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Monthly Archives: September 2009

Boundaries

One of the questions I have had to wrestle with a lot in light of all that has happened is how did I get to a place where I allowed myself to cross so many appropriate boundaries as a pastor.

It is a tough question.  But an essential one to answer.

As I have prayed and reflected, a few thoughts have come about…

When we started the church, one of the things we did from the beginning was reject the idea of “the office of the pastor” and pastoral hierarchy and the strong distinction between clergy and laity.  This was reflected in our church’s name, bylaws, values, structure, and even my title (lead pastor, not senior pastor).  

The idea was that my role was to lead (hence the title “lead pastor”) but that didn’t make me “senior” anything.  As a congregational church, we also strongly embraced the idea that the lead pastor is first and foremost a member of the community/congregation, and then secondly called forth to serve in a particular role from the congregation.  This is very different from a church that calls someone from outside the community/congregation to “fill an office”.

In some church traditions, pastors are discouraged from being friends with people in the congregation; at the church served, I worked hard to develop authentic friendships within the congregation.  In fact, many times I was told by people that what they liked best about the church was that they thought of me more as a friend than as a pastor.  (People never called me “Pastor Ben” — just Ben).

In the early days, when we started, this worked well.  It was part of our culture and vibe and I think it was really healthy.  As we grew, people came from other churches with different views of clergy and “the office of the pastor”.  Without realizing it, people brought with then different expectations of the pastor and of me.  We lost the sense of congregationalism and others created the idea of “the office”.

For me, what I did I did in the context of a friendship with a friend.  It was obviously inappropriate and wrong and contrary to the church’s community life statement and the basic teachings of scripture.

All of this raises a question about the wisdom of the model we used.

I still think it is the right model.

I hope the church doesn’t revert to an “office of the pastor”/institutional model.  My fear is that the outside advice they got and are getting is based on this model — a model that frankly I don’t think is very Biblical.

But I think we needed to do a better job of teaching people our theological understanding of clergy, leadership, gifting and roles.

And I needed to do a better job of obedience, honoring friendships, and seeking holiness and purity.

I’m open to other thoughts on this… haven’t figured it all out yet… so feel free to chime in.

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Posted by on September 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

No Victim

I think it is important to make something really clear: I am not a victim in all of this.

While I am not sure my situation was handled well by the church, I am not a victim and I don’t think the church is filled with bad or mean people.  To the contrary, I think the church is filled with wonderful people.

I am a victim of my own sin and brokenness.  

What has happened is because of choices I made. Choices to ignore God’s wisdom and word, choices to stay hidden, choices to violate trust that had been put in me.

And moving forward, I am making different choices.

So I appreciate people who, out of compassion, feel badly for what has happened.  Frankly, it sucks and so I appreciate that you feel badly that I have had to go through this all… but I’m not a victim of the church… just of myself.

That said, my hope for the future is that churches would get better at creating spaces and places where people can deal with the real stuff of life with integrity.  That is my prayer and dream moving forward.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Stories

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Since re-publishing this blog a few days ago, I have received dozens of emails, notes, and messages. Most have been filled with grace, compassion, and encouragement.  Many have included people’s own stories of brokenness, pain, hurt and sin.

Some of those stories included people who are struggling with their own sexuality or with that of their friends.  Others shared about their own sex addictions (both men and women).  And others about dealing with their own children’s sexual issues.  All of them had the common thread of pain, judgement, secrecy and hurt at the hands of the church (universal).  And all of them noted that reading my story helped them share their own (at least with me).

Two reflections:

(1) Everyone has a story.

I know this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but it is true.  Everyone has a story — and often painful stories.  Real lives are filled with pain, struggle, doubt, failure, sin, brokenness, shattered dreams, and shame.  (Life is also filled with much joy, hope, and purpose… not all bad!)  One of the things I am learning these days is that our stories are only redemptive in the light.  Hidden, they remain a burden that slowly kills the soul; in the light of Christ and community, our stories are not only redeemable but also redemptive.  In the dark, the only thing we focus on is the narrative of pain, hurt and failure.  It is the part of the story that is most obvious and (at least in the moment, central).  But when we shine light on the story, we discover that there is also a counter-narrative, a sub-story — really a meta-narrative — being told.  And that meta-narrative is filled with subtle moments of grace, hope and redemption.  But we never see it until our story is in the light.

(2) We’ve got to change the culture.

I think the greatest ministry we can have to each other is to create safe places and spaces to take off our masks and share our stories.  And I think one of the greatest gifts we can give people is to tell our stories with openness and integrity.  When we tell them, it creates safety for others.  Broadly, the church has not been good at this… and for the church to reach its full redemptive potential, this must change.

One of the reasons I am blogging about my story so publicly is that I hope to, in a small way, contribute to a changed culture.  For over a decade, as a leader with a hidden story, I contributed to the culture that I think is really very soul-killing for many.  That is something I feel terribly about and want to help change…

So tell your story.  Take the risk.  Trust the light.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Through My Eyes

This is a preview of a powerful video documentary about Gay Christian teens… I picked it up earlier this summer and was very challenged and moved by it.  It is definitely worth getting (click here) to watch the whole thing, but here is a quick clip:

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

Mental Mise En Place

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“Mise en place” is a culinary term that translates as “everything in its place.” It is the process by which a chef prepares everything he or she will need to cook a particular recipe or on the line for a shift. It includes everything from chopped onions and garlic to knives and equipment — the first thing you do when you start to cook is gather your mise en place. 

