It’s been 6 months since I first heard the allegations. 6 months since I last wrote in my journal and fell off track with my spiritual disciplines. 4 months since I resigned from my leadership positions and released my public statement regarding what happened. 4 months since I left the local Church that I had been a part of since its first-ever service 8+years ago. 2 months since the Church shut down.
6 months since everything changed.
Originally, I wasn’t going to write this. I thought to myself, I’ll eventually release a post when I’m completely okay, giving my readers some advice on ‘how to move forward after Church hurt’ or ‘how to find a new Church’. I may eventually write on those topics, but I also think it would be right to pull you into my world now. Let you know how I’m doing. I want to do that for 2 reasons.
- Some of you have been following me and my blog for a while. I appreciate that, and I’ve enjoyed walking with you. With my last post being quite a sad and sober one, I wanted to update you on where I am.
- I wanted to write something different. A lot of people have gone through a bad Church experience. If we look at 2021 alone, we’ve had the Ravi Zacharias Scandal, the Southern Baptist scandals and other major events that have affected lots of people. I thought it would be good for these people to have something to read and relate to. Something which says “I hear you. You’re not alone. I’m hurting too. I can relate to how you’re feeling. Let’s move forward together.”
So I’m writing this for them.
The Days After
When I released my statement, I expected a lot of backlash. I expected a lot of people to be angry with me. Yet, it was the complete opposite.
I had messages, calls, etc., from people thanking me for writing it and expressing their support. Whether it was from people who had been hurt in the system or people who were confused and just wanted clarity on what was going on, I received much more support than I expected. Of course, I also received some pushback and people disconnecting from me which hurt, but they were in the minority by far.
I don’t think that’s the norm. I think the support I received was because a lot of people had seen enough over the years to not be totally shocked, and people also know me as someone who would never share something so publicly unless I knew it to be true. However, I can’t help but think of others who may not experience such support. I think of people like Lori Anne Thompson who was one of the first women to come out about Ravi Zacharias sexually exploiting her, and was vilified, gaslighted, and made to sign an NDA. It’s disgusting what she went through for years, while a lot (if not most) of the Christian world believed she was this crazy woman who was being used by the devil to tear down an ‘amazing ministry’. It was only in 2021 when the full truth of everything came out concerning Ravi, that the view of her truly began to change.
I think that’s the norm, and that’s a problem. People who speak up about hurt and abuse in the Church tend to be seen as divisive, crazy, used by the devil, etc. We need to change that. It goes without saying that we also need to change and challenge the environments that allow for abuse to happen in the first place. I think the podcast ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’ does a good job of breaking down the things that lead to such an environment. So do books like ‘When Narcissism Comes to Church’ and ‘Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in The Church’
When you go through awful Church-based situations, a lot of emotions come up. I dealt with sadness, anger and regret. Sadness because it was an awful situation, and I was leaving a Church family I loved on quite a sour note. Anger at the situation and some people. And regret.
As a leader, I kept thinking about my own mistakes, and what I could’ve done better whilst I served there. I regretted not leaving the Church earlier, during the times in the past that I considered doing so. Because I thought that even if there were things I didn’t agree with, I could be part of the change. Because “no family is perfect”.
I also regretted not being able to serve the young adults I pastored as I intended to. Though my wife and I had only gotten married in January 2021, we had already been discussing making our spare bedroom a place for any of the young adults to use if they wanted to stay over. We wanted our home to be a safe place for them, where they could experience joy and love. We even discussed putting up certain pieces of art in the bedroom that had scripture in it, so that if they were going through a rough time, they would see that as they went to sleep. I had so many plans. Plans that will no longer be actualized.
We must be careful of regrets, and where they can lead to. It’s easy to get into a place of morbidity and depression by just going over and over things we can’t change. On this, Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones said the following in his book ‘Spiritual Depression’;
“To be miserable in the present because of some failure in the past is a sheer waste of time and energy. That is common sense…You can sit down and be miserable and you can go round and round in circles of regret for the rest of your life but it will make no difference to what you have done…To dwell in the past simply causes failure in the present…If you really bemoan the fact that you have wasted so much time in the past, the thing to do is make up for it in the present.” — Dr Martyn LLoyd Jones
The thing to do is process the regrets and pain and eventually move forward.
When processing, choosing the right people to process with is important. I wanted a safe place, but I also didn’t want an echo chamber for pain, as I knew that would make me bitter but not better. I knew the few friends I found safe and wise enough to vent to, and they also vented to me. We let out the anger and frustration we felt. For a few months, it came up in every conversation.
In those conversations, we also held ourselves accountable and would correct each other if anyone started processing in a way that was dishonest and/or unhealthy. But we also created a space for complete and naked honesty. I’m thankful for friends with who I could share my burdens, but would also correct me if they felt I wasn’t processing things properly. It helped me journey through my emotions in a healthy manner. That’s healthy friendship.
After processing out for a while, I eventually didn’t want to talk about it that much anymore. Not that I minded speaking about it with friends, but I didn’t want it to be the topic of every conversation we had. It’s okay to have a period of getting everything out of your system. After some time, it’s unhealthy to keep bringing it up regularly. That time differs for everyone (there’s no rush), but we have to self-assess to ensure we don’t remain in a cycle of reliving a painful period.
Tim Challies is a Christian blogger whose son, unfortunately, died in 2020. I can’t remember where he said these words, but I remember how I felt when I read them. He said that he was glad that he and his wife had dealt with all the theological questions of “God being good even in painful situations” before he dealt with the death of his son, so he didn’t have to deal with those questions then. He however had to deal with the deep pain and anguish of the situation.
