What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

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Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder.  The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now.  But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?”  I answered her question the best I could at the time.  However, I still found myself pondering that important question.  I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group.  I dare say that their response was very similar to my own.  As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.

I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations.  As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church?  What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”

I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers.  However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them.  I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting.  So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far.  I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.

Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:

  • A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings.  Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
  • A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships.  I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.”  This is how Jesus did discipleship.
  • A healthy church experiences organic evangelism.  Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them.  This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural.  Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not.  Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w.  That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have.  Think about that.
  • A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership.  Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.”  The label that is used does not matter.  What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other.  BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
  • A healthy church is diverse.  Diverse in its people. Diverse in age.  Diverse in opinions.  Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity.  And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church.  God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots.  I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
  • A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth.  If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring.  However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens.  -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.”  Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
  • And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God.  Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.

 

What does “Real Freedom” look like?

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“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  -Jesus

While Jesus has never let me down on this “journey to freedom,” He has led me down some unplanned paths over mountains, through valleys and across rivers that I thought were absolutely impassable. And so, I have discovered this elusive thing called “freedom” to a greater extent -in the most unexpected places.  I am often pleasantly surprised when I catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the hill I have been climbing.  You think you are “free,” and then He takes you to that new place that He has never shown you because you were not ready to see it yet.  -Before “that moment,” you could not yet handle the experience and you did not have the capacity to truly appreciate it.  Just a few years before you would have sped over the crest of that hilltop -not fully appreciating the view and perspective He wanted you to see at that beautiful summit.

But now, you stop at the top of the hill and you inhale a deep breath. You take in God’s wonderful scenery and you appreciate the majesty of it all.  You savor all of the new insights that you gain from that view. -And then, from this view you are reminded that there are countless others who are struggling down their own paths to freedom and you feel a great sense of responsibility to help them.  So it is with the Kingdom of God.

So what does true freedom look like? Freedom from child abuse, alcohol & drug abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, obesity, a traumatic health event, a soured romantic relationship, sexual abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, spiritual abuse, abandonment… and I know I have to be leaving dozens of others off this list.  Freedom has many perspectives; it all depends on the chains that are binding us…

All of these wounding agents have at least two commonalities that link every single one of us together. -Regardless of where our place is in society, we all get wounded and we all need healing.  The “sickness of sin” has infected us all.  We all need freedom.

So what does freedom look like???  Well, I can tell you this: it is NOT a magic pill, a magic prayer to Jesus or a single session with a counselor, therapist or even your pastor.  IT’S JUST NOT THAT! And if someone tells you that, even with a well-meaning heart, they are simply wrong. Freedom is not found in those places. -At least not in those places alone.

To my wife and I, freedom has been a process. Though at times I desperately searched for the fast forward button to speed up that process, it simply was not there.  Real freedom is a godly phenomenon that takes place over time. Freedom has been a process of time and relationships for us.  And when I say relationships, I mean with common everyday people that God put in our lives. Some relationships are very short lived, -and some are long.  But regardless, as we follow Jesus on this search for freedom, He will lead us down paths that intersect with just the right people.  And sometimes we have no clue what is actually happening. -While we are busy focusing on the ordinary, the Spirit of God is working on the extraordinary the entire time.  You see, God knows that we need each other.

Then… that moment comes when we realize that we are indeed becoming more -and more free… We find ourselves experiencing a level of freedom that we never even knew existed.  We smile, a few tears roll down our checks and we think to ourselves, “This must be what ‘Real Freedom’ looks like.”

Why Should I Forgive?

Forgiveness is much more about YOU -than whoever hurt you.

The act of forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent. I have witnessed countless people refuse to forgive. In turn, I have watched those same people repeatedly tear their own wounds open, time and again.  Forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent and allows the healing process to begin and continue. It is the well medicated bandage that is placed on a wound that has been properly cleaned and dressed.

Forgiveness is also the antidote for the infection of bitterness. I have witnessed bitterness eat people up like a vicious emotional and spiritual infection, causing even more damage than the initial wound. We have all heard stories where a person would get a small cut on a finger or toe and not treat it properly. Then infection set in. As a result, death and decay set in. The tissue around the “small” wound begins to rot away. If the infection is never properly addressed and treated, limb or life can be lost. Forgiveness is the much needed antiseptic treatment for deeply infected emotional wounds. While unthinkable to some victims, forgiveness is the ONLY way the pain will ever begin to subside.

