Thursday, March 05, 2009

we're famous! for all the wrong reasons....

hi friends. this blog post is going to be serious, and it's going to be long. but i'm asking that you read it, read the article included, and leave some feedback, because i'm needing some outside perspective. thanks.

okay, so, i've talked a bit here about the difficulty we've experienced with my father-in-law since we left the Church of Christ. i've left out a tremendous amount of detail in an attempt to show respect to the family and the situation. however, there are things i need to share, even if no one reads it, after a recent string of events. i do want to aim to be respectful and loving throughout this situation, but it is emotionally charged and i recognize that i may not succeed in that goal.

the reason i'm writing this post is because an article has been printed in a nation-wide newspaper that is sent to all churches of christ. this article is about our family, by name, and largely about why my husband and i no longer attend a CoC. please read the article in the link below:
http://www.christianchronicle.org/pdf_archive/2009-03.pdf

okay. it's not that i disagree with the article, or am angry about it. i just feel like there are so many IMPORTANT details that weren't included. i totally understand that they couldn't include so many parts of the story for the simple fact that it's an article in a newspaper, not a biography of our family. but i do feel that i want to share some of the more important details, and this is the only forum i know of to do that.

it's true that ben and i left the CoC. this occurred after a long, painful experience in the church plant we had been working with for over four years. the primary issue was that the new preacher of the church claimed that i was "barren" (as you'll recall, until the moment we discovered we were pregnant, we had been told it would be impossible) because of unforgiven sin in my life. we tried for quite awhile to bring the elders of the supporting congregation and the other leaders of the church into the situation, and received no support, no response. it was after several months of trying to work things out biblically that we decided it was time for us to leave. it was never that we were leaving the CoC...we left that specific church. following that experience, we were deeply hurt and burned out on church, and didn't go for several months. when we started visiting churches again, we went to many CoC's before ever visiting the church we now attend. we prayed about the decision and talked about it at length. it was not a decision we made lightly, especially considering ben's lifelong background in CoC. but when we began visiting City Bible (where we are now members) we felt HOME. we felt filled and fed and ministered to. we could see it was the kind of place we wanted to raise our children. God made it very clear to us that THIS WAS OUR CHURCH. and it wasn't a CoC. i'll list just a few of the many reasons we were/are drawn to our church:
1. dynamic worship, heartfelt and passionate worship that leaves space for God to truly inhabit the praises of His people
2. a major focus on community, on "doing life" together. although it's a very large congregation, they emphasize and thrive on small group communities.
3. a strong children's program
4. sermons that are absolutely bible-focused, and delivered in a tangible, real life way that makes a difference in our day to day lives
5. tremendous emphasis on giving, supporting missionaries, planting churches, serving the community around us and meeting the needs of the members of the church
6. strong accountability for each member to take responsibility for the church and their own spiritual lives, rather than depending on a preacher/leadership to do 90% of the work
7. i couldn't begin to describe the quality of the character of the people in our church. i am constantly surrounded by incredible christians who are very tuned in to God's Spirit and leading, who are living the Word rather than simply KNOWING the Word. i am surrounded by people i aspire to be, and given full access into their lives, able to see how they live, how they struggle, how they seek God and my faith is built by seeing God work powerfully in and through them.

the only drawback of this decision was knowing that ben's parents would be upset about it. we expected that. ben's dad has been a faithful preacher for the CoC for a long time now, and their family is deeply rooted in it. we did not, however, anticipate the reaction we received. it's understandable that ben's dad would be passionate about his beliefs. it is not understandable, to me, that he would say things that seemed cruel and sometimes mean. i cannot understand how he could so separate himself from from the fact that BEN IS HIS SON, and is a good man of great character and integrity. where was the benefit of the doubt? where was the "agree to disagree." where was the atmosphere of unconditional love?

this has been going on nearly two years now. i have learned, at least a little, to turn off my emotional response to the comments we receive about our decision. i have learned to stay out of it, that it is something that should be dealt with between ben and his dad. it does not hurt me any less to see my husband disrespected by his father in this way. it does not hurt me any less to know that he believes we have left THE CHURCH, rather than "a church," and to read that he is "grieved" and doesn't feel "as close" to ben any longer is a new hurt since seeing the article.

