Note: Due to the sensitive subject matter being discussed, the names of the author and people involved have been changed to protect their identity.
Leaving the HURT Behind
by Bernhard Richards
My name is Bernhard Richards, and here is why I left the Hypocritical Unloving Rigorous Temple (HURT).
First of all, I want to say that in no way am I trying to put down the Christian Faith or other people there. I am only sharing some difficult experiences my wife and I went through in a church (who hasn't!) so that some can relate to them, but I also offer up hope as to "What to do when and if this happens to you." I want to stress that what I have attempted to write is a legitimate desire to help others who have gone through this and who are going through this. I am not a psychologist, and I am not offering a quick and easy 5-step plan that will cure all things for the next 1000 years. What I am saying is this: God CAN change things. Let us do our part and give this to HIM in prayer. Let the Holy Spirit work in you and in your group/church community. Let's look for inspiration from passages such as ACTS 2: 42-47, one of the few passages in the New Testament which touches upon fellowship and how true fellowship should be.
Here Are Some Reasons
Why I Left HURT:
#1: Lack of true "Koinonia" fellowship:
In the fellowship that I attended, these problems were evident:
- Program Oriented meetings: "At exactly 8:24, the choir will sing".
- Little time for interaction with each other: "Movie's over, please exit through the rear doors."
- No time to let the Holy Spirit Work: '' We're too busy to pray"
- Superficial Sharing: "Hello, it's been awhile... not much... how 'bout you":
- Divisions between Men and Women: "Why can't we be friends?":
- Is this just another social club: "I'm into the In crowd."
My wife and I had attended this fellowship for 3 years. We entered with hope, we left disheartened.
First of all, let me give you the demographics of this group. It was a co-ed career fellowship, people were between the ages of 30 to 40, some married, most still single, and out of the single ones, 80 to 90% are females, most of the people in this fellowship had been together for at least 5 years, some have been there for 20 years or more. The potential for this fellowship was very strong, or at least I thought so. The first thing I noticed was: "Why wasn't anyone hardly talking with anyone else?"
After attending this fellowship for 2 months or so, I noticed that most people were fairly quiet (compared to me), but that others were very vocal (compared to me). My wife and I were hoping to fellowship with others, so we thought we would be patient and wait a while to settle in, since we were new to the fellowship, so we waited a few more months... which turned into many months and soon a few years and we're still waiting. Perhaps what we were looking for, others were not at that stage spiritually yet, I don't know, or maybe there were other underlying factors.
I'm not talking about friendship, I'm talking about authentic fellowship, or "Koinonia". Koinonia is the word the early Christians used to describe the "bond" that held them together. It was not a shallow "hello..." or a meaningless pat on the back. It was a genuine display of love and acceptance, care and compassion, support and forgiveness, all these things that characterized our Lord Jesus Christ when HE walked on earth.
When we attended this fellowship, everyone was polite, most said "hello" to you if you said "hello" to them. But after 3 years, I never got to know 75% of the people more than just "hello", although I often tried and later challenged some to share more. The sharing was generally stuck in neutral and wasn't going anywhere, although most of them thought since we had programs planned for the next 3 months, things were successful. There is no 1 person at fault here, so I tried to help out, together with a small core group of brothers and sisters who were looking for more than just a social club where no one talked to one another. However, when ideas were brought to the leadership (which I will touch upon later), they were very defensive and became aggressive; we were politely and often impolitely brushed away, sometimes frowned upon by others. Although I requested we pray about certain things, leadership brushed me away, sometimes in a rude manner. I tried bringing things up to the leaders, some of who were like a roaring lion towards me. I eventually gave up after lots of prayer and shedding of tears.
Some of the things I brought up was that there was not much time in fellowship to pray together, no time to get to know each other, no time to let the Holy Spirit work (someone in leadership corrected me because they said once, 3 months ago, there was a 15 minute prayer after the fellowship met... even though that occurred because the program ended early. I stand corrected).
