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Pilgrim of Worship #6: What goes up must come down January 7, 2006

Posted by fajita in Uncategorized.
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Pilgrim of worship series begins here.
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During my third (and thankfully final) year in Houston, I decided to quit teaching at the end of the school year and go to grad school at ACU to pursue a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy – a very good idea. I had also been hearing about this very strange and exciting church in Abilene that was not just doing things differently, but that they were busting out of the box big time.

When I arrived on the scene, I was introduced to a cell church, a full blown worship team for the Sunday getherings, total freedom of worship expression, an openness to the Holy Spirit unlike anything I had ever experienced, genuine outreach to the poor and needy in Abilene – an actual mission church. I drank deeply of the intimacy in the house church, I dove into the worship times passionately, I took risks and borrowed the same boldness and courage that was modeled to me by the leaders of the congregation. I was swept away into the kind of chruch that was contagious. For that enntire year, I had never felt more at home in my worhsip with God and my church family.

I had finally found the perfect church.

And then it split.

Yes, it did, thus quickly disqualifying it from being the perfect church. This was a complicated split, too. Not that there are any simple church splits, but this one was really complicated, confusing, and rife with betrayal, deception, and what I like to call pentecostal power plays. Actually, split is too clean a word to use, it exploded and debris and carnage spread in every direction.

One of the ministers confessed a sin, an extra-marital relationship had gone too far – not all the way, but too far. He confessed in contrition. Needless to say, learning that one of the ministers in my church had sinned like this was disturbing, but not devastating. The following Sunday was the best Sunday of worship ever – bar none. As a body of 500 people, we celebrated, danced (on Sunday morning), worshipped, and cheered for the confession of this minister. He was welcomed with open arms of love and forgiveness and concern and generous doses of compassion. I never thought that forgiveness could be so sweet. I really loved my church. It was like , “See, church can be this good!”

And then the bomb dropped. Something happened, something sinister happened between redemption Sunday and the next Sunday – the Sunday from Hell. The minister was not at the worship gathering the next Sunday. Whispers had been churning about something run amuck during the week. When we arrived at the Sunday morning worship gathering, the anticipation was about ready to explode. We just knew that our leaders, whom we had learned to trust with all of our hearts, would straighten out everything for us. We knew that they would provide the clarity and relief we all needed.

Well, what happened was we got a vague and ambiguous word from the rest of the ministers and elders. The only thing that was clearly told to us was that the minister and his wife and children were disfellowshipped and we were not to speak to any of them under any circumstances without specific permission from the leadership – and there was this tone in their voices that said permission was not going to be given. Violating this order was equated with unfaithfulness to God and would show disrespect to the minister who was disfellowshipped (huh?). We wanted clarity that day. It’s been 9 years and I still can’t get a straight answer from some people – seriously.

The very same people who I had grown to trust more than anyone in the world, the people from whom I had learned courage and boldness, the same people who I had learned were full of God’s Spirit and love were the same people who said things like:

“Don’t question your leaders.”
“God demands blind faith in your leaders.”
“God is placing a new head on the church.” (yes, be very confused)

My wife and I met many times with various leaders, elders, ministers and so forth. Everytime we did, we were not only more confused, we left feeling a sense of guilt for even having questions. We felt condescended to and pitied for our crappy little particles of faith.

We spent two more Sunday in worship there, mostly in shock. The unbelievable was crushed by the undeniable. The worship, though with all the same songs and energy, was bitter and felt wicked. I looked around the room of 500 worshipping people I used to trust now wondering, “Who’s on my side?” “What are they thinking of me?” “Am I faithful?”

My best friend, as I learned only after a couple of conversations, was clearly on the polar opposite side. He was suddenly aloof and mysterious, evasive with my questions and frankly, arrogant. This is a friend I had born my soul to on more than a couple occasions. Now, I could not trust him. Nothing was as it seemed. Everyone was suspect.

The joy, the excitement, the thrill, the mission, the hope – all of it was choked out of me. I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t talk to the people who used to give me comfort because they were the ones killing me. Eventually, I was “blessed to go elsewhere.” That is a quote. Well, that’s kind of like getting a joyful divorce. How could I mean so little to these poeple to be blessed to go elsewhere. I couldn’t even use the word “blessed” for a year after that one with out it sounding like “screw you.”

The next two years were the worst desert of worship of my life up to that point. I struggled to pray and to sing. I had really weird dreams that were eerily accuarate to what was happening and revealed people’s motives to me, and gave me some comfort.

Just for the record, here is what helped:

1. The discipline of singing worship songs (many lament types of songs) when I felt like staying in bed or killing someone.

2. Mike Cope’s voice on my answering machine asking if I needed a coke.

3. Diving into school work – it probably helped my GPA.

4. Knowing I could trust my wife.

5. Realizing that as much as it hurt, at least I was not the one causing the pain.

6. Finally meeting with the minster and his wife and seeing the relief on their faces when we convinced them that we really did love them and held nothing against them.

7. Meeting a second time with the minister and his wife, playing Boggle and eating home made doughnuts.

8. Learning that my faith was not my church, my leaders, of even my mission.

9. Learning that church worship is idolatry.

10. Learning that pain is an effective educator.

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Comments»

1. Matt - January 7, 2006

8. Learning that my faith was not my church, my leaders, or even my mission.

Chris- I loved this one.

2. DJG - January 8, 2006

I think any of us who have been through any kind of split feel your pain. The hard part is being so sure that you had found IT! and then being disillusioned.

Thanks for the thoughts, I can’t tell you how it helps me.

3. grace - January 8, 2006

Been there, done that.
The lessons learned are valuable though painful.

4. David U - January 8, 2006

Chris, thanks for sharing the details of such a heart-wrenching experience! As I think you know, we just changed fellowships not long ago, leaving a body where we had been members for more than 20 years. As it seems to be the case so many times, for us it was a leadership issue.

How is that minister and his family doing in 06? How about that house church?

And lastly, YES……worshiping a church or ANY particular movement instead of God IS idolatry! That should scare the pants off of some in our heritage.

5. Bek - January 8, 2006

i agree. church can be painful.

6. Anonymous - January 10, 2006

Chris,

I just came across your blog and read your account of the split/destruction/atomic bomb/etc.. I still grieve over the loss. However, daily grieving has reduced to only weekly or bi-weekly grieving. In addition, I rejoice in how the Lord takes something awful and twists it for His good. I see seeds, having been germinated within that church, now being planted and taking up root all over the globe! Even when man makes a mess out of everything God is faithful!
I hope you and Gail are doing well!
Eric Ebeling (eric_rutha@hotmail.com)


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