Thursday, October 30, 2008

God Will Sort It Out

A friend shared a few verses with me this morning that I've been thinking about all day. Psalm 34:4-6 in the Message Bible says, "God met me more than halfway, He freed me from my anxious fears. Look at Him; give Him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from Him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot."

I like that statement - "Never hide your feelings from Him." Our loving Father wants us to share everything with Him. We don't have to try to hide our emotions from Him and we don't have to say everything just perfect before He will hear us. He doesn't want us to keep things all bottled up inside and try to deal with them ourselves. He wants to help us sort them out. You know, it really blesses me when my children open up and tell me everything that's going on in their lives. I believe it's the same with our Father.

Tonight, I was reading in a book by Jake Colsen and I came across some wonderful statements along this line.....

He said, "Follow God a bit more closely and trust Him, He'll sort out the rest. He's the cornerstone of the church. Ask Him to sort out all of this in you individually and collectively. He's been doing this a couple of thousand years and He's really good at what He does."

I just took a moment and asked God to help us sort the things out that we are all dealing with. I thank God for how far we have come and I believe God will continue to get us out of the tight spots because He loves us more than we could ever imagine.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Does This Ever Happen To You?

I can be going about my day and then all of a sudden a thought will pop into my head. It's like the aftershock of an earthquake. An aftershock is a smaller earthquake that occurs after the main earthquake and it is always smaller in strength, but it still "shakes things up." The main quake happened when I left my former church, but I still have these thoughts (aftershocks) that sometimes catch me off guard and kind of shake up the moment.

I know these may seem silly, but they are sometimes sparatic thoughts I have and I wanted to know - does this ever happen to you?

*When you are driving down the road and all of a sudden you think of how much money you gave to your former church, do you get upset and wish that somehow you could get it all back and give it to a worthy cause?

*When someone in your new church asks you where you used to go to church, do you freeze up - not wanting to answer for fear that if you tell, they will wonder if you are normal?

*When you hear a certain song, where the words are something like, "Do what you want, but you're never gonna own me..." or "I never saw it coming, I should have started running a long, long time ago..." do you automatically think of your former situation, sing loudly, and make all the people in the cars around you wonder what your deal is?

I know these things are temporal, and just as the aftershocks stop after an earthquake, I'm sure these things will go least I hope they do....surely they will. No, I know they will because Jesus said that He came to heal the brokenhearted and set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cleaning Out

I started a process today....well, let me give a little background first before I start explaining. I was involved in my former church for 22 years and I took notes during every service I attended. Can you imagine what that resulted in? Stacks and stacks of notebooks full of sermon notes. Not only do I have notes, but I have tapes and cds too - cabinets full!

For the first couple of months after I left, I didn't even want to go in the room where I kept all of these things. I knew at some point I wanted to go through and clean out, but the thought of doing that made me sick at my stomach. I didn't dread it because I missed anything about the church, but these notebooks represented years of my life and things I thought I believed in. I thought I was doing the right thing by listening and trying to live by these teachings, but I see the truth now. And quiet frankly, it doesn't feel very good to realize I gave so much time and effort to something that wasn't right.

I sat in my floor and started pulling out the notebooks. I wasn't sure, do I chunk the whole thing or do I flip through it? Do I put myself through the torture of reading through it and then kicking myself for falling for it when I should have known better? Do I close the doors and try to do it later? The tapes and cds were easy. I knew I would never listen to those again, so I threw those in the garbage can. I opened a notebook and began to flip through it. There were some things I just ripped out and wadded up without even reading it - just the title was enough to know. But I stopped on one page that caught my eye where the sermon was titled, "How To Get Your Dream House." I read down through the notes and a couple of statements really stood out to me. Tell me what you think about these quotes. He said, "God is magnified when you live in a beautiful home. Go look at expensive homes. Don't be afraid to step out and do what you can't do. That's faith."

