Dr. Steven G. Minor
Church Politics Administrator
This is such a painful chapter to write for I have personally walked through this horrible terrain. Like Patton inspecting the disaster of the Battle of Kasserine Pass early in World War 2, the horror and lingering fear is all too real. We are absolutely stunned and much too full of doubt to realize what has happened. What was once infallible strategy has now proven to be a mockery of reality. Life as we know it is no longer the same. Whether you have managed to stay in this ministry, or to leave or may have been dismissed, your life has changed and perhaps you will carry the violent stigma of Conflict for many years. Sadly, you may bear those scares for the rest of your life.
Even as I sit in this restaurant on an October afternoon I feel the pain of those who have awoken to this nightmare of their life. I still fight back the tears even after so many years of personal pain and pain of others. It still seems all so wrong that good people must suffer such injustice. You were so sure that God would rescue you. You were so sure of your faith in God’s intervention. All those Bible verses you had memorized about God’s providence and care. He cares for the sparrow, why shouldn’t he care about you. The Psalms that reflect God’s care and protection have revealed themselves as a mere sham. You had sincerely trusted those promises, but now it feels like you were duped. And duped by God no less! You share the lament of Jeremiah in his moment of apparent failure,
“You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.”
Go ahead and express the prophet’s derision. Like a masterful compassionate counselor, God is waiting for the purging of your anger and he can take it. “Are you happy now?!” Are there any more shots you want to take? Any more nails for this cross? You got any more daggers to thrust in my back? I trusted you and felt your comfort but still I lie here without income and thoroughly lost in this lost world. Now what?
Your road to recovery will not be easy. The pain will not magically disappear, at least not yet. You will need much courage, more courage than you can imagine at this moment. Many will leave ministry all together, turning away completely from such a cruel master who allows his servants to suffer after they have shown such bold trust in the cavalry that never arrived. You were faithful in the face of hostile attack against God’s kingdom. Where was your support and promised defense? You entered ministry with such a pure heart, desiring to conquer the world in the power of the gospel. Wasn’t that the steady commission of seminary? What happened to the promised protectors which God uses? The Biblical stories are precise and you have may have preached on some of those texts. Yet somehow these promises were not for you.
What a mockery some of the Bible’s promises seem. Psalm 121:1-3 once held such grandeur, but these words seem like cruel fantasy when everything around you collapses,
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber.”
God cares for his own ya-da, ya-da. It feels like pure malarkey and even worse. For Pastors suffering the pain of devastating conflict, this expresses some of the inner pain which they fear to release. But go ahead and express your pain. Release those lethal, hellish toxins that beset your soul. Maybe this is one of the first times you will act with full human emotions and not the projected image you assume others, are expecting of you. Will you be another casualty in the numbers of those who gave that God thing a try and it does not work? Are you another fatality? Such promises of protection and care cause pain in the deep recesses of your spirit. How could these passages be so misunderstood and misapplied to such horrifying pain as this?
But a crucial understanding must be established at this point of painful defeat. The only way you may survive the aftermath and save your very soul is to distinguish between the deadly ploys of “religious” people and God himself. The two are by no means the same. You should see this by now. Many others, especially the consortium of this Web Site have no doubt of this. Sometimes the two are at absolute conflict with each other. Sometimes you will gain the glimpses to see that the religious people are exactly the problem to God’s kingdom. It’s not the barflies who threaten God, it’s the modern day Pharisees and Saducees who manage to wiggle their way into the churches which Jesus Christ himself has established. Dreadful terrorists inflicting insider damage to what God dearly longs to emerge into this broken world. They did it to his son Jesus, do not be too surprised that they do it to you as well.
“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” John 15:20
Don’t be too surprised not mired in self-pity. On the contrary, welcome to a grand tradition of those who have given life, esteem, security, energies … all for the sake of his kingdom. Your suffering is not in a vacuum. God has invited you to share in glory, just as he invites you now to share in the suffering.
