I'm not gonna lie to you... I've hedged and avoided writing this post for a long time. Even today I have sat down to write this at least three times, and each time, something got in the way. Sure, let's say something legitimate got in the way, but again, in the interest of being transparent, I was more than happy to be distracted.
I have previously written about growing up in the Church here and here, but I thought it might be time to dig a little deeper and bring to the surface some core issues. I've been happily distracted from writing this because I know that it is emotional and raw, and I am also keenly aware that by posting this on a public forum that I may encounter some kind of negative response, but hey, that's the price one has to pay to play.
In the interest of full disclosure, you also have to know that I am a Pastor. I do Start Up Churches, we've personally launched two, and are involved in partnering to launch a third. It's awesome and I love it. I work bi-vocationally, meaning that I work 3 days a week outside of the church to support myself and the rest of the time I work for the church, and I mean that, the rest of the time. I got my start in ministry 8 years ago, working a full-time position as Youth, Young Adults & Worship Pastor.
Prior to becoming a Pastor I grew up being incredibly involved in my local church. My parents were volunteer members of the leadership, and by default that meant that so was I - at least when it came to the work part! I served as an incredibly active volunteer for over 10 years before I joined the establishment, and I experienced a lot during all of those times. I got a front row seat at the leadership table from a young age and saw way 'behind the veil' while still keeping my distance. I say all of this because I think it's important for us to be upfront as we begin to dig into some of these experiences.
Because I know that there will be many emotions that are going to come to the surface, I always want to put this disclaimer out there. If you are the victim of physical or sexual abuse I want you to know that if you haven't reported already, you need you. I am here for you. This community is here for you, and it's important for you to know that there are many who stand with you. Secondly, you need to know that what has happened to you is not your fault. As we carry on you need to know that I am not writing to address your situation. You need to know that we love you, Jesus loves you, and you have a bright future ahead.
Alright... I guess that's enough context, it's time to jump in ... are you ready!?
YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND... I'VE BEEN HURT BY THE CHURCH!
If you have been around 'church' for any length of time then you have most likely heard this phrase before. There are many variations and wordings, but at the end of the day, you have most likely heard this said.
I don't want to create caricatures because this is sensitive material, but you have most likely run into that person who was really involved in your church 5-7 years ago, they were heart and soul kind of people, who bled for the mission of the church. They served in every area, they were at church when the doors were open, and they seemed to be wherever the action was. In fact, this person may have downright inspired you. You were amazed at their abilities, and their willingness to give of themselves, and it caused you to jump in, roll up your sleeves and make a difference.
Recently, you ran into this person or couple at your favorite coffee shop and you have come to learn that no only are they not attending your church, they are not attending any church, and on top of that, they seem like they are really angry when you bring up the subject.
Or maybe you've met the same type of person, involved, inspiring, passionate, who no longer attends your church, and attends a hand full of other churches. They don't really go anywhere, they are free agents, but wherever they do settle, they are only interested in punching the clock at the Main Event Sunday Service. They are focused on moving forward with their lives.
I could go on and on and on creating profiles, but I'm not here to offend anybody with a profile and I'm not interested in picking away at a caricature, what I am interested in is seeing people move forward.
A couple weeks ago I was at a party with a number of our close friends who we have lived a lot of our lives with. These are the kind of friends that you carry with you decade after decade, and even though things change, you know that they are always there. In the midst of a conversation, one of our friends looked at me and said, "Brett, you've been screwed over more than anybody I know, but you doing well... how do you do it?
You might be thinking, "Wow... what kind of friends do you have?" The answer is simple, I have awesome friends who are going through a difficult circumstance and who are looking for answers, and who happen to think that my previous experience may have something to offer them. To be honest, the comment caught me completely off guard. I muttered a number of "umm's" and gathered my thoughts, others laughed, but my friend looked at my intently and pressed further, "No, I'm serious... how are you ok?"
A movie-like reel flashed in front of my eyes as I took the opportunity to rewind some of the situations I knew she was referencing. It felt like minutes that I sat there thinking about those past hurts, I had to recall them, remember the offence, and try to examine why and how they had affected me, and I think that is the first piece of learning that I have to offer from my personal experience, ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE IN THE PAST.
It doesn't matter what you have gone through or experienced, all of those things are in the past. The important thing for us to remember is that we have the whole world in front of us. We have a bold and a bright future. We have a destiny and a purpose. Most importantly, God still has a plan and a purpose for our lives. No matter what is in the past, what lies ahead is always brighter.
You may have heard the phrase, time heals all wounds, but let's be honest. That isn't true. Time doesn't heal anything. But time does offer something that can help us heal... PERSPECTIVE.
What felt like minutes rolling back the years and experiences was really only a couple of seconds, but the thing that struck me most about my journey into the past was that I had to re-think about why and how all those things had affected me. Most importantly, I was trying to remind why those things hurt me. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, those things might have hurt me then, but they definitely wouldn't hurt me now.
That's not to say those same interactions, conversations, and disappointments wouldn't sting, a scratch is a scratch, what I mean to say is that those things wouldn't cut deep if it was to happen all over again.
I'm not interested in patronizing you or allegorizing you to boredom with stories from the good old days, but I am interested in dissecting the pain of my past so that I can take a bold step into the future. One of the reasons that those same circumstances wouldn't cut me deeply if it was to happen all over again is because I've lived some life between then and now. The things that really seemed to matter then, are almost inconsequential now. Because I've now lived into what was then my future, I have a new sense of perspective. The things that seemed devastating that I thought were going to derail my life, really just poured fuel on my fire, and helped propel me forward. All of the things that framed my disappointments and my pain now appear almost foolish.
But that doesn't mean that it didn't really hurt at the time.
All of that pain that you felt was real. All of the emotions were real. Those experiences are not things to be buried and hidden, they are platforms to be stood, and they are steps for you to climb as you move forward in your life. I have watched person after person use those past experiences as an anchor when they could have been there greatest propeller.
Time grants a gift. A gift for us to separate the pain of the past from the experience of the past. It allows us to look back and reflect separating the meat from the bones, learning from every experience. In the midst of every painful experience, you are actually in one of life's greatest classrooms. Often, it is as important to learn what not do, as it is to learn how something should be done.
Keep it locked right here as we continue the I'VE BEEN HURT BY "THE CHURCH" ... AND SURVIVED! Blog Series
Brett Esslinger is a Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Pastor, Speaker, Leader, Writer whose life goal is to help people unlock their potential and fulfill their life's purpose.
Follow Brett on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook: @brettesslinger and of course over on Snapchat at: brett.esslinger