I relate to that.
I didn’t go into a place where I was angry with God. Surprisingly, I didn’t even go into a place where I didn’t want to attend Church. Like Tim, I had dealt a lot with my theological questions beforehand, so I avoided the ‘theological crisis’ phase that some people go through. However, I had to deal with how this impacted me emotionally and spiritually.
Spiritually, the past few months have probably been the worst place I’ve been in since I’ve been saved. I had experienced deep painful situations before, however, those situations always seemed to drive me closer to God. I found that even when I couldn’t say articulate prayers then, I would still find myself crying to him.
This time was different.
I wasn’t able to speak to God. I wasn’t able to read my Bible. I don’t know how to explain it, but though I knew God was good and deep down I yearned for his presence, I couldn’t motivate myself to engage with him. When I did, it was irregular or far different from what it used to be. At times, I would spend weeks without praying or opening up my Bible. That was really different for me. Coming from a place where not only was I regularly engaging with God, but was also helping people to do so as a Christian leader.
What I found fascinating, was that EVERY time I spoke to someone who had been in the Church about how their relationship with God was, they were going through the same thing. Every single time.
I am not an expert, but there is something unique about hurt and betrayal that one experiences in a Church setting, that affects a believer like no other. It is a terrible thing.
I find the term ‘Church hurt’ overused at times. It has become something used flimsily, to a point that it has lost its weight. However, we need to remain empathetic and understanding to the uniqueness of the pain that bad situations in Church bring. ‘Church hurt’ is real, and it affects people in a different way. Whether someone directly hurts you, or indirectly (someone you really looked up to disappoints you), that pain and effects are unique.
It needs to be processed through. I would recommend it be done with God, close friends and family, a therapist (if you can afford it) and/or a journal, and a spiritual mentor or pastor. Someone with experience. The ultimate thing is aiming to process and be better, and not bitter because it is so easy to stay in a bitter place.
That will hurt you as much as it will hurt others.
Engaging With The Church Again
My wife and I have been visiting a Church for the past few months. We are quite certain that it could be the place for us.
I am glad we found it. It’s been a safe refuge. On the weeks I have not been able to engage with God and he feels far, I drag myself there. The Word, which is simple and richly Christ-Centered has fed me. On the days I have not been able to feed myself, I have been able to feast on God’s Word coming through his servants. On the days I have not been able to say anything in my prayer closet, I have found tears in my eyes and words spilling out of my mouth in corporate worship. I am more convinced that what the scriptures says in Hebrews 10:25 is essential;
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” — Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
The lead pastor has been great. They will soon be electing Elders in the Church (they believe in the plurality of Elders system), which I think is great. My wife and I have gotten to know him and his wife more on a personal level and they are kind-hearted people, but also people with experience. They’ve been a blessing to us, and he has been compassionate.
The other day, I sent him a message. I let him know that I wasn’t doing that well, and that I would love to speak to him and get some counsel. We went for a walk. We spoke. What was said encouraged me. That evening, I opened up my Bible after having it closed for a couple of days. I needed that.
I would not say that I 100% trust him, but I would say that he has shown himself as one who is trustworthy and so I am willing to take the risk with him. I am willing to let God used good leadership to deal with the currently broken trust I have.
I think that’s how God deals with broken trust for leadership.
After hurtful Church situations, it’s tempting to stay away from the Church completely. I understand. Taking a breather is understandable. After some time though, staying away will do more harm than good. Eventually, you have to take that risk again for the good of your spiritual health.
Today’s date is Thursday, September 23rd 2021.
Currently, I am better than I was 6 months ago, but I am not the best. I’m still trying to get my spiritual disciplines to be as they should be. However, things are picking up. Yesterday, my wife and I joined a Church community group near us. It was great. I’m excited to do life with other believers and grow. I’ve decided not to serve in any capacity in the Church for a while, and just ‘receive’ instead. After years of being the strong one for others, I’m the “weak one” that needs to be encouraged and revitalized. And that’s okay.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw someone who used to attend our old Church at a Tube station. We embraced them as the family that they still are to us, and walked as we chatted. They were going to a Church in the area. They asked us about the Church we were going to, and whether I was a leader there. I laughed and said nope. That I’m not planning to even serve for a while. They turned to me and said,
“I hear that. However don’t forget that the call is the call. And you were good at what you did.”
My fear is not that I will never be in Christian leadership again. It is the opposite. What terrifies me at the moment is that for the first time in decades, I sincerely don’t desire it. I don’t desire to preach and neither do I desire to lead, which is awful because it’s all I’ve really wanted to do since I was 7. There are pictures of little me in an Anglican robe as an altar boy, serving in the Church. Even then, I felt joy in serving in God’s house. But when I think of my future, it no longer comes to mind.
Yet I know I have a call. It is not something that I can deny. On some days I relate to Jonah, running away from a call. Other days I feel like David, waiting patiently for God’s call to come to pass.
Either way, I know that if ‘the call’ is real, it’s not something I have to chase. So for the next weeks and months, I’m submitting myself to God. Submitting myself to being a part of a healthy Church community. Submitting myself to healing and learning from healthy Church leadership and systems. Submitting myself to prayer, worship, study and the communion of the saints. Submitting myself to just being a child of God. And trusting him with my future and that he’ll work it out. Because the truth is that it’s always been in his hands.