Romans 5:3, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;”
Romans 8:17-18, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
These are some of the new glimpses of a deeper calling God always meant for you, but somehow our success oriented society managed to stifle. It’s not God who has bedazzled you, it was the cheap “success gurus” that enticed you and pulled you away from the real ministry of grace. Grace is what you should have been preaching all along, but the materialistic prophets of religiosity have influenced holy places. And they claim more casualties in the quest for false fame, hidden under the radar.
2 Timothy 3:12
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Just Survive, Baby
Best scenario: to paraphrase the ranting of Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders football team, “Just survive, baby!”
Al Davis, former owner of the Oakland Raiders football team had a favorite slogan he preached wherever and whenever he could, “Just win, baby!” For the walking wounded of conflict a similar slogan might be preached to “Just survive, baby!” Good advice. When the psychological reserves have been exhausted and reason is strained beyond normal and civil means, single goals must be upheld and just surviving is the best.
If you come this far you are on the fumes of sheer survival. If the antagonists have finally abandoned their feeble crusade and you have actually made it to the other side then you must not rally in victory. You must understand that you are walking wounded. Make no mistake about it, your soul and spirit have been so ravaged that the scars may never heal. Just as Jacob lived the rest of his life with a limp as a reminding scar of his struggle with God (Genesis 32:22-32), so you also may always carry an emotional/spiritual “limp.” Step past the delusion of victory and get yourself into therapy and go for the extended plan. Trust me in this, you are seriously wounded. Just because they are gone does not mean everything is OK now. On the contrary, your wound may be so deep that full recovery will never happen. You probably have an affliction of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome! Your body may be moving around, but your soul has been subjected to such extreme damage, as though parts have been amputated. It’s still a very dark season for you. The defenses have not been convinced that it’s OK to drop their walls and let their posts subside.
The only advantage is that now you are free to receive healing. You can drop the psychological defenses and allow the pain to abide. The toxins of evil have pervaded your spiritual system, love and professional care must be infused as soon as possible. We are talking emergency 911 stuff here. You and your family are going to be shocked and deeply alarmed to the repressed, painful emotions that are going to surface now that is safe. What you have subconsciously hidden will now antagonize your days. Unless quality care is given, a vile irony will win the day. What the antagonists failed to achieve, namely the devastation of your soul, depression will achieve. After coming so far and surviving so much abuse, how awful to succumb to the infection of spiritual gangrene.
Hebrews 12:14-15, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
When is a “Win” not a Victory?
The regional minister called the Pastor with great news, “Well, it looks like it’s all over. The antagonists have made their last protest and have moved on. You won!” The response was so anticlimactic, “then why do I feel like I lost?”
The whole conflict escalated into such unnecessary destruction. No one ever did truly understand the problem. Nothing made any sense except they were fighting to uphold their idea of power and control. If that’s all it was, then they deserved a crushing defeat, yet no one set out to conquer them. They did it all on their own when the congregation refused to rally to their ego-driven pursuit, their pride is what crushed them. They were given enough rope to hang themselves.
Job 5:13, “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”
Proverbs 12:13, “An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble.”
Proverbs 5:22, “The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.”
Proverbs 26:27, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.
Proverbs 29:6, “An evil man is snared by his own sin.”
Although they claimed the church could not survive their withdrawal and united boycotting of worship services, no one saw much of any affect from the so called split. To even call it an actual “split” was stretching the idea since only a handful actually left and in time the budget actually increased since others started giving more because they felt better about their church getting itself settled again. It felt good again to be there.
Evil intentions were vanquished and every right to rise as victorious conquerors was ours, but we all felt the effects of loss. A terrible toll had been inflicted upon Christ’s church and the community certainly noticed the pettiness generating through the fellowship. We did no more than control the damage to keep it from broadening upon the innocents. Despite the outcome “win” we still suffered casualties, some registered in the numerical tolls, but mostly in the violation of our soul.
