“I don’t go to church anymore Crock; haven’t been much in the last two years.” her apprehensive look spoke volumes as I perceived she waited for the usual condemnation berating her failure to attend ‘meetings’.
She and her husband asked me to meet up with them in Sydney to discuss their distress at no longer being able to fit into the traditional church scene. They had been avid Pentecostals where Sundays was church. Their leadership positions meant they were consumed every weekend with ministry and home church during the week. Gifted leaders they were not pew sitters; not that I applauded their over-activity.
After many years of ‘faithful’ service conflict finally surfaced; as it must. Their spirituality, God, their Christian walk and their friends of many years came crashing down around their ears over a few weeks. Their lives got turn upside down. Thankfully!
The events that followed ousted them from their mega-church and the group they ministered with each week in home cell group. Unfortunately the closest people in their cell who had been pleased to receive my friends ministry and support over many years were unable to be there for them in their hours of need.
Also their fellow mid-level lay leaders (what an abomination of a term!) found it was too much of an ask to be there for them because their energy and giftings were consumed by the mechanism to keep the organisation going with its programmes, meetings and events happening. In other words organisation was more important than love, compassion and faithfully supporting one another.
Unfortunately for my friends who had given so much over so many years the ‘clergy’ support they received was professional but not what they needed.
Financial disaster and the ensuing marriage break-up for one child, another married son and his wife were ‘wife’ swapping with two other couples in ‘lay’ leadership in the church; they exited the mega church leaving my friends distraught. Another had a serious accident and required months of rehabilitation. As a consequence they were unable to fulfil their roles of leadership in their mega church
That is when the proverbial poo hit the fan, so to speak. Their inability to perform and to be involved caused them to be out of contact with their many ‘friends’. The continuing escalation and the nature of their problems proved too hard for those who they had labored beside . Gradually their many church ‘friends’ faded away adopting other leaders to supply ministry my friends had vacated.
The revelation that they had done to others what their friends were now doing to them hit them causing added grief.
Grief happened for them on multiple fronts personal, social, spiritual, family, ministry, relationships, power, prestige and position – all ripped from them. They were left bereft, cast adrift without much support from those they had given so much to over many years. When I met them they were distraught in a quiet sort of way wondering what life was all about; wondering what they had given their lives to for so long. Yet strangely there was a faith that smelt of quality rather than distress. Hhhhmmm! They had gained a ‘trust‘ in the furnace.
However the protracted nature of my friends’ ‘Job’ experience eventually saw them ignored and forgotten; in-brief the clergy rationale was “Sorry you have gone through this but get over it. We’re here for you when you need us”.
My friends were left to their own devices. Their grief was compounded.
As my friends were telling me this all too familiar story with an all too familiar ring which I heard on all too many occasions in one form or another; an anger began to rise within. I was not upset with my beloved friends’ pastors I knew all too well the prison of their inability to love; having been there too long myself. No, my anger was directed to a system and an evil intent that binds God’s people, that seduces God’s people to be other than He intended;
Church, for my friends had been the Sunday meeting where it all happened. Now that was gone. What was going to fill the void? They felt used and betrayed by those they had given so much to for so many years.
“Well Lord how do you feel about shepherds who are unable to look after your flock when their salary package, position and prestige demands attention elsewhere? Lord how do you feel about the suffering of your people like my friends?”