Recovery from a Bad Church Experience: Dealing with Disillusionment

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Sad Teenage GirlDepression and disillusionment often follow those who are in the middle of, or who have recently left, a spiritually abusive church environment. The sense of confusion and betrayal of trust can be one of the deepest soul-pains a human being can experience. When individuals have entrusted their soul, talents, gifts, abilities, and finances to leaders and individuals who abuse that trust, it would be a minor miracle not to find one’s self dealing with skepticism, doubt, depression and disillusionment.

As painful as it is, take heart. Disillusionment has always been a common malady for the Lord’s followers from the beginning of the ekkelsia. There is a remedy!

First century believers expected the literal return of the Lord in their lifetime. When it didn’t happen, they needed the encouragement that comes from a major adjustment in their expectation and understanding. Much of the NT was written to psychologically encourage and theologically adjust the saints. The book of Hebrews is a great example of a letter written to a people who were ready to “chuck it” because things had not panned out according to their expectations.

The overwhelming majority of popular level media teaching and preaching is a set-up for disillusionment. When all the promised temporal blessings for good behaving and promise claiming saints do not come to pass, a crisis is inevitable. The first wave of human carnage surrounds us in those for whom the tired and ragged remnants of Charismatic and apostolic-prophetic teachings have not produced the “promised” results. (i) Disillusionment is saying it mildly. Many feel so betrayed, so misled, so the “fool,” for believing another generation’s lightweight preacher talk, that they have turned into God-haters. It is but the first fruits of a greater harvest to come. I get no joy in proclaiming so. My hope is to be there for folks when the non-Calvary, simplistic promises and premises they have built their lives upon, come crashing down around them.

The disillusionment phenomenon also influenced Israel of old, and God sent the prophets to encourage and adjust them. Nowhere is this more prominent that in the return of the exiles from Babylon. Based on their understanding of their past history, those who returned from Babylon had “land of milk and honey” expectations for their return. What they got was the “land of ruin and desolation.” Rather than a “walk-in-take-over” of houses and lands prepared for them, they were confronted with the charred ruination and remains of another generation’s failures. Does this sound familiar?

When the exiles returned, they set up the altar of sacrifice, but the temple was not rebuilt due to the scope of the task and the resistance they experienced from outside influences. The altar of sacrifice had to do with their personal standing with God, but the temple was meant to be the testimonial habitation of God in the earth. They settled for “personal” issues, while the greater issue of God’s testimony in the earth was ignored. Again, the media airwaves are saturated with techniques on how to “get your blessing,” rather than how to be the incarnation of the life of God in the earth, living effectively one with another.

God’s provision for Israel was to send Haggai (and others) to purge their romanticism, realign their expectations, change their thinking, challenge them to faithfulness, and exhort them to a work that involved something greater than their own interests. There are lots of applications for us today.

Many are disillusioned with organized and institutional forms of the faith and have embraced house church and emergent church forms, only to eventually discover equal amounts of disillusionment in these venues. I suggest that the problem is deeper than our meeting formats. Our message and methods have been focused on: a) individual salvation (our individual ticket to heaven), b) the temporal benefits that are mine, and c) giving our lives to build a “thing”- either the “church” as we have known it, or the “church” as we think it should be. Either way, our expectation is in a thing.

We’re supposed to be building the temple-the spiritual temple that is, the Body of Christ, not just focusing on the activities of the altar.

I believe that a prophetic call of encouragement, alignment, and correction is going out at this hour for those who are His own, to step out of a self-aware and self-interest based Christianity (regardless of meeting form) to get serious about Christ in us all . . . Christ in you, Christ in me . . . and give ourselves to the that “building.” We have tried everything else. It has only produced frustration and disillusionment.

Conclusion

If we are to fully recover from various bad church experiences due to unmet expectations, promises unfulfilled, or abusive leadership, we must understand that our mandate is to build the body of Christ by exhorting to love, and good works. Our mandate is not “build a better mousetrap” for Jesus.

It is common for individuals to leave a bad church situation, but still bring with them many of the teachings, beliefs and practices that they absorbed while in that hurtful church environment! As the old saying goes: It is one thing to get out of Egypt. It is another thing to get Egypt out of us!

If we are to recover from the harm done to us in a spiritually abusive church experience, we need to understand that it is not just about criticizing others, it is about looking at our own hearts, and be willing to abandon some of the beliefs and practices that I consciously or unconsciously embraced and brought with me out of that environment. If I do not, I am only setting myself up for disillusionment again.

