Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fast Food & Famine

Working at home with three very small children isn’t easy. In fact, most days, it’s impossible. Which is why every week I carve out a few hours to sit at a local coffee shop in order to spend some focused time working as a pastor. 

As I sit here today, drinking my third cup of coffee and trying desperately to focus, I begin to hear multiple conversations around me about our current president and his odd gesture in serving a championship football team fast food during their visit to the White House. This is not a new story to me - I saw the pictures as I read the news this morning - boxes and boxes of fast food served on silver platters… we can’t get enough of the imagery. 

In the midst of this, I am reading Isaiah 60-62 (specifically Isaiah 62), trying to prepare a few thoughts for Sunday morning. I turn my headphones up louder, attempting to drown out the commentary on the current state of our world based on fast food and golden candelabras… I  read the passage again and let it wash over my soul. These beautiful words are filled with hope and expectation… spoken by a prophet to a people who have been devastated. Here, the prophet cries out of deep desperation and longing for Yahweh to move heaven and earth and intervene on behalf of his people. (In the previous chapters of Isaiah, Yahweh had promised to rescue and restore Israel - the promises had been heard, but not seen.) And so the Prophet  stood up as Israel’s intercessor. He was holding Yahweh to His word. He was confident Yahweh would act according to his promises. But waiting did not mean sitting by idly. 

As I consider the passion of this prophet, my mind mulls over the promises God has made for us today. The main one being that through Jesus, God is last work rescuing and restoring the world. But what does this mean for our culture who spends most of its days obsessing over our political climate and drama of the day? We live in a culture of excess as may be best represented by the photographs in today's bizarre fast food news story. And while these prayers resonate on some level, I know they were meant to convey something deeper. 

Who in our world needs these prayers the most? The poor. The oppressed. The immigrant. The refugee. The desperate. The invisible. Those crossing the borders into lands of overabundance hoping for asylum and safety for their children, only to have their children taken away. Those who are living in fear of being the next village to experience drone attacks or chemical weapons. Those who hold their starving children as the life slowly fades from their eyes. We push the imagery away - refusing to allow it to penetrate our hearts and draw us into empathy for the human beings experiencing such devastation. 

Today our news feeds are filled with stories of Brexit, Russian collusion, and fast food at the White House. Many of us have been lulled to sleep as we wait to see the fruition of God’s promises to us. All the while, the world is aching for God to move heaven and earth and fulfill his promises.  Yemen is still facing an unprecedented famine. Some estimates say that nearly 100,000 children under the age of 5 have died from starvation in the past three years. The imagery is devastating. Look it up. And set that imagery against the imagery of fast food on silver platters. 

Where are the prophets in our midst, drawing our eyes to these things? How do we stay alert and awake enough to continue to advocate for that the most desperate among us? How do we call the rest of the world to attention?  Let us pray that we would not find ourselves caught sitting by idly, waiting for the to see the promises heard, but not yet fulfilled. Let us pray with the passion and concern of the Prophet in Isaiah… and in doing so, may our hearts be awakened to the world around us and may we be more empathetic today than we were yesterday. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Enough Human Sacrifice

The more I write about my experiences in the mainstream Evangelical church, the more people reach out to tell me about their own stories of abandonment, wounding, and deep betrayal by this same expression of Church. You don’t have to search too far in the former church staff realm to find those who are hurting, exhausted, frustrated, lonely, and far too often, bitter. 

They have poured out their lives for the very thing that eventually rejected them. They have been pushed out and taken advantage while doing their very best to live into their calling and serve their King. They have sacrificed and lost. And so they have been left to walk away from the only careers they have ever known or felt compelled towards…

because there was no longer space for them…
because they couldn’t perform in superhuman ways…
because someone simply did not like them and did everything they could to undermine them…
because their theology was expanding and deepening…
because they could no longer see the world in black and white… 

and often with them goes a spouse and children.  One more family left in the wreckage of the Evangelical church who must fight with all that is in them to hold on to Jesus, to forgive over and over, and somehow, someday perhaps find themselves as a part of another church. But for many, it’s just too hard. 