Are you thinking the same things I'm thinking? First of all, it's not faith to go buy something you can't afford - it's foolishness. That's one reason so many people are going into foreclosure! I had a friend one time who was going to look at homes and she was told to go look at big, expensive homes - not the ones she qualified for. That put major pressure on her. She was trying to obey the pastor, but she also didn't want to acquire a house payment she couldn't afford and put her family in a bind. Second, if God is only magnified if we live in "beautiful homes," that makes Him seem pretty shallow. I know God wants us to have nice things, but I would think He's magnified more because of our hearts being turned toward Him, rather than being so caught up in trying to scrape by to make big house payments. When a person is strapped by hefty payments they are struggling to make, that's all they think about. They can't think about God or serving people. In my mind, and I could be wrong, but I think God would rather you be happy and content with something you can afford, make your payments on time, have enough to be able to save, give, help others when needed, and not be so "ME" focused.

(This is a side note I want to throw in.) We were taught for years that God is glorified when we have lots of money and "beautiful homes." The impression given many times was that if people didn't have these things, they had not built their faith to the level it took to get them. But let me ask a question - what if it's God's will for someone to be in a profession that doesn't make 6 figures a year? What if a person knows they are called to be a school teacher, loving and teaching children, and they don't care how much it pays? What if it's God's will for someone to be a volunteer at a counseling center? What if it's God's will for someone to be a youth minister and the salary is only $25,000 a year? These salaries don't buy expensive homes and cars, so does that mean that these people who are following God's will and serving people, are not magnifying Him? No it doesn't! When a person is happy, living their life and doing God's will, it is wrong for someone to make them feel less important for not having expensive things. Besides that, one person's opinion of nice may be totally different from what another person thinks is nice. (This is one of those areas where controlling leaders try to change your identity and make you think like them.) People should not try to push their opinions off on everyone else of what they think others should have. We all need to be ourselves and buy what we like and never again be concerned if it meets someone else's standard! I want to have a nice home and I love to look at decorating magazines to know how to arrange things, but if my home doesn't meet someone else's standard, it doesn't matter. If I like it, that's all that matters. I like to get "to go" boxes at restaurants. I like to find a great sale and use coupons. That's who I am and I'm not changing for anyone!

Anyway, as I was going through these notes, I came across another page that I stopped and read. It was titled, "Walking In Love With Others." Before I even read some of the quotes, I thought back to the years of being there and all the times I saw people not being treated in loving ways. I know every leader has their bad days, but I remembered the many times I saw staff members leave the pastor's office in tears. I remembered the times I sat through these services thinking to myself, "The things being taught are not practiced." Here are some of the quotes from the notes, "Don't run people down with your mouth. Don't belittle people in the body of Christ. When you do, you do it unto Jesus. Jesus doesn't take these things lightly. The way you treat others is the way you treat Jesus." Those statements are good, true, and right, but if they are spoken by someone who doesn't live by it himself, it stings. It's confusing when you hear these things and then the next week someone is called an idiot or a clown from the pulpit. It was very confusing to me recently when it was said from the pulpit that God requires us to be kind and gentle to people, and yet I saw people being mistreated on a daily basis. I think the biggest question that arose inside of me was, "Is everything that is taught full of hypocrisy?" I mean, if a lie is told about one thing, what else is being lied about? If I am told I must walk in love, and the one telling me is not doing it himself, what else is he teaching that he is not living? Confusing, huh?

During my clean out time, a friend called and I read her a few of the statements. All she did was laugh very loudly. It would be funny, if the pile of wadded up paper didn't represent so many people's lives who trusted, believed, and based there lives on these things. I filled up one garbage can and then I had to stop and close the door. It was too much too soon. As I was going through these notes, I realized that we can have stacks of information that we've learned, but what really matters is keeping our mind on this one simple truth - God loves us. He loves who we are and everything about us. He doesn't care what kind of house we live in, He just loves us, and when we love Him and love people we are pleasing Him. Maybe I'll go back in a few days and clean out some more, but for now I need a break.

A Comment

A friend of mine sent this picture to me in an email and said, "I guess these precious people I met in Mexico never heard the teaching about God being pleased by your expensive houses." GF

Friday, October 17, 2008

Identity Crisis

I was talking to a friend by email yesterday who was also a member of a controlling, abusive church. I made the statement, "I have days now when I rarely think about things, but then I still have days when it consumes me." She responded, "I have NO days when I hardly think about it, as I have no solution or direction for my family in seeking to obey "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" and obeying the Great Commission. It really consumes my thoughts. It is as though I am trying to once again define and understand life. I thought that upheaval ended with my adolescence."

