This email was sent to the pastor by a former staff member who was at the church for well over a decade.
Date: Fri 7/10/2009
XXXXX I hope all is going well with you.
I am writing out of duty, desire, and respect, to communicate where my heart is at, as well as my wife’s heart, too. For a while now, God has been doing some deep things in our hearts. Some of which were triggered during the “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” book and Bible study.
God has given me the grace to examine my heart, beliefs, and experiences, and for the first time I realized some things on a level that I never have before. I began acknowledging some things on the surface, but allowed myself to go deeper. When doing this, I saw a depth of hurt and disagreement in relation to experiences and philosophies of our church. As [my wife] and I began to understand some of the effects that our church environment had on us, we grew into a deeper freedom in our walk with God. This change in us makes us think that others in our church body may be in a similar place as us, and that the healing we are undergoing would be great for others to experience, too. Also, it seems like it would be a good thing for our staff to go back and consider, from an objective position, the effects of our church philosophies and culture on the psychological, emotional, and spiritual health of the church members.
According to the way I perceive them, the following are some examples of ways that an unhealthy imbalance in areas of our church can create emotional, psychological, and spiritual baggage as a consequence. They are communicated in somewhat black-and-white terms in order to paint them the color in which I perceive them. It must be clear that we DON’T believe these are all black-and-white, or right and wrong issues. The items are in this list because of the perception that they are or have been detrimentally imbalanced. It may take a bit of effort to view these things from the perspective that even though they were well-meaning, they held a potential to be damaging, controlling, or manipulative when out of balance.
- The schedules, LAP’s, and weekly updates we submitted to each other
- The preoccupation with excellence and with Willow Creek and their church model
- An excessive focus on the ”submission to leaders” concept
- The controlling effect of the “ministry cycle” concept
- The lack of church governance
- Ministry involvement to the “neglect” of our families, our in-your-face way we handle Pilgrimage, our insistence on confrontation, our views on speaking the truth in love
- Inhibiting the autonomy of the people’s individual responsibility before God, going out-on-a-limb to address things that are not clearly addressed in Scripture
- How a person can feel they had to get permission and leadership’s blessing to make decisions in life, the way we view other churches, having an environment where it is not easy to think for yourself, the feeling that people in leadership know better, the pressure to submit to your leader , comparing yourself to others, institutionalized gossip, the way that the system of ministry seemed to come before the hearts of the people
I believe that due to the above mentioned things, emotional, psychological, and spiritual baggage accumulates over time. The baggage takes on the form of pressure, tension, confusion, self-doubt, hurt, fear, worry, guilt, feeling judged, feeling criticized, feeling manipulated, feeling controlled, feeling analyzed, feeling gossiped about, and worst of all – our image of God is tarnished by these things.
As to which of the items on the list have come and gone, it is hard to say for some things and easier for others. I have to wonder to what extent the impact of these things are quietly below or above the surface in the lives of our church members still. Indeed, some apologies were made, but there may still be healing and change that need to take place in our church body.
There are two other things that cause concern. One is the lack of a church governance structure in the form of elders, deacons, or a board. The second, is that the central teaching of our church seems to be mostly on an introspective, analytical view in forms like, “be more self-disciplined”, “observe the Sabbath”, “be more compelling”, and “read the Word more”, etc. All of these topics are good and true, but it seems there is not as much about the things that drew us to God in the first place. It seems we dwell less on the compelling love of Jesus, Salvation, the character of God, grace, love, etc., – the things that point us toward God rather than point us toward looking into ourselves for problems or growth.
Let me say that I am aware that this letter is written imperfectly. Some things may come across as beating-around-the-bush, while others may seem insensitive. Please, do your best to filter out the things that are [me] and filter “in” anything that may be of the Lord. I am not calling each item or concept a sin, nor am I calling my differing point of view the height of correctness. As my wife and I opened the doors of our hearts and minds to all this, a lot came out. It took us a while to know what to do with the way we feel and the things we believe and perceive. We believe that God would have us share it with you. You have given and sacrificed so much for this church…I can only imagine how difficult these topics would be to examine. Hopefully, throughout this letter I didn’t draw too many conclusions on the points that I made, because truthfully, God may very well have better conclusions than I could come up with. We pray that these things will be considered and sought to be understood with only the kind of understanding that comes with God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.
I’d like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for letting me share this with you.