This must end. There has been enough human sacrifice. 

The response for far, far too long has been to ignore, excuse or turn a blind eye to our corporate sins. Because we were not directly involved, we can remain comfortable. Because it does not directly impact our family, we will stay out of it. We will be silent. We will blame the victim and remind ourselves over and over again that it was them, not us, and we are better off without them. We will allow these wrongs to continue. 

So what then shall we do? 

Even though we are well-intentioned, when we stay in such environments and remain silent, we are yielding to, if not participating in, the sins of the whole. We are in part responsible as we benefit from a system that is diminishing the very humanity of others.

I understand why so many of us fall into this trap. Speaking up against systemic sin is never easy. It’s uncomfortable and risky; and it is often a very lonely place to be. Want proof? Check out the lives of the prophets of Israel/Judah. 

Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

Friends, we are foolish if we do not take a hard look at ourselves and our environment and ask where we are contributing to these destructive patterns of behavior. We are foolish if we believe our church is safe from such evils. 

But even more so, we are incredibly foolish if we believe our voice does not matter. You are an integral part of the Church. You matter just as much as any other person. And if people continue to believe that their voices do not matter, that complacency is best, that nothing will ever change and no one will ever listen to them - that’s exactly what will happen. Nothing will change.

You are important. Your voice is necessary. We, together, are the Church. 

What if we started to ask more questions?
What if we began to hold church leadership to the highest standards of character?
What if we prayed fervently for each person that is helping lead us and actively seek to know how they are doing and how we can help?
What if we stopped settling for pat answers and deceitful responses about the reasons a staff member was let go or left?
What if we were really honest about how our churches are doing and where we need each others help to grow? 
What if our elders meetings were characterized by more open door conversations rather than hidden, closed door meetings?
What if, the fruit of the Spirit in our leaders mattered more than productiveness, talent, and professionalism?

What if we all started to speak up and believe that we are fully part of the body of Christ and are significant? 

The church was meant to be so much more than this. I believe with all of my heart that the Holy Spirit is doing something new in the Church today - that God is calling his children to “wake up.” We must do better. We must. Too many people need us to bring the light and hope of God’s Kingdom to bear on this broken and hurting world. Let us stop settling for a shallow expression of the beautiful, amazing, breathtaking, powerful Kingdom of God. 

Our Father who art in Heaven… 
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The problem with this whole thing...

The problem with talking about your personal experience is that it’s relatively easy for others to write off. The Evangelical Church seems particularly interesting in this regard - on one had, personal experience is everything. We enthusiastically embrace public testimonies of an individual’s personal experience with God… we fervently hope that at a camp, students will personally experience the love of God… we craft worship services to help create thousands of personal experiences… we have bookstores full of self-help books that help us when we are struggling to personally experience God. 

However, there is an incredible dichotomy here. While on one hand “personal experience” is elevated to a place of near idolatry, it just as easily dismantled and discredited when this same personal experience has to do with speaking out about the disfunction/sins/abuse of the whole. A critique of the church by an individual is most often met with a level of shocking reversal. Personal experience no longer matters. “That was just her experience, everyone else…” 

The real problem comes when this dismissing of one person’s experience is not enough to devalue or discredit it. What inevitably ensues is nothing short of complete smear campaign. The narrative of the whole becomes one that not only discredits the individual, but personifies them as being less than human and utterly unworthy of a second thought. These stories will be told anytime the person’s name comes up in the future. We will remind ourselves of why they were the problem and not us by any means necessary. And future staff members, volunteers, and even the general public will hear these stories for decades to come, lest we begin to think their voice matters. 

It often goes further with those in significant roles of leadership who are let go or pushed out - these are the people who will forever bear the sins/failures/inadequacies/shame of the whole. The youth ministry wasn’t growing? Well thank goodness we got rid of that terrible youth pastor - now we can find the right fit! And on and on the cycle goes.  