the one thing about that article that i was displeased with was that it failed to fulfill it's premise. the article, we were told, was to be about WHY some in our generation are leaving the CoC. but i saw NOTHING in the article that sufficiently addressed our reasoning. it seemed to me to be more about ben's dad, his feelings about us leaving, and all the things he had done "right" that should've kept us there.

so this is my response. we did not leave the CoC as a whole for any real reason. but there are VERY real reasons that we would never return. Namely the judgement, condemnation and rejection we have experienced from those who ought to be CLOSEST to us, who should know our hearts and see that our lives are absolutely godly and christlike. that we have been labeled and written off, to a degree, not because we've become non-christians or are living in sin, but because the sign in front of our church simply says "CITY BIBLE CHURCH" rather than "CHURCH OF CHRIST." i cannot understand why the church sign carries more weight than the lives we are living, the good things we are doing for the Kingdom. i cannot understand the one-sidedness of the conversations that have occurred, with no regard to hearing what we have to say, only wanting to be heard.
now, the majority of those things SHOULD NOT have been included in the article. i get that. but now that a whole community of people will read ABOUT US, i wanted our perspective to be heard. i sincerely didn't think anyone we knew would ever even see it, and i don't mind if they do. but it was just released yesterday, and already people are contacting us to say they've seen it. i just feel like there should be a more complete story available. the article may portray that our family experiences a lot of drama and difficulty as a result of our decision. this is not at all the case. the things that have gone on have been very quiet, sometimes unacknowledged. the end of the article says that we all came together for tim's wedding despite our differences, as if we there were any other option. let me be clear. there is a TREMENDOUS amount of love in this family. we ADORE our time together, and wish we had a lot more of it. there is no drama, no feuding. sure, my feelings are hurt, and it's been made clear that ben's dad is unhappy and unapproving of our decision. but these are not things that permiate every interaction, every family holiday or chat on the phone. had it not been for the article, i'd have left it all unsaid and felt fine about that.

we do not hate the CoC. we do not reject it. we don't think it's wrong. we're not angry at it. we feel love and community with any who follow Christ and the Word. the problem in this story is that we're not receiving the same amount of grace for making the decision God clearly led us to, for living as Christ-followers and doers of the Word.

one last thing, the author of the article has also written a blog post about it.
http://bobbyrossjr.com/2009/03/05/the-shrinking-church-why-some-leave-and-some-stay/
feel free to read it, and to leave comments if you have them. if, for some reason, you have strong feelings about any part of this situation, please be intentional about leaving comments in a loving and respectful manner. i know that some of my close friends are upset about the situation as a whole, and i am grateful that they would defend and protect me. but this is not the forum for such a response. i'd honestly like to see a productive conversation happen there about the REAL issue the article brought up....why are so many in our generation leaving the CoC? and what can be done about it?

16 comments:

LoriLoo310 said...

Wow, what an exhausting battle. I really don't understand the anger about leaving a specific denomination. Do you still believe Jesus is the son of God? Ok, then we're good.

As for the Church of Christ, I think the only reason BSC and I still attend one is because our specific church is very liberal (as far as CoC's go). Several of our visitors have even said that had our sign not said Church of Christ, they would have never known.

Why we won't attend a typical conservative CoC? We went to a CoC University and spent four years of our life feeling condemned and judged by those who had lived in the CoC bubble. I didn't grow up going to church. College was the first time I had read the Bible. I confided in one of my Bible professors who told me it was my fault for not knowing the word and that he would not tutor me if I couldn't keep up.

But again those four years were amazing and I have great memories and was able to grow in my faith by leaps and bounds.

I just feel like the CoC is stuck in a rut and refuses to adjust to some of its members who are dying to grow in their faith.

rebecca marie said...

okay, whew. i read the article at christian chronicle, and i want you to know, as your friend who loves you...

it doesn't make you look bad. not at all. if anything, it makes your in-laws look bad for being closed minded and don't think they'll see that without certain blinders being taken off that have NEVER been taken off. it's their limitation, not yours.

as far as the plant church that you worked at in concerned (and girl, i really hope it's okay that i say this, if not, please please please delte this comment). i feel like i have to offer a SMALL defense.

the elders did come, and we all had the opportunity to speak with them, and the minister did shortly thereafter resign. yes, i believe it was too little, too late. but i just had to say that.

