This email was sent from a former Staff member and long-time servant in the church to the pastor and a group of about 60 long-time attenders, including most of those active in any leadership capacity.
Date: Fri, June 22, 2012
Hey brothers and sisters,
I’m writing to you because in some way over the past decade, we’ve prayed, celebrated, worshipped, learned, served, struggled, and/or played together as family at Grace Church. I count each of you a friend…and indeed more than a friend. A sister or a brother in the Lord.
I’m writing to you because after twelve years, my family and I have made the decision to leave Grace Church. We’re not moving. I haven’t gotten a new job. I’m not going back to school. We decided after a long while of prayer, discussion, and struggle that we, along with a number of other families and single folks, will be ending our association with Grace Church in order to focus more closely and intentionally on the work and life we feel Jesus compelling us toward…
I’d be remiss not to mention that in addition to the positive pull of an alternative vision, there’s also been a growing sense that I can no longer, in my own heart and mind, fully support the processes and emphases of Grace Church. (Though a group of us is leaving together, this is most definitely a personal email. I speak only for myself here…the views of others shouldn’t be assumed based on what I have to say…we’re all unique after all!)
Now at this moment I feel tempted to assert and defend my spiritual health and wellbeing…but I won’t. My own self-reporting isn’t worth all that much. I know that in the past when friends of mine have left Grace Church without an official send-off, I’ve wondered at the state of their faith…”Have they ‘fallen’? Are they struggling in their walk with the Lord? There must be something wrong with them.”…maybe you can relate to that. Having heard recently from some of these folks, I now understand how hurtful, and just plain wrong, those assumptions can be. If you have questions, or even concerns, please feel free to ask me.
I want to emphasize that this has not been an easy decision. It’s been very hard and very emotional. I’m so overwhelmingly grateful for the many years I’ve had together with many of you. I will never be the same because I was blessed enough my freshman year of college to find a group of people, mostly my age, who were serious about following Jesus, whatever the cost. That was sheer grace. I am grateful that I found a group of people with whom I learned I could confess my sins, be transparent, receive new power and strength to live a holy life…and still be able to admit my failings when I screwed up again! I’m grateful that in the presence of you all I was free to use old gifts, develop new ones, and receive from each of you the gifts you’ve brought to our lives together. You all have been a family to me…the family of God. And family we will remain.
I must share with you something that has been deeply saddening, angering, and confusing in this process because it seems necessary and appropriate, given that one of the first questions people ask is, “have you talked with leadership about this?” As a group, we asked to sit down and talk with the elders and deacons (read: our brothers and friends) to explain the vision behind our decision to depart, being convinced that simply “cutting and running” wasn’t something we could do with a good conscience. We were asked to submit something in writing, and were given no indication that to do so would mean the possibility of a future meeting. We found this request both hurtful and antithetical to the purposes for which we requested the meeting in the first place. We responded at length, asking the board to reconsider a face to face meeting. We received an email again denying that request. Since that time, each of my requests to meet on an individual basis with men on the elder/deacon board have been denied, each of them citing with surprising confidence that they believe such a decision is God’s will. I have no doubt that the men on this board feel sincerely justified in these decisions…that is, I don’t think anyone is intentionally trying to “do harm”. But I have serious doubts about whether God has ordained this virtual ban on face to face communication, and instead find this course of action alarming, counter to the way of Kingdom, symptomatic of deeper issues in Grace Church’s leadership culture, not to mention deeply hurtful considering the time we have spent laboring, serving, and being family together over the past decade and more. (In case you’re wondering, these thoughts have already been shared with both individuals on the board and the group as a whole, with no change in position.)
I am keenly aware that there are two distinct and competing narratives present in this situation….two very different stories about what has and hasn’t been said and about why things are going down the way they are. And because face to face communication has been systematically refused, I don’t know how resolution or even real understanding can happen. I’m sorry that those of you who care will have to sort through this situation by talking to delegates from each group and then comparing the stories in your own head. That’s very, truly sad. I sincerely hope that this process, along with a variety of other things, are seriously considered and brought to open, candid, communal, body-directed discussion within the larger church, particularly among those of you who’ve been around for as long as I have or longer…and not merely ignored on the way to exciting new ministry opportunities.
Yes…I’m deeply saddened and even, at times, angry at how this process has progressed. But at the end of the day, when I sit down to consider the last twelve years, I am mostly, sincerely grateful. Who am I that I was counted worthy to experience the mercy and grace of God by finding you all and growing together with you into a life I never would have imagined for myself? I can’t tell you how much my family and I sincerely grieve this loss, even as we look forward with joy to the blessing of being the family of God together with the folks in the Village. You all and Grace Church as a whole have been and will continue to be in our hearts and in our prayers.
If you want to talk with me about anything personally, please do. It’s the surest way to figure out what I’m actually thinking and feeling. I would prefer not to randomly meet you in Meijer and have a really awkward, uncomfortable and shallow conversation. How sad that would be after all the good we’ve shared together in Jesus’ name. I still want to be your friend and brother.
From this day on may we all be found giving Him our whole selves as we look for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done on the earth… Deep love and gratitude to each of you, with praise to Jesus, the humble King.
ps. I realize that Grace Church is moving toward some new ministry opportunities. It could be tempting to some of you to see this email, and others like it, as “a demonic attack” trying to “discourage” the church on its way to its God-ordained goals. I know I can’t control that, but I can at least encourage you not to believe that. It could be that this is something that God actually wants you all to hear as you stand on the brink of big decisions about Grace Church’s future.