A look into the life of Jesus reveals that this is not a new issue. It seems to me that the major threat Jesus posed to the religious elite of his time was not simply a series of personal challenges (which we can tend to oversimplify as such) - but was much more significant… It was a challenge to the narrative of the whole. It was a pointing of of places things had gone awry from God’s original intent. Jesus pointed out places the law was taken to far, where hearts of the collective whole were hardened, were the marginalized humans in their midst were being overlooked and pushed aside. Instead of his voice being met with “ears to hear” and hearts of humility, Jesus was ignored.  When that didn’t work, he was challenged and publicly mocked, and when that didn’t work - they crucified him to silence him altogether. 

And so, it should be no surprise that the reaction to those who challenge the abiding narrative of the Evangelical Church are met with the same level of disdain, mockery and dehumanization. After all, Jesus seems quite serious when he tells his disciples they will suffer as he did. But he does not suggest his followers should cease to speak truth, pursue what is good and right, and hope for better. Even if no one seems to be listening.

So much of the Church is lacking ears to hear. Which makes talking about my experiences feel both daunting and pointless. If I was able to bet on this one - my bet would be that my experiences from my prior church are either being utterly ignored (this is the most likely) or are being written off within the church as one of many things… “It really wasn't the right fit for her - I have no idea how she got into this position in the first place”… “She was just really burnt out, so she doesn’t have a good perspective on how things really were”… “Her perspective was tainted by other horrible staff who were fired before her”.

I dare say that there are likely those who are talking about how I was theologically unsound (or even dangerous), emotionally unstable, lacking integrity, or just not resilient enough to be able to handle a difficult season on staff. 

Why am I so confident about this? Because I’ve done it. To my tremendous shame, I have participated in such story telling - often of people I have never met, or at least barely knew. I perpetuated such slander because it helped me feel better about the places I was failing. I was fine, because at least I wasn’t as bad as “so & so” - I was fine, because I had better character/instincts/experience - I would never do what they did… 

Not only have I done this, but I have watched as it has been done to others who I loved, worked closely with for years, and knew well. I recall standing up for my former boss, and friend, in a meeting shortly after he was abruptly fired. His character did not match the things that were being said about him… His theology was no where near what they were implying… the narrative was wrong, a lie. My “standing up” resulted in me being pulled aside afterwards and told I did not have the full story and did not understand how bad things really were him. A few days after that, I was pulled into the office of my new boss, questioned about my theology, and warned to distance myself from my friend, so as not to appear to be one of his disciples. 

I remember my reaction -  first, I was angry because this was a person our staff had adored for so long - and those in leadership had weirdly turned on him in a matter of days. And it wasn’t just those in leadership - it was our whole team in whom he had invested so much. We moved from praying for each other and trying to work out our differences to acting like we were freed from a crazy, tyrannical leader. 

My second response was fear. I knew that if I continued to question and speak up, I would lose my job - which was both my calling and my way to provide for my family. I literally sat in a pastor’s meeting where they told us that the staff could not continue to carry the hurt of others - we needed to get over it and get on board. It was time to move forward. But how do you move forward without dealing with the wrongdoings that happened? How do you move forward without taking the time to rest and heal? How do you move forward without challenging the destructive patterns of behavior in your midst? And what does moving forward even mean? Health does not come from “pushing through” disease. 

By writing off an individual, the Church does not need to wrestle with her own inward reality. The hard work of character does not need to be done. Powerful voices do not have to be questioned, bad behavior can continue to be rewarded, and the Church can continue believing that to the rest of the world she looks sexy as hell (or heaven, I suppose). She will continue to move forward, on to what she deems to be bigger and better things, while real decay is happening within, leaving a mess of bodies in her wake. 

It’s abusive. It’s dishonest. It is shameful. And it is not hidden. 

The additional tragedy is many of those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will likely the Church behind. They will quit because they cannot stand the hypocrisy of it all. They will quit because it is too painful to stay. They will quit because they have become insignificant - a voice that is unworthy of being heard and taken seriously.  It is happening all around us. And these people are not just leaving church - many are leaving Jesus behind too. 

