Professional Christian “ministry” attracts insecure people looking for validation and significance like flies to manure. In this guest blog by my friend David Fredrickson, he shares what real servanthood is about and where real validation and significance come from.
Depression 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.
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.
________________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 email@example.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.
A great challenge for folks who have had a bad church experience is how to recover from it and move forward. Sometimes folks feel very alone. Former friends often abandon you. You feel like you might have even made a mistake (Certainly everyone who stays in your former affiliation will try to get you to think so). The sense of hurt and betrayal can at times be paralyzing.
Obviously, our Father is for us and grieves over what we may have experienced and desires a fruitful future going forward. There is a human-psychological-relational element in every spiritual reality. Extraction from, or recovery from a bad church experience is no exception. Sometimes, just understanding what is happening in me, and around me during a season of painful transition can be of great help to both provide light in that season and shorten it as well!
Change is inescapably woven into the fabric of life. Social scientists tell us that 66% of humanity temperamentally dislikes and resists change. That’s a setup for some issues! The resist-change percentage is even higher in “religious” environments. When we believe we’ve found the absolutely right “it” (whatever “it” may be) we will cling to it like hungry dog to a piece of meat. Since the Christian life is characterized by change (2Cor. 3:18) it’s as futile for a Christian to try to maintain the status quo as it is for winter to rage against spring. Resist if you want to. It doesn’t matter. Change is coming. Navigating change in our souls and relationships can be one of the biggest challenges of the Christian life.
Transitioning out of a church, a fellowship, an organization, or a belief system in which one has been emotionally, relationally, spiritually, or financially invested for years is one of the most difficult seasons a believer can experience. Calling it a “transition” is like calling Hiroshima a “slight bombing.” Trauma is more like it. The trauma is sometimes compounded by distorted teachings regarding covenant, commitment, loyalty, authority, submission, etc. In those situations, making such a change is morally equated with Stalinist genocide. A. T. Robertson said one proof that the Bible is inspired is that it has withstood so much bad teaching. He had a point.
Obedience to biblical principles regarding the correct way to conduct myself in transition does not necessarily guarantee things will be easy on my soul or in my relationships. My obedience is not an impenetrable trauma shield when others are involved. Obedience is my reasonable service and the necessary platform for redemptive opportunity, not the guarantee of immunity from pain.
Understanding that there are distinct stages of transition that everyone experiences in some degree, can help us understand ourselves, and others, thereby maximizing the hope of a redemptive outcome of the inevitable. Let’s look at them.
A soup company once had a motto of “Mmmmm . . . good.” When life is good, savor it. Sometimes in our pursuit of the ideal future we forget that it’s all right to enjoy the imperfect today. It’s “ok” to be “ok.” Prophetic, hard charging, or high-calling folk can be particularly vulnerable to seeing only that which must be changed at the expense of that which can be enjoyed. Corrie Ten Boom described the condition of the Church like a piece of embroidery. From the bottom it’s a mess, but from the top it’s a work of art—at the same time.
The Church is disastrously wonderful and wonderfully disastrous. In the early stages of a transition there can be a tendency to see our past or present as wholly disastrous. Maybe circumstantially it is, but when swallowed up in redemptive resurrection power, it’s transformed into our redemptive history for the purposes of God and the benefit of humanity. It becomes a wondrous disaster–just like the greater Church that is a collection of wondrous disasters–people like you and me!
In order to experience change, there must be some element of discontent with the present. Divine discontent is the energy of change. Discontinuity begins when questions arise that cause us to disconnect with former belief systems. The old belief systems and associations simply no longer “work” or satisfy. This is often accompanied by severe internal and external conflicts. We can’t deny the impulse to an unknown future, but we fear leaving familiar places and faces. Often we can’t even explain to others the root of our discontent. This puts strain on our relationships.
You begin to question yourself: What is wrong with me? Why am I the only one having difficulties? Why can’t I express myself? Why don’t people understand me? How could I have been so stupid to believe_______? Why did I agree with ______? Why did I let “them” do that to me? Why did I agree with that?
At this time the enemy will also attempt to ally with our fears of what we’ve never done as a way of keeping us from receiving what we’ve never received. Our critics will join this chorus. Be of good cheer. All this is faith. It’s being Abrahamic. He left everything not knowing where he was going, looking for a city he had never seen and couldn’t explain. We’re in good company. People staying in Ur really have nothing to say to those on a journey looking for an invisible city.
3. EXTRACTION – DISEMBEDDING
At this stage an individual begins to withdraw: physically emotionally, and spiritually. You try to make things work for the sake of maintaining lifelong relationships, but you just can’t. You will go through the motions, sit in meetings, and behave yourself, all in the hope that that you will find acceptance, only to discover that no matter how nice everyone tries to be, it doesn’t work . . . for anyone.
