If you’ve been anywhere in my personal bubble in the last five months, you’ve likely been introduced to the movie The Greatest Showman. If you haven’t seen it yet, please stop reading and watch it NOW. It’s packed full of life lessons, memorable quotes, and inspiring music. One of the more memorable quotes comes from the opera singer Jenny Lind in the scene above. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone so I won’t give the context of it, but she says, “When you’re careless with other people, Mr. Barnum, you bring ruin upon yourself.”
Six years ago, on Mother’s Day 2012, our family walked away from the church community that we had poured ourselves into for the previous four years. It had been less than a month since I buried my grandmother, six years since I had buried my Mom, and we were five months into the investigation that nearly destroyed us. If I had been outside of the situation looking in, I probably would’ve advised myself to just stay put until the rest of my life was a little less painful. But I wasn’t on the outside.
When our family moved to the DC area in the summer of 2008 we quickly began looking for a church. After visiting a couple that didn’t feel like home, my sister called. She had been to a church in Baton Rouge, LA that morning and heard a pastor from Jacksonville, FL talk about a new church in Alexandria, VA. DC Metro Church was planted by a couple from Louisiana. I’m a Louisiana girl. They went to LSU. I went to LSU. The church was less than a year old and met at a movie theater. Cool. I found their website, sent a message, and the next morning received a phone call that led to another phone call, and then another, and by that afternoon dear hubby and I were walking to a small group at a neighbor’s house. The people we met that night are the people who walked with our family through cancer, a deployment, and adopting our daughter. They are the people who God used to teach me how to have healthy relationships with women, how to be bold about my faith, how to chase my dreams, and how to live in community. Many of the people we met that night will forever be considered family.
Because of several circumstances, it was nearly two months before we met and heard a sermon from the lead pastor of DC Metro. By that point we were deeply planted in our little church community. I really didn’t care about the meat of the messages and I didn’t bother to ask questions about oversight and accountability. The people we were living life with on a daily basis were doing a phenomenal job of pastoring our family. Because of them, I have no regrets about any of the time, energy, or resources we poured into DCMC in the years that followed. I could never put a price on the relationships, growth, freedom, healing, and purpose that we found there. But… there were countless red flags about the church leadership. They were our friends. We got to know them pretty well and I can still say with sincerity that I love them. Because of my love for them, I prayed. Like on my face, on the floor, snotty crying prayers. I prayed for health. I prayed for humility. I prayed for freedom. I prayed for open eyes. As I witnessed carelessness in dealing with person after person after person, I began to pray for God to intervene. Eventually the carelessness came around to hurting my family. It turned out that adopting a little girl with disabilities didn’t fit the desired image of the church. Neither did a woman who repeatedly asked for leadership decisions to be explained Biblically. For many months we felt like we didn’t belong. Outside of the building, our community of people was still ours, but every time we stepped foot in the building we felt like square pegs in a round hole. On countless Sundays I cried for the entire drive home. I didn’t want to lose our people.
And then, in May of 2012, through very clear channels, God released us from DCMC. I won’t lie. Leaving was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. I grieved. Our entire family grieved. My kids were angry and it was really hard to help them direct their anger. I kept telling myself and everyone I talked to that no matter what church we attended, we were all one family. We ARE one family. Nevertheless, we lost people. The loss hurt.
I’ve joked about writing a book on how to leave a church because I honestly believe we did it as well as it could be done. Once we knew we were leaving, my dear hubby scheduled a meeting with the pastor and told him. Me being me, I wrote a letter and mailed it to their home. In the meeting, dear hubby promised that we would not be divisive, but he also said that we would not lie if anyone asked why we left. We upheld that promise. Many people who were very close to us still have no clue about all of the decisions that were made that negatively impacted our family or how uncomfortable we were for the months leading up to our departure. They didn’t ask, and we didn’t tell. People were told to stay away from our family and people were told outright lies about why we left. It was a big huge yucky mess and each time something got back to us, we were just grateful that we were no longer under that leadership.
Fast forward to the spring of 2017. I awoke to a text message early one Sunday morning telling me that I might want to watch the DCMC livestream. I’m pretty sure I sat with my mouth hanging open and tears running down my face as I watched the Stines step down from leading the church.
“When you’re careless with other people, Mr. Barnum, you bring ruin upon yourself.”
I would like to add to Jenny Lind’s quote. You can’t step out of your own ruin until you at least attempt to reconcile the damage done by your carelessness. You have to make amends. You have to apologize. You have to humble yourself and accept responsibility for your actions or you will continue to live in ruins.
It was brought to my attention this week that the Stines are launching a new social media based ministry. Again, I’m pretty sure I sat with my mouth hanging open and at least a few tears in my eyes. Because our people have remained our people, I am certain that no reconciliation has taken place. No amends have been made.
My dear friend Julie wrote a piece Thursday in response to the news of the new ministry. It’s a powerful open letter. You can read it here. Before she published it she gave me the honor of a first look and had a discussion with me about her “why”. That discussion gave me great conviction. She explained that she feels a responsibility akin to those who are sexually assaulted and live in silence while the assailant goes on to assault others. Her “why” was the hope that by speaking out on a public platform she may cause someone take pause. This post is written with that same hope.
The six years between our leaving and the news this week of the new ministry gives me a unique viewpoint. Although I cannot count the number of people who I care about that were treated carelessly in the years after we left, my family was in a very safe church environment with healthy leadership for those years. We had the time to heal and to actually dig into the Bible and figure out what God says His Church is supposed to look like. However, around the time that the Stines stepped down I had a realization. As much as I thought I had healed, I had become a cynic about all things related to church.
1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.
2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions,
especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.
3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
Here’s the thing about cynicism. It drives me crazy! It’s one of the least attractive attributes I see in other people. I love sarcasm. I hate cynicism. Cynicism is ugly.
To quote Bob Goff, one of my favorite authors, “I’ve never met a courageous cynic.” It’s true. You can’t be brave and be cynical. The two just cannot coexist. Cynicism is just a scared coverup for unhealed wounds. So when I find myself being cynical about anything to do with church, I have to start looking for what bitterness I’m harboring and what wounds I haven’t dealt with. I just have to. Or I’ll live out my life as a scared, bitter person. Nobody wants to be around a scared, bitter old lady.
Which leads me to my second hope for this essay… if you’ve been hurt and you’re struggling with unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, pain, or fear… please deal with it. God wants SO MUCH more for us than to live out our lives miserable because we’ve been hurt by the people who hand out crap in His name. If you find yourself being cynical, spend some time with Him. Write down what hurts, ask God to heal it, and then LET IT GO. Life’s too short and there is way too much work to do for you and me to hide at home in fear, or go out in public with anger.
Also, don’t be careless with others. Just don’t.
One more thing, for those like me, who had a moment of fear or panic this week over the thought of the new ministry and more people being hurt in God’s name, remember this…
Revelation 3:7 “…what He opens no one can close and what He closes no one can open.”
Trust me. I’ve tried to force doors back open after God closed them. It’s never pretty.