And, instead of the Church asking questions like:  
“is there somewhere we are in the wrong?”
“how are we doing at caring for our staff and for those who are a part of our church?”
“who around us is hurting?”
“are we healthy? are we willing to put off “moving forward” until we can become healthy?”
“is our staff displaying the fruit of the Spirit on every level? especially with each other?”
“do we have ears for the negative stories, the stories of failure? are we approachable with negatives by those around us?”

 She is asking:
“what are the latest trends?”
“would food trucks be good at our next event?”
“how can we be attractive enough to reach those who are not here?” (without knowing anything about them)
“how can our services be more engaging?”
“we have 5 grand left in our budget… how can we spend it to make this event awesome?”

The world so desperately needs the Church to do better. It is time to stop busying ourselves with all the “ministry” we are doing, and instead to focus on becoming the people - the Church - the Hope - we are meant to be.  But to do this, we must pause long enough to hear. We must stop and give humanity back to those we have deemed as lesser. We must be those Jesus is talking about when he says “he who has ears, let him hear…” This requires humility, reflectiveness, and complete honesty. It is complicated, ugly and uncomfortable. It takes time. But, It is the only way. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Becoming Human Again...

Looking back, it’s no surprise to me that the last time I heard God speak (whatever this means), it was out of 1 Kings 19. Read it. It’s incredible/confusing/frustrating/beautiful… I always read this passage through a lens which saw Elijah as a failure. He didn’t trust God enough… He didn’t take care of himself… He was doubting even after such amazing success… So, needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled when I read the passage and saw myself in the person of Elijah. I was fried - even after “successful” ministry. I was afraid of the things that were to come. I had lost myself somewhere in the years of ministry.

If you read the passage and think Elijah sounds like a big whiner, read it again. But, this time imagine the time in your life you have felt the most exhausted and broken. Imagine those points when you felt like God just wasn’t coming through for you and you were left to figure it out on your own. Imagine his loneliness… his fear… his desperation. 

As Elijah is laying there, utterly done with life, it is startling to me that God does not directly engage with him. It’s almost as if God knows that spiritual talk at this point is not helpful. Instead, God sends angels to care for his more pressing physical needs. Twice. And then Elijah wanders in a desert for forty days, making his way to the mountain of God (which was a seven day journey at best). What was he thinking during those 40 days? What was happening inside of him?

For me, once I left ministry, the biggest needs facing me were not overtly spiritual in nature. In fact, it took me pushing my spirituality to the back seat in order to find the healing I needed on every other level. As it turns out, for me, my “faith” was masking growing issues in other areas of my life. Had I moved forward and pursued healing on a solely spiritual level, or even a primarily spiritual level, I am quite convinced these more basic “human” issues would never have been taken care of, leaving me ultimately worse off.  

Perhaps this is because my identity/role/relationships/worship/inner life were totally wrapped up in my job as a pastor. Or perhaps it’s because as Christians we can tend to over-spiritualize the answers to simple human needs. In my opinion, it’s likely a bit of both. 

My deepest need at the time: learning how to be human again. 

And over the course of a year, I did. I saw a fantastic counselor and an incredible psychiatrist. I took medications that did not numb the pain, but gave me the ability to begin to manage my emotions instead of allowing them to manage me. I cried. A lot. I slept as if I were making up for years of too little sleep (I was). I yelled and fought until I came to the end of my anger and began to forgive… I started to take care of my body… I worked out and began to eat healthy meals once again. 

And you know what? In that period of healing, I was reminded how much I adore my husband… I realized I love being at home with my kids… I ran a half marathon… I lost 30 pounds… I reconnected with family… I realized things I am really good at that I never would have imagined (as well as things that I am absolutely terrible at)… In all, I relearned who I was and discovered joy in simply living. I was becoming more and more human - more and more fully alive. I realized for the first time that God did not despise my humanity - he created it.  

While it was important for me to recognize I am more than just a spiritual being, it was just as significant for me to acknowledge that part of being human is spiritual. So, after my very human needs were met, I set off for the mountain of God, and the desert experience came. I wandered. I questioned everything. It was a dry and incredibly lonely season - one I could only do alone. I still have difficulty finding words to adequately describe the things that happened in this time.  