In addition, forgiveness protects relationships. Some of the most miserable people I have met are bitter people who refuse to forgive. They become hard, calloused and simply difficult to be around. While they remain steadfast in the reasoning that justifies their bitterness, the fruit that it bears makes it very difficult for them to actively participate in healthy relationships. No one wants to be around them. Bitterness hinders and corrupts healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is NOT simply giving the offender a “pass” on their misbehavior and looking the other way. Forgiveness is God’s blueprint for enabling us to heal and begin the path towards emotional, spiritual and even physical health and happiness.  This is exactly why Jesus responded “seventy times seven,” when he was asked how often we should be willing to forgive each other.

Healthy living is impossible without forgiveness.

Discovering Indiana Gumbo: a few thoughts from my weekend retreat

From Wikipedia: “Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that exist in southern Louisiana. The dish combines the culinary practices of French, Spanish, native tribes, and African slaves, as well as Italians and Germans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people from these cultures lived together within a fairly small area with minimal mobility. This fostered an environment in which cultures could influence each other and meld to create new traditions and cuisine.”

About once a year I spend a weekend hanging out with some people who have become very good friends. Years ago I would have never believed that I could spend an entire weekend with such a motley crew. These friends come from all walks of life, with various religious backgrounds, levels of education, occupations and personalities. When you stop and think about it you quickly realize that we are all very different, yet we are so incredibly the same. We all get together in a secluded area in west central Indiana. Not at a hotel or resort area with five star amenities, but at a campground with little more than the necessities; -we don’t mind it though.

We always invite new friends to come and join us on these weekends. As a matter of fact, the primary purpose of the entire get-together is to be a blessing to these new friends. They are often very apprehensive about attending our little retreat. They arrive nervous and curiously anticipating what could possibly happen during this pilgrimage. Many of these “new friends” have heard stories of those who have attended the retreats before whose lives have been changed and transformed. And just as I did on my first weekend, they wonder how this “transformation” could happen in such a humble atmosphere? And more importantly, could it happen to them? To complicate matters, those of us who are veterans of these weekend pilgrimages are not to quick to share all the details of what actually happens. We tell our “new friends” that the veil of secrecy is kept in order to make their weekend as special as possible. And on Sunday evenings, they almost always return to their lives different from when they arrived on Thursday evening. As a result, many of us return in order to help provide the same opportunity for others. And although those of us who return do so to joyfully serve and give, we actually receive much more than we could ever possibly give back during the weekend.

There is so much more I could say about these retreats, about this extended family and how God has used them in my life, however I seriously doubt that I could ever find adequate words to express their worth to me and thousands of others. In addition, it must be stressed that the people who participate in these weekends are imperfect and they know it. We are not anyone special, and we know it. Those who participate in this community are simple ordinary people who just happen to love God, each other and their neighbors -a lot. We are Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Catholics, Non-denominationals and any other Christian denomination in between. Yet we come together, set our religious differences aside and love one other. Participating in such a diverse yet unified community has profoundly affected me. God has revealed Himself -and His ways to me through these experiences and He continues to use these weekends to teach me what His Church is supposed to look like. -It looks so much different from what I once thought.

Those of you who follow this blog know that I am often critical of “the Church” in the U.S. I try hard to stay positive but my frustration often shows. Being a part of this community encourages me. These weekends give me hope. Again, I want to stress that this motley crew is full of ordinary imperfect people, just as I am ordinary and imperfect. But it seems that those of us who participate have made a conscious decision to love each other -and others despite their imperfections and differences. God honors that decision to love -and it creates an atmosphere that is simply indescribable. Being from southeast Louisiana, it has always been very difficult to find good gumbo here in central Indiana. However, I do believe I have found it here after all.