It’s like a pregnant woman’s wardrobe. Her old clothes are not “bad” clothes. They just can’t accommodate her new condition. That’s the way it is with us. The germ of new life makes it impossible to fit into yesterday’s clothes. Our past is not necessarily bad. It just doesn’t fit anymore. A man cannot know what it’s like to be pregnant. He lacks the necessary equipment. He can be sensitive, caring and try to be understanding, but bottom line, he cannot know. Individuals who are not feeling the impulse of the germ of new life (which is a GIFT to us, the planting of Another) simply cannot understand us. They are not bad people. They simply don’t have faculty to understand . . . yet.
It’s common for people who remain where we have been to resent our change. Our departure is unavoidably a statement about the present not being satisfactory in some way. This puts folks who are happy with the present, or who may have an illicit reason or vested interest in maintaining the status quo of the present, into a difficult situation. Legitimately or not, they feel judged as deficient by the mere fact of our departure. The ability to maintain relationship when a fellow believer embarks on a journey we do not understand is a fairly reliable barometer of spiritual maturity. Too often, not “like” us degenerates into not “with” us. This is unfortunate. This is a season for the cream of spiritual maturity to rise to the top: love, tolerance, forgiveness, patience, non-judgmentalism, and a “wait and see” attitude.
At this stage individuals are usually out of the formal systems and relationships, but the former values are not out of them. This is the most dangerous and delusional stage of transition. Typically our subjective evaluation of where we are spiritually is not in touch with reality. Having understanding of a matter is not the same as possessing the life of a matter. Light (revelation/understanding) in us, must become life in us, before it can become light in others. We cannot go from light to light. The kingdom doesn’t work that way.
At this stage we tend to be in reaction against the old rather than living in the new. We tend to see no value in our past. We often feel like those years were wasted. Of course this is just practical unbelief (do all things work together for good or not?) and is part of our delusion. We think we’re enlightened in some new way when we’re just in reaction to our past. It’s ok, to leave the cradle. It’s not ok to kick it on the way out and curse the hands that rocked it.
This is a very critical season. You simply cannot build a profitable future in God by merely being against something, or God forbid, someone. There can be a legitimate season of tearing down the old (Jer. 1:10), but you simply cannot camp there and expect to live abundantly in God.
During this stage our attitudes and behaviors most closely resemble those of a reformed smoker or reformed alcoholic. A crusading zealousness for the new thing, new understanding, new perspective, new association pretty much contaminates everything we do. We begin to believe that anyone who is truly sincere and committed should be able to understand that our new place is the best and only “place” that anyone who is serious or conscientious should be. We will be quick to cut off and separate from others who don’t jump on board with us as being spiritually inferior in some way.
Rarely can this season be avoided. It has been my subjective experience that it is quite an incubating Holy Spirit hot house. It can take as long as a few months to six years to really clear this stage and come to a healthy place through forgiveness of others, and ourselves. It takes a mature fellow traveler to love us and stay with us during this reactionary season while we are spewing death thinking we are in life. It is so critical to know one another in Christ, to know a man by his heart, not his actions, in a sense, knowing another deeper than he knows himself, which is exactly the heart of God toward all of us. When our actions betray our heart, it takes a patient and wise friend to not cut us loose.
Because of God’s great faithfulness and with the help of fellow travelers, the miracle of miracles is that even this death will be turned to life before the transition process is over.
5. RESURRECTION LIFE
We go for broke. We embrace reformation. We make the change . . . fully. We accept the cost, inconvenience, and misunderstanding that comes with making a change. We stop crusading and start living. Even when our own carnality in pursuit of what we think we are seeing would render us useless to Him, He preserves us. We become the incarnation of what we have seen, rather than a parrot for what we think we know. What previously we held in various degrees of reaction has become, in us, food fit for consumption by others by an inwrought work of grace.
An abusive church experience need not define us as individuals, nor determine our future in Christ going forward. There is healing, hope, life, love, liberty and power for you going forward. If we do not allow the Spirit of the Lord, and normally a new set of human relationships to touch our pain and heal us, the likelihood of sliding into debilitating bitterness and unforgiveness, is very high. It does not have to be so for you. God can redeem our pain and make it the seedbed of effective ministry to others who are in similar situations, and to help others who may not be in similar situations, avoid them!
We hope that many of the articles on this blog as well as the resources and partnering opportunities at www.stevecrosby.com will help you move past your past!
______________________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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you like to partner with us in distributing our materials and perhpas 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.