Updated: Dec 8, 2018
Bitterness is a real thing that a lot of us struggle with because of experiences we have had in our lives. And some of the hardest bitterness that we have to deal with is that which comes from church hurt. It is hard because our minds, and emotions cannot reconcile trauma that comes from the same places where healing should and must come from.
Right before I graduated from university, I left a particular church that I had been a part of for a significant amount of time. My leaving was probably not a shock to some, but it was a shock to others. Soon as word got around, my phone buzzed with phone calls from concerned friends, and some who probably just liked things. I have kept a lot of how I felt during that period very much private but I will share some of that with the you today.
I loved the men and women in this church. They cared for me. They taught me plenty valuable things that I am so thankful for even to this day. But as soon I was engrossed in this church, I soon realised a very unhealthy leadership culture in there. It was blatantly taught that "the leader is always right", and it was well known that you do not question what you are told. In many ways, I had no problems with this - I was committed to following Jesus and would listen to anyone who would tell me what he expects from me, and being young, I ate it all. A lot of it was really really good. But a lot of it, in hindsight, was very damaging as evidenced in so many people's lives who were taught things there as "biblical principles" that to me now sound like something out of a cult book.
The Lord saved me when I was 16 years old, and I want you to hear me well when I say I enjoyed the love I was showered with at this place, and I have no doubt in my heart of the good intentions of the teachers who taught us there, yet in hindsight I cannot help but see how skewed some of the stuff we were taught was as the church strived to help us to be "pure". A lot of it was legalism, void of being fuelled by progressive sanctification. But none the less, I think I grew. I loved the Lord. I loved to serve. I loved the men and women there, and I really still do.
In 2008, Lecrae released his 3rd studio album, Rebel, which was way ahead of its time, and it was this album that began the "problem" for me. A song there titled Don't Waste Your Life made me think a lot about what we had been taught about prosperity and purpose. Furthermore, I discovered sometime around 2009/2010 that the song was actually derived from a book by the same title written by a man named John Piper.
John Piper? What a weird name. But I checked him out. I read that book on Desiring God dot com and that opened up a pandora's box of exposing me to truths that I saw in the Bible but had never heard anyone explain them like this John Piper man did. I read a lot of his books there and without a doubt the lens through which I saw the Scriptures began to change. And once my theology began to change, I did not know exactly how to be a youth leader here - I had been chosen to serve in the youth group.
My understanding of what the church is was changing. My understanding of how the church was to be governed changed. My understanding of how the gifts of the Holy Spirit ought to be used changed. My understanding of mission changed. All was changing. And this did not even make sense to some of my closest friends then. It was both a sweet and terrible time for me. Sweet because for once I felt that I had a faith that was my own, but terrible because I felt like I was at this place where I didn't agree with the core of their beliefs and ministry philosophy.
I remember talking to some of my closest friends and all of them told me: "Dude, do you." They did not even know what I was talking about that I was seeing, but they were super supportive. Added to that, I was about 22 years old and had met a young woman whom I not only thought was beautiful, but she was godly and epic in many ways. Because the rule was that you wouldn't date without the pastor's blessing, like the "good boy" I was, I went to the pastor and he told us we couldn't date because we were still both in "college".
We were utterly confused. Our parents, who knew of our interest in each other were utterly confused. This added to the myriad of doubt that I had, not about my faith, but about the philosophy of ministry employed here. The pastor could have seen or known something we both didn't know, granted, that would be one thing. But his sole reasoning for us to not date then was that we needed to finish college first. In-fact, he went on to tell us about his own sister who had waited for a longtime and was doing her post-graduate studies. It was confusing, but it was also a confirmation for me of how messy this place was. Bitterness began to grow.
When I spoke to some of the leaders who had charge over us, they all were simply yes-man and couldn't articulate for me what this was about. Mind you, this was going to be my very first relationship. I was somewhat of your "model church young man" and this was even more crushing because of that. So, on one end, I was having somewhat of a theological renaissance, and on the other end, I don't know how best to put it but to say I felt I was being emotionally and mentally abused. It was horrible and nauseating.