When there was sharing, it was usually superficial, which I found surprising because many of them had been there for 10+ years and still didn't know much about each other, even amongst the girls. Several girls would always split up in cliques (which I'll touch upon later) and avoided some others as if they were lepers at that annoying contagious stage, and I am not exaggerating. Most girls would not talk nor sit with the men. During "social club time" (oops, I mean fellowship) it looked like a Jewish synagogue. Women on one side, men on the other. If ever a man would sit on the same side as a woman, or vice-versa, it became quite noticeable. Sometimes I wish someone would say to someone else, " Hi! I've been in fellowship with you for 12 years, can't I even sit down beside you and talk to you?" I guess not. At work, there are men and women colleagues you relate and communicate with all day, but at church, even your own fellowship that you've attended in the last 5 to 20 years, you can't even speak with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Hello!!!!
There is hope:
A potential solution or challenge is this, when we sail the waters of Christian truth, we can stay close to the shoreline where the currents and waves are manageable (like this fellowship or maybe yours), or we can venture out into the sea where the currents are stronger and the personal risks greater. This may involve personal sacrifice and more involvement in the lives of your brothers and sisters. Which choice do you think the first apostles made? Which choice do you think God wants you to do?
Chances are the church you are attending now is the only church you go to, and the fellowship you regularly attend is the only fellowship you have. Guess what: This is your spiritual family and your church community. If you don't feel safe to share here, where and when can you feel safe?
On the other hand, we also must be patient with others who don't feel safe. We should try and be an example to them. Everyone is at a different stage in his or her Christian walk. It's almost impossible to meet someone who is at the exact stage as you are in your walk. We need to be patient, but as Hebrews 5:11-14 says, we also need solid food, we cannot be an infant and drink milk forever.
#2: Domineering Women
This was the main reason why I left the fellowship and eventually the church. I have never encountered in my life so much rudeness as I did with these dominating women. (I am not being sexist. My wife and other battered females feel the same. Several people have left the church because of these females. Incidentally, neither my wife nor I ever came across a domineering male in our time at this church.)
A handful of these women were quite sharp-tongued, outspoken, condescending, always insisting their way was right and they would fight to the death to ensure their way would go through. On some occasions I thought that theory would be tested. The Biblical solution would be to approach the females in question. If that didn't work, then the fellowship counselor or the pastor-in-charge regarding this problem. Unfortunately, it was the fellowship counselor and the pastor's wife who were in leadership causing all these problems. Whom do I go to now? What to do, what to do, what to do...
I tried to approach the female counselor on several occasions, only to be a lamb sent to be slaughtered. I could not approach the pastor's wife due to reasons I cannot discuss here, but others have approached the pastor's wife only to be sent to be slaughtered. I have mentioned to the pastor that his wife was mean, unfriendly and sharp-tongued. (It was very difficult to do this, because I did not want to hurt the pastor I respected, but I had to speak the truth in love, before she destroyed "his" ministry there). His response wasn't an angry one, he sounded almost apologetic and said to me " My wife has a long way to grow. I have been trying to help her. She needs to be more mature, etc..." I know he was hurt by the comments I made. I also knew I was not the only one to speak to him about his wife. Now, I don't mean to make these two women sound like ogres. In fact when having a conversation about the weather, exchanging a recipe, discussing holiday plans, they are very friendly, helpful and nice to talk with, as nice as anyone else really, but if you have an opinion on something which differs from theirs, LOOK OUT! Put on the Full Armour of God! Where's my Shield of faith?
These two ladies were not the only ones who were dominating, there were several other females as well, each of them having destroyed many victims along their Christian walk. I believe this is why there are only about 4 or 5 single battered males left, whereas there are 20 single females remaining, almost 40% of those are difficult to deal with. Most single males (and married ones, including myself) are fearful of some of the domineering females, having been run over numerous times, and this does not make going to fellowship comfortable. (No soup for you!)
The actual problem is that nobody ever wants to confront these females for fear of being totally massacred by them. I know Matthew 18:15-17 states we should confront them, but can you blame us? In my opinion, I believe the male counselor and pastors should have been asked to help, but perhaps they were apprehensive in confronting these sharp-tongued people, since the pastor's wife and counselor's wife were the main problem. I don't know why they never did anything when they knew there was a big problem, or perhaps they just pretended everything was fine? During one of my classes at a Seminary, the professor mentioned that "pastors are the number one profession in avoiding conflicts." I have usually seen this to be true. Again, I am speculating, but maybe they were afraid it would affect their own marriage, speaking to their own wives regarding the slaughters that occurred. They were caught between a rock and a hard place.
