“Mom I had a dream. I was at school and I was walking past a classroom. I saw my little buddy from church and he screamed for me to come to him. They wouldn’t let me go to him. They made me leave the classroom and I just stood outside and cried.”
I was crushed when my 12-year-old son told me this dream. All he knew is that one day he wasn’t able to go back to the church where he watched the same special needs child every week for years. All he knew is one day we were welcome in a place where we gave our time, our blood, sweat, tears, and the next day we were no longer welcome. When you see your kids hurt, it makes you want to rise up and fight. Fight. That is what I wanted to do.
“How can this happen at a church? I need justice.” My cry for justice over the next year would come up against my love for mercy and forgiveness. We gave almost four years of our heart to a campus of 500 wonderful people who loved us back. One day, with a snap of the fingers, we were done. Had we seen the flaws? Yes. Had we witnessed a toxic culture? Absolutely. Did we think we would be there forever? No. But we felt called to serve there.
The first few months after my husband was fired, I tried to understand it. I tried to connect the dots. I thought back to the Sundays when my husband would tell me if only we had 12 more in attendance then he wouldn’t worry what his boss would say. If we hit “this number” then I will be safe from the wrath. I remember wondering - is it supposed to be this way? The pressure over numbers became part of the last year of our lives in ministry there. Love God, love people. I remember wondering why and when it turned to be all about numbers. Our church opened a new big satellite campus about 20 minutes from our campus. Just like that, we lost a good chunk of people to that beautiful state-of-the-art building with kid’s rooms that had all the bells and whistles. I thought that was a good thing. We now could fit more people in our school auditorium where we had church. More people to reach in our community. After all, the people that left still went to our church. They just went to a different building. Doesn’t this all sound logical? That started a year of constant stress. I started to lose focus. It used to be, love God and love people. Now I became focused on making sure the church outreaches that our campus led were successful so my husband would look good to his boss and the pressure would let up, instead of being successful so we could reach people to show them the love of Jesus. I regret doing that. Nothing I did could have changed the outcome. So looking back I wish I had just focused on the main thing of Ministry. That is what God had called us to do.
My husband really began feeling the pressure and it started to worry him. I felt helpless. I saw his stress and brokenness but I never thought it would turn out the way it did. He would tell me about the constant pain in his back. The pain that wouldn’t go away. Amazingly that pain left his back the very day he was let go and told he was done.
It was the week before Christmas when he got the talk. “Your attendance is up but it is not the jump we want to see. Your giving is up but only 15%.” Surprised, my husband asked if he should be worried about his job. He was told no. But at Easter, they would talk about it again.
It happened on a Monday. It was the Monday after New Years Day. We didn’t make it to Easter. Thank you for the past four years. Goodbye. The numbers are not what we want them to be. It just shouldn’t be this hard.
An email went out first to the campus leadership. Next to the congregation of our campus. The associate pastors who served with my husband didn’t even know ahead of time. No one was consulted. No one saw it coming. “We are making a leadership change.” No details.
My husband told me he had to go back the next two Sundays so the campus could say their goodbyes. He told me I didn’t have to go with him. It would be very painful for me. I told him I needed to go. If I stayed home it would look like we did something wrong and that I didn’t support him. I would go and hold my head high. I would stand by his side.
That first week I got the email that everyone else got. It was to the leaders of our campus but of course, I was on that email chain. It was lighthearted and casual. The leadership was making a change to the campus pastor position. Join us in saying goodbye the next two Sundays. And join us in welcoming the new guy the Sunday after that. No big deal. No big deal.
“The future is bright”. That is what was written on my shirt that first Sunday that we said goodbye. My sister bought the shirt for me. I cried my way through the service as did many of the people. I was shocked at the response. Many people copied us on emails that were sent to the lead pastor and the leadership team over the organization. Many emails and letters expressing their sadness, anger, confusion.
There was a Facebook post on our campus page announcing our departure. People asked questions, voiced their hurt, and wondered what was going on in the leadership. Some people left the church over this. They could smell the injustice and couldn’t understand what happened because nothing was explained. They didn’t know why. No one knew why. I am proud that they took a stand. And it made a big impression on the care my family felt. I am forever grateful. For the ones that stayed, I truly understand. Some of them had to make that choice for their family and their community. It was the friends that looked the other way and ignored the issue that made my heart hurt. I understand it now. But at the time it was like a dagger in me.