Eventually, I sought the audience of the pastor and after a couple of failed attempts to meet him, I ended up telling him I was thinking of leaving. Preparing this article, I went back to some of the text messages we sent each other back and forth, and an old sense of fear and vulnerability came over me. The pastor didn't want me to leave. He said he was afraid that I was headed towards the wilderness (his exact words). I told him I couldn't lead and be at a church where I disagreed with the core beliefs and tenets of the constitution itself. He told me I was strong-headed, and said I just didn't understand that everyone went through these phases. But my mind was made up. Other men I had contacted who had influenced me in the past were not helpful at all. Like I said, they seemed to peddle a philosophy they didn't understand themselves. Their cold shoulders were hurtful. But my mind was made up.
What followed was a very difficult season of depression for me. For a whole couple months when I was in this transitional stage, I felt so alone. Porn seemed to be a great get-away. Passing by seeing ladies of night along Samuel Parirenyatwa Ave. was a real temptation for the first time. It was by far one of the darkest times for me emotionally. At some point, my girlfriend then broke up with me. More depression. I had already moved to another church and was steadily being restored. It was very difficult reconciling how I felt emotionally, with how I fared spiritually. It was during this time that I clearly understood the gospel - that I was a sinner who had covered the dark vicissitudes of his heart by striving to be perfect. I was self-righteous because I didn't listen to "secular music" or sleep around. And my self-righteousness was exposed at this time. I was filled with lust. With pride. With anger. And this dark time was a sweet season of me trusting only on the finished work of Christ because my world seemed to be crumbling.
A lot of stuff was said. A lot of assumptions were peddled. I heard of how I was said to be lost. How I had gone to a place where the Holy Spirit was non-existent. This was more hurt and more trauma. Just thinking of those times makes my eyes well up with tears. It was extremely difficult for me to process all that was happening. My reaction was out of bitterness. My social media was filled with angry rantings against prosperity gospel, against Word of Faith excesses, against wacky abusive leadership. I want to apologise for all that. I do not want to be bitter.
In hindsight, I was very much hurt by my experiences at this church. Anyone close to me knows how this has fuelled my passion for church-planting, and seeing God's people flourish in healthy environments. I took a while to pen this blog and my wife asked why I took so long. I told her because I did not want to sound angry, because I am not. Years later, I am in a really healthy place spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I do not tie my loyalty to any man of God or institution, or theological camp because the effects can be damaging when we put falliable human beings in the place of God. I know a lot of people who have been hurt my the church, and traumatised. Some do not even know that it is actual trauma. So I hope this can be a call for them to find healing and talk about their experiences with people who love them. People shouldn't leave churches flippantly, but even if they do, God forbid, there is absolutely no justification for leaders making it seem like only that one church is the alpha and omega of churches - that God only works within those four walls and none else. God is bigger than your little egos.
I am far from being bitter. The Lord has healed my heart and helped me move forward in His service. I had to leave. I am glad I did. No regrets. All I regret is how I reacted in sin to all that was said to and about my choices. Again, I publicly apologise, and seek your forgiveness for my sin. I also hope the Lord shows these leaders the abusive behaviours in their leadership, and saves more people from being spiritually abused. I pray they can read the Bible and see in the text how sherperds ought to tender for God's sheep. Leaders are servants. Leaders can be wrong. Leaders are human beings and not demi-gods.
Sometimes things just happen in life that don't make any sense, but, bitterness is a choice.
I'm asking Jesus to keep me from being bitter, go skeeming on Twitter, get mad and post it on my statuses, Bitterness can make a heart numb, But hope is like a star you don't see it shine bright until the dark come, So don't just scoop the dust, remove the rug, If I got unforgiveness in my heart, then there really ain't no room for love, Plus it's stupid cause, I've been so forgiven, That if I hold a grudge, I don't show He's risen, But I know my sins removed since Jesus came, With no reason to forgive me but He did so I do the same
- Andy Mineo, Bitter