The experiences I went through with these women were some of the most difficult in my life. I never met so many mean, sharp-tongued dominating women in my life, including when I was a non-Christian, whether I was in my teens, twenties or thirties... This by far was the worst. I don't know how things could have been worse, but you know what, it might be worse in the next church you attend.
There is hope:
Let's look at Matthew 18:15-17. Perhaps we should have gone over this pastor's head and spoke with the senior pastor. The reason I did not do so was that I was already severely disheartened with the other issues above. At the time we left the fellowship, hardly anyone wanted to serve in this fellowship and it almost fell apart, and it's now dissolved. Some people still meet in small groups bi-monthly instead of weekly. I understand from other remaining frustrated Christians that the sharing is still shallow and most remain in their "comfort" zones. Sometimes it's best for a fellowship to be disbanded if it has grown stale. Every situation is different. I think they should close up shop on this one and let others find another spiritual family.
Ezekiel 34: 1-10 states that if the pastors, leaders, counselors ignore their responsibilities, one day they will be held accountable for HIS flock. Keep reading Ezekiel 34 and it states that the Lord will rescue the scattered sheep.
What can we do about it while we are going through this hurricane? Be patient. Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Focus on God and your troubles seem minimal. Serve the Lord and do what you can. If others want to make life difficult for everyone, just keep trusting the Lord, serving the Lord. I know I sound like I'm just flying through the fruits of the spirit, but they were given to us by God and we have them within us. The hard part is finding them in a difficult situation and using them.
Perhaps your fellowship is going through this right now, maybe even it's the men who are domineering in your case. Although you can't control how others will react, you do have a say on how you can react. Ephesians 4:32 says to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.
Maybe you are saying "But Bernhard... You don't know what is going on in our social club, it's 100 times worse than yours, etc...'' Perhaps it is a lot worse than I have mentioned, but Ephesians 4:32 is still Ephesians 4:32.
#3: Favoritism Is Present
Hmm... how do begin. If you're female, single, and earning at least 40 grand annually, there's a 90% chance you're in! (you don't have to be Christian though... it's not a requirement.) If you are male, you're out!! If you are male and single... you might as well live on an island with other lepers. You're out... way out!! I thought this only happened in a beehive with the queen bee, etc... Favoritism... yah... it's everywhere. Certain people were conventionally passed over when it came time to serve in the fellowship, or to be invited to an exclusive "hush hush" party with other carefully selected guests.
I (and others too!) believe favoritism occurred here because these certain people were not close personal friends with the people in charge of the fellowship, thus they were not chosen to serve, nor were they close with others who delegated responsibilities. This happened over and over again. It was always the same people who were asked to serve, even when other people were quite eager to do so, but excuses were given like ''this person is not ready yet'' or "no, not him, c'mon!" or "trust me, I know something really bad about this person that they should not serve" - but 3 months later, from the same person's (the female counselor) mouth, "Oh, she is OK now, she can serve."
Those deemed popular were given carte blanche to serve wherever and whenever they wanted. When this core group wanted someone new to serve, they made sure this person was well promoted within the group, and all of us were told how great this person was. One would almost believe this person could walk on water, or feed at least three thousand. (In one case, my wife and I did not vote for a new Christian to serve... good friend of the cliques... because we knew she needed to build her roots, this was too risky to put a spiritual "baby" in leading the "adults" - and it eventually proved to be correct.)
Most of the men were not allowed to serve, unless the dominating woman or someone in the cliques had an unexpected change of heart that day and we were given the privilege and honor to move one chair 3 feet to the left. (OK, I'm exaggerating a little, but you know what I mean). It was like a social club. And whenever a position came up or a program was being prepared, someone was always groomed for that position, just like at the office. We had some people who have taken courses at a seminary (or equivalent) and they were questioned when they wanted to serve, and life was made difficult for them when they did serve. But if Debbie brought in her friend Jessica who was Christian for only 2 months and Debbie was in the clique, Jessica could serve whenever and wherever she wanted. Hmm... But on the other hand, those who were serving complained that they couldn't find anyone to help! I did offer to help out a few times, but was politely refused. Maybe I should have changed my name to Jessica and spoke with a higher pitch voice... and wear a wig... and high heels...