(i'm sorry... )

The wife said...

Articles like this one are the reason people are leaving the churches. It's not just the CoC that's shrinking. Youth across America are trying to come into their own... be their own person, and churches tend to smother it out of them. The more traditional churches seem to make people feel that "southern baptist" or "church of Christ" is the only way. When in fact our generation is learning to adopt a more general belief. Christ at the center, the rest is just details. Denominations have been fighting over this for a long time.
For my senior thesis in college (a state school) I wrote on the difference between various Christian denominations. EVERY Pastor and church leader told me the same thing "Christ at the center", then blah blah about the rest.
All that to say... the article doesn't make you or your family look bad. You are obviously two people of great faith and you should stand firm in that.

breanna said...

thanks for your comments ladies.

RM: you're absolutely right, and i don't mind at all what you said. what i was referring to was the several months following his initial comments where i tried to involve the leadership/elders in addressing it and resolving it. the calls that i made that went unreturned, the requests that i made for meetings that fell on deaf ears. what i was trying to show was that it wasn't as if we heard something, got offended and then left. we stayed, tried to handle it biblically. the elders came and spoke with everyone (including us) more than six months after we had left the church.

the wife: i appreciate your comments. i'm not at all concerned about "looking bad." i'm not feeling defensive about the artcile (at least i don't think i am). my motivation was more like "okay, if this is going to be made public, i want a more complete picture of what's going on."

i totally agree with you that it's an inter-denomenational issue regarding the youth of this country. if any church hopes to survive, much less grow, they're going to have to figure out how to embrace and meet the CURRENT needs of youth and young adults. this is one thing about our church that we LOVE. they totally GET IT, and are very tuned in to our needs, what we're passionate about, how we're finding our way to live the Word in our current world.

GatewayKaren said...

Hi friend...I wanted to let you know that I did read it all...

First of all let me say how sorry I am that a very "personal" matter had to take such a "national" stage. This hurts me as a friend more than anything...and for this I will definitely be talking to Dad.

My second, third, fourth and fifth points are going to have to wait for a few days...I have them, but am going to need to let them stew for a bit. I'll probably end up talking to you a bit, then "publically" post my thoughts.

I love you sister...and I love Ben too! I know that no one can really "know" if a person has made a "personal" commitment to Christ and "know" if they are saved...but, my Bible says "They will know we are Christians by our love..." not where our butt plants itself on Sunday morning.

I can vouch for you both...I have seen your "Love" and would not want to get into an arguement with Dad about that! I know for sure that would be one I, or anyone else for that matter, would lose HANDS DOWN! Daddy knows His sheep, and they know Him by His voice...not a sign.

I digress...I'd better sit on my hands for a bit...or else I might lose my "love/salvation".

But never loosing my love for you...beside you all the way, sis!!!!

Tim Archer said...

Hi. Came here from Bobby Ross' blog. I'm a lifelong member of the Church of Christ, having served as a minister in one shape or form for the last couple of decades.

I wish I could say that I was surprised by your experience, but I'm afraid it's all too common. I guess you know that not everyone in the Church of Christ has that sort of outlook, but many do.

On behalf of those of us who don't, may I say, dear sister, that I pray that God will bless your continued walk with Him. If I don't get the chance before, I look forward to meeting you in heaven.

Grace an dpeace,
Tim Archer

Terry said...

I came here from Bobby Ross' blog, also. I was shocked and saddened by your former minister's response to infertility. My wife and I struggled with infertility for several years before we were able to adopt. Your minister had no idea what he was talking about or how difficult infertility can be. After my wife and I tried (and failed) at several attempts of artificial insemination, we took a year off from trying to get pregnant. Later, as we were going through the adoption process, the social worker told us that what we had done was normal...we were in mourning for the biological child that we would never have. We had no idea that we were going through mourning, but we knew that we were going through a difficult time. Thankfully, we did not have an insensitive Christian leader accusing us of sin during those months. I hope that your story will awaken people to the emotional struggles with which people deal as they are going through infertility. Thanks for sharing your story!