FRUSTRATED!!! -The 10,000 Pound Elephant in the Church

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36 NKJV)

So… I was in my mid-twenties and I found myself the “Director of Finance and Support Services” for a regional government agency. I’ll spare you all the boring details regarding how I acquired that position, but let’s just say that people “do” notice when you show up for work -and you work hard. Man, I thought I was somebody. I administered a budget of over 4 million dollars including managing payroll and benefits for almost 100 employees and oversaw the accounting, information technology, maintenance and food service programs while supervising a staff of sixteen. “I” only reported to the executive director; I had especially impressed myself by acquiring this position at the age of 27 with only an associates degree in general studies. I found myself making major decisions that profoundly affected other people.

I can still vividly remember the first time I was involved in making the tough decision to lay an employee off. It was the right decision for the organization, simply “a business decision.” -BUT, it had a profound impact on the person we laid off. I can still remember talking on the phone with her a few weeks after it had happened. She sobbed almost uncontrollably as I re-explained her options regarding health insurance and other benefits. She kept asking me why, “Why did we do this to her?” I stuttered through the conversation and finally got her off the phone. My executive director seem unaffected by the episode, but I could not say the same. I kept telling myself, “it is just a business decision.” “It is just business.” Telling myself that didn’t help much though.

As my secular career has progressed over the past 12 years I have always tried to remind myself during those difficult decisions, “this is just business.” As Christians in a secular workplace, we can do our best to stick to our values and ethics but at the end of the day what is best for “the company” has to drive the company decisions -and what is best for “me,” has to drive my decisions as an employee. -I have to admit that the more I have followed that logic, the more successful I became in the secular world. -Like it or not, that is the way that the world goes round. For those of you who are tempted to be pass judgement on me for making the above comments, please keep in mind that if businesses are not kept in the “black” and if government agencies are not run efficiently, then there are no jobs. -Thus the current condition of our economy.

Furthermore, as I translate these thoughts to words I cannot help but think that I would have become a much more “successful” pastor and church planter if I would have adopted this same logic from my secular career into my career in ministry. To grow a church, you always have to do what is best for the organization. If you need to throw someone away in order to “do what is best,” then the end justifies the means. -The betterment of the church is what is important, right? Upholding and supporting the church leadership is what is important, right?? Ultimately, getting butts in the seats is what’s important, right??? Please note that I am an equal opportunity critic with these comments. I have served and closely observed many different denominations and independent church groups over the past 18 years. And as I think back, I find that this logic is by far the most commonly used in the church. -At least in “successful” churches. Therein lies my frustration; a lot of today’s churches do not look much different from secular organizations. Sure we do a good job of sounding Christ-like, but “our systems” operate almost identically to the systems of the world.

Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Wow… there is a lot that could be said while “unpacking” that truth. Those of us who are students of the Gospels know that the disciples had a very hard time wrapping their heads around that truth -and I think we struggle just the same today. At the end of the day, Jesus was telling us that his Kingdom operates completely different from the world’s kingdoms.

Inserting Jesus’ statement into it’s original context gives us the most extreme example of this. Jesus tells Pilate, “If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight (to defend me,) so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My Kingdom is not from here.” -So rather than Jesus’ servants (who He called “friends” -by the way) fighting and dying to defend Him, He surrenders Himself to certain death on the cross. Let us think about these last events of Christ’s earthly life even further. On the last night with His disciples rather than having them serve Him, “He” opts to wash their feet in a display of ultimate humility: the “Creator” washing the “created’s” feet. Let us ponder even further and consider Peter attacking one of the high priest’s servants sent to arrest Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter and then heals the servant’s wound. And just for the sake of argument, let us consider Jesus’ fireside breakfast with the disciples on the beach -after His resurrection. Our resurrected Lord cooked the disciples a meal in His glorified body; take a second to wrap your head around that scene. -Our resurrected Savior was still serving. Surely “His” Kingdom is not of this world! How many of our worldly leaders can you imagine doing those things? How many of our church “leaders” have you ever seen doing anything like that? -Hopefully, at least a few, but I seriously doubt there are many. Our culture dictates that we act differently.

Yet, what were Jesus’ parting words to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always,even to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ parting marching orders:
1. Go make disciples
2. Teach them what I taught you.

If we wanted to simplify these last commands from Jesus even further, I think it would be accurate to restate them as Jesus saying to the disciples -and to us, “Go do what I did.” -So then the question remains, “Are we doing today, what Jesus modeled for us in the Gospels?” When we look at American Christianity today, do we see a kingdom of this world? Do we see a kingdom that builds venues to compete with the venues of this world? Do we see a kingdom that markets itself just like the kingdoms of this world market themselves? Do we see a kingdom whose organizational structures function in a similar fashion to the kingdoms of this world? Do we see a kingdom with leadership that exhibits behavior from “a different Kingdom,” or does it’s leadership look very similar to the leadership that we find in this world?

