A Letter to the Church-Wounded in “Exile”;
This is a very sensitive message, one I hope to convey with a heart of humility and grace, one I pray will bring a little healing to those who are hurting for reasons beyond your control or choosing.
There are many who have passed through the fires of being “wounded in the house of a friend,” of being on the receiving end of rejection, misunderstanding and sometimes even dismissal or exile due to rancorous and painful church circumstances and dealings. Few dare to speak of it, for fear of being viewed as a malcontent, a bitter soul, a troublemaker or worse. But truth be known, there are multitudes, both people and pastors, sheep and shepherds, who have been mangled by the machinery of church professional business dealings and decisions, especially in our purpose-driven and megachurch age. For both leader and member, nothing stings more than realizing you have suddenly lost your place, your purpose, your “church family.” Yet for the sake of unity, God requires that you bear the pain of it and say not a word, though you be wronged, though your heart cries for understanding, though your flesh longs to lash out and wound those who have wounded you.
Many remain churchless, or without a pulpit, afraid to try again. Many have tried other churches – knowing they need to be in fellowship – only to find a church driven by the same machinery and business dealings that broke their lives and their hearts.
Many, though they would be too proud to admit it, still wait for a call, a text, something from someone in their former fellowship that says, “You still matter. We miss you. We’re sorry if we hurt you.” But the call rarely if ever comes. It is a desolate thing to be “cut off from the life of the church,” even though you are not cut off from the life of Jesus. One can feel as alone and desolate as Joseph who was sent away by his own family to a house of unfamiliar faces and to obscurity and an unknown future and calling.
My heart especially hurts for former or current pastors, youth pastors or church leaders and elders who were deemed too old-fashioned, too “Word-based,” not relevant enough, or young enough, exciting enough, etc. and found themselves given the “left foot of fellowship” – often with a smile, a wave and a parting gift (or not!) simply because PROGRESS must be made, and the new paradigm fairly demands that the old guard get off the stage. After all, we were told by the father of purpose-driven, “What do pillars do? They hold things up…” The sting when you realize it really is not personal, it is just a business decision “for the sake of the church” can be excruciating, indeed. You realize you were simply a broken cog in an apparatus, easily replaced. As I heard a pastor say after hosting a concert by a formerly sought-after Christian artist who now only saw small crowds, “Look what we have done to our treasures. Shame on us.”
If you have felt this – experienced this – if you have had to depart from a fellowship because of these changes, or for any reason that you did not foresee or even want – if you are in this Joseph-like place, few words can comfort, though Joseph’s story surely will. Still, this morning, FB Meyer’s words speak deeply:
“Though stripped of his coat, he had not been stripped of his character. See to it that no one rob you of that! Everything else may be replaced but that!”
God sees your heart, and your hurt. But as with Joseph, God’s main concern is not what was done to you but HOW YOU RESPOND. Though you may have lost your coat (place) never lose your character! Stay sweet. Refuse bitterness. Love and pray for those you no longer are able to even be with. As in Gene Edward’s A Tale of Three Kings, David said, “In my youth…I was David. In my old age, I will be David still. Even if it costs me a throne, a kingdom.”
Many have left fellowships under painful circumstances and leave bitter and angry, taking many with them, and starting a new fellowship (which rarely last long.) I do not believe this is God’s way, ever. If you have left, God requires the hardest thing – that you do so quietly and remain in love, in forgiveness, and in Jesus-like character. That is the coat of character no hard and painful circumstance can take away. Yield that coat and take on the mantle of bitterness, coldness, and anger, and all God was planning for you is at stake. Do not become an Absalom seeking a throne or a Saul seeking to throw spears. Remain a David, even in exile. Does not God surely have an unstoppable plan for you yet?
Joseph – alone, abandoned by all but God, remained Joseph – a sweet, godly young man even under unbearable grief, rejection, loss, and misunderstanding.
And in the end – oh, in the end! God gave Joseph a coat of authority and purpose that only his humble, God-tested character could wear. And in the end, even the injuries were made right, because he saw, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20)
I write this to those who may have or are feeling the “pain of exile” from a church or even family. God knows your heart. His plan for you has never changed. May God bless you with a new and precious fellowship with believers for whom the words “church family” are not just words but a way of life. May he grant you grace to forgive those you left behind who may indeed miss you, but who are so caught up in the busy work of church activity that they simply become swept up in the “out of sight, out of mind” way of such things. Forgive those who injured, especially those who felt it was justified to do so. That may be the hardest. God requires it nonetheless. Wait…heal…trust…If, after years of faithful service, you find yourself without a place, these words again from A Tale of Three Kings speak: “But today I shall give ample space for this untelling God of ours to show us His will. I know of no other way to bring about such an extraordinary event except by doing NOTHING! The throne is not mine. Not to have, not to take, not to protect, and not to keep.”
All things – and you, dear friend, are in His loving care. Wait…pray…heal…and hang on to the character of Jesus through it ALL. God is not through with you yet. The best is yet to be!
With Jesus’ grace and care,
Gregory R Reid