The idea is so central to cooking that chefs will often talk about “mental mise en place”–getting your mind all set before you start in the kitchen.

I am learning the importance these days of mental mise en place in my spirituality — the intentional discipline of making sure everything is in place.

For me, my mental mise en place includes daily time reading scripture and praying, a daily commitment to obedience and discipleship, a regular spiritual and emotional inventory, regular personal confession, and a the regular prayer that my work would be my worship.

I find when I take the time to do this… to really stop and intentionally make these decisions — my days go much better.

I am learning a lot in the kitchen these days — most not about cooking.  I’ll share some of those reflections as they come up.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

It Is Time…

It is time for me to share publicly what happened and why I left my position as pastor.  There are a lot of rumors and untruths and even some lies that are getting thrown around out there and I figure the best way to address them is to just layout for you what happened and what the situation really is… 

So, here is what happened… as much as I can say at this time:

First, I am gay.

I have been as long as I can remember.  

Some have known over the years.  Most have not.

Within the evangelical sub-culture, it is not really something you can acknowledge… talk about… admit.

So my strategy was duck, hide, run, and deny.

It was not a good strategy.

 

While I had made a commitment to celibacy, I failed in that commitment.

I had sexual activity with someone I shouldn’t have — with someone in the congregation I led.

That is unacceptable and it is why I resigned as pastor.

It was consensual. The other person was a single adult.  He was a friend.

It was a clear violation of our community life statement and it was sin.

It was unacceptable.  I am 100% responsible and except full responsibility.

That is all I will say about that right now.

 

For most in the evangelical sub-culture, being gay is the unforgivable sin… I’ve known that for a long time.  Part of why I hid it so long.  But that is not an excuse for what I did.

So I resigned as pastor. My membership was terminated.  And I was asked to have no part of the faith community.

It should probably be noted (since this will be read by a pretty diverse group of people) that, at least from my perspective, my sin is not that I am gay.  

It is in the inappropriate things I did as a pastor… it is the sexual activity outside the boundaries of a life-long covenant relationship.  It is my failure to be honest about my own struggles.  It is my failure to live an integrated and aligned life.  

These are my sins and my failures — and I trust in the grace and cross of Jesus alone to forgive them and restore me.

 

So what am I doing now?

Well… I took a lot of time this summer to pray and reflect.  This has been the hardest period of my life that I have ever gone through.  I have a great team of people not from the church who have surrounded me and are helping me move forward.

I will be going to culinary school… working in a restaurant… and then seeing what God does.

Am I done with full time paid ministry forever?  I don’t have an answer to that.  It is really God’s call.

Am I done with ministry as a follower of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not… every follower of Jesus is called to be a minister — despite our failings and sins — and I will continue to pursue Christ and do everything I can to love God and love people.  That is the core of ministry and I am as committed to it today as ever!

Here is what I do know… I am done with the hiding-ducking-running-denying-lying strategy forever.  That I know.

Here is what else I know… I am now and will always be a follower of Jesus Christ.  That has not and will not change.

I have a lot more thoughts on all of this… and I have been journaling and writing a lot this summer.  Sometime soon I will be sharing a lot of my thoughts and process on a blog… I will keep you posted as to when that goes public.

What can you do for me now?

You can pray for me.  I really appreciate that.

You can pray for the church — I would appreciate that even more.

If you are part of the church, I ask for your forgiveness — I need that.

If you care to, I’d like to maintain friendships where I can.

Please don’t send me any well-intentioned emails or theological diatribes.
I don’t need anymore “God-hates-fags” emails.  

Just pray for me… and if it is in you, I appreciate your grace and friendship despite my failings — which indeed are many.

Under His Undeserving Mercy,

Ben

 

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

How to Read This Blog

After four months, I have decided to re-publish this blog.  Even though it has been “down” for most of that time, I have been writing and blogging all along.

This blog is really a journey log for me.  That means that I write what I feel and think when I feel and think it.  That also means what I say on Monday may be something that I totally disagree with by Thursday.  It also means that I don’t necessarily stand by or defend everything I’ve written — in four months, I have done a lot of processing and praying and that means things change.  And they still are.

So… if you are just joining the conversation, I’d encourage you to go back and read some of the earlier posts.  

Also… I invite you to comment and be part of the dialogue.  Afterall, that is what a good blog is.

I expect that there will be a diversity of opinions from people reading this blog and that at some point you will most likely think that I am too left or too right or too something else.  It;s probably true… all part of the journey.

The only rules for commenting are that you need to be civil.  Anything less than civil will be deleted.  Since it is my blog, I will decide what is civil and what is not.  I also hope we can have honest discussions… which means please avoid lectures, agendas, and the like.

Anyway… thanks for taking the time to be part of my journey.  I pray that I may be a blessing to yours as well.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 
 
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