the reality of our pain and brokenness, or leaders who will tell us that everything is OK when it’s not, is missing God’s call to enter a relationship and a dependency on the only One can bring us real peace.

Only when we are able to see our brokenness and our need for Jesus do we really turn to Him.

The confusing part of my story is that I knew how desperate I was, and I went to the church in search of someone to help me find Jesus, but instead I found a wolf.

When leaders lead us to think that they are operating on behalf of Jesus and we are in a vulnerable and confused state, many of us will unknowingly follow those leaders into a ditch.

And I guess the real question is, How do we know which ones are leading us to Jesus and which ones intend to do us harm?  

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:15-20

It is clear from the scriptures that false prophets are in the church, yet as a victim of clergy abuse, I have found very few people in the church who are willing to admit that they are there.

Maybe it’s out of fear that we are not willing to talk about it or it’s just too horrendous for our minds to imagine that there would be people in the churches that we hold dear who will lead us astray.  Mostly, I think it may be because we like the comfort of thinking that everything is fine when it actually is not.

But no matter what our reasons for not talking more about it, the reality is they are there and in our refusal to recognize evil it continues to wreak havoc.

Any power not in active communion with God is not neutral or harmless, but demonic. Diane Langberg, Clergy Sexual Abuse

Only when the truth is exposed can it be brought out into the light and healed.

Being a part of this exposure has enabled me to see certain truths that others have not seen.  If you are victim of clergy abuse, in all likelihood you will see many of these truths, too.  So take comfort, as my counselor told me early on in counseling what you see, you will not unsee. God will not waste your pain and you will be wiser as a result.

But please know that I am so very sorry for what you have gone through. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been through it can fully understand the despair that one feels when they go to the church for hope and only find abuse.

Clergy abuse is never the victim’s fault, but it is clear that wolves in the church pretend to be one of us and they use our own hopes and desire to deceive us.

Last night I after watching the first two episodes of Anne with an E on Netflix I was reminded once again of the desires of my heart that a my former pastor preyed upon and used to lead me astray. Anne has been an orphan all of her life. More than anything else,  Anne wants to belong to a family who will love her and accept all of her brokenness and quirky ways.  Anne talks too much. She’s coped with her abandonment, losses and abuse by escaping into books and fantasy and she bubbles over telling everything she thinks to whoever will listen. Anne is outwardly a mess.  No matter how hard she tries she cannot hold it in. Anne is also desperately afraid of rejection.  In the first episode, she’s riding home with her new foster father talking without taking a breath. She asks him does he want her to be quiet, that she knew her talking got on other’s nerves. The foster father surprises her with acceptance and tells her that he likes listening to her.

Later in the show, Anne is running across the train station after she hears her foster father call her daughter for the first time.  The expression on her face tells us that the thing she has always hoped for has finally come true.  Not long after, Anne is asked to write her name in the family Bible, a declaration that she is now a permanent part of her foster  family.  Anne finally belongs.

The desire to belong was the bait that lured me in.  When my former pastor told me that he loved me, I gave him my heart.

The hardest part about the abuse from a spiritual leader I received was how it stole my heart.

And my former pastor used my heart for his own pleasure.

This is not the work of Jesus or the work of anyone who follows Him.

Jesus wants to give us the desires of our heart and bring about His goodness in our lives.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13:3-5

Jesus served.

Let those words sit for a minute and think about them.

Jesus knelt down and washed the disciples dirty feet.  God had given Him everything that He needed. He had all the power, all the authority to do anything that He wanted to do. He didn’t need anything from the disciples.  But what He did want was to serve them and teach them how to do the same for each other.

Because it is the nature of love to give. Not to take.

It is the nature of evil to take everything that it can for itself.

When Jesus is truly at work in our lives, His love motivates us to give.

When I gave my former pastor my heart, all my heart wanted to do was take, and whatever I got was not enough.  And it was a vicious cycle of abuse that continued for almost a decade.

Thus you will recognize them by their fruits...And in any healthy relationship love should be the primary fruit that we find.

If you’ve been abused by clergy it may seem like there are not any healthy churches or leaders out there.  It may seem like you are swimming in a sea filled with sharks.  Sometimes in your shame it may even feel like you are the shark.

But there are lifeguards out there, so please don’t give up.

As I write this, it has been almost three years since our family came out of our own abusive situation.  We have visited several churches. We have stayed at home and listened to a lot of podcasts, too.  Healing takes time.  Give yourself permission to heal.  It’s really ok.

The truth is there are no completely healthy churches. We live in a fallen world and we are all are broken by sin.  The best thing we can look for in a church and it’s leader is one where there is acknowledgement that we desperately need Jesus and that He is our only source of true hope, not anything in this world.  He’s the only one who loves us and accepts us just as we are and loves us with all of His heart and tells us we belong to Him.

So like Anne with an E know our name is written in His book and it’ll never be erased. He has called us His Children and promised that we are a part of His family forever. Through Him, we have everything we need even when the world feels like the world is falling apart.

Messiah has come and He is making all things new.

This world isn’t home, but He’s got one waiting for us.  One day peace will come to our bodies and souls. One day all the tears will be wiped away forever by Him.

He is Our Unseen Hope and the only hope we need.

And He is at the center of every healthy church.

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