Before I continue with this story, a few things need to be addressed. Unfortunately, our circumstances were not an isolated event. Another family walked through this situation with us. Their story is just that… theirs. But, one thing I am compelled to share with you: our devotion to unity. Yes, we were frustrated by the process. Yes, we were angry with the constant disrespect. But, Jamie and I were committed to walking this out in a biblical way… and we paid the consequences for it.
First, the good. Many are unaware of how committed we were to unity… at all costs. (Granted, my honest narrative up to this point might not reflect that priority, because I also want you to see I’m not pious, or self-righteous. I’m one incredibly flawed individual. I know this and I own it.) But, during those six months, I prayed and fasted more than ever before. Arguably, for the first time in my life, I was trusting Jesus, and the process set forth in the Bible, to walk out conflict and fight for unity. The other couple, mentioned above, came over to our house specifically to pray with us over the situation. We prayed for unity. We prayed for humility. We prayed our kids’ hearts wouldn’t be hardened by this process. I kept my mouth shut and my heart open. I was committed. But, there was an unforeseen downside in that.
My daughter was becoming angry. At this point, the youth pastor had taken over the group, which simply meant they were helping out with the middle school kids, without receiving the intentional teaching and discipleship. They were no longer going into Portland to talk to the people living on the street. But, it was more than that. Sydney’s a smart kid. She was piecing together what was going on behind the scenes. She knew the youth pastor had been lying. (And, even more disturbing, he was trying to plant seeds of doubt in her… against us.) She was angry about the whole situation, but, most of all… she was angry at me.
She couldn’t comprehend how I was able to show him respect… and require for her to do the same… when he obviously had no respect for me or her. She couldn’t reconcile how I constantly talked about the need for her to stand up for herself, when I clearly wasn’t doing the same. (Yeah… that one stung a little.) She couldn’t understand how a man like this was able to be a leader in the church. And in that moment, my heart broke because, if nothing else, I knew this wouldn’t be the last time she asked herself that question.
Looking back on that season, believe it or not, I’m so incredibly thankful. Our family was pruned and sharpened beyond what I thought possible. One occasion I will never forget, right after the other couple involved came over to pray. They told us the youth pastor was insisting the teens in the group not take part in helping Sydney raise money to grant a wish for a child through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. PLEASE, LET THAT SINK IN. His contempt for me was so great that he wanted to prevent these kids from working together to grant a wish for a child facing a potentially life-threatening disease. The youth pastor went so far as to tell the lead pastor he needed to intervene and stop it from happening. Thankfully, the pastor wouldn’t do it… not because he thought the kids working together was a good idea… but because he couldn’t control what these parents allowed their kids to do outside of church.
After the couple left, I remember dropping to the floor in my living room and crying. The sound that escaped me… well, I mentioned it before. It was the same as when my parents died. It was a sound of someone in the depths of despair. I remember my husband just watching, unable to console me. He had been down this road before and knew this was part of my grieving process. I was grieving so much: the lack of leadership, the missed opportunity for unity, the pride of man, the opportunities lost with those high schoolers.
It took us almost 18 months to share this with Sydney. She was already fed up with the lies and deceit, but to know the one person in the church who was suppose to encourage her growth in Jesus was intentionally working to sabotage the work she felt called to… she would have walked away from the church. (Remember, she was only 14 years old at the time!) We’re almost three years removed from this season and now we watch her stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people talking about this experience. She tells people how close she came from walking away from the church. She learning how the Lord uses the brokenness of our lives to create a testimony that speaks to others in their brokenness.
Unfortunately, our story isn’t an isolated event. As we travel the country, we’ve heard a similar version from countless others. We’ve talked to people who HAVE walked away from the church because of leadership who cares more about protecting other leaders than protecting their flock. (We’ll get to that in the next post.) And, PLEASE, hear me out on this. It has absolutely nothing to do with wanting a PERFECT church… every misguided leader, who wants to protect their position of authority, is quick to throw that little soundbite at you. It has to do with leadership’s willingness to be PERFECTED, which is an incredibly painful process.