If it didn’t hurt so much sometimes it wouldn’t be personal.
“The reason I hate church is that you pay attention to everyone else there but us.” ~ Megan, age 7
Those words rattled my soul. I’d rather have gotten cold-cocked by Mike Tyson in a bar fight than heard those words. That’s when I knew that things had to drastically change in how both how I related to my family and serving the church.
Every time I volunteered somewhere or went to a meeting it lead to fights with the kids. “You don’t love us you only love stuff at church!”
Their anger lead to my tears.
Here’s what I wrote last October in a post, “When your kids hate church“:
Yesterday, I sat in the car with a child who refused to participate. Not all Sunday’s are like that. But sometimes the feet literally stop moving and the tears start flowing. It’s hard to look in your child’s eyes and see them tearfully say “please don’t make me go,” and then force them to go.
I can’t stomach it. That is, clearly, not the type of relational connection I want my children to have with Jesus.
That post lead to an impossible number of conversations with friends in ministry. By sharing my pain and acknowledging that one of my darkest fears had become my reality I connected with others who serve in full-time ministry and find themselves in similar situations.
Of all of those conversations I had a single phrase spoken stuck out to me. Paraphrasing what she said, I’ve probably added to it: (not accusing just thinking out loud)
“I wonder if you’ve laid your children on the alter of your own ideals and put them into impossible situations? They go to a school you have chosen for them which meets all of your ideals for living in the city, they go to a church you have chosen for them meeting the ideals for you living in the city. They walk a mile in your shoes every day and never get a break.”
Dear Jesus, this was true. It cut past the niceties right to the bone.
So we made some changes. Kristen and I have worked on it. And, on our road to recovery, we have seen some moments when our kids love Jesus and His church. Last night was one of those moments as Paul brought his Bible and a little devotional thing from church to do as a bedtime activity with mom. That totally made me cry!
Some other waypoints on this path have included…
- Praying with and for our kids.
- Inviting them in to freely sit in on stuff we are doing and to ask questions. Usually, this has been Megan.
- Putting our family as the priority over our beloved community group when Jackson was born. (We’ll rejoin them this Fall)
- Being joyful as we made a transition from one congregation to another, in part, based on their feedback.
- Experiencing Lent together seemed like a turning point. (Kinesthetic learning is perfect for them)
- Awana, as much as I’ve lamented about it for years as a leader, has been a gift to them as they’ve gotten more familiar with the Bible and how to use it. (A free date night each week for mom/dad has been good for our marriage as a bi-product!)
- Moments with each kid when they said, “Daddy, remember when you were in charge of that stuff at church? I liked it when you did that. It would be fun for you to do that again. You were good at it. I miss that.“
- Eagerly signing up and bugging us about details of summer fun camp.
Like any hurt or injury it’s a long process. The quote above is from 2008– we’ve been at this for 1/3 of her life. We haven’t arrived and we still have some very difficult things to work through. And I don’t know if they will ever love the Bride of Christ like I do. But I’m happy to see progress.
It brings me deep joy to begin to see how Jesus is bridging the gap and building a relationship with my children in a way that isn’t forced, coerced, or built on expectations from mom or dad.
O, what a day that will be!
My heart breaks for those hurt by the church. Specifically, for people called to full-time ministry, but gravely injured by the people they were called to serve.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t interact with a youth pastor or former youth pastor who was deeply wounded by their church.
The church treated them like a couch. One day they are the centerpiece of the metaphorical living room and the next day they were moved to the curb and left for the garbage truck to pick them up.
When you are called to a church you are applauded publicly. People pray for you. You are brought up front to acknowledge that the leadership feels you have been called to be a central figure in the church. But when they no longer need you? They basically kick you out of community, shame you, and write a small check for your private pain, and pretend you never existed.
While I recognize that there is always another side to their story– it nonetheless paints a vivid picture of what that church really believes.
- You have to behave a certain way or perform to a certain expectation level or we will kick you out.
- When we wrong someone, we cover it up with hush money, and we never ask for forgiveness, even when we are clearly wrong.
- When we wrong someone, we never restore either them or the relationship privately or publicly.
It just leaves me to wonder about the state of the church. We reach less than 10% of the population on a weekly basis. And we don’t think our private institutional sins impact that at all!
It leaves me with three questions to ponder as I begin my work week:
- What does it look like for the institution to seek forgiveness?
- What would it look like if we restored people?
- What do I need to do to seek forgiveness and restoration of both relationship and position in my life?