Favoritism hurts. Favoritism is not fair. Favoritism is wrong, but it exists almost everywhere. There is always that middle sister like Jan Brady who feels left out because of a Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Can we prevent this? How can we stop this? If A chooses B instead of C, C will think its favoritism. Then if A chooses C instead of B, B will feel left out? What do we do?
There is hope:
Reading James 2:1-10 states that favoritism isn't right. As Christians we must try to be aware of others' feelings, we really need to work hard to be sensitive to others and try to include everyone. Treat everyone the same ..... Love one another as HE loves us. Do you remember when you were the new person at church or in the fellowship and how happy you felt when someone came over to talk with you? If you see someone left out, try to include him or her. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
Have you ever been to a fellowship where there wasn't a clique? I think this goes along very well with the comfortable Christian lifestyle in North America today. Follow the process:
You are new to the fellowship. You meet someone who likes to play badminton just like you do. She is shy, just like you are. She also likes to watch Ally McBeal, just like you do. You hang out with this person (not Ally McBeal, but the Christian at the church. I'm not going to get into the topic whether we should be watching Ally McBeal or not). You get to know this person. You shun everyone else but her. Six months later you look around the fellowship and notice that you haven't met 90% of the people yet. You didn't even know your colleague at work went to the same fellowship as you did, or your next door neighbor even. You can name more friends on the TV show "Friends" than people in your fellowship. Sound familiar?
Fellowship is not about always getting together for dinner, movies, sports activities with the same people. That's friendship. It is not about always going out together while ostracizing others. It's not always going to expensive restaurants where only your "clique" can afford, thus excluding others. It's not keeping activities secret from all others in the group. However this is what's going on in this fellowship (and had been for years even before we came). Not including the counselor or the pastor's wife, two cliques (all females) are running the fellowship. They decide who serves, who goes on outings, who gets to be invited (sounds like a restricted social club, doesn't it?). Even though this "clique" word is mentioned to some of the more quiet girls in the cliques (you wouldn't want to go to the sharp-tongued ones), week after week, year after year, these girls always gather into their little "comfy circle of friends" or cliques, and they almost never let anyone else join their little lunches, gatherings, excursions, etc. Some of the ladies in the cliques have told me, when I was invited to certain events: ( firstly I was astonished at being invited, I thought it was a mistake on their part... probably was.) "Please don't tell X and Y about this, because if X or Y show up, I won't!" Sounds like true fellowship to me!
I have several other examples that fall into this category, but my paper would be too long. When a good friend of mine touched upon the subject of cliques in our fellowship, our female counselor told him that Jesus was in a clique, and that my friend was his in own clique. I don't know what to say about that one!!
There is hope:
John 13:34 states "Love one another as I have loved you." This is Jesus speaking here. Fellowship is for everyone and is to include all believers. I was a teens-counselor before trying to break up cliques. It's not easy. Perhaps it's up to you and me or the ones in charge of the fellowship to make those who are in cliques aware of what they are doing by excluding others constantly, which is obviously not on purpose. You can't stop people from remaining in a clique, it's their choice. You can only try. People who are in the cliques can become pretty narrow minded and their growth won't be well-rounded.
We must learn to love people without expecting anything back. People in (or out of) a clique can be quite fickle at times. Sometimes we also have to "let them be." Let's make sure that we try and see God in them. In fact, let's try and see God's glory in everyone because we are all made in the image of God...
#5: Reaching out to the Rich, not the Poor
While attending HURT, I always wondered why there were never any programs reaching out to the poor (or at least none that I could see.) Oh, last year there was a golf ministry where the price was quite expensive (even more for couples or families), with a motto inscribed on the flyer "reaching out to the world". I guess they meant the "rich" world. That is not altogether wrong, because somebody has to reach out to the rich.
Another instance when the poor was shunned was when HURT also spent over 2 million dollars last year building an underground parking lot so that people driving BMW's or Mercedes or Lincoln Continentals didn't have to walk 5 minutes to church from where they had to park their car on the street. Yep, that sounds really rough. My question is, why didn't they go all the way and build a Crystal Cathedral too, with golden statues of all those who helped in building it, or pave the parking lot with gold, or how about a contest "Most expensive car wins parking spot closest to front door"!
Even another pastor of this church told me and others that parking on a specific street is only a 5 minute walk and that anyone could do it. But the church decided on spending over 2 million on an underground parking lot. I can think of dozens of ways this money could have been used more wisely, and I think so can you.
