Thinking Out Loud

April 26, 2015

When Church Leadership Hurts and Wounds

It’s now been five years since a Church elder abused my wife.

No, he didn’t physically touch her at all, but through his words, he hurt and wounded her to a degree that she, and our family, have never recovered.

The problem is, I still love that church. There are people there in whose lives I am invested, and they are invested in mine. It’s the church where I served on staff for four years, where our children were dedicated, where my oldest served for three years as a youth ministry volunteer and where my wife herself was baptized.

My wife was trying to regain a volunteer position — leading worship, the thing to which every cell within her is called and gifted to do — that had been removed due to much misunderstanding between herself and a former pastor with whom she is now friends. She was summoned to a midweek meeting with herself, the elder, and one other person and was basically told that she was an outsider. “We don’t have guest worship leaders;” said the one person. “If people see someone up there that they don’t know, it will confuse them;” said the other.

Not much more than a month later, they had a guest worship leader.

And they have been having them ever since.

But wait, “Guest?” She held this position for many years, for a period when I was on staff; a period where I left to do a church plant downtown; and the position leading up to her dismissal. She has more history in that church than the person telling her that with all those years she was nothing more than a ‘visitor.’

However, the point of the meeting wasn’t to simply say, “No;” to her request to be reinstated in the schedule.

The point of the meeting was to wound her, to cause her pain. They didn’t have a reason why she shouldn’t serve, they just didn’t want her. I wonder if the intensity, the fervor, the creativity she brought to the Sundays she provided leadership simply challenged their addiction to mediocrity.

She has never recovered.

She will come with me, about six times a year, and then she leaves and until recently, after the service she would head to the car alone until I’m done socializing with friends. She finds it difficult to sing, and often stands in silence. She’s only recently beginning to speak with people again.

My kids know what happened. They have a harder time visiting — maybe once a year is all — because, even though we’ve tried to move on, for them the events are still frozen in time

And no, this man is not the person in this blog post, though there are some interesting connections.

…So what do you do if you’re summoned to such a meeting? Maybe for you it’s a church discipline situation that you feel is being unjustly applied.

First, record the meeting somehow. There are so many times we wish we had a transcript of everything that was said, because there were so many lies.

Second, have someone in your corner. Ask who is going to be there, and if there’s two of them, make sure there’s two of you.

Third, debrief the meeting with someone immediately after. My wife was too devastated by what happened to tell me everything that night. There were just tears. I am amazed she was able to drive home. Some of it came to light only recently.

Finally, involve the pastor. In this case, the pastor had just arrived, and had taken the approach that, “I’m not going to micromanage individual church departments.” Okay, but the buck has to stop somewhere, right? We should have forced a follow-up meeting that I requested.

…My wife went on to serve in another church, to start an interdenominational worship team, to co-found a local charity and see it through to incorporation, to write more songs and make recordings, to lead worship at retreats, and to be paid as a consultant to teach teens how to give leadership in their local church.

What about forgiveness?

I think that’s fully further down the road. He really hurt her. He had the power to give her back the thing that was unjustly taken away from her, and he chose instead to slam the door shut.

Do I forgive him? I mostly feel sorry for him. This is a man who, when he first arrived on the scene and started doing platform ministry, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our morning service” line unless it was written on a card. He’s come a long way, and he’s trying to be friendly toward me now, but I just think that he’s always been in way over his head.

I also think that he was, in part, told how that fateful meeting was supposed to go, and I think I know by whom he was told.

…We still get people asking us why she doesn’t get back on a worship team. She recently sang there at large fundraising thing they did, and I was secretly hoping that this might create some further opportunity to find her way back, but we have to face the fact that it’s never going to happen.

Which is also hard for me. Remember the part about me being on staff there for four years? I was the Worship and Outreach Director. I led worship, solo, every Sunday for four years. And just once, I’d love to do one more set there sometime with a full band.

But they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Except for the Sundays they do.

5 Comments »

  1. How does a husband just let his wife walk out to the car alone while he stays and converses with friends? What happened to her, while poorly handled and most likely wrong, happened only once while the husband has repeatedly let his wife fend for her self after service while he continues to enjoy the benefits of his participation. I love my church but would no more attend it if my wife left for any reason, hers or another person’s. I think the code word in this article is “invested” (def: to spend or devote for future advantage or benefit).

    Comment by Janis V — April 26, 2015 @ 9:07 am

    • I’m not going to address the “car” comment; this is well within the dynamics of our relationship and nuances of the situation I could not get into here.

      I’ve used the idea of being “invested” in the lives of others in a local church community here before. It’s something I believe in strongly. Example from 2008: https://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/growing-deep-roots/ There’s no expectation of “return” however; it’s more to do with the mutuality of a common journey.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 26, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

  2. Sigh….this is something that I speak about all the time. I am so sorry to hear.

    Comment by Fashionable Librarian — April 26, 2015 @ 9:52 am

  3. Reblogged this on Concierge Librarian and commented:
    This should not happen but sadly it does…so very often

    Comment by Fashionable Librarian — April 26, 2015 @ 9:53 am

  4. I am filled with sadness every time I hear one of these stories. I am sorry for your wife’s loss and the grief you must feel too. After a while there is a sameness to the stories as they all seem to follow the same outline. However I know they all involve real people that suffer so again, I am sorry. Makes me think that there must be a better way.

    I didn’t get the privilege of a meeting; just an email from the senior pastor telling me that someone “prophetic” had a dream about me where I confessed that I didn’t love Jesus anymore. I should have seen it coming, and I am sure I could have handled it better than I did (I just never stepped foot in the church again even though I had been on staff for 3 years). Someone told me once that men (humans) will always fail and let you down, but that God won’t. That’s why you should always make sure you are clear on who you are serving.

    Comment by jeff jenkins — April 26, 2015 @ 12:17 pm


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