As I was writing my email and reading my friend's comments, it hit me. In controlling churches, one of the things that happens is you lose your identity. You continually push down who you are as a person and over time you become like a puppet on a string, adhering to the whims of your leaders. You are basically told to sit down, be quiet, do what you are told, and of course, give your money. I have been in the same place she is in - trying to define and understand life. As I was thinking about this, I remembered an article that I read months ago. I went back and read it again this morning and there were some very helpful things said. The name of the article is "Spiritual Identity Crisis," and here it is.....

"Many spiritual abuse victims are left with a devastating feeling of void in their souls when they leave a spiritually abusive group/leader. This void (or identity crisis) is most likely the result of allowing our identity to be stolen away when were involved in the group, and then being forced to manage our own identity again when the group/leader is no longer in our lives. This can feel like an impossible task after allowing the group/leader to influence our identity at such a deep level for so long. However, it is possible to rebuild your identity and feel whole again. I liken it to recovering from a debilitating brain surgery that left the victim having to relearn the skills of everyday living. It can be done, but it takes time and effort and does not happen overnight.

Our spiritually abusive leaders brainwashed us into seeing them as our gods. When we let the pastor down, it was equal to letting God down. When we turned our back on the pastor/group, it was equal to abandoning God in our minds. In our desire to please the leader, we learned to become people pleasers, which caused us to abandon our own identity. We replaced who we were on a very deep spiritual level with the identity of the group/leader. We emptied ourselves out and took on the group mentality. After we escape this process, we find ourselves empty and fractured. This is not because God is gone, but rather, because we abandoned our self identity.

I went through a long phase of wondering who I was going to be after I left my abusive group/leader. Was I now the guy from before the cult, during the cult, or a blend of the two? What I found was that I was neither. I was on a voyage to discover who I really was, and away from what my former leader wanted me to be.

Many people feel traumatized after leaving a spiritually abusive group/leader. You may not want to read the Bible for a while. You may not want to go to church for a while - if ever. After having had to perform your way into the group's favor for so long, we can feel exhausted and lose all motivation to please anyone but ourselves. Many spiritual abuse victims find themselves struggling to make decisions, and may even have a hard time disciplining themselves to do basic everyday functions. For so long, we allowed the group/leader to think for us, formulate our opinions for us, and make decisions for us. No wonder so many of us struggle for many years learning how to find ourselves again after leaving a spiritually abusive situation.

It's perfectly okay to want to be accepted just for who you are now. As you transition from the group/leader identity back to your own identity, you may find yourself "acting out" and doing things that would have displeased your former spiritual authority. This is all healthy, and is a completely normal part of the exit process. It can almost feel like going through childhood again as we learn to think for ourselves and make our own decisions again. We may find ourselves rebelling against the politically correct aspects of religion, and even questioning everything we ever learned while in the spiritually abusive group. Even thought this may feel like a very confusing, difficult process - rest assured it is a very healthy and normal part of recovery.

Are you a people pleaser? Have you abandoned your own identity to please others? Well, you are not alone! The good news is that you can take back what was stolen from you. You can begin to think for yourself, make your own decisions, and form your own opinions again. At times you may feel helpless to do these things, but that's only because you haven't been doing them for a long time. The brain parts that drive these functions have become atrophied, and simply need to be stretched and toned again through repetitious usage.

You can begin today taking your identity back away from those who took if from you. They cannot be you, nor do they have any right to tell you who you should be. There is only one you and you are on a voyage to find who that is. At times this journey will be frustrating and painful, but at other times it will be liberating, exciting, and joyful. It's a work in progress."

I can relate to every part of this article. I think people have experienced different degrees of control in their lives, but if you have been in a group like this, I'm sure you can relate in some way. Day by day I began to realize I had succumb to things that weren't even part of my beliefs or moral makeup. I had, in a sense, given my mind over to someone else and let them tell me what I was supposed to think and do. In the process of leaving and ridding myself of the wrong thinking, the "real me" began to surface. I had been trapped and I had not been able to be myself for years. I had pushed down my own wants, thoughts, and feelings to be what my leaders wanted me to be.

