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Church Leadership

Christian Refugees

Photo by Takver via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mid-City, the area of San Diego I live in, has long been a place where refugees start their new lives. Families have relocated here from war-torn African nations, fled the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia in the 1980s, or even escaped to here from extreme poverty in Central America.

People from all over the world end up here to start over.

Traumatized. Homesick. Hopeful. Confused. Off-balance. Grateful.

Assimilation is both one of their greatest fears and one of their great hopes.

Their lives are conflicted. Emotionally bouncing back and forth between hope and despair. They are here to seek a better life. But their hearts burn to go home and start a better life there.

You Find Christian Refugees Everywhere

There are lots of Christian refugees out there, too. People who grew up in church but fled somewhere along the way.

You find them involved in local politics. Or coaching your kids soccer teams. Or living next door.

They’ve fled the church. They’ve fled church culture and church life to seek a place where they could live out what they believed more than the church was comfortable with. All they wanted was to love God with everything they had and love their neighbors as themselves… but the church was hostile towards them. (Perceived or real) They didn’t fit the program. Or the mission. Or the pastor’s agenda.

So they fled. They left quietly, found community elsewhere, and settled into a new life.

They’ve rejected the abuse of the church but not Jesus. Disenfranchised but not disassociated.

But they miss it. A piece of their life is empty. Just like the refugees who play soccer at the park down the street from me, they always hold out the simplest hope that they can one day return home. Reunited with the people they love without the fear of danger.

When there is peace, they say– When there is something to return home to– they dream of returning.

Church leadership is at fault

Just like you can’t blame refugees leaving a country on the people fleeing, church leaders need to own the fact that they have caused a massive exodus from the church. Jesus tells us, his disciples, to call people to Himself. We need to quickly rectify our internal squabbles, give every person in our congregation a voice again, and go out to seek reconciliation with those who have fled.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

To make peace. We need to go out and make peace.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

13 replies on “Christian Refugees”

Great post! But I don’t think that just church leaders are to blame. Our peers in the congregation can hurt more than anything. A few small simple words can totally destroy. We along with the church leaders need to own up that we may have said or done something. We need to accept every person in our congregation. We don’t have t be best friends and we don’t have to agree on every topic but we have to accept each other as a Child of God and treat each other as Christ would treat us. Sorry to rant. I had it happen to me this past Sunday and I can’t say that it didn’t make me stop and think why would I go back. But God is so much bigger than one person and their words. So I keep on truckin’. I want to serve him and show others His love when they can’t see it.

The current leadership won’t foster it. But the leadership that was there for 12 years did and he just let it go. He was afraid of confrontation so people just ran with it. I love our current pastor and he is trying his hardest to change a behavior and attitude that has been 12 years in the making.
But yes I can see how the leadership can create or foster the environment.

Jennifer – I really would like to get your perspective on how your “current” leadership is trying to change the behavior – sounds like recent and good changes…and your church is probably where I wish mine was at – we are still in the “afraid of confrontation” and so it just runs rampant, and people are constantly run out…sometimes literally.

We can see the potential for good and positive changes in our congregation – the challenge is still the leadership hesitant to jump in when a situation would otherwise call for it. We keep planning to leave ourselves, but so far have toughed it out, but it is starting to really affect our spiritual side, not seeing anything really change for the better…yet.

I hear what Jennifer is saying and I agree that the people in the pews (or the new and improved “theater-style seating) can sometimes be just as damaging as the person behind the pulpit.

But as part of my church’s leadership, I feel that leaders need to address those issues. If there are people in the congregation causing people to leave and become refugees, we need to address it. Our failure to notice the problem – or worse, we know the problem and decide not to do anything about it – is our (church leadership’s) fault.

Parsing Jennifer and Nate’s – if it’s people in the congregation causing the problem that are causing people to become the refugees, then the leadership needs to confront it. NOW. Not wait “and see if it just goes away” – I’ve seen that way too much recently, and the PROBLEM doesn’t go away, but the people hurt by the problem DO go away, never to return. That’s not just damaging to the local church, but also damaging to Christianity in general (one bad egg ruining the whole basket).

If leadership isn’t confronting in a loving, Biblical manner, they are not leading at all, and will have much to answer for.