But, after these “40 days”  in my spiritual desert, I began to hear the gentle voice of God again. And what's amazing -  the voice has not changed… But I have. And this has made all the difference. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Giving Up

Looking back, I wish I could say that I left Elmbrook with a solid faith, knowing that God would take care of me and my family. I wish I could even say that I left with my faith mostly intact… or in the months that ensued I had a resurgence of faith and a deeper commitment to God. I wish… 

But that wouldn’t be the truth. Not only did I feel abandoned by the church (well, more like beat up and tossed out) -  but I also felt abandoned by my God. 

A soul-level weariness had caught up with me and I was done trying to figure out how to connect with this elusive God, who may or may not even really like me enough to want me to a be a part of what He was doing in the world. I was wearied of every “spiritual discipline” - trying to pray felt like I was talking to a make believe friend and thus losing my mind - reading the Bible was tedious and draining - worship was the absolute worst of it all; singing songs that lyrically seemed more appropriate for Justin Bieber to be singing to his newest lover instead of the God of the universe… no, just no. 

So, I gave up. 

I stopped going to church, promising myself and my husband it would only be a year sabbatical. I closed my Bible and put it on a shelf for the first time in my life. I distanced myself from the people who reminded me of evangelical Christianity…. I stopped returning texts and phone calls… 

Why? There were a million reasons. Because I could not handle one more Christian telling me that God was working things out in a way I didn’t understand… because I did not want one more "amazing" book recommendation… because I could not meet with one more person and pretend to be interested in what they were saying… because in the deepest parts of my soul was afraid of what people would say… or not say. 

But at the core of it all, I hid because I was angry and ashamed.

The entire foundation of my life felt like a bunch of bullshit. I had given all of myself - all of my time, energy, resources, relationships to a God who apparently was never satisfied. I had nothing left to give, and I could not for the life of me figure out where I went wrong. 

This was the darkest time of my life. The anchor of my soul was gone… and I was drifting in a vast, dangerous ocean - alone. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

On Silence...

The problem with words, especially in written form, is that there’s really no good way to communicate intentions. So, let me be clear about mine. I have gone through a tremendous amount of healing in the past two years. I am surrounded by a loving community of people that I can be wholly authentic with and who are willing to challenge me in the areas I am wrong. I am not writing about my past experiences to receive sympathy or express my personal pain for the attention. I am breaking my silence of the past few years because I passionately love the Church.  And, because I believe that the Church is unhealthy in its current state and will only become healthy as we bravely face into the truth of the experiences of those we have wounded and learn from them. 

This week at our church, we talked about Jeremiah 20:7-13 (we are following the Anglican Liturgical Calendar). Verses 8-9 put words to the things that have been happening in my heart this past month: 

"Whenever I speak, I cry out 
proclaiming violence and destruction.So the word of the Lord has brought me   
 insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word    
or speak anymore in his name,
his word is in my heart like a fire,   
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;   
indeed, I cannot."

Now, do not mistake what I am saying and what I am not - I am NOT saying I am speaking for God, as was Jeremiah. I am saying that I feel compelled by the Spirit of God to bring things that have been hidden in darkness into the light. 

It’s our tendency as humans to be silent about the ugly things in life. It’s especially the tendency of groups of people to be silent about the things that are difficult, painful, and often shameful. However, the problem with silence is…

It only serves to perpetuate the system of abuses in place. 

It gives people the impression they are alone. 

It brings shame, not healing. 

It’s dishonest and deceitful.

When I was on staff at Elmbrook, we were continually encouraged to “be wise” about what we told the rest of the congregation in regards to the major areas of dysfunction we had as a staff. In a few meetings we were outright told to not speak about it at all. 