In a church like this you take on the thoughts and attitudes of your leaders in every aspect of life, even down to the small things. In my former church, the control even encompassed the way we dressed. This may seem like a small issue to some, but to many, it brought great pressure. We were expected to wear our best at all times and the same went for our children. We were told that our children didn't need to come to church dressed like they were going to a picnic. I know of several mothers that said they felt as if they could not enter the doors of the church unless their children were wearing fine clothes. I always tried to follow the rules, so on Sundays I frantically ran around checking to see if my children's clothes were ironed, shirts tucked in, hair in place. Before we entered the building I made sure no one had gum, because there was "NO GUM ALLOWED." Isn't that sad! Without realizing it, I was teaching my children that their appearance was more important than the fact that we were going to church to worship God. I was teaching them to empty themselves of their identity to become what someone else wanted them to be. Oh, If I could only do things differently!

When we first starting attending our new church, my son wore his nice Sunday pants and dress shoes for the first couple of weeks. Old habits die hard. About the 3rd week he came downstairs in jeans and said, "I can worship God in jeans just as good as anyone. You just watch me!" You know, he did! The people at our new church don't care about what he wears, they care about him. And they like him! He's funny, he's smart, and he loves God. Isn't that what really matters? I just hope that one day some will wake up and realize that it's not what a person wears that matters, but it's the value of the person and what's in their heart.

I have watched my children have the freedom to be themselves and myself as well. It's been like taking off a shell and exposing what's really on the inside. I guess you could say we were "in thick" and we had a lot of layers to peel off. But we are all getting there and doing good! We are living in God's love and learning more about His love everyday.

I wanted to share this article and some of my own thoughts in hopes that some who are struggling will find comfort in knowing that the feelings you are having are normal and you are not alone. Just know that God is right there with you and He is not requiring you to "get over" what you are going through in a certain amount of time. Take your time and talk to Him about it. He understands.

"The Perfect Church"

I read a post yesterday on the blog Discernment 4 Truth where she was asking people to send comments and describe what they think a "Perfect Church" should be. I have really been thinking about how I would describe what a church is supposed to be. Here's part of her description.....

"Mine would be that the preaching is about Jesus, preaching guided by the Holy spirit and the Bible. There is no going beyond the Bible. Worship without hype or repetition. Dress any way you feel you want to. Fruits of the spirit are the focus. Love is at the center. If you are sick you are encouraged to stay at home. You are not looked down upon Ever! The preacher actually serves instead of forcing his flock to run around for him. Genuine care and concern for brothers and sisters. The secondary issues are not the basis instead the perfect church would focus on what Jesus did for us on the cross. Spiritual gifts are there but they are not the focus, this is secondary, but Love is the focus. Love is seen as the most important gift and it is better to work on that gift than any other. God's will becomes what it should be - to love one another as we love ourselves. We don't need to be told that if you leave a country or a state or a job that you are out of God's will because as long as you love God, that Is His Will!" - Getting There, South Africa

I thought that was a great description. Even though there's not one, how would you describe the "perfect church?"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Characteristics Of A Controlling Person

Here's a list of common characteristics of a controlling person......

*Overemphasizes his/her importance

*Exaggerates to the extreme

*Greedy, only thinks of him/herself

*Lies extremely convincingly

*Projects an illusion of power that he/she does not have

*Lives in a world of distortion

*Switches from charm to killer instinct suddenly





*Inability to admit wrong





*Sows seeds of discord

*Hate (for those who question him/her)

*Uses fear and intimidation in order to cloud the minds of those they desire to control

*Uses threats to influence

*Needs to accomplish his/her will (at anyone's expense)

*Never takes any blame

*Brags excessively

*Criticizes others

*Preoccupied with self

*Bound with a fear of rejection

*Uses others (only to benefit him/herself)

*Possessive love (turns from sweet to sour if doesn't get his/her way)

*Vindictive and mean-spirited if doesn't get his/her way

*Continually collects ammunition to use in case he/she loses his/her grip on power

*Doesn't seem to have a conscience

What motivates controllers?

*They cannot stand to be wrong.

*They are motivated by insecurity.

*They have a need to feel power and authority, and they will do anything to achieve it.

*They have a need to be elevated, awarding themselves credit and titles.

*They feel they know more than anyone; therefore, they dominate converstations.

*They feel that no one can handle things as well as they can (not even God). Therefore, they take things into their own hands.

