Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hurt by Church

Have you been wounded by a church?

Barna reports that millions of unchurched adults are Christians who were hurt by church. They have decided not to look for another church because of their prior painful experiences with a church, a pastor or people in the church. Many Christians, including some of my relatives, have left church and say they are too hurt to try to find another church.

My experiences in leaving two churches were painful, but I didn't carry deep wounds. My faith had grown strong enough to anchor me, and many positive experiences in church gave me perspective. I drifted away from church once and knew this was not the answer. Many who leave church carry wounds they cannot forget. Their reluctance to find another church is understandable. They may need professional help, but they must also look for another church. Lone Ranger Christians lose their spark. Their growth in Christ is stalled without a church. They may even lose their faith as I did.

Unfortunately there are pastors and church leaders who demean, manipulate, seduce or even sexually abuse a member. These hurts are deep and real, even traumatic. Expectations attached to the role of pastor are shattered; trust is gone. Those leaving a church for horrendous reasons will need to seek professional counseling to heal the damage done. Be sure to see a Christian counselor familiar with your denomination or church.

Timothy Keller, in his book, The Reason for God, says "I realize that so many people's main problem with Christianity has far more to do with the church than with Jesus. They don't want to be told that to become a Christian and live a Christian life they need to find a church they can thrive in. They've had too many bad experiences with churches....I realize how risky it is to tell my readers that they should seek out a church. I don't do it lightly, and I urge them to do it with the utmost care. But there is no alternative. You can't live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place."

Some who leave church and don't return have unrealistic expectations of church. They don't realize that Christians are sinners. We can be mean, petty, and unkind; you name it. Many people leave church because they view other members as hypocrites. They fail to realize that we are all works in progress. We can "talk the talk" better than we can "walk the walk." Who can't?

Close connections with others are fraught with problems. Look at family problems, marital issues, and extended family conflicts. Relationships are difficult. But we learn in relationships and we need them. The alternative is to be alone, uninvolved. Churches demonstrate greater love and acceptance than most groups even though the church spans all generations and all economic levels. Also, God has covered our sins and accepted us without any merit of our own. We are told by Jesus to love and accept others.

So, leavers, I urge you to look for another church. Do so carefully and prayerfully.There are many caring and safe churches.  

Pastors and elders, please be alert to visitors who have been deeply hurt by a church, but have decided to follow Keller's admonition (and mine) and look for another church. Handle them with loving care.

Blessings, Dottie

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Grateful Hearts

Q.  I grew up in a very poor family and as a result I learned to be grateful for even the bare necessities of life. I've been able to give my children more than I had, but they seem to take everything for granted. Even though they're still young they're very materialistic and greedy. How can I teach my children to be grateful?

Teaching Children to be Grateful
We need to encourage gratitude in our land of plenty. Most of us forget how fortunate we are. A grateful attitude is good for our health. Cynicism, the opposite, is associated with disease. Gratitude is an inner feeling; it cannot be taught directly. It springs up, unbidden, within our hearts. However, there are many things we can do to encourage this feeling or attitude to flourish in the hearts of our children.
1. Be appreciative of every gift your children give you. Children often give gifts that are unnoticed. The dandelions picked and brought to Mom are a gift. The drawing proudly brought home from school is a gift. Parents who recognize these gifts will display them proudly and thank the giver. When we are too busy to notice their gifts we discourage a budding giver. If we criticize the gift because it isn't perfect we squelch the giver further.
2. Give praise to your children. Tell them specifically what unique and individual traits you appreciate about them; what you are grateful for in them. "I'm so glad you are friendly with others."  "I love the way you smile." Your gratitude is a model which teaches them to also be appreciative.
3. Share your own gratitude with your children. Let your children see you wonder at the beauties of nature and the joys of human relationships. "My what a beautiful day this is!"  "Doesn't this rose look and smell wonderful?" "Isn't Grandma a loving person?" Too often, all they hear us talk about are our problems in life, our aches and pains, or our criticisms.
4. Involve your children in a project helping others. They can contribute good used toys or clothing or part of an allowance to help a family in need at Christmas. Our gratitude is often sparked in contrast to those less fortunate.
5. Pray with your children. When your children say their prayers with you at night encourage them to think about what they’re thankful for each day. Accept whatever thanks they express, without criticism. Giving thanks at meals also teaches children to be grateful.
6. Develop thanksgiving rituals at meals, especially holidays. At Thanksgiving dinner you might have each member of the family name three things they are thankful for. You can also read thanksgiving messages in the Psalms.

7, Gratitude demands a receiver. Ultimately our gratitude is to God who gave us life and our world. Gratitude to God is modeled for our children every week in every church. If you want to teach your children gratitude, be active in your faith.

All of us need to remind ourselves to be thankful. In the hustle and bustle of "getting ahead" or even just "getting by" we forget to appreciate and be thankful for the things that mean the most to us; the things that give us meaning and purpose in life.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1

Blessings, Dottie

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Over Reactions in Marriage

Q.  I often lash out at my husband. I have days in which I'm cross, moody or irritable. My husband stays on an even keel all the time. When he’s angry he gets quiet and withdraws from me. I hate myself for being the bad guy. What is the cause of my over reaction? How can I change?