The outcome of that situation was a “win” only because a poor agenda from mean people did not prevail. We survived an attempted coup to “de-throne” our supposed power. But no celebration parties were held. No confetti was thrown. No cheers were lifted up. No one was carried on anyone’s shoulders. The best we felt was relief to not have any more of such denigrating behavior drag our spirits down. Sunday worship could return to a good place for nurture and connecting with God. We were grateful, but we were not victors since a small part of us had been taken away. We suffered loss. No one gloated over the supposed spoils, nor should they. And that pervading sense of pain proved the worthiness of heart that survived the ordeal. We only desired God to prevail and save his church from the rampages of unworthy plans. We were not denied victory, we simply refused to claim it. A sense of victory would only have confirmed our worldly intentions. As Paul has taught us
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage wart as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Whatever feelings of vindication we may have must be held back as mysteries of God’s providence. You survived, thank God, whether in career or fleeing with your life, but what now? In this heavenly scheme, perhaps God’s victory was for you stand down the hostile forces. In heaven there is a medal of honor awaiting you. You did your part in this bigger plan, perhaps your work is done. But more likely, a Pastor’s heart will alert you to the recovery from this disaster in desperate need of order and healing. If you remain, know that these people have stood with you and risked social esteem and although are very spiritually wounded, so are they. And they probably desperately need your care and continued leadership to know what they have done was worth it and justified. A risk of leaving too soon is very real. Their courage is heroic, but if you leave too soon they are left with doubt and wonder if they are not the real bullies in the after math of all this. Assess your own pain, but be very mindful of those who have given up so much for you. It’s easy for you to leave, but don’t allow your ego to rule that decision. A wounded ego will motivate pouting and later regret. Don’t let it be the reason to ignore a grieving fellowship in desperate need of affirmation and healing.
To stay or to leave. It’s a hard choice. Make it with proper and dignified assertion. Do what it right for you, but do it for what is right for those entrusted to you as a “flock.”
A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What
by Gordon MacDonald (Thomas Nelson, 2006)
“A Resilient Life” offers an in-depth look at the characteristics that make up a resilient person, a person ready to be faithful for the long haul. Freely admitting that he was born with a “quitters gene,” MacDonald credits the influence of his high school cross-country and track coach with helping him onto the road of resilience. MacDonald defines “resilience” as the “toughened condition of both the body and the mind” and describes many characteristics of a resilient person. MacDonald offers hope, firmly believing that God often has people make their greatest contributions in the second half of life. “God … can (and does) take the life of any person, turn it inside out, and use it to build a piece of His kingdom.” Building resilience is a daily pursuit, requiring regular self-assessment, the discipline of spiritual pursuits, and making the most of one’s talents. It also takes place within whatever stage of life we find ourselves in at the moment.
Chapter Seven: “Resilient People Foresee the Great Questions of Life’s Passage.”
Chapter 9: “Resilient People Listen for a Call from God.” A call “is an acknowledgment that one is accountable to God for the discharge of his life’s duties.”
Not everyone is called to do something that will attract attention. “Men and women have obeyed God’s call and become martyrs. Others have undertaken unspeakably difficult and discouraging tasks and barely survived. Many more have lived the relatively common life between home and job. They hammer nails, sell widgets, create software or fix things. But in the process they make a difference in the existence of the people around them. And they, too, are called.”
Consequences of battle become evident. Members have fled the battle which was never theirs in the first place. These bystanders are the real refuges.
Some antagonists will be shocked at what they have done or at least contributed. The new banners would shamefully read, “Did We Really do That?”
But the hard core antagonists (which the “Politics” page will unpack as Sociopaths) will be energized and ready to do it again. Their adrenaline is flowing and their battle banners will read “Who’s Next?”
Scripture warns of a horrible danger yet remaining, “See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).
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