*Sometimes a controller becomes temporarily remorseful, but soon goes back to his/her controlling tactics. The learned behavior is deeply rooted, and the controller enjoys the taste of power.

*If you threaten their power and influence, they will seek to destroy you.

*This information is from the book "Confronting Jezebel, Discerning And Defeating The Spirit Of Control," by Steve Sampson.

*The posts, Characteristics Of Control and The Controlling Leader also have detailed lists of characteristics of a controlling person.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Movie Recommendation

I went to see a great movie this afternoon called Fireproof. (Click on title to watch trailer.) It is a Christian based movie about building marriage relationships. I recommend taking your family to see this movie.

And, take some Kleenex - you'll cry.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Survival Skills - For Those Still There

Even after seeing the truth, some people still find themselves in an abusive, controlling church. For some, it's because their spouse doesn't want to leave. For some, it's because they are employed at the church or their spouse is employed there. And for some, they are afraid to leave because they have been told bad things will happen to them. But no matter what the reason is, everyone needs to make sure they are protecting themselves and guarding their hearts.

Everyone suffers in these types of situations, and my heart really goes out to staff members of controlling churches, because no one knows the mistreatment they endure. I came across a web site several months ago called Shattered Trust, a site for wounded staff associates. John Setser, the author of the site, has also written a book entitled, "Broken Hearts, Shattered Trust." In his book, John addresses people who are still in these types of situations and gives a list of survival skills. His focus is on staff associates, but anyone can learn and benefit from his information. Here's the list......

1. Do not accept abusive treatment as normal. Resist cruelty, coercion, threats, inequity, constraint, and competition.

2. Recognize wounding agents for who they are. They are self-centered bullies who use physical, verbal, sexual, or psychological strategies to get what they want.

3. Be alert to being "set up." Do not let senior pastors indoctrinate or psychologically coerce you into compliance.

4. Seek out a lateral support system. If you are being mistreated, chances are you are not alone. Ignore the "don't talk" rule and share your experiences with others.

5. Watch your heart. Do not give into self-pity, rage, or a judgmental attitude.

6. Don't stay too long. It is never God's will for you to remain in a wounding church. Exit as soon as possible and tell people why you are leaving.

I hope you find these survival skills to be helpful if you are still in a controlling situation, but even more I hope, when you are able, you will leave. Staying too long will only bring hurt to you and your family. Don't be afraid to tell people the truth as to why you are leaving. When we first left we wouldn't talk about it. We just told people we felt like we were "doing what was best for our family," but I realized that the reason so many of us were in these hurtful situations is because we never talked. When someone is mistreating people and there is wounding potential for others in the future, the truth should be told.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Kept My Promise - Something Happy & Light

I have dealt with some serious issues in my last few posts, so I thought we could all use a little comic relief. This guy is really funny!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's Not Supposed To Be This Way

*Please understand that I am not lumping all ministers or churches into one category. I am referring to the experiences I have lived through and the experiences that have happened to people close to me. I know there are many, many loving men and women of God all over this world who are helping people to know God and His love. I am sharing these experiences in hopes that others will see that these types of situations are not the norm, but they are abusive and they will rob you of your relationship with God. I only wish someone would have directed me to this type of information years ago. (I promise that my next post will be happy and light.)

For years I was involved in a controlling church that can be described by these verses......

"Jesus said, The religious scholars are competent teachers in God's law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses, but be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. They don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious rules and demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. They wear robes with extra long tassels, and they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplace and to be called Rabbi. Don't let anyone call you Rabbi, for you have only one Teacher, the Messiah, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don't address anyone here on earth as Father, for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:2-12)

The leaders I was under in my former church placed unreasonable demands on people and never lifted a finger to help. People were expected to lay everything else aside to meet the needs of the pastor and his family. I saw staff members working around the clock, giving up time with their own families and the leaders never seemed to care. Men were expected to work many hours on projects, even to the point of being physically worn out. The physical health and emotional well being of people was never taken into consideration. The pastor preached on the importance of spending time with family and yet it didn't seem to apply to the ones that were doing work for him. I knew 2 ladies, who each had a small child, and they never had time to spend with their families. It always bothered me because I am a very family oriented person and I knew these children needed their mothers. But these ladies knew, just like everyone else, you didn't say "no." There was much teaching on the importance of taking vacations and the pastor would take 2 week vacations, but staff members weren't allowed to be gone on Sundays or Wednesdays, so we took 2 or 3 day vacations for many years.