We must understand that revelation does not come from the preaching ministry in the pulpit, but from our “connectedness” together in the body. The unveiling of Christ that we desire is not related to a gifted orator in a pulpit, or a gifted evangelist, or an anointed prophet or apostle. The unveiling of Christ we need is directly related to our being knit together in love (Col. 2:2). That is where the “mystery” is revealed.

It has been my long persuasion that Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees regarding their inability to see Him until they say “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” (Matt. 23:39) has got nothing to do with the details of His personal return. It applies firstly to the new creation, post-Pentecost apostles, and to every recreated believer since. It is an absolute ban. Until we can say blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, (the new creation indwelt, Spirit-filled, believer who comes in the name of the Lord), we will never “see Him,” regardless of how “anointed” our various ministry expressions are or how “biblically accurate” the structure of our meetings are.

Like Israel of old we need to pull away from a sacrificial consciousness of my own personal sins being forgiven, and move into a “temple building” consciousness that serves as an incarnational witness to the world that God is alive . . . in flesh . . . in you and me. The New Testament temple, the New Testament habitation of His presence, has to be built. Out of the ruins of a previous generation’s failures we must engage in the divine agenda.

We can continue to sing our songs, wave our banners, dance our dances, preach our messages, and whatever it is we do. But if we are serious about a different future day of God’s purposes in the earth, we must get serious about building the temple. We must discover and embrace Body-Consciousness. We must recognize Christ wherever He is, in one another, and give ourselves to the seeing of Him there, not out of heaven.

That is I live to die for you. You and I are the living sacrifices, and together we constitute the testimonial temple of God in the earth. All that I am, all that Christ has put in me, is . . . for you . . . and for the world. Together, we are the temple not made with hands that is to be the testimony in the earth that Jesus is alive in resurrection. If we are content with our own “promises of blessing” rather than the hard work of relationship building and the development of actually knowing one another so we can actually exhort one another to love and good works, we will never see the days of God on earth that generations have been preaching about.

End Note References

i “Breakthrough” is always just “one more faith-act of obedience” away.
ii Pulpit consciousness, ministry consciousness, gift consciousness, anointing consciousness, miracle consciousness, etc.

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Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephrcrosby@gmail.com.Would you like to partner with us in distributing our materials and perhaps generate some income for yourself?  Please go to www.stevecrosby.com for details of our Affiliate program. This ministry is sustained by the freewill offerings of those believe in the message of a radical grace in a new covenant understanding. If this article has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider making a tax-deductible contribution through our Paypal button to help? Thank you and God bless you.

12 comments on “Recovery from a Bad Church Experience: Dealing with Disillusionment

  1. Great post Steve. more and more as of late the theme of community and the body has becoming stronger in my spirit. Also that of entering into “life”. What really is Kingdom Life…that’s what I’m meditating on now. Hence that may be the name of the church I plant. One of my prfessors Wolfgang Vondey has w ritten a book maybe similar to this thought although not exactly called “People Of the Bread”. Check it out on Amazon..once again thnaks and blessings!

  2. Hi Steve, nice post. What has been in my heart for some years now is that, each one in the body must be active and involved in the work of the Lord. Each one has gifts and calling and a vital part to play in the life of the body. There must be a move away from the few leaders doing everything, to total involvement of everyone as far as possible.

    • Hi Marcus, yes indeed, you are getting it . . . we have to move away from a leader-centric, pulpit-centric, etc., expression. It is about everyone contributing, not one person speaking week after week after week after week and everyone else passive or only nominally engaged, or like an animal on a short leash . . .”going only so far as the “leadership” allows them” . . . that is not the kingdom. Leaders are supposed to remove the leash and release people into kingdom life and expression, even if that means a decrease to that leader personally in reputation, money, meetings, size, etc. Much is done to keep the money flowing and coming in to the organization. This is most unfortunate. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of scattered seed, (us, lives, one another) not accumulated seed.

  3. Very challenging! Steve you have raised my inner awareness much these days about the body of christ and community living. I am becoming more matured as I allow the lord to adjust my mindset and revelation on this theme and I thank God for true prophets like you who makes us conscious of Christ in US ALL. Merry Christ-massive!

  4. Thank you Steve.
    In our discussions in home groups and adult discipleship classes in our local community of believers, we have recently been very aware of these very things.
    Shared life, yieldness, dying to self is how Christ becomes alive. It has always been in the being and not in the doing that He is revealed in and through each of us. To know the Father, Son, and Spirit is above all relational and only through a life of “living sacrifice” can we become the vessels He has asked us to be.
    Thank you so much for this post, and Merry Christmas to you and Rita.
    Craig and Jeanne

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