J. Grant Swank, Jr.
You have been ousted from your pulpit. The enemy has taken advantage of you. They have bloodied you up.
Or perhaps you have quit. No one ousted you. You burned out. And there you sit, stunned and undone.
In any case, there is no ministry called “local pastorate” any more. You are gone, out, unpasted, unglued, no more.
Then with all that, tell the truth—and all the truth, so help you God.
Put away your pious mouth and start telling the bald truth about what happened.
At first, you will feel so ashamed in admitting that you were done in by the lunatics. That’s because you are a refined individual with standards.
But keep in mind that these slaughterings happen to the best of us. Take Jesus for example.
Therefore, put aside as quickly as possible your middle class self-assessment and start speaking the awful truth about what was done to you. Tell your clan what happened. Tell your trusting friends what happened.
But be careful to whom you speak when choosing fellow clergypersons to talk to. Remember that many of them are not on your side once you have been ousted. They are very much a part of the politic.
I know that they have shared coffee and do-nuts with you morning after morning, meeting after meeting. I know they have slapped you on the back and congratulated on this and that. I know they have bowed their heads in prayer with you and given their assembly reports alongside you and shook hands with you after one worship service after another.
I know all that.
But keep in mind that you are surrounded by opportunists in the ministry. The laity never know that. They have this nonsense opinion of fantasy weaving that all clergy are truly people of God. Many green horn clergy have the same fancy. They are new to the work, so why shouldn’t they have
that notion. After all, just a short time back they were creatures called “laity.”
Nevertheless, you should be seasoned enough by now to know that you just cannot confide in everyone—clergy included, in fact, clergy at the top of the suspicion list.
Ask any minister who has gone through the slaughtering how many fellow clergy have proven themselves to still keep in loving, caring contact after the slaughter. Ask any minister how many of the old guard were still there alongside the bloodied pastor. Ask. You will find that those ministers who have been so mistreated confess that very, very few of the so-called fellow clergy even admit that they once knew the bloodied pastor’s name. Truly.
That is an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? But it is realistically true. It is fact.
Well, haven’t you figured that out by now. Recall that above it was stated that more times than not clergy are more a part of the church politic than they are of the eternal kingdom. They are genuinely in league with what is visible, tangible, political. They are not that much in alliance with the invisible, eternal workings of the Lord God. Sad, isn’t it? But true, nevertheless.
Now all of us in ministry should have got hold of that postulate long before this. How come? Because we are supposed to be students of the Word. And in the Word we read that clergy were the very ones Jesus mistrusted the most. Jesus had the most trouble with the clergy of His day. Jesus was gossiped about, maligned, and eventually murdered by the clergy. It was the temple guard who did Him in. It was the High Priest who worked His demise.
Jesus did not have all that much trouble with the riff-raff. In fact, they allowed Him to save their eternal souls. But He had one daily mess-up with the scribes, Pharisees and political ward at Jerusalem’s center.
So. . . with that historical reality check in place, make a lateral time move to where you and I sit today. We are going to have to deal with the same devilment in the system. It is there with the spiritual leaders, so-called, beginning with those who rose to the supposed “top” of the ecclesiastical ladder. There they are in their splendor, preening themselves, guarding their turf and banding together to deny they ever knew the bloodied pastor.
Got it? Got it! Sad, isn’t it? But true, isn’t it? Yes, it is sadly true, friend.
Consequently, when you are determining to tell the truth about what has happened to you, you will tell it only to those who can trust truth. Watch out for clergy. They cannot. Now that sounds all-inclusive. And I mean it to sound that way for your immediate tendency, because you have been used to clergy comradeship, is to call a fellow minister and start spilling the beans.
Therefore, I am underlining in a bit extreme fashion to trust no clergy so that you will really get that stark message. Pick only those very few clergy you have trusted over much time to tell anything to. But choose others more earnestly—family, friends whom you have known for a long time, other pastors who have been “through the mill.”
I recall that some of the pastors emailed me about “What happened, Grant,” wanting every juicy detail. How soon they got in touch with me after the slaughter. I knew immediately by vibes that can’t be put into words that I was to tell those emailing pastors nothing. Nothing. Nothing, for certain.
And I didn’t.