I know a young man who recently left a staff position at a church just like my former church. This young man was treated terribly by the leaders and talked to in harsh, inappropriate ways. His privacy was violated and lies were told about him. Many people who have spent years in these types of churches have resolved themselves to believing this is just the way it is. Certain friends told him to stick it out because these things go on in every church. I can't help but think if people could just step away and see a church that is loving God and loving people and keeping it real, they would see how wrong this behavior is. I don't believe it's supposed to be that way in churches! God is all about love, not control and keeping someone under your thumb for your own personal gain. I have to believe there are leaders and ministers out there who operate in love and treat others right. I have to believe there are pastors who will provide pleasant work environments for the staff and will walk in God's love and gentleness. I realize it's not always going to be easy and perfect, but there should be many more good times than there are hard, harsh times. I have seen people in the secular workplace treat their employees much better than some pastors treat their staff. Leaders and managers all over the world keep their word and pay people what they are worth. They pay overtime when it's due and they provide insurance when they have already promised their employees that they would. Why should Christians who work in a church be treated with any less respect? When someone does a good job they should be rewarded for it.

I know of one pastor (in another state) who called a work day and several ladies showed up to help. He put them to work shoveling pine bark, while he stood to the side and pointed where he wanted it to go. I'm sure these ladies had good hearts and were glad to help, but what's wrong with this picture? First of all, why should holding the title of "pastor" mean that he no longer has to be a gentleman? A true gentleman steps in and does the hard work for a lady. And second, why does holding the title of "pastor" mean to some men that they no longer have to do any work at all? As the verse above says, it seems like some of these controlling pastors, never lift a finger to ease the burden, but they pour more work on everyone else. It's not right or fair for things to be required of people that the leaders are not willing to do themselves.

On the flip side, I know a pastor who goes to work days, rolls up his sleeves, and gets in there with the rest of the men and actually does work. He doesn't see himself as better or higher than others and he doesn't have an ounce of pride. He wouldn't ask anyone to do something that he wouldn't do himself. I can trust a man like that. I know another pastor who went to teach a Bible study in someones home and when the people tried to give him money for coming, he wouldn't take it. He knows the concept of giving and receiving, but he didn't go for the money. He went to love and share with the people. These are two examples of men who are in the ministry because they love God and love people. They are not in it for the money or for honor from men. They are not in it to have others serve them, but they are serving the body of Christ and being a true example of Jesus Christ.

I read on a blog yesterday that the SBC did a survey of "unchurched" Americans, which is about 61 million people. The survey found that 72% of the unchurched believe in God, but they complain that religious institutions are full of hypocrites. Over half said, "Christianity is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people." They said, "We want to love God and one another, but religion no longer seems to be the place where we learn how."

You can see from this survey that people are looking for the real love of God. It's no wonder people don't want to go to certain churches where people are treated in ways that I've described. They don't want another person telling them they don't measure up or they have to do "one more thing" to earn their right standing with God. When leaders and churches are doing it right, people can see the love. When I first walked into my new church all I could do was cry because I realized how starved I was for love, fellowship, and true worship. I finally felt loved and accepted. I finally heard a pastor teach the simple Word of God and give me things I could actually use during the week. I didn't fear that something harsh or inappropriate would be said because I could tell that the pastor had love and compassion for people. I knew he would not use his pulpit to criticize others, like some have. This incident happened right before I left my former church.....

My family always sat on the front row or near the front in our former church. About a year before we left, I started helping in a certain department. I was told by the person in charge of that department that I had to sit on the back row because I would have to leave the service early. I was perfectly okay with sitting on the back and I actually got use to it. I met a whole new group of people and made some good friends. I worked in that department for about 6 months and then the leadership brought someone else in to take over because I had other duties to do. We decided to continue to sit in the back because we didn't want to move back to the front and take someone elses seat. I also didn't want a certain friend we sat by every week to think we were being rude and deserting him.

