I have been thinking of how and if I should share my story for the last week now. I don’t have a bunch of specific memories or quotes from my time at Grace Church but I think sharing some general impressions and situations that I do remember as well as the things I have been unlearning since leaving may be helpful to some.
I became a Christian at this church. I immediately wanted to serve so that others could come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior as well. I served in multiple ministries over the next 9 years, some in lower leadership roles. Two instances stand out to me that I’d like to share.
First, my first time serving during a service I was supposed to be learning the ropes of a particular ministry but because someone failed to show up that morning I was asked if I could fill in. The leader above me was very patient and helpful during the service, however, after the service Barry scolded me for multiple things that I had done “wrong” and how my mistakes and sins could keep people from knowing Jesus. Now I know that others’ salvation does not rest on my abilities or inabilities but as a new Christian I felt horrible to have potentially been a stumbling block for someone else.
The second instance I recall vividly was Suzanne, Barry’s wife, coming to me and telling me I had to switch ministry teams. I wasn’t given a choice but just told how and when the transition was to take place. The ministry I was in I really felt called to and had some really important relationships that I was basically told to drop or pass to others. I learned some valuable skills in my new ministry role that I still use to this day, but the abuse of authority does not justify the good that God made out of it.
The more general principles that were taught/implied/encouraged included:
- The need to distance myself from my family because of the potential negative influence they could have on my spirituality
- Confess sin regularly (the deeper the better)
- Godliness came from scrutinizing every thought and action
- Leaving the church (even for good reasons like a job opportunity) was ungodly
- Grace Church was the best/only church if you seriously loved Jesus
- Spending many hours serving and preparing for your ministry team was more important than anything, including neglecting your spouse and kids (this may be a needed sacrifice)
- Schedule every part of your day and turn it in to your leader
- Give, give, give financially
- Don’t talk about people who left/why they left
- When I led others I was told things to say to them and taught to make it seem like it was my words and not from the leader above me to protect my leader and then report back to the leader about how it went. So I said and did things that I tried to make others’ believe were my ideas when they weren’t.
- Kids are unpredictable and should stay out of the service and be in their own rooms apart from the adults so no one gets distracted from Jesus
I am thankful that the Lord brought my family and I out of this environment. We’ve been gone for 9 years now and I still love Jesus and am actively serving in a healthy local church. But to this day, I am still unlearning and untangling the truth from unbiblical and abusive things that I learned from my time at Grace Church. Some of those things include:
- Grace church is not the only/best church and many other people who really love Jesus do things differently and can honor God just the same
- It’s okay to spend money on family vacations, have a pet or buy things that you enjoy (and not just need) as a family and not give every last penny to the church
- Leaders do not need to pressure or manipulate people to accomplish a ministry task. If God is in it, He will provide the money and the people to help
- Others are not bad/uncommitted Christians if they decide they can’t help with a particular church ministry/event
- I am accountable to God for my actions/decisions and not just to a leader
- Judging others’ walk with God is not my job
- Perfection in a program does not equal godliness
- Imperfection in a program does not equal deep rooted sin
- Sharing private information with a leader so that they “have a better idea of what’s going on” is nothing more than spiritualizing gossip and is not okay
- The Holy Spirit convicts specific sin and doesn’t just give an overarching feeling of condemnation
- It’s healthy to question things when something doesn’t “feel right”
- Church should not be a place where you’re constantly afraid of being analyzed and criticized by others, especially leaders
- I have good ideas
- I can hear from God
- Following Jesus is freeing and full of joy!
I am not perfect. I was sucked into this system out of a sincere desire to love and serve Jesus and have worked within this system, perpetuating its sins. It has taken and will continue to take time to untangle the good from the bad and the true from the false. I believe there are many good people who attend Grace Church who have a sincere desire to follow Jesus and serve Him. I pray that by speaking up it will help others to find freedom in Christ.