If you answered the above questions honestly, perhaps you are feeling a bit of the frustration that I am. God’s Kingdom is not supposed to look like man’s kingdoms, nor does it attempt to compete with them. I have seen an innumerable amount of impressive church buildings. I have participated in worship services with the musical and speaking talent to rival the talents found in the world. I have been a part of religious machines that had millions of dollars flowing through them. I have served under very gifted, talented and charismatic leaders, who could masterfully lead hundreds of people. I have been a part of church politics that was just as complex and every bit as brutal as the political systems of the world. I have seen good people get “thrown away” and deeply wounded by our coveted religious institutions. And I have watched as God’s people, shepherds & sheep, were absolutely ruined by the world’s “matrix” working in Jesus’ bride. So please understand, I have to be candid and ask the obvious question: “Whose kingdom do we look like?” The answer to that question is the 10,000 pound elephant in the Church.

If there is to be any meaningful reform in the Church, we must stop competing with the world and reject the systems, tendencies, unholy methods and core values that are found in our secular culture. We must reject the complex systems of empty religion that have infested our Christian communities. Those of us who are still sober enough to realize our drunkenness must be brave and speak out. We must reject all of the excuses for bringing the world’s systems into the church. We must rediscover the elementary teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. And we must return to the most basic elements of the Church.

-Next, we will begin discussing those basic elements. Stay tuned…

Exhausted… -Rediscovering the core elements of the Church

Wow… where do I start? I have read the books. I have been to the conferences and listened to the top speakers in the country. -And I have heard all the angles. I have even visited one of the most talked about “revivals” of the past century. (I am not sure if I want to publicly admit that or not.)  -Calvinists, Charismatics, Armininianist, Missiologists… -Reformed theology, dispensational theology, “no” theology… it’s all out there and I have been exposed to almost all of it.  I guess if it were important to me,  I could keep up with the steady information flow, toss the complex terms around in religious conversation and quote the latest “hot” author  in order to impress my peers and those I minister to. -But…  a few years ago I began to wonder why we were all doing this in the first place? And eventually, I just got completely exhausted with all of it.

I often ponder all the impressive theological and intellectual words that I have learned over the years and think, “With all the spiritual ramblings written in all the books, spoken at all the church oriented events and blasted out using every form of media imaginable, -where are all the “healthy” communities of believers?  With all the Bible colleges, seminaries and other religious institutions that clutter christianity’s landscape, -where are all the authentic disciples? With all the money flowing, paid staff working literally millions of hours every year and all the other immeasurable resources available to the Church, -why aren’t we making a difference in our culture?  With all of the teaching & preaching that is blasted through state of the art church multimedia systems, pumped through global satellite  networks and displayed for all to see across numerous social media platforms, why are we not changed? Despite our use of the world’s technology, recruitment of the very best talent that money can buy and hedging our bets on state of the art facilities, all used to create a very relaxing and entertaining, yet intellectually stimulating,  “coffee house” atmosphere that our unchurched friends should feel comfortable coming to  -why aren’t they interested? One very simple question, “Why?”

Let’s remember a very fitting definition of the word “insanity,” “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Can we just get really honest with ourselves???  We are failing to reach our culture.  We are failing to make an impact on our communities.  We are failing to win our friends, neighbors and loved ones to God’s Kingdom. Why???

-It is not for lack of resources…

-It is not for lack of theological education…

-It is not for lack of exposure…

Our resources, knowledge and means of exposing our beliefs and values to our culture are exponentially larger than that of the early church. You do understand that, right?  So why do we struggle?  Maybe, just maybe, we need to pull our heads out of our theology & church programming and start asking ourselves some basic questions:

-What if we relaxed our loyalty to our coveted theological positions in order to use some common sense?

-What if we stopped flashing around all the high-end intellectual terms that are not readily found in scripture and focused on the basics?

-What if we were willing to question the validity of our most beloved church programs in order to reconcile them with the simple teachings of Jesus?

