More than 10 years ago, before my church, Bridgeway, became what it is today, it went through a painful break away from the main church it was affiliated with — at that time, known as Berkland church. In this post, I’d like to cover what I’ve felt and went through as a result of this breakup.
Why? Enough time has passed that I hope there is enough closure and perspective. I also hope that we learn from this, and as a result, become healthier individually and collectively. It’s usually better to face the past, and come to terms with it, rather than to bury it, and have it linger in the back of our minds. It is often the things that are hidden that sometimes cause us the most pain, and sometimes, simply bringing these things, even the ugly, painful things, to light, can the process of healing begin.
I want to acknowledge God’s gentle hand throughout this painful journey. My hope is that people will open the door of their hearts for God to bring healing, for all who may have experienced similar things.
I understand some of the things described here may bring up painful memories, but my intent is not to wound nor offend. Sometimes, through the writing of another, people who may not be able to find their own voice may start to understand their story. My prayer is that this post helps them, and me, to process, understand, and heal.
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I won’t go into all the details of what happened except to say that the main church we were affiliated with became too controlling. God was slowly being replaced with church leaders, and what at first started as a wonderful community of faith got slowly skewed towards leader worship and community worship. When good things, like leadership and church community, start taking the place of God, sometimes it’s hard to see. But there comes a time when small misgivings and signs become bigger and more obvious, and we reach a tipping point.
My husband and I first heard about the conflict between our church and the main church when we walked into the sanctuary. It was prayer meeting night, and we walked in late, as usual. Our pastor had just been explaining the conflict that had transpired, and you could almost hear the heavy silence as people listened, shocked, in disbelief, dazed. I felt, as I did later, as if the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. As the days passed, and news started to sink in, I felt angry — angry at the leaders, heck, angry at all leaders, angry at all the people at church who had influenced my life. I felt depressed and eventually, jaded — are all churches and Christians the same? I wondered.
In the coming days, talking to various people, especially people who were deep in the ministry, I saw the hurt going deep and rippling out in so many ways. “I feel as if my whole foundation came crumbling down,” one person confided, looking at me with shocked, catatonic eyes. Others avoided the topic, and only talked about it obliquely, and only if absolutely necessary. Still other wrote posts about it — many harsh and critical, others more reconciliatory. Some backed up the leadership, and still others blamed “Berkland” or “Berkland pastors.” Many, disillusioned and angry, left. Others who left visited later, and said hi to former church mates, but as their eyes scanned the worship service and semblance of people trying to get back to normalcy, their faces wore the look of disdain and contempt.
Slowly — and God is good and merciful — we started to heal, and leaders (of now Bridgeway) genuinely worked at making changes. They asked actively for feedback, changed worship routines, held back judgment when church members could not attend every church event. The road wasn’t easy, but there was progress. We met with other congregations, and mingled outside our church group, the Spanish congregation and our Caucasian host church, and worked at not being so insular. We started to trust each other again, and come out of our depression.
One of my gifts (or curse?) is overthinking. I have thought a lot about why our church went through what it did. I listed these reasons:
- Korean culture-ism. The leadership was mostly Korean, and as a result, a lot of the culture trickled down into the culture of the church. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with this, but when you start treating — either consciously or unconsciously — that Korean culture is over all others, there can be problems.
- Small town-ism and hierarchy. Similar to above, this is when church leaders and/or members fit a narrow profile. It was best if you were single, or married, with no kids, with a lot of time to give. If you were married, had marital problems, mental problems, or were otherwise “different” from the “norm,” you were assigned second class. People were, maybe subconsciously, put in “levels” of spirituality. In truth, God loves all of us fully and individually. It is people who judge and place others in categories. God can judge us (after all, he knows us fully) but he chooses foremost to love and encourage us. Thankfully, there were some people who would genuinely try to love you, but there many others who made you feel unwelcome or subclassed if you didn’t fit the “norm.”
- Scope creep of “Family of God” over Jesus. Church community, or “Family of God” was at first wonderful. But over time, it started to replace Jesus. The security of having close Christian brothers and sisters to lean on during hard times, working toward higher goals, and relaxing and joking with like-minded individuals — what’s more heavenly than that? Especially in an often lonely world where people looked out for themselves. But, if you started leaning on people more than Jesus, if people started replacing Jesus (even if you deny it in your mind — I mean, we’re talking about Jesus right?) — eventually, we will be disappointed, crushed. Because people are sinful. People are frail. People’s hearts are not pure. People are human, after all, not God. But Jesus knows our weaknesses — and has compassion. He is human — but he is also God. Who would you rather trust? Lean on?
- Control. This is a whole topic in itself, but basically, church members let go of a lot of their control. I know I did. As a people pleaser (now recovering), it was an unhealthy dynamic. I worried over what my direct leader would think of me if I made certain (even trivial) choices. I worried over refusing to go to yet another event when I was burnt out. I worried over whether I was being seen as a “good enough Christian” in other people’s eyes. During this time, I went through, basically, a nervous breakdown, because of the stress of trying to manage a marriage with a spouse who has adhd, church demands, and my inability to say no. Slowly, I was able to get my control back, and set boundaries.
- Church activity over everything else, including family. This is related to control, above. It seems incredible to write this, but at the height of the church’s unhealthiness (some even bordering on abuse), church leaders had a say and strong influence on who you married, where you worked, what you did with your spare time, what major you studied, what you named your children, which vehicle you drove, and which group you were put in at church (ultimately deciding who you were close to). They did this in the name of God. That’s a lot of control. Even God did not exert this much control! In the Garden of Eden, even he gave them a choice. He had one limitation, whether to eat of the knowledge tree or not. He did not coerce, guilt-trip, or shame people into following him. He gave them a choice, even taking the chance that they would reject him and break his heart. But how many times have church leaders done this very guilt tripping — to their credit — with good, honest intentions? I have done so myself . . .
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The Church is Jesus’ bride, but, if we are honest, we have a hard time loving her at times. It’s easy to love Jesus. After all, he is Jesus. I think even non-Christians love Jesus, but have a hard time with his bride, the Church.
So what are we, the Church, Jesus’ bride, to do? I think the first step is recognition, that sometimes, even our best intentions can hurt others. Then, look at the Bridegroom — it’s all about him. Then the Bride’s right place comes to light, and we recognize how we have hurt each other, hurt him, and hurt our witness to a hurting world.
The world urgently needs Jesus, and the Church needs to represent him.
Lord Jesus, please forgive me for all the times I’ve hurt others, and misrepresented you, whether intentionally, or without knowing. Help me to look to you and trust in you, and love others with your love. You promised to make your bride, your Church, spotless and beautiful. Please Lord, would you do so?
In Jesus name, amen.