One of the questions that people have asked me a lot these past few month is “where have you seen or experienced grace from the church in all of this?”
It is a fair question. Amazing grace is at the very core of our faith, it is one of the core values of the church I led, and it is central to Christian community. And in the midst of personal crisis — even the self-inflicted kind — it can be healthy to reflect upon grace and where we’ve seen it and experienced.
These past four months I have experienced a lot of grace from people in my life who are not par of the church I led; I have also experienced grace from a small handful of people at the church. But I can honestly say I have not experienced a moment of grace from the church itself.
I have waited a long time to write his blog because (1) I have been hoping that wth time grace might come; and (2) I don’t like second-guessing or criticizing the church and its leadership.
One of the interesting things about grace is that by definition you don’t deserve and therefore you should neither expect nor demand it. I have worked hard and prayed a lot about this. And I am now in a place where I am OK with not receiving any grace… and I keep praying for grace myself… that I would extend it.
There were a lot of moments these past four months when grace could have been extended. It never was. I don’t mean to suggest that I should have been able to stay in my job, or that people should ignore what I did… that is not what I am talking about when I talk about grace.
But here are some examples of where grace could have been extended… and I hoped it would be… but it wasn’t:
– While I have formally asked for forgiveness from every member of the congregation, very few people have expressed that forgiveness.
– I requested that my resignation letter be shared with the members; that request was denied. I even did a revision of the letter for the Board, and this was not shared either.
– I requested that I be under the authority of the Board and church discipline while i go through a healing and counseling process. That request was declined.
– I was never given an opportunity to say goodbye to anyone.
– I asked to speak with the outside consultant the church used (Ken Swetland) several times so that I could hear his perspective and insights; that request was denied.
– I was dis-fellowshipped (in other words, kicked out of the community… however you want to say it) without any following of Matthew 18 or any other church discipline process that I was allowed to participate in.
– I have pretty much been left on my own to work through the process of healing. I was kicked out of community, had to find my own counseling, network, churches, etc.
I could go on with this list, but I’m not sure what the point would be. I’m not going to detail the many emails I have gotten that have been just plain mean, nasty, and accusing me of stuff that is not true.
What have learned in all of this?
Well I’ve learned a lot about Christian community… and that is for another post.
I have also learned to leave it all at the cross… again, one cannot expect nor demand grace. It i not deserved. So I am learning to accept and even embrace that truth.
I am also learning to trust in the Amazing Grace of God — a no strings attached, no fine print, over the top kind of grace! And I am reminded of the basic teachings of the scriptures… that those who have been forgiven much, love much. So I am learning to love much!
(I also want to clarify that there have been many individuals who have shown me grace — among them Vince, the co-founding pastor at the church and someone who has been my best friend for 12 years. And I have been overwhelmed by the compassion and grace — for the most part — shown by Christians outside the church… just wanted to make that clear.)