For this year, the church has organized a retreat (encouraging every fellowships not to have a retreat... it's actually in writing!) at one of the most expensive resorts around the area, only 1 hour and a half away by car. If I had to, I have that money to spend (even though I was only working part time then), but I want to be a good steward and I won't spend that kind of money in such a way. We knew many people couldn't afford it, and, like us, wouldn't spend the money unwisely. It's a retreat, not an excursion! More recently, one of pastors believes an error has been made and is at least willing to subsidize for some people. What were they thinking? How could any student or poor person, even middle class person afford this? Why are the poor constantly being shunned?
There is hope:
Jesus was poor. Would our church have reached out to HIM? Can HE play golf? Would Christ have supported spending over 2 million on a parking lot for a church building, or would He have found other uses for the money? Don't get me wrong. It is not wrong to reach out to the rich. But Jesus reached out to children and the poor much more often than he did to the rich. I think His example is one to follow.
Every church has problems. There is no perfect church. People don't go to church now because of two reasons. One is that they have never been to church, the second is that they HAVE been to church. This paper is reaching out to the latter and those struggling in their current church, not knowing whether to stay or leave. You have heard it before. Let's get back to the basics. Let's get back to the Bible. Let's look at what the Bible says on these matters and bring it up to the person causing problems. If they disagree with you, you can say ''Surely, you're not saying that the Bible is wrong!" But it's not that easy to bring it up to someone, especially leaders. Different people interpret the Bible in different ways. Some believe that their own interpretation is the correct one, and it's not open for discussion.
Christ is the head of the church, not the pastor, and as long as people allow HIM to reign supreme in their lives, God can and will restore HURT. Prayer is needed. The Holy Spirit must also be let in. To solve any problems through human effort alone will end up in disaster. Several of my brothers and sisters have left this church, which is in serious need of a revival. If the leaders ignore their responsibilities, they need to realize that one day, they will be held accountable for their actions. (See Ezekiel 34:1-10.)
In His great sermon on the mount, Jesus states a few essentials that are appropriate to the difficulties this fellowship encountered. Matthew 5:43 talks about "Love for enemies". Although I never considered anyone at this church an enemy, the passage nevertheless teaches us to love everyone just as Christ loves us, which is unconditional. That's not easy, but perhaps we can start from the very beginning and take steps from there.
Matthew 7: 1-6, 12 touches upon "Judging others." Please forgive me if I have passed over that boundary, and it sounds like I have been judging others while writing this. I have just written the facts which have occurred, and in no way can I judge someone harshly since I too made mistakes. I admit I have made some sarcastic comments. Of course being battered is by no means an excuse for me to complain about others. Nevertheless, I still invite you to read these passages above. God's instructions are clear.
Another passage I enjoy reading which deals with "Loving one another" is 1 John 3:11-24. There are many other passages which deal with the topics in question, I encourage you to look for them.
I have mentioned some difficult people I've had to deal with in these passages and difficult situations I've encountered at HURT. There will always be difficult people to deal with. There will always be people on your list, whether at work, at home, and even at church. Let's not forget that other people have lists too, and you may be on one of them!
Yes, to be a Christian is very difficult, the more we look at ourselves, the more we see our shortcomings. At the same time, we wonder how could God love us, to the point of even dying for us! It's very hard for me to comprehend. James 1:22 - 25 says we need to practice what is said in the Bible, if we don't, we deceive ourselves. The above sharing of course does not mean to point my fingers at these people, I honestly have not done my best as well. I guess I am still in shock, trying to understand all of this in a bigger picture - the devil's schemes behind all of this, our sinful nature etc. I admit that I fall short of having Christ's love to embrace all those who hurt me immensely (or I fail to realize that God is hurting as well, apparently even more than me). I need God's grace to accept those who hurt me, His power to overcome my own shortcomings, His mercy to help me to humble myself - if God has forgiven such a wretch like me, how can I hold grudges against these people? I am so far from God's standard and again according to James 1, I'm not practicing God's teaching. There's too much to ponder and reflect. It's nice to have this website to share our struggles as fellow Christians, but I don't want this to become a "bitter" website, rather a place for those are struggling share their victory and defeat.