I was born and raised in the home of a career youth minister. By that I mean, my dad has been in ministry since before I was born, since he was 18, and is still doing ministry today, over 40 years later. I have been in church all of my life. I was baptized by my dad when I was 13, and I’ve seen the LORD do awesome things in the ministry with him that I have been able to be a part of. Our family experienced such amazing blessings from being in ministry. We have also experienced some of the greatest pain because of the church that we have ever experienced. Some experiences have rocked my faith and my calling to ministry to the core. I write my story as a way to help communicate what God has been doing in my own life and to help others who may have gone through what we experienced, are going through what I have experienced, or who have not yet but one day will go through what I have experienced.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was Youth Specialties Conference 2004 in Anaheim, CA. My dad and I went to the Captain Kidd’s across the street from Disneyland. It had been an awesome conference thus far, and then my dad dropped the bomb on me, “I’m being forced out.” This night would start a chain reaction that would boil one of the greatest trials in my faith. My dad was being forced out, and, to my knowledge, for no good reason! The church had seen the greatest numbers it had seen since it had existed, teenagers were being saved, the ministry was thriving, families were joining so that they could be a part of the ministry under my dad. Then I started to see how much politics had gone into much of the decision making process, opinions, unmet expectations, jealousy, frustration, disagreement, not from the pastor but from a small, but vocal, group of opposition. It just seemed that the leadership crumbled under their opposition, but then it seemed they were going along with it, forcing him out because they took the side of the oppressors. I had so many thoughts, “What’s wrong with our family?” “Why don’t they like us?” “How can they not like my dad for standing up for his leadership responsibility?” It seemed to boil down to wise decisions that my dad had made that led to a rebellion by a few and there was no way of stopping it.
There was a much longer and, honestly, hazy downward spiral in my heart. I became hateful of those who opposed my dad, had a “it serves them right” attitude when the numbers in the church plummeted, a refusal to even hear a sermon from the pastor because of my hatred and bitterness, while still desiring to play drums in the orchestra under my “California Grandpa” who was the music director. I was so mad! I hated the Church, not just this one, ALL of them. I opposed organized religion and everything these local churches stood for: pride, power, position, oppression, control, numbers, strict obedience and adherence to the opinions of those in leadership, and above all keeping everyone in the congregation happy by people pleasing, coercion, and manipulation. I tried to run to another church, but the pastor there, thankfully, pointed me back to settle things with the pastor and to at least be at peace with them as I was leaving. One night at a communion service, the pastor was saying that before we could take communion we needed to go and make relationships right if we knew that someone had a grudge against us or if even we were the one with the grudge, so that our act of communion with God will not be hindered. Before I knew what was happening, my feet were taking me up to the altar where the pastor was standing, and I stood there weeping as I confessed being so angry and bitter against him, and asking his forgiveness, and he, weeping now too, forgave me and giving me a hug, I felt such a weight of bitterness and anger lifted off of my shoulders.
Now, I would love to say that that was the end of it, but it was really a struggle the next years ahead of me. I had healed my relationship with him, but when I saw things from the church, posts on MySpace and Facebook in the coming years still brought bitterness, even all the way up to this morning, as I was spending time in the Word, which is what inspired me to write this. God has done a massive, and I mean MASSIVE, work in my heart to bring me back to a place where I LOVE the church. I love His bride. She’s not perfect, she is unfaithful, she is vindictive, she is prideful, she is broken, but she has a good groom waiting for her, who is sanctifying her washing her with the water of the Word, who loves her more than I do, who desires good things for her, and is working through her in this world for His glory and our great joy.
As I was sitting here thinking about my current church and the “controversies” that are surrounding our leadership, I was brought back to the time when I was, myself, on the receiving end of what many of those who have left my church have experienced. I look with so much grace upon my leadership because I love what the LORD is doing in our midst, how He is speaking greatly and soundly through our pastors, and trusting that they are saved by grace brothers who still struggle with imperfection and sinfulness and who have occasionally made unwise and rash decisions that hurt people and affected families for years. One decision could cause years of spiritual torment, doubt, bitterness, and pain. This puts the burden on us in ministry to seek hard after Christ. Ministers have to be diligent in this area because there are so many who are “disenfranchised” with the church because of our folly. We are growing by God’s grace, desiring that people see Jesus, sometimes despite us because of our faults.
In all of this, I have come to the conclusion that, while the church that fired my dad made a mistake, and one that directly impacted the life of my family, it was MY sin of bitterness, unbridled anger, and frustration, that led me to cynicism, unbelief, faithlessness, and heartlessness against God’s people. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that this church fed my pride, but then my idol failed me. I have no one to blame for how I responded to the situation but myself. How these last years of wrestling with this would have been so much more fruitful, if I had believed the gospel and its universal claim to be for all of God’s people, even those whose sins and mistakes have had a direct impact on me, Jesus loves them, they are His sons and daughters, as I am their brother. Now I can say with my whole heart that I love and pray for the best and God’s blessings upon him and that church, as well as the church I’m currently serving and worshiping in. I love the pastor and pray the LORD would bless him, work in him, and work powerfully through him during his ministry at the church. Where there was hatred and a hardened heart there is love for the Church and a tendering heart.