-What if we renounced the “glamour” of doing church and retreated to the “purpose” of the Church?

-What if we traded our “church growth” programs in for learning how to participate in authentic relationships that produce organic community?

-What if “success” had a deeper meaning than the number of butts that are sitting in our sanctuaries on Sunday mornings?

What if “church” as we know it is supposed to look COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ?

If Sunday’s “celebration” service had to be canceled, if the video projectors were hocked at the local pawn shop, if there was no stage for the band to play on because the church buildings had been auctioned off, if the bank accounts were completely depleted and all the staff had to be terminated, if these “nonessential” elements that seem so “essential” to today’s church were removed, what would we have left?

-Would we have disciples?

-Would we have anyone willing to shepherd the people? 

-Would we still have as many churches?

Water is used in innumerable mixtures, from soft drinks to commercial cleaners.  -But when it is purified to its simplest form and broken down to it’s most basic molecular components, we find a simple molecule containing the following elements: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  What should we find when the Church is deduced down to Her basic elements, -when She is in Her purest most organic state?

I know, I know… I’m making you think. I’m making you uncomfortable.  I’m questioning the validity of your “finely tuned” theology and church programs.  I might even be making you mad.  Hopefully, I am at least making you “wrestle” a bit.  -I  invite you to “wrestle” for a few weeks with me as I invest some thought into pondering, “What are the core elements of the Church.”

May God help us have open minds and open hearts as to what “His Bride” is supposed to be made of.

How Do I Recover From Spiritual Abuse???

Spiritual abuse is happening in churches all around us and it needs to be exposed.  After all, part of the reason it happens is because people do not recognize it or openly talk about it.  –However, for their own good, spiritual abuse victims must “move on.”  Victims must get on with theirs lives.  If they don’t, they have allowed their abusers to take everything from them.  If you are a victim reading this, please do not get upset with me.  I am trying to help you get “your life” back.

When I read about spiritual abuse or correspond with “victims,” I have found that a lot of people seem to be “stuck.”  This really bothers me.  I have decided to write this post in order to share what I have done in the past and what I am doing now to get my own life back. 

First off, please do not think I am telling you to forget your bad experience and move on.  We all wish it were that easy.  I liken spiritual abuse to a very, very bad stomach flu in which the effects last a very, very long time.  It takes you by surprise.  It makes you really sick, very weak and let’s just be honest and say that you are not that fun to be around.  When you first begin to realize that you are sick you ask yourself, “How did this happen to me anyway? How did ‘I’ get infected?”  As the realization of your condition sets in,  your body’s begins to fight the virus.  The best way it knows how to get the foreign pathogen out of your system is to “eject” it by using your body’s natural systems; there are two ways your body does this and neither one is fun.  However, your body must perform these operations in order to rid you of the destructive microorganisms that are causing you to be sick.  Eventually, after much “ejecting” (the length of time depends on how sick you are) you begin to feel “a little” better.  BUT, the recovery process is not over.

You must now begin to put nutrients back into your body.  Have you ever wondered why beverages like Sprite and Gatorade make you feel so much better when you are recovering from a stomach flu?  It is because they are supplying your body with simple sugars that are easily digested and transformed into energy, thus you “feel better.”  As you continue to place nutrients back into your system, you feel better and better.  BUT, the process is still not over.  You must now rid your home of all the items that might have been “infected” with the virus.  You go on a cleaning spree and wash all clothing that could have been exposed to that pesky contagion. At last, you get all the trash out of the house that was associated with your “bad experience.”  THEN… you move on.  You get on with your life.  Who wants to stay sick anyway?  Who wants to keep an intimate relationship with a nasty commode? Who wants to wallow in sell pity and puke?  NO ONE WHO IS HEALTHY, that is for sure!  -So you go back to work, you go back to school, you hang out with friends, you love on your spouse & children and you continue pursuing your passions; you enjoy this amazing gift called life that God created for us!

While crude, the analogy of recovering from the stomach flu is much like recovering from spiritual abuse.  I will list the steps to my recovery below using  the steps of recovery from a bad case of the stomach flu:

#1 You have to admit you are sick.  You must come to the point where you say, “I was abused.” -This step took me years; it was a very complicated process for me.   I had no idea what spiritual abuse was.  My actions were skewed during those years.  After all, I was sick; I needed to stop and admit it so I could begin recovery and get better.  *I remember finally stopping myself and thinking, “Something is wrong with me and I need to address it.”