This is absolutely fine for an organization to ask of its paid employees. It can be harmful to the image of an organization of employees are not careful with the information they are uniquely privy to. However, the problem here is: this is the church; not a business. And, in the church, we need each other. We cannot function properly without each other. The Apostle Paul wrote this about the Church and it’s different parts: 

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)

When a church staff chooses to hide its dysfunction from the rest of the Body of Christ, it is as if they are saying “We’ve got this - we don’t need you to help - we will fix it ourselves. In fact, we are just fine without you altogether.” And in this, the whole suffers. The infection spreads. How can it not? We are all connected.

And if the Church is going to be who she is meant to be, the hard work of healing must be done. We must do better. 

Let us start by being transparent and honest. Even if others mistake our intentions, take our words out of context, or believe we are wrong. But in doing so, let us be humble and kind. Let us remember that as followers of Jesus, we too, are very much a part of His Church. We must be proactively advocating, praying, and longing for the best for each other. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Church: the beginning of my story...

Since leaving Elmbrook, “church” has taken on an incredibly different meaning in my life. Not only have I struggled to process through my own painful experiences, but a weird thing has happened - as soon as I told people that I used to be a pastor and was no longer a part of a church, the stories poured out. Stories of rejection, abuse, hurt, anger, and deep wounding. It’s not just a few stories either - they have been gushing out all around me. 

These are stories, experiences, traumas that need to be listened to and learned from. These are real people, with very real experiences that cannot be ignored or written of with simple quips about “personal responsibility” or “God’s deep love for his bride, the Church”.  Something is wrong. Really, really wrong.

And I am not the only one who’s noticed. 

The Barna Group recently did some research on this ever-growing population of those who love Jesus, but cannot find their place in the church… you can check it out here: https://www.barna.com/research/meet-love-jesus-not-church/.  

The typical response of the church-going individual to statistics such as these is, in my opinion, completely disparaging. Instead of looking at ourselves and asking how we are contributing to a very real issue, we tend to place the blame back on the individual who cannot seem to fit within our midst. We say things like, “Well, if you love Jesus, you have to love His Bride” or “you’ll never find a perfect church because there’s people in every one of them” or even “The Church is the hope of the world.” To my shame, I have had these conversations often; and not one of them has ended with the humility of actually hearing and questioning the status quo.

So, instead of writing off  this ever-increasing group of people who love Jesus but don’t love the Church, what if we listened to their stories? What if we withheld judgement and held our understanding of what church must be with an open hand? What if the Holy Spirit is doing something new and we are missing it because we are not listening? 

So, for those who want to listen, here is my story of church. 

The Church captured my heart at a very young age. My parents were a part of starting Westbrook Church - from the day I was born, this was a part of my life. And from the earliest days, I understood that church was family and it was about relationships. You didn’t leave your family. No matter what. 

I loved Westbrook more and more every year I was there. I didn't love her because she was shiny and polished, with all of the best games and most recent curriculums… There was something deeper than that. I fell in love with the Story of God communicated through really normal people who loved Jesus. The Church spoke to me stories of great courage, adventure, sacrifice and significance. She gave me a vision of the person I wanted to be and a sense of purpose in my life. She brought comfort and hope in the midst of chaotic places in my life. With her, I knew that I belonged. 

It seemed fitting that at the age of 21 I would find myself on staff at the church I had grown up at and never left. I had so much passion, time and energy. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about working with students, about theological issues, about the Bible… I worked hard, much more than I was paid for, but it was all a joy. 

When I was 23, this church I had loved so deeply fell apart. It was ugly: people standing up in the church aisles and screaming at each other, ugly. Many of the pastoral staff resigned; these were the  men and women who had invested countless hours in my life, helping me flourish, and they were suddenly gone. 

I stayed. I believed I could help bring healing and shield students from all of the pain. I believed in the goodness of those within the church. I believed in the power of prayer. I believed I would see healing. I was asked to be the Director of Student Ministries and I enthusiastically accepted.

During all of this chaos, my dreams of meeting someone who I could connect with at a soul-level, were coming true. I was single for over five years - since I graduated from high school. I didn’t even date. I was so concerned about my personal integrity, honoring God, and not allowing others to stumble, that I was overly conservative and cautious. But, I was longing for a partner. 