First, Great thoughts. Now, rant alert: 

What gets me is that in our case, the church (the country we left) keeps guilt tripping us for leaving. “well you really need to be in church” “you’re not goin to grow”.

There’s a reason why we’re not there: cause you were dicks to us. And you’re still dicks to us. What refugee returns to their country while warlords are still lopping off people’s heads?! Of course they wouldn’t. 

But you’re masters of guilt trips Somehow you still have the power. We may have fled years ago and it’s still a guilt trip every time we interact. And the really funny thing? We’re worse than the people who have never been in the church at all. They’re in need of Jesus, they’re a potential target, worthy of love. We’re apostates. Look, I love God. I serve the community. I exhibit His character. I just can’t deal with the crap. Somehow us being in the same building for a couple hours every week makes things right? And if we’re not sitting in this same place every week, I’m worth less than you?

And you’re really surprised I left?

Our relationship was NEVER based on anything real. If it was, our friendship would continue. The proximity of our chairs for two hours every Sunday was the only thing that brought us together, and when I wasn’t in that chair anymore, you assumed the worst of me.

I still like you. At least, I try. I really wish I could go back to the homeland. Have a cup of our native drink, cheap Sunday morning coffee, and sing a couple of our folk songs. But then that dude is going to stand up and say a bunch of stuff that makes me feel awkward because, while some of it’s good, some of it is just way off. And there’s nothing I can do or say under our totalitarian government. If I speak up, you’ll ether marginalize me or throw me back out. Once the speech is done, we’ll all go our separate ways, not to see each other again for another week, unless it’s to get together and discuss how we all agree with what the dude said.

So here’s where I’m at: I have a community of folks who love me because they love me. It’s not conditional on agreeing on all the same things. And we’re ok with that. 

So until you can get over it and stop the warlords, stay away. I’ve found a new kinfolk. And if you can’t have a conversation that doesn’t include some jab at me for leaving, then I don’t need you.

(sorry, recent situations lead me to dump that)

Joshua, in some ways this was very beautiful. Hard to read, but beautifully honest. My readers need to read this. And I needed to hear it as well.

We have so much to learn.

I agree with much of what is said, especially the comment about leaders who lead well. Leaders who lead well can stop some of the nonsense.

I think spiritual refugees who are driven away because of fundamentalism, a pastor or church member who is a dictator, which is what I think Josh was referring to when he called them dicks :), or a general depressing or oppressing environment, and therefore not a true reflection of Christ, then yes, we have some reconciling to do.

Adam, some great thoughts (and thanks again for writing on a subject that we many times turn away from)! I agree with most of what is being said. Joshua, it appears that you have experienced some hurtful and hateful church leaders and an environment that is not a reflection of the bride of Christ. It is unfortunate that there are “dicks” out there in leadership and churches, and that they have caused many to have a sour taste of the church… If we all turn away and abandoned churches and church leaders because they are “dicks” then how does reconciliation and redemption happen? It’s easy to love people who don’t give us trouble and cause us grief… Aren’t we called to demonstrate love and forgiveness, and if we can’t do it to our own, then we can’t effectively give it to those who are outside of the kingdom… Not trying to put a burden or task on anyone… Just some thoughts… Colossians 3:12-14

No, you’re generally right Joe. (to set the stage, my issues have not been with leaders as much as members) Reconciliation must take place. I can seek reconciliation, but it’s a two-way road. I can forgive the warlords, I can even tell them that I mean them no evil and seek some sort of peace. But I’ll never put a machete in their hands and let them babysit. My lament above is a gasp of exhaustion. I’ll never write them off, like a short tweet that only says “farewell, ———–“. But if they know they can’t make peace, then I wish they’d just remove themselves from my life.

But then I struggle with that, because I have had a few of those former persecutors come to me seeking refuge, because they’re now lepurs to the church as well. And the former abuser is now my compatriot.

And I was once the abuser myself.

So it’s tough to figure out. Those relationships are unhealthy, but you want to preserve them. This post came at the exact time I needed it. I sat with my wife last night as she cried over an abuser in her life, who is teaching her and others she knows that our family (specifically me) don’t worship God and are destined for hell because we don’t go to a “real” church. It’s tough to deal with the warlords. But as you posted, Joe, Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

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