In that moment, I hated him. I hated him with everything about him. I was on the fence about how I felt about him until that moment, but after what he just said….I was done. Now, I’m not going to name the church because it doesn’t matter to most reading this, but I will say that in regards to church politics, I hate everything about the process. And that is partly my fault. I expected those who were leaders in the church to be flawless, ever-seeking Christ followers. And that’s on me.
But as I stood in the parking lot the day before I was ready to officiate a funeral, there was a void that developed between me and my pastor in that moment. You see, I was the youth pastor in this church and I had become increasingly uncomfortable with a decision that was being made in the church. The decision was to file a no contact order on a member due to the fact that she had a verbal altercation with another member. Now, granted, Molly (not her real name) was in the wrong. But there was no church discipline, no confrontation. The pastor went directly to the police and filed for a no contact order.
Now this story could go on very long if I indulge into all the details, but that’s not where I want to take you, so let’s fast forward a bit. So the order had been in place for about a month and my heart was struggling so bad with the way it went down. I was slowly withdrawing into a dark hole of doubt and despair when I received a phone call early one morning. It was my pastor. He told me that Molly’s thirteen year old son, who was active in my youth group, had hung himself in his closet the night before.
Suddenly my heart sunk. So much guilt and anger and frustration welled up inside me. My pastor then said, “They are asking that you meet at the school with the students and provide encouragement and prayer.” This was so heavy and I just wanted to run. My heart ached for this lady and having lost a daughter myself, I could sympathize with her better than most. Later that night my wife and I decided, “no contact order” be damned. We were visiting her.
We arrived at Molly’s mom’s house, where the family was hiding out, with a laundry basket full of comfort food and supplies, our feeble attempt at a peace offering. Molly was furious with us that night and we could tell. We left feeling so angry with our pastor, so lost. But then I received a call early the next morning from Molly’s heartbroken husband. “Josh, we can’t think of anyone who would be better to officiate the funeral. I know that this whole “no contact order” is still in place, but could you consider it.” I didn’t think twice. I quickly responded, “I’ll be there. I’d be honored.”
So, I called my pastor and informed him that I was officiating the funeral. He met with me the day before the funeral for what I can only assume was his attempt at a pep talk. His words were simple and send daggers to my heart. He said, “remember, when you are up there, you are representing Jesus. But also remember, you are representing the church…or ‘cult’ according to Molly.” (This was in reference to a facebook post this lady sent, saying that our church was a cult. Again, she was in the wrong… but maybe not so much). I couldn’t believe it. I was fuming! I didn’t say a word and just walked away. But in my heart I knew, I was done at this church.
So I did the funeral and have been able to maintain a very close relationship with Molly and her husband thereafter, and I set up a meeting with the pastor to let him know I was quitting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the balls to tell him exactly why I was leaving, because honestly I had no more self-esteem, no more trust, and no more confidence. I was a zombie.
It has taken my wife and I years to really begin healing from this ordeal and we both still are very gun shy around pastors. We have not served in a church even in a volunteer capacity since this time. My faith has also taken a nose dive in the process of all this chaos. It’s now been about 4 years and I feel I’m just now picking up the pieces from that day.
It was determined later that Molly’s son did not commit suicide but actually died playing the choking game. I know that a life is a life but to me, it helped with my guilt to know he didn’t commit suicide. My heart still aches every day for him and for the family and we have remained in good contact.
I now realize that I made a monster out of a man. The pastor is not a monster. He is a leader who led out of fear rather than authenticity. I realize that I was not completely in the right with some of the ways I handled things from then but I also realized that part of my healing began when I finally chose to forgive him and myself. I feel that now I am coming to a fuller understanding of who God is and how He works all things for His good. Ultimately, the world is messy. And the best way we can show the love of Christ is not being afraid to climb in the filth of someone else’s mess and simply listen to their story. The most loving thing we can do for our fellow kind is to be authentic and available. But the biggest take away I have been offered is a humbling rebuke. God spoke into my heart in a moment of seething hatred and guilt, “You are no different from him. I love him as much as I love you. Let that be enough.”
1 Corinthians 13:2 “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”