James Wood said...

I agree with Rebecca Marie - the article does not reflect badly on you at all. I saw it as a sketch of one family's experience. I think that the perspective of the people reading will determine how they view you. People that think that only those in the Church of Christ are going to heave will side with your father-in-law, those who think that belief in Jesus is the mark of a Christian will side with you.

Bobby did a good job of journalism in that he didn't attempt to sway opinions, just to represent the different sides of an issue. The article is specifically about the Newbill family, but it does tell the story of many other people who are deciding about the place of the Church of Christ in their lives.

You two look like Christ-followers in the article - I think that's the best you can ask for. The fact that your father-in-law raised a family in which all the children are faithful Christians should be his greatest pride. It's his problem if he doesn't see that.

Danni Langston said...

My dear friend. This was basically what I expected from the conversation we had. I will tell you that I am so proud of your comments on your blog. My feelings are incredibly hurt on your behalf and I don't know if I could have kept cool as well as you did. I hope you know how much I love you and I will ALWAYS support YOU!! Please also tell Ben that I am amazed by his bravery and thoughfulness through all this. I can't imagine my parent publicly saying they couldn't feel close to me because of the sign outside my church. I am amazed by his commitment to his decision.
~Danni

Ashlie said...

I just don't understand Breanna. Kudos to you for being so well spoken. Hopefully some of the relationships that have been damaged will be mended with time and a change of heart from certain parties.....

Hang in there!

Paula said...

Hey, Friend. Thanks for sharing. I don't have a lot of important points to make, but I just wanted to make sure you know that you have my support. The church Eric and I go to now is largely made up of people who have been hurt by church in the past. Eric was raised in the CoC and his family was basically "kicked out." He has had so much pain to deal with as a result of that. I am now convinced that the main reason I ended up at Cascade after having no previous experience with the CoC is so that I could really understand what Eric had been through. Anyway-- call me if you ever want to talk about it. And if you ever make it up this way, you should definitely come and visit our church-- SO MANY people who can relate to your story!

TREY MORGAN said...

I too came from Bobby's blog. I've also preached for the churches of Christ for the last 20 years. After reading what Tim said above, I'd simply like to say ditto ... he said it better than I could.

Thanks for sharing.

Tiffani said...

Well other than the fact that you and I both attend CBC, you don't have any idea who I am, and I clicked on your blog from another person's "I follow" list.

I have one simple thing to say. God is calling our generation to be the ones who say, "God has one church, regardless of the sign hanging in front." Continue in love my dear, God will work everything else out!

Kaydub said...

Hurts and wounds aside, Breanna, (if that's even possible) I want to tell you that you two refresh me! After ministering in the CofC for over 30 years now, I have to say that FINALLY we have raised up a generation that is determined to walk faithfully and loyally to Jesus Christ! You left A church and did not leave Him! So hang in there and continue to obey.

Kevin

breanna said...

thank you SO VERY MUCH everyone for your comments and feedback. my hope in writing this post was to provide more of the information that i felt should have been in the original article. i really appreciate the kind words, support and thoughtful remarks.

kevin, your comment was a tremendous blessing to me today. thank you very much for taking the time to share that. i have such a great deal of respect for you, your family and your ministry, and it is incredibly humbling and comforting to be called "refreshing" to you!

i'll say this: we're all finding our way to God through a chaotic world, through struggles and temptations and confusion. i think that God is calling us to keep pressing forward toward him, and to realize that there is ALWAYS MORE OF HIM for us to receive. he is a LOVING and GRACIOUS God who is full of mercy and tenderness. he wants his children to obey and to live in love and serve humbly. i'm learning so much about the FREEDOMS we have in God, and that any barriers or limitations within his will are simply the attempt of the enemy to hold us back from God's perfect will for us. i really hope that all of this article and the situations and conversations that have come from it will result in a greater love for God, his Word, his Church and his Spirit. i'm glad that conversations have been going on about all sorts of "why" and "when" and "what if" and i hope that those will continue for the purposes of seeking to understand God more. i pray that only love results. (i know that's slightly vague, but God knows what i'm saying, and i hope you are blessed at least by my prayer for you, if not by the words themselves.)

tabitha jane said...

wow wow wow.