"You're running away from your Calling."
"They really fell off the rails."
"They left for THAT reason?"
We used to be youth pastors.
Or rather, my husband was an ordained pastor with a Bachelors of Arts in preaching and ministry. And I served right along with him, full time.
When we looked ahead into our future, we always said we didn't know where we'd end up along the way or what our life would look like. Maybe I'd become a traveled speaker or a Christian author as we planted churches in inner cities, we didn't know.
We held our future location and community with open hands, fully aware that we may relocate somewhere new and exciting like Colorado. Or cold and lonely like Michigan (no offense MI pals!).
But what we knew as fact was that we would be employed by a church. We would wear the title Pastor. We would serve communities from a leadership position. We would be servant leaders, emphasis on leaders.
And then trauma.
Trauma sort of debilitates. Trauma invites shame. Trauma makes you question everything you thought you knew. Trauma makes you uncertain, unsteady, insecure.
Trauma, no matter the situation, is life altering.
Trauma forces you to stop and reconsider. To doubt. To see the world from an entirely broken and vulnerable perspective. Trauma shakes you up and spits you out and shows you all the things that are wrong with you.
As we began wading through our experiences and situation, it became clear that our hearts would not best be served or best serve in a church leadership position. Not at this time.
We felt confident, despite many people's opinions, that vocational ministry was not what we needed to pursue. We were certain that our hearts needed space to process and room to think about healing. To find Jesus in this mess of pain and not pretend we were fine.
This isn't to say people in vocational ministry or leadership positions have it altogether or need to; this is to say: where we were at during this time, was not a place to serve as pastors/leaders.
But with this decision, the decision to reject multiple pastoral job offers, came a heap of shame.
We [assumed we] knew what other people in vocational ministry were thinking and saying. We had sat around tables with other people from Bible college, talking about how so-and-so quit ministry and must not love God anymore and must be really falling off the rails. We were told countless times that we were avoiding our calling, that we would endure the consequences of disobeying God. Shame upon shame.
My husband worked part-time at a residential facility for a time while we were in church leadership. He currently works for that same organization, but in a different city. Anytime people ask him what he did previously, he talks about working for the residential facility. He never mentions helping plant a church, building a youth ministry from scratch, spending nearly a decade serving teens and young adults in churches.
He doesn't like sharing; there is so much shame wrapped up in the concept of failing out of vocational ministry. Despite the dozens of people we baptized, the countless Bible studies we led, the multitude of students who experienced Jesus in our living room, the many couples we met with...despite all the reasons to be proud of our time and life spent, our opting out of pastoring is seen as ministry failure.
Over the months, we will be talking more about church trauma and how people have walked through it. We will talk about the shame, the stigmas, the lies. It sucks. It hurts. It's life altering. But it's not uncommon. Too many humans fall into the category of trauma-by-church-leaders and it is kept secret for a number of reasons. Reasons I buy into, reasons I understand, reasons I get. But my life is bigger than me and I'm here to remind you that not only are you not alone, you're not bad for being hurt by the church and it's leaders. You're not an ungodly lost soul if you're wondering if you can forgive the pain inflicted upon you. You're human.
We're all a hot mess.
I hope to provide you with space to hear other people's stories regarding pain and suffering as well as love and compassion. Don't confuse love, compassion, and forgiveness with the need to reenter harmful or even abusive relationships.