AFTER I agreed to permanently step down from volunteering in the youth ministry, the lead pastor sat down with us to discuss why the elders had a problem with what I was doing. We also asked for one of the elders to be present because hearing from them directly was important. (Looking back, we should have demanded this meeting sooner, but we were trying to honor the process. The problem with that…. we assumed everyone else involved was doing the same. I mean… everyone else involved was in leadership at the church, so it SHOULD have been a fair assumption.)
We met at a local diner for breakfast. (We should have known this was a bad sign. You only meet in public places for discussions like this when you’re looking to limit any negative reaction.) We sat down, ordered food and engaged in the small talk, then Jamie and I addressed the elephant in the room:
Why did the elders have a problem with what I was doing with these teens?
I still remember what happened next… as if it happened yesterday instead of three years ago. Jamie and I sat there expectantly. I really hadn’t eaten much from my plate. I simply moved it around to make it look like I had. We’d been waiting for the answer to this question for over three months by this point, so eating was the furthest thing from my mind.
Without the slightest bit of hesitation, the elder kept chewing his food as he questioned what we were talking about. I immediately looked at the lead pastor… who did EVERYTHING in his power to NOT look at me. Thankfully, Jamie didn’t miss a beat and followed up by explaining the accusations against me by the youth pastor. The elder’s response: This is the first time he’s hearing about any of this.
Imagine ALL the thoughts going through my head and ALL the emotions I was feeling at that moment. For months we had been told the elders were the ones with the problem. The pastor KNEW this. But, we would soon find out it was all a lie. When people ask me about the fruit of the Spirit, I give them this example because the self-control I exhibited for the remainder of the conversation was NOTHING BUT THE GRACE OF GOD.
For the next three minutes, the lead pastor tried to save face. He shared about a horrific church split at his previous church. The issue: some people believed the church should be seeker friendly and some believed it should be discipleship driven. (Well… that explains a lot about the “philosophical” issues! But, seriously, why can’t it be both?!?) He told us he didn’t want to go down that path again. (I’m still not sure why he thought we would… he never once talked to us, never knew our side of the story and never offered any inclination that he even cared. And we NEVER ONCE discussed it this with anyone at the church except two other couples… even when people asked. I wasn’t trying to fracture the church. I just wanted to take some teens to the inner city to talk with people who live on the streets. We were committed to unity.)
No one seemed to care that the youth pastor had repeatedly lied, that we had asked for help with the situation numerous times to no avail. The teens were still in the dark about what was going on and we had to tell them something, especially since I was no longer a part of the youth ministry. So Jamie asked the pastor for his suggestions on how to explain everything to them in a way that honors everyone involved (STILL committed to unity). But, what came out of his mouth… I STILL can’t believe it.
He wanted me to tell them I had “issues” that needed to be dealt with, issues with the church that prevented me from leading. (Even by their own reasoning this was a lie because they told us the REAL issue was our decision to not be members of the church.) Imagine, knowing how long we tried to submit to this process, the lies we had been told, the refusal of the lead pastor to meet with us… then being told to lie to these kids? And also remember this was NEVER brought up. NOT ONCE. Everything I did with those kids was approved by the youth pastor. Everything. He told me the elders weren’t happy with what I was doing… which was a lie. The youth pastor called me names because I refused to take his word as truth… because it wasn’t. If you ever wonder why people leave the church… this is why.
Just for the record, I don’t have an issue with the church. The church is the bride of Christ. I love the church. My issue is with some people in the church, specifically people in leadership. I take issue with leaders who lie, and ESPECIALLY with those who cover-up their lies. I have issues with men who are quick to accuse women of refusing to submit to authority when the REAL issue is how men ABUSE their authority. I have a problem when congregants ask for help and they don’t get it. And I have a problem with leaders who tell you to lie… especially when it’s to cover up their own sin. And you should, too.
I remember two things about what happened next: I could almost taste the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins and I could feel my husband’s hand firmly squeezing my knee. It was a reminder to breathe…and that I wasn’t alone.