When I look back on my journey with God, I see a very distinctive path where the onset was buried in intimacy and rooted outside of the four walls of a church. Instead, my faith flourished in the four walls of a dorm room.
I was a student at Miami University back then, only concerned with marrying the love of my life as soon as I received my four-year degree. (Literally. I just knew our wedding was going to take place right after I crossed the stage). But what I didn’t know, was that my real Husband, my Forever Love, was about to invade my heart stronger than any tsunami or tidal wave there ever was.
Back then I attended church off and on throughout my life, but I would never say that I was a “church-goer”. Still, I have very fond memories of sitting in a Baptist pew, with raised hands and a sweet smile. My grandmother was an usher and there was a season when we often visited together. I even remember getting baptized, but at that point I had already had a relationship with God. I just had yet to become a disciple.
It was at Miami where I dove into my faith though, and there, where I learned the phrase, “I surrender all”.
During my college years I was a leader in various campus ministries and my church activities were spread across a few places near campus. I still didn’t consider myself belonging to any one of these places (even when I got baptized again, at another Baptist church).
Even then I knew that I belonged to God, and that my ministry was a college campus, not a church building.
After graduation I finally settled down and was stitched to a small, peculiar group of prophetic intercessors. My gifts were sharpened there but my character was sharpened even more (a needed occurrence). About a year into my attendance there was a shift, and the pastors I had become so attached to, were suddenly swapped with the ones I’ve been riding with for the last 15 years now. Even though I call them “pastors” they’re more like parents and the fellowship I’m apart of is more like family.
Our little band of prophets and apostles are often the source of my spiritual community and have been a consistent vital thread of my faith. I couldn’t imagine not having them in my life. When I hear horror stories of people who’ve experienced pain from church leaders, I realize just how precious this gift of community is.
There are too many who walk away, shocked, bruised and devastated from people they entrusted their souls too. Though that wasn’t my story, there were still times where I had to choose to follow God over man. Years ago, others told me that I should follow my leaders when they moved out of state but my 23-year-old self stood firm where God had planted me. In Cleveland, Ohio. Where I have prospered ever since.
For those who have been hurt by those in positions of authority, I ask the question:
Do these leaders, donned in religious apparel, hoisting these titles to oversee God’s people, intend to hurt us?
I am fully aware that people are complex. The very persons who have nurtured, journeyed with, and supported me all these years, can probably be accused of hurting/neglecting others. But if that is the case, I just think that makes such persons human. We are all imperfect, and, doesn’t it really just come down to a person’s intent?
I’d like to think that often, it is not their intent to hurt the very ones following their lead. I’d like to believe that more often than not they are simply leaning unto their own understanding, blinded to the deeper issues striving within them. Does that justify the hurt? Not in my view. But maybe it helps us to understand a little more, so that we can forgive.
Looking back I can see that my ministry has always been outside the church (although so many years ago I thought it would be within). As I keep growing, I value the importance of thinking outside the box.
God cannot be contained within a physical building. Instead, He lives, moves and breaths from the insides of His people.
And we are everywhere.
I pray for all who have experienced church hurt. That the Spirit of God is not confused with the folly of man. And that the very thing you were hurt by, will be used to help others in your ministry.
May God turn your pain into powerful, anointed, overwhelming purpose.
Just as He has with mine.
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