Many of us with "short fuses" experience overwhelming anger with only minor provocation. Feeling frustrated, irritable and out of sorts on a daily basis suggests a habit of over reacting. We need to recognize our over reactions and realize these are irrational responses. By definition, emotions are not rational. We need our emotions, but as adults we must learn to control them. Lashing out at others harms relationships deeply.
Over Reactors Raise a Stink
Someone has said there are two ways we handle our vulnerability: the Skunk Method and the Turtle Method. When a skunk gets in trouble he lets out a terrible odor which causes other animals to run for cover. The skunk can then safely walk away. The turtle, when threatened simply withdraws into his shell.
Lashing out and moodiness might be called the Skunk Method. “Skunks” yell, blame and are obnoxious toward those they love. Just like the skunk, they raise a stink. Others need not feel superior, however, as they handle their vulnerability with the Turtle Method— pulling in their head and withdrawing. “Turtles” will sulk in silence and feel sorry for themselves. Often they remain disconnected from others longer than the “skunk” who gets things off his chest.
"Skunks" can never become "turtles" and vice versa but often they marry one another.  Things could be worse. When two "skunks" marry they are constantly battling and when two "turtles" marry their relationship is characterized by too much distance and lack of connection. To modify your "skunk" responses, first notice when you begin to lash out or feel irritable. Next write down each over reaction and think about what triggers these. Ask yourself, whether each issue deserved such anger. Think about how you can modify your reaction in the next similar situation. Studying your "skunk" responses will help you gradually modify your behavior. Talk with your husband about this and let him know you are sorry about your over reactions. Be as open as you can with your husband, taking a risk to be more vulnerable than usual.  
Your temperament is naturally “hot” while your husband’s is naturally “cold.” Accept these differences and accept yourself even though you have these "skunk" characteristics. Counseling can help you control your over reactions. Marital counseling with your "turtle" spouse and educational marriage groups such as The Third Option, Marriage Enrichment, and Weekend to Remember will also help.

Those who control their anger have great understanding; those with a hasty temper make mistakes. Proverbs 14:29 NLT

Blessings, Dottie

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Deciding to Leave Your Church

 My book, Changing Churches: A View From the Pew has two focuses: 
       1. Church switchers and their difficult journey
2. Changes in churches.                      
Most readers have understood the focus on "church switchers" from the title, but this is only half the story. Changing Churches also describes the church today.

For decades the church did not change. You've heard the saying, "If you don't like the weather---wait a minute." In many churches now we can safely say "If you don't like the music, or the worship service or the preaching---wait a minute."  In many churches changes are occurring faster than you can say "Amen." We need to understand the implications of changes in churches so we can guard the truth that has been entrusted to us. We'll talk about change in a later blog.

In mid October I wrote a post on The Grieving Process and Leaving a Church. Go back to that if you missed it or some may want to reread it. Grieving and leaving is difficult. This week our topic is leaving.

Deciding to Leave Your Church
The decision to leave your church should be made prayerfully and carefully, not lightly or quickly. Pray about it and talk with trusted friends and pastors about it. When we were uncertain about leaving "Main Street Church," I attended an ecumenical prayer group held in another church. As I came to trust the confidentiality in the group I confided my struggle to them. This caring and supportive group rarely gave advice. In this instance they were unanimous and clear. "Don't leave your church unless God tells you to do so."

Membership in a church should not be dismissed casually. It's not the same as choosing to leave a health club or Rotary. We may not realize it, but God places us in our local church. And we commit ourselves to our family of God. Breaking that commitment should not be done simply because we're dissatisfied.

Here's what John Calvin says: "The Lord esteems the communion of his Church so highly that he counts as traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of the Word and sacraments." Changing churches for less than biblical reasons is a serious matter. 

Valid Reasons to Leave
There are valid reasons to leave a church. If your pastor is a "false teacher," God's Word supports leaving. Scripture tells us to flee, to run away from, false teaching. Other legitimate reasons to leave are: The teaching is not biblical, the leaders are tolerating sin, or God is calling you to help plant a church or calling you to leadership in another church. Even when some of these reasons fit your situation - prayerfully make your decision. Let God guide you.

Managing the Leaving Process
In 1999 my husband and I struggled about whether to leave our beloved church. Again in 2008 we grappled with leaving another dear church. Both times I found journaling invaluable. Writing about the difficulties helped me process them. Talking it over with my husband and with my prayer partner also helped. Of course I prayed about it daily, if not hourly.

I advise leavers not to talk about your issues or struggles in a church class or group in order to avoid spreading gossip or sowing discontent. Do talk with your pastor and leaders and let them know your concerns. Speak the truth in love, with grace, not with anger or blame.

Para church groups and events helped us during the leaving process. For example, when too upset to enter into worship at our own church, we were able to worship in a meaningful way at a monthly Emmaus meeting. We also joined Bible studies and a prayer group elsewhere. Leaving is difficult and assimilation into a new church takes time. Once you've decided to leave, begin looking prayerfully for your new church.

We're not supposed to give up meeting together.

On this rock I will build my church. Matt. 16:18

Blessings, Dottie

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Matt. 6:16-18When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do....But when you fast...wash your face so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting.”                     
Matt 6: 16-18 When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God do not make a production of it.... Act normal.” The Message

It’s interesting to think and pray about this Scripture on the heels of trick or treat candy and leading to our bountiful feasts at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most of us in the USA are over-fed. Help us understand Your will and way and live it by eating right and some times fasting. So many people in the world are starving. We can certainly eat less – cut out snacks or fast from dinner to breakfast.

I understand You are warning us again to not to be like the hypocrites, making a show of our “piety”. As the Message puts it – “Do not make a production of it.” We are to fast privately – rather than broadcasting it to others or making it some kind of contest.

For some (including me) it is difficult for health reasons to fast from food. You called me to do this several years ago during Lent and it was very meaningful. Another year during Lent I fasted from gossip and criticism (as much as possible) and this brought me closer to You.

From the Message version I understand the point of fasting is so we will spend more time in Your presence. Many of us need to fast from technology, and spend more time connecting with You. Can we spare an hour a day for prayer and reading your Word? Twenty minutes? Help us Lord. 

Blessings, Dottie