Shortly after we left, I called my dad sobbing. “Dad. Say something to help me. This is not right. I am so mad. I don’t know how to stop crying. Say something that will help me.” My dad simply said “Praise and thank God”. So that is what I did over the next few weeks and months. Even when I didn’t want to, I praised God and thanked Him for what He was saving us from. That really became apparent over the next two years. I began to see this as God’s mercy on us. Instead of asking God why this happened to my family, I was thanking Him for saving us from so much that was going on in that place.
God fought for us. We literally said nothing. The Lord made our righteousness shine like the noonday sun. HE gave our defense. my husband couldn't tell people what happened. And to be honest - we didn’t really know what to tell them. We were blindsided. We just prayed people wouldn’t assume the worst of us. The congregation was blindsided too. They were hurt because their feelings had not been considered. This had been an organizational decision, but they didn’t include the thoughts of the campus congregation.
There were so many questions. I said as much as I could without spewing bitterness. Mostly I kept silent thinking that I shouldn’t tell the truth because it would stir up division. I shouldn’t tell the truth because it would hurt people's views of the church. I shouldn’t tell the truth because because because there seemed to be so many reasons. And the thought that dominated my thinking more than anything else was how were we going to provide for the kids or pay our mortgage.
But GOD! But God was with us.
I see how church leaders can get away with so much wrong and have no accountability because “Christians shouldn’t speak up because it will cause division and it is gossip”. This allows injustice and continued wrongs against people to run rampant. It keeps the victim silent and the abuser free to continue abusing. The cycle lives on and the abused party is made to feel like they should be good Christians and keep silent.
For the first 6 months after the firing, I asked God why this happened to us. After the first year, I asked God why He chose us to save us from what was still going on there. Thankfulness overflowed my heart.
The beauty that was produced in us was priceless. I wouldn’t trade it. I do think that speaking the truth about what happened is needed. Signing papers to keep silent so you get paid to provide for your family is manipulation. Truth is freeing. Truth is powerful. Truth brings unity and healing. Don’t hide from the truth.
I went through a whole process of healing. One that took time. God worked on my heart. It was a slow process and one that I am still in. I can still get angry or cry over what happened to us. I still bring wounds into our current ministry sometimes and things still trigger me. I see people being hurt by the church in our past and I get worked up. People walk away from God and church because of this abuse and that grieves my heart. We could have been one of those casualties. It was a deliberate decision that we made over and over (and we still make) to not let what happened to us make us bitter and walk away from ministry, church, or worse - God.
I persisted through the pain. And God was faithful to tend to my wounds. He patched them with his love. His word became salve that slowly softened the scars. Worshiping him turned my bitterness to honey as I saw him at work. At some point, I realized HE called us and was going to use this for his glory in bigger ways than us staying could have done. Forgiving was the door that enabled me to keep going in ministry and know that He is greater than anyone who makes a decision over my life.
After the first few months, I didn’t think I would ever be able to forgive. I didn’t think I would be able to feel peace with what happened. But there are three big markers that will stand out in my mind and heart forever.
Four months after my husband was fired and we had to leave our community, I so clearly felt the Lord tell me to surrender what happened so I could move into what He had. I couldn’t bring anger and bitterness where He wanted to take me. It was a big step in healing. It was so freeing. I had been trying to “let go” in my own strength. And God told me to surrender. And He had big things for us.
The second thing that really brought healing was when my husband was hired at a new church as a campus pastor. The new pastor, who is a wonderful man, told Jason that the other church's mistake was our new church's gain. It was the most soothing thing to hear. And my spirit felt joy and hope again for ministry.
The third thing that really stands out in my healing was when someone from the church we were let go of sent me a verse when we announced our new role at our new church. It was the verse Haggai 2:9.
“‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Haggai 2:9 NIV
God and our ministry were not bound by someone else’s decision. That was not the end of the road for us but only the beginning. And that was exciting.
I heard someone say that when you go through a traumatic church hurt, it can change who you are. I ask God to change me for the better. Change me that my ministry is more powerful and that the enemy is frightened. What the enemy meant for harm, God meant for good.
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”
Psalms 126:5-6 NIV
Are you suffering from church hurt? Email me.