#2 Allow yourself to throw up.  I HATE throwing up when I am sick.  There have been countless times when I have laid still in the bed, and stayed sick as a dog, because I did not want to throw up.  -But after I allow myself to throw up, I always feel better.  Begin to acknowledge and opening talk about your abuse with those close to you; you need to throw up.  Believe it or not, it is a natural healthy reaction to sickness.  If you have limited access to others to talk, try writing about it.  Writing about my experience was very helpful for me.

#3 Find a friend or counselor to “hold the bucket” while you vomit.  It is very important that you do this.  *DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THIS ALONE! You need a support network.  Ask God to show you how to find your support.  I know this is tough for spiritual abuse victims.  If you are unable to locate anyone local to you, at least visit some of the online sources and make connections.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who share your experience; find some who are further along in recovery than you are.  For me, my wife was my primary bucket holder; we held each other’s buckets.  In addition, I sought counseling from a professional christian counselor and a few older pastor friends.  God used each one of those people to advance me through my recovery process.  I do not think I could have made it alone.

#4 Allow yourself to get angry and “grieve” your situation.  It’s OK to get really pissed off!!! You were hurt; you were abused.  Allow yourself to remember and “process” what happened to you.  Stop making excuses for your abuser.  You may find yourself bitter.  Remind yourself that bitterness is a sin and ask God to help you work through it. YOU WILL NOT WORK THROUGH THE BITTERNESS OVERNIGHT; it is “a process.” Do not put pressure on yourself.  The Holy Spirit will let you know when it is time to be done with your bitterness once and for all.  Keep asking Him for guidance and help and He will lead you.

#5 Get extremely honest and blunt with God.  If you are hurting, tell Him.  If you are angry, tell Him.  If you are bitter, tell Him.  If you have questions, ask Him.  God is the God of the Universe; He is completely capable of handling anything we can say or ask.  He loves us and wants us to recover; he also knows we are hurting.  Rest in the grace and goodness of God and ask Him to help you, but be honest with Him and tell Him how you are feeling.   I believe my blunt honesty with God was a key aspect of my recovery process.  I was mad, and hurt, and confused, and angry -and I let Him know it.  My being honest with Him did not take Him by surprise, but boy it sure helped me.

#6 Allow yourself to take a break and get some rest; do not try to be superman. Just chill out with your family and other people who love you.  If you are a leader, DON’T BE.  Take a break and get some rest.  Give yourself time to recuperate.  Discuss with your counselor or close friends what your recover process might look like.  I was pastoring a church plant during this season and stepped down.  I can not stress how important it was for me to take a step back from ministry. When you get really sick,  your body needs time and rest to recover.  Recovering from spiritual abuse is no different.

#7 Allow yourself to throw up some more; make sure all the “crap” is out of your system.  You may need that friend or counselor to “hold the bucket” again.  As you detox from the spiritually abusive atmosphere, you will begin to remember more and more.  You will also begin to “connect the dots” as you think back on certain experiences.  The more you detox, the more you understand what happened to you.  As you undergo this process, you WILL need to throw up again.  It is OK, let your recovery run it’s course.  GET THE “CRAP” OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM; do not wallow in it. –You do not want to keep and intimate relationship with the toilet forever!

#8 Get some “nutrients” back into your system.  Take it slow, but be deliberate in getting those nutrients -so you can get your strength back.  Begin to re-enter “safe” spiritual atmospheres.  Ask God, your friends and counselors to help you find them.  Begin reading your Bible again; not to find scripture in order to prove your abuser was wrong, but for your recovery.  I personally recommend the Gospel of John and the book of James.  I also recommend a very readable translation like the NIV or NLT.  Remember, you are not doing any intense Bible study. You are simply reading God’s Word and allowing “Him” to speak to you. His Word will bring healing to you.

