Last year, a church a few miles from my house was promoting a new sermon series. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional response of seeing a series with the same name as one we had the previous year at our church.
I felt sick to my stomach.
Last week, it was a cheerful video greeting on our church FaceBook page. It didn’t matter that it was delivered by a humble pastor with great integrity. I cried anyway.
The problem wasn’t the church with the familiar sermon title or the announcement on the FB page, it was the reminder of unhealthy, painful church experiences that came when I least expected them.
It has a name. This is church PTSD. I wish I had been the one smart enough to coin that term. I wish, even more, there was no need for such a term.
While the name may sound quirky, it’s heartbreakingly serious. The odds are good, there are people sitting near you on a Sunday morning who have experienced deep pain at the hands of a church.
In the book The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, there is a section that says this:
“It is increasingly rare to meet someone who has not experienced some kind of spiritual abuse within the church, or seen the church reject the way of Jesus for something else. It is not unusual to find pastors using their congregations as platforms to advance their influence and profile. It is not uncommon to find churches that relate to neighboring congregations as competition, rather than as family in the kingdom. It is not uncommon to discover scandals of power and abuse in the church that have been hidden to protect the “right people” from getting in trouble.” . . . “We ignore narcissism, self-glorification, and domination as long as the number of conversions are up and more baptisms are happening.”
The phrase, “It’s not uncommon” is haunting.
That’s why godly, humble, authentic pastors, like mine, might see their church family struggle with trust.
Here are some things I’ve found that have helped during this season:
*Having a safe place to express pain. The more I have been able to honestly process all of this, the more I can see the wounds begin to heal.
*Spending time reading the Bible. I needed to sit and read without a Bible study teacher in the way. I needed to be reminded again, directly from the source, what God’s Word said.
I found myself in III John, the shortest book of the Bible, and was encouraged to see a blueprint for what healthy and unhealthy pastoral leadership looked like.
*Being aware that just because I have baggage, that doesn’t mean all churches and leaders are unhealthy. I’m learning to recognize unhealthy patterns without projecting them onto innocent bystanders.
*Learning to live with the tension of mourning what was(and is) difficult and being grateful for all that was good and true. I’m learning, more and more how important this is. I first heard Lore Wilbert refer to this quote by Charles Spurgeon, “The wave of temptation may even wash you higher up upon the Rock of ages, so that you cling to it with a firmer grip than you have ever done before, and so again where sin abounds, grace will much more abound.”
This painful wave has moved me closer to Jesus. This painful wave came alongside some beautiful growth and friendship. Just because some things were difficult, it doesn’t take away the work God did. It doesn’t negate all the ways so many humbly and joyfully served.
*Recognizing my own weaknesses. Jamin Goggin says this in his book, “. . . we can often default to analyzing the error of others without honestly assessing the truth about ourselves.” . . . “Only when we see the truth of ourselves can we have mercy to address others in God’s grace. As those forgiven by God we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matt 6:12 NLT)”
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