One Saturday morning I got a phone call and I was asked to come and have a meeting. In this meeting I was questioned as to why I was not sitting on the front row any more. I thought I gave a perfectly reasonable explanation to this question by saying that I was told to move to the back when I started working in this certain department. I explained that after I stopped working, we stayed where we were because we didn't want to move back to the front and take someones seat. Even after my explanation, I was told that I needed to move back to the front row and I was told that I needed to "press in." I was puzzled by this meeting and I wondered what the reasoning was behind this request. I was very uncomfortable with the situation, but I "obeyed" and took my family back to the front row the next morning.

Would you like to take a guess at what the message was about that morning? He spent at least 10 minutes talking about where people sit in the church! Ummmm - coincidence? I don't think so. I had been an "obedient" church member, I did what I was told, and went back to the front, but I guess he felt like he needed to keep me in line by correcting me publicly. He talked about how the woman in the Bible with the issue of blood didn't make her way from the front row to the back, but she "pressed in" and made her way from the back row to the front. He said that when people go sit on the back row it's because the Word has leaked out of them and they are empty. It was obvious to everyone around that he was talking about me and my family because we had been sitting in the back for months and suddenly this one morning we appeared on the front row. I felt as though a red flashing light was over my head saying, "He's talking about me." He was wrong in his assumptions! I wasn't empty! I was sitting on the back because I had been told to sit there! I was embarrassed, hurt, and confused all at the same time. He was saying these things with such an attitude and he knew that I knew he was talking about me because of the meeting the day before. All I could do was ask myself the questions, "Would God do this to me? Would he embarrass me like this? Would He hurt me and make a mockery of me?" I didn't think so, but here is a man who was supposed to represent God and be an example of Him and he was doing this to me. I had my sights set on the door and I knew as soon as the amen was said I was making a run for it. But it didn't stop there. At the end of the service he came over and stood in front of me and my family and started saying, "Ha, ha, ha." I can't describe the feelings that were rising up inside of me. Why couldn't he have taken the approach of thanking me for all the years of service I had given to him and that church, instead of badgering me when I hadn't done anything wrong?! Why did he have to make such a big issue out of something that really didn't matter at all? There were much bigger issues that needed to be addressed in that church, rather than which seat I was sitting in! Besides that, does it really matter to God where people sit in the church building? Everyone can't sit on the front row, so is everyone from the 5th row and back empty and backslidden? I know that's not true!

I left there that day never wanting to step foot back in that place again, although I did. I had been treated like this before, but I had begun to see glimpses of truth and I decided I was not going to allow anyone to treat me like this any more. At some point you have to say enough is enough and after 22 years of being treated like this and watching others be mistreated, now was my time. Situations like this have caused people to question and become disillusioned about the very nature of God. I had been in a place of wondering if I wanted to trust the God these men had made Him out to be - a distant, uncaring God, but getting out from under the control, being around loving Christians, and reading about His love has caused me to have a totally renewed picture of God. I now know God is loving, gentle, kind, and compassionate. He has been misrepresented many times by selfish men and I know He would never do things like this to me. He is my loving Father that will take care of me - not throw me under the bus.

Controlling, abusive churches have caused many people to have the same stories as the one above. A church is supposed to be a place that builds you up and leaves you better off after being there. Many people who leave a controlling church feel down right beat up. If you find yourself in a situation that resembles anything like what I've written, you have to know that no good will come from it. I wish things could be different and I wish everyone would see the truth and walk in God's love, but it just doesn't seem like it's going to be that way. Don't fool yourself any more and stay in a hurtful situation. Jesus wants to set you free! When the leaders tell you that all the people who left are lying, you need to ask what it is they are lying about - (although you can't ask questions in controlling churches, so maybe you should ask the people who left.) Why would hundreds of people who are trying to move on with their lives and live for God, make up a bunch of lies and bring more hurt to themselves? Find out what the truth is - it will set you free!

I want to leave you with a quote that helped me to see another glimpse of God's unconditional love. It's not supposed to be any other way but this.....

"It is a joy to wake up confident about being loved by God every day, without having to earn it by any act of righteousness on your part. That is the secret of first love. Don't try to earn it. Know that you are accepted and loved, not for what you can do for God, or somehow hoping that you will be worthy of His acceptance, but because his greatest desire is to have you as one of His children. Jesus came to remove any obstacle that would prevent that from happening. There's not one thing you can do to make Him love you any more today; and there's not one thing you can do to make Him love you any less either." - Jake Colsen