It's the end of October, and that means the end of this month's series. I am overwhelmed by the number of old colleagues who have reached out to me over the past 3 weeks. Many of them expressed one of these three things: they had no idea these things had happened, this had happened to them too, or they can see how this might happen in our church office environment.
It's sad, but actually, we all knew we were working in an unhealthy environment.
How did we get here? How could such a large congregation get to such an unhealthy place?
AN ENVIRONMENT OF SECRECY
The church I worked in demanded secrecy in multiple situations and expected it all of the time. I sat in numerous meetings where the team was told that we could tell no one what we knew, including our spouses, or we would be fired.
Many times this had to do with church scandals (an interoffice relationship, or a conspiracy among leadership, a shift in power or finances).
One particular time, I was expected to be at work for 12 days straight, and I wasn't allowed to give my husband any details as to why I was working so much. I couldn't explain to him why I came home so mentally and emotionally drained that all I could manage to do was down a glass of alcohol and crawl into bed.
One time a coworker came to me in tears because she had bluntly lied to her husband. She felt like she didn't have a choice because the leadership team told us we had to.
There is a very simple reason this mindset of secrecy exists in the church. Church leaders are running churches as a money-making business, but they don't want to admit that. Some people should not be in leadership positions because of moral failings. The pastors, associates, and worship leaders in our churches have flaws. They have sinful temptations that poke at their minds and pull on their hearts, just like everyone else. People in the church make mistakes. But for some reason, the church has decided it's better to sweep problems under the rug rather than bringing them into the light.
Many times I was told to look at the greater good.
"Yes, but we are working for a greater good."
"We can't let this get out because it will hurt our mission."
"Maybe he shouldn't be a Pastor, but people like him, and he's bringing people in."
"If you tell your story, you're tarnishing the name of the church."
The idea behind all the statements is the same. Sit down and be quiet. The church is doing God's work, and if we talk about the problems in the church, God's work will no longer be able to happen. If we let the outside know we aren't perfect, we risk losing them.
This mindset is twisted and untrue. The fact is, God's power is made perfect in our weakness. When we lay ourselves down, people can see Him at work. When we stand in front of the world unapologetically authentic, then they can see the work of Christ. When we put on a facade of perfection, the easily manipulated see how perfect we are. And the skeptic sees right through our front and thinks of us as liars.
These are situations that happened within my workplace, but this mindset expands much further. I wish I could tell you that these mindsets weren't ingrained in my family, but they are. And that's the problem with our worldly view of Christianity. We believe that for God's power to be real, we must be perfect. And while some may say that isn't what they believe, let me push back on you. Is that what your actions say? Have you put on the facade? Or are you pushing back against the church when they stand for things that Jesus would have flipped tables over?
UNHEALTHY CHURCH MINDSETS
Women are inferior. Women should cover their bodies so that they don't make Christian men stumble. Women should sit quietly, not stirring up trouble.
We are capable of tarnishing the name of Christ. Christ is glorified in our perfection.
Our mission as a church is to be holy and blameless.
These are all reasons it took me so long to speak up. This is why I haven't gone after my previous employer. I bought into these false claims. I allowed myself to be sucked into these mindsets.
They made me believe it was true. That I had to lay myself down as a sacrifice for the greater good that the church was doing. I bought into what they told me, that the church was on a holy mission, and my story could derail that mission.
Not only did I fear the scrutiny that every woman who stands up and tells her story has to face, but I also had to face the scrutiny of believers. I had to face the scrutiny of people who call themselves Christians, telling me that I'm harming the church's name.
These thoughts are false. They are damaging. They are so far from where Christ wants us to be.
MAKE A CHANGE
We have to start questioning the status quo. We have to start pushing back on the modern-day church.
This culture of secrecy is what allows situations like mine to occur (see parts 2 & 3). It enables a shroud of privacy where unhealthy relationships and corruption can occur. It creates an unhealthy workplace environment that will bleed over into people's home lives.
When things get tough on a church staff, leaders often say, 'the life of ministry is hard and isn't for everyone.' While that is true, it is often taken out of context. So next time you hear those words, ask yourself this: Am I laying myself down to bring glory to God or to the church? If Jesus walked into my church today, would he flip tables?
If we want to give God glory, why wouldn't we be fully authentic and transparent? When God meets us in our brokenness, picks us up, and transforms us into something new, isn't he glorified? When he meets us in our selfishness and delivers us to a fulfilling life of giving, isn't he displaying his powers of transformation? By putting on a facade of holy perfection, we aren't giving him glory; we are hiding it. We are turning the spotlight from God to ourselves.
Stop sitting quietly because they tell you to. Start asking questions. Stop pretending to be perfect. Be authentic. Start pushing back on the church. That is how we grow. That is how we become better. That how we keep from hearing the words, "Depart from me, I never knew you."
Share my stories with your church leadership. Push them to be open and honest. Share my stories with your family and friends, and ask them to push back as well. You can make a difference.