#9 Rid your house of anything that could still “carry” the virus.  Divorce yourself from all spiritually abusive atmospheres. ***DO NOT RETURN TO THE ABUSIVE CHURCH!!!***  There will be times where you will want to; resist that inclination.  Stop listening to anyone affiliated with the abusive ministry.  Limit contact with those who are “still drinking the Kool-aide.”  You are not strong enough to rescue anyone right now; you need to be protecting yourself from re-infection.  *Many people recovering from an abusive church actually return to the same abusive church or find another one.  When they do, their likelihood of getting out becomes even lower. I have seen this with my own eyes.  BE CAREFUL!!!

#10 Consider forgiveness. Yes, it is that time.  You will never be able to totally recover or “move on” without forgiving those who hurt you.  I know, I know, this is a tough one…  –BUT IT IS ESSENTIAL.  No one can make you forgive, not even God Himself.  Your recovery must progress to the place where “you” want to forgive.  This is a big step, but it is also a very liberating step.  Continue to seek God and let it come naturally as He works in your heart.  *There is so much more I could say here.  If you would like further teaching and explanation in this area, please visit this link:  Forgiveness Teaching

#11 Eat some solid food and continue to build your strength back.  Well… you have finished puking, been drinking clear liquids for a day or so and you finally got the house cleaned up.  You are “feeling better” and beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.  Continue to build your strength back.  Examine your relationship with God.  Make sure your life revolves around “Him” and not the “institution” of a local church.  Never let anything be a substitute for your relationship with God.  Study the Bible for your self.  Have your own prayer life. Know what “you” believe, not just what some pastor or church tells you to believe.  Work towards becoming a “mature” christian.  -Then look for a healthy church, if you have not found one yet.  You need to be around healthy people.  You need to be in a healthy atmosphere. You need to be planted in a medium where you can grow and get strong.  Ask God to show you how to do this, and he will!

#12 Refuse to take on the “victim” mindset.  Refuse to surrender your life!  You “were” a victim; do not “remain” a victim!!!  There will be a temptation to “be a victim.”  RESIST!!!!!!!!!  God has sustained you.  He is healing you. He is bringing you to a place of recovery.  DON”T YOU DARE GIVE IN TO THE VICTIM MINDSET!  God has a purpose for you -and it is not to be a victim. Acknowledge your past, but also acknowledge that with God’s help and the help of others you are overcoming your past.  You do not have to be a victim of spiritual abuse for the rest of your life, but “you” have to make the choice not to be.

#13 Engage in life. What are ” your” passions? What are “your” God-given dreams?  What do “you” want to do with this precious gift called “life” that God has given to you? Wrestle with those questions and figure them out.  If you were in the abusive atmosphere for long, you might have never asked these questions before.  Don’t rush wrestling with these questions; it might take some time.  However, when you figure the answers out, PURSUE THEM!

#14 Allow God to use you to help others.  Help others heal and get on with their lives.  The truth is, if you have made a full or nearly full recovery from serious spiritual abuse, you are in the perfect place to help others who have been abused.  You have experienced something that cannot be described with words. – And you just don’t know what is feels like to be there, -unless you have been there.  I feel those of us who have recovered from spiritual abuse have a responsibility to help others.  You don’t need to be a pastor or counselor; all you have to do is “hold a bucket,” be a friend, remind a precious soul that God is still there or just sit and just be an expression of God’s love to someone who is hurting.  After all, isn’t that what the Church is supposed to be about anyway?

Why I Failed at Church Planting

Why I Failed at Church Planting

wrong way

I led a church plant in 2006 that did not make it.  I would not call the church plant a complete failure; God used the experience to grow me as well as many others who were a part of it.  He used our small church plant and the season that we spent together in profound life altering ways.  I am very thankful for the life long relationships that were built during the six years that HealingPointe Community Church existed.  -But in the end we closed the doors, we sold the building and we all moved on in life and ministry.

As a leader, pastor and most importantly, -as a potential church planter, I had to ask myself two questions: “Where did I fail?”  “What could we have done differently?”  Understand, my purpose in writing this post is not to beat myself up or make excuses, but rather ask “healthy” questions.  Wrestling with the answers to these questions is a worth while endeavor.  Answering these questions has helped me, and I pray these answers will help other church planters as well.

So, why did I fail?

 #1 -I lacked relevant experience.  I had helped plant a “successful” church.  I could preach.  I could teach.  I had solid secular and church experience managing people.  And I had a well thought out written plan and vision.  I felt well prepared, but I was not.  I had never been a lead pastor and I had no experience starting a church and developing a core group from scratch.  -And it showed.