A few months after our church fell apart, I began talking with a college freshman, who was serving in our Student Ministries. He was (and still is) my match. We talked for hours and hours about philosophy, theology and the Bible. We dreamed about what God would do in the world and with us. We laughed together and prayed together. It was a gift, God’s kindness to me. 

We told no one about our relationship for awhile (outside of our families and a few close friends). If I, the Student Ministry Director, was going to announce a relationship, I wanted to be damn sure it was something that was going to last. After a number of months, we cautiously  began to tell students and leaders.

Then, the closed door meetings began. Moms, who had loved me, encouraged me, and prayed for me came into my office and told me they were withdrawing their students from the ministry out of fear that I would pursue a dating relationship with their children.  They went to the board of elders to ask that I be removed from my position. They collectively labeled me as a child predator. So the elders engaged. They asked me to stop dating Dustin or to resign. I was devastated. My church had turned on me without any warning.

My dad had these incredibly wise words for me in the midst of the chaos, “Linnea, there are plenty of jobs and plenty of churches out there, but there is only one Dustin.” I resigned the next day.

I wrote a letter to the board of elders after a few months. These were men whose families I knew well, who I had spent significant time with - serving, praying, and talking. I believed there was love and mutual respect in our relationship and  I wanted them to know what had happened from my perspective because they had never asked. 

Two weeks later I received a scathing letter in return. Cold. Harsh. Indicting me on all of my failures. Placing the responsibility entirely on my shoulders. I was broken. 

I would love to say that the next church I landed at brought healing, but it was quite the opposite. For me, it felt foreign and suffocating. I was anonymous.  Only a few people knew my name, even though the church was quite small. I was simply Dustin’s girlfriend. My sense of belonging, safety, purpose… were gone. My faith was intact, but I struggled. 

I graduated from college and began pursuing jobs in the nonprofit sector. But I was longing to work in ministry once more. It’s not a surprise to me now that nothing other than that ended up working out. My heart was set on a role within the church. 

And then, like magic, it happened. A friend I had known from my days at Westbrook came into the coffee place I was working at and asked me if I wanted a job at Elmbrook. My dreams were coming true. A job opened up for me in the High School Ministry and the largest church in Wisconsin.

Dustin and I got married a few months after I started at Elmbrook, and we went about investing ourselves into the lives of students. It was a joy. I remember sitting around our 500sqft apartment that was packed with students and feeling full once again. Healing was coming. God was redeeming the pain. 

However, it was not long until Elmbrook turned a corner also. Their long term Senior Pastor resigned and rumors began to circulate that he was pushed out of his role. Valid or not, this triggered something in me. The pain from my experience at Westbrook surged through my veins again. 

The search was on for the next Senior Pastor. He came, promising revitalization and growth. Because of my past, I was skeptical.  

The next years were fraught with significant reduction in staff. Those of us who survived the initial firings lived in consistent fear of whether or not we would be next. The pressure on us to produce was overwhelming. The tension in the air was palpable. 

Yet, we didn’t leave. Dustin and I made Elmbrook our home. We loved the staff and the families there. She had become a part of us. So, we stayed. We hoped. We pressed on and prayed. But, it only got worse from there. 

It’s easy to look back now and see at least a dozen places I should have spoken up and stood my ground. Moments I should have taken better care of myself and my family. But when you are living within an unhealthy system it is nearly impossible to see the disfunction - or to be healthy yourself. 

During my last few years at Elmbrook, I slowly fell apart. I still look back at it and feel a bit sick to my stomach. I don’t know why I stayed. I worked 50+ hours a week and was told over and over it wasn’t enough, I had two premature babies and a husband who had cancer, my dad almost died while I was on a camping trip with students, I missed my sister’s bridal shower for “ministry” - and these are just some the “personal” things. 

Wounds after wounds came from within: I was publicly berated by a pastor in an all staff meeting, was yelled at by a person who had once been a mentor and left to cry in her office when she left for a more important meeting, was nearly fired by the senior pastor because of a false rumor that no one ever asked me about, bullied almost daily by coworkers, was slandered and gossiped about, was fired twice from my position but asked to stay indefinitely until a suitable replacement could be found, was praised one moment and criticized the next… Thus, I slowly lost heart. When I would ask for help (with staff conflicts, with details, with overall office politics, and even theological misunderstandings), I was told this was an opportunity for me to grow spiritually. 

I was burnt out. Completely fried. And I knew, more than anything, I wasn’t safe. 

In my last six months at Elmbrook, I was no longer the High School Pastor; I had been let go for the second time so that someone with a more suitable “large group personality” could be found. I was asked to function as the High School Pastor until they hired my replacement. I loved our students and leaders so much, they had seen so much transition in the seven years I had been there, so I did. Enduring the retreats, multiple trips, and weekly programming for those six months was absolutely grueling. And instead of support from the “team” around me - I received only criticism. 

Too much happened during my seven and a half years there. I had seen countless friends come and go from staff; I had four different direct bosses and four different senior pastors. We had completely restructured staff more than once and my role had changed countless times. Dustin had started to check out. I was alone and unknown. More than once I was called into my boss’s office and questioned about my loyalties and my theology. The church was trying to figure out if I was a liability. I was not safe. I could not be myself. 

I chose to leave my role as a pastor at Elmbrook after seven and a half years. My investment was “celebrated” by a reception held in the hallway with some free church coffee as an incentive to come and say goodbye. No communication was sent out to the congregation that I was leaving. Volunteers I worked with for seven years had no clue I was no longer a part of their church. Two weeks after leaving a received my pastoral family picture in the mail - neatly wrapped in a small box. I was out. Alone. Abandoned once again. 

And all hell started breaking loose. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I left my position at Elmbrook Church almost two years ago. It had been a long seven and a half years on staff, and it was time. And I have waited to talk about it for a plethora of reasons: because I did not want my words to be filled with anger, bitterness, or resentment… because I did not want to react to my experience, but to respond in time… because it was too raw for so long - the words would come, but then cease, leaving the pain all to fresh on the surface. 

But in the past few weeks, something inside of me has spoken, nearly screamed, that the time is now. I want to talk about what it feels like to be abandoned by your church. 

Harsh words? Perhaps; and it is likely perceived as such if it has never happened to you. However, with the numerous recovering pastors and church staff people I have talked to in the past few years, “abandonment” barely scrapes the surface. 

You see, when you enter into a job on a church staff, you enter into something wholly unique. It is not a 9-5 job in any sense. It’s not something you can detach yourself from while your sitting around the dinner table trying to convince your two year old to eat his spaghetti. It is a 24/7 all consuming type of job. And to make it even more complicated - your entire sense of spirituality is tied up in your job performance - so that, the very core of who you are is intrinsically connected with what you are being paid to do. 

As a pastor, this is even more so. There’s a reason pastors/priests/vicars once lived on parish grounds. The role is unique and not within the bounds of a certain job description. Even your spouse and children are tied up in what you do. It is a part of their identity too. 

Yet, pastoring is the greatest privilege. That’s why we do it. We love the people we serve - we rejoice with them, cry with them, learn about their lives, meet their families and eat with them. We are involved in some of the most meaningful and intimate moments of life. With all of our hearts we want the best for them. They become a part of us. 

And then, somehow - this thing that is so much more than a job and feels like it should last a lifetime is over in a flash. The church changes; you aren’t the right personality; there are not even close to enough kids in your youth group; your theology is called into question; you’re burnt out… you, the pastor, are reduced from a human being to a bottom line. And you’ve come up short. 

However it happens - whether through being immediately fired, pushed slowly out of the organization, quitting, or being let go but asked to stay until your replacement comes for the sake of those you are leading- the result is the same. You’re out. Alone. Weary. Hurt. Angry. Out. 

And all those relationships - those very real investments - are gone with the job. You are not good enough for the people you have given so much of your life to - they are moving on. And so must you. But to what? 

Waves and waves of grief. You have loved and sacrificed more than anyone else will ever know. And this feels like death. 

Fast Food & Famine

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