#2 -I was wounded.  There were serious issues in my past church experiences that I had not fully dealt with.  You can not forgive and forget, -thinking you can just walk away from a bad situation without dealing with the “stuff” that went on inside of you.  I attempted to “forgive and forget” and it all came back and haunted me.  Severely.  Jesus certainly taught us to forgive.  However, we must process, then forgive, but we will never fully forget; we are all products of our past.  This means forgiveness is a “continual” choice that we must choose to make.  And this is part of the healing process.  I just said a whole lot here; some of you need to go back and “chew” on it for awhile…  Anyway, I did not give my wounds the proper attention or allow them to heal.  -And it showed.

#3 -I was arrogant.  I think to be a good church planter you must be confident and full of faith, but there is a line that can be crossed where you step into arrogance.  I believe I crossed that line at times.  -And it showed.

#4 -I was not financially prepared -and I did not have a sound financial plan for the future.  Our financial plan was “big growth.”  The church would grow, people would give and everything would be okay.  The church did grow, at a modest rate.  People did give, some.  But during the entire time, my personal finances and credit cards took up the slack.  By the time I had a reality check, slashed the budget and financially righted the ship, I had over $30,000 in personal credit card debt.  I had a mess to clean up.  -And it showed.

#5 -We attempted a cross country parachute church plant.  We dropped into town from 725 miles away on May 28 and started public services on October 15.  On our first Sunday, I had not known a single person in the room for more than six months.  I had no “history” in the area where the church plant was.  I had not yet earned a good reputation in my new city. -And it showed.

#6 -We had a weak core group.  We did not “select” a core group.  Because of the time restraints we were under, we just took whoever we could get.  The core group sets the tone for the entire church: culture, doctrine, personality, EVERYTHING.  Simply put, our core group ended up being weak and did not fully match our vision. -It showed.

#7 -We started public worship services to soon.  We did everything too quickly.  We were a mile wide and an inch deep.  We had no depth.  The backbone of our church was a marketing campaign and the excitement of planting a new church, -not relationships between people who shared common theological values.  -It showed.

#8 -I did not have a mentor or church planting coach.  Because of the financial restraints we were under, I did not go out and hire a qualified, tried and true, experienced church planting coach/mentor.  In time, I knew I needed help but I simply did not have the money to go out and get it.  -It showed.

#9 -I invested my time in the wrong places.  I invested my time in needy people, construction projects and my sermons.  I should have been investing my time in building strong relationships with the people -and teaching them to do the same.  -It showed, and I failed them.

#10 -I expected a miracle.  I honestly expected God to “wave His magic wand” one day and make it all work.  I kept telling myself that God knew my heart.  He knew how hard I was trying.  He saw the sacrifices we were all making.  Surely He would honor what we were doing and “make something happen.” God never “waved His magic wand.”  -And it most definitely showed.

#11 -I got very stressed out.  I was at a training recently and the instructor said, “When people are in high stress situations, they do very stupid things.”  At that very moment, a few things that I did as pastor at HealingPointe finally made sense for the first time.  I finally understood why I made such stupid decisions.  Before that training, I would think back to those few years at HP and say, “What was I thinking!?!”  “I should have known better than that!!!”  And now I finally understand; I was NOT thinking straight.  I was under so much emotional, financial, relational, spiritual and self induced pressure that it was impossible for me to think clearly and make wise decisions.  Furthermore I never developed that strong core group; I never made a strong connection with a planting coach or mentor.  There was no one there to save me from my own self induced stupidity caused by stress.  -And is showed.  Boy, did it show.

By the time I began to understand the eleven mistakes I have listed above, it was to late.  I was already burned out, the people we had left were wore out and the momentum of a new and exciting church plant had ran out.  I knew the best thing I could do was step down.  After I stepped down a pastor friend who had been a part of the church attempted to keep it going, but the damage had already been done.  Within a few years we disbanded the church and sold the building.

*The impressive thing is….  the church plant existed for six years and we almost made it.  I can’t help but think of what could have been if I would have not made just half of these bad choices.  If you happen to be a church planter reading this, please learn from my mistakes.