I deleted their emails as fast as they came in. Those pastors had never communicated to me a trustworthy vibe. They were political to the nth. Therefore, when they lunged toward me wanting to know what had happened, I knew instinctively that they were after the data to spread it on their gossip chains—and that quite quickly.
Thank God I did what the gut told me to do. I was so anxious to get healing from a fellow friends. I wanted to gush out what had taken place—to anyone who had an ear. I would’ve talked to the lamppost.
So those who emailed me knew of my vulnerability at that moment and were more than ready to take advantage of that. But somehow grace slipped in to stop me from confiding in them. I will never have enough thanks to the divine grace for saving me from the vultures.
Please take to heart this counsel given you at this point. You are more vulnerable than you think because of the extreme anguish. You are very near collapse. You are crying out for posts to hold you up. You want friends to endear themselves close to your hurt.
But—remember—the last ones you need are those political fiends in the system who are not really your friends at all. They are going to turn on you. They are going to feed you to the gossip machine. Count on it.
Speak the truth. And in speaking the truth, keep the truth standard close to your own common sense factors. Use that truth gauge to keep you from further hurt.
Speak only the bald truth to those who are truly genuine in their friendship ties with you. They have gone the journey. They have matured over the years so as not to be green horns out for blood.
Then to those trusted comrades, let the cry go forth. Tell them all about it. Let them in on the deepest levels of betrayal. They can take it. They have no doubt suffered likewise and can thereby shake their heads knowingly, providing you with the sympathetic heart God’s has for you at this time.
Now take care of the family. Yes, please.
By that I mean the obvious. Take care of their emotions. Tend to their fears. Huddle.
I know that you yourself as the chief victim of this devilment are bleeding all over the place, but as mentioned in a previous chapter, most of the time there is family.
So take care of those close to you for they have suffered on a different level than you. You have suffered because you have been the focal point of the meanness. They have suffered in that they have not been the focal point of the meanness.
Instead, they have been on the sidelines. And in that is a very, very special anguish. It adds up to be this: spouse and children want to kill. They have the urge to slice through. They want to find justice. For whom? For you. There’s no doubt a better, more civil way to put it. But I’ll still stand with the “kill” and “slice through” for I cling to reality. I like truth.
Your spouse and children want to get even, not so much for their sake, as for your sake. But their tools are limited. They have not been the center of the madness and therefore they cannot lash out like you can. They must come to your defense, but that is not the same as being in the driver’s seat.
In other words, they want to check in first with you to see if what they do in defending you is going to make matters worse for you. They are confused at that point. They are worn out. They are upside down. They are inside out. They are not thinking at their clearest. And their emotions, too, are running ahead of their logic.
Yet through all this mayhem, they have this dreadful drive to get even—to carve out justice in their own ways. And that is laudable. Thank God that we have family so near and dear as to want to defend us to such lengths.
But that still does not diminish their pain. So you have to come to their rescue to some degree. The best way to do that is to huddle. Talk things out with spouse and children. Cry things out. Do this often. Do this impromptu, that is, when it needs to be, on the spot, right now, not waiting for a more convenient time for in this mess there probably will never be a convenient time.
Those precious ones close to you need to lend an ear, need to scream a mouth, need to lean on a shoulder, need to burst forth with whatever is on their tethered hearts. They need to be given permission to vent—say whatever without being judged or corrected. They need it just as you need it.
And when you as a family have these bombastic, healing, painful times together, you will find bonding taking place that you had never known was possible. You will also find some awful emotions exploding that you had never dreamt were there. But it is all in the mix. It all needs to be honored and let loose for what difference does it make finally?
What is worse? Penting up those emotions or letting them fling out in all directions. What is better? Cooping up the wildest notions or opening up the windows for them to fly thither and yon?
There are times, too, when you need to give permission to the children to worship somewhere else. You need also to tell them that they can forget ever seeing those “kind church folk” again, never answering their phone calls, never trusting those they thought were once friends. That’s hard. But that’s a permission that at least can be granted by you, the parent.
And at other times, those children need to go away for awhile, even changing residences and schools for a year if necessary. Let them find other turf to bleed on.
Do whatever is necessary to bring good health back to those bloodied in the parsonage family. The anguish may consume you daily; but there are others who have been tortured. They are those under your roof and they need protection, shelter and, if need be, a chance to get away.
Quit church buildings for awhile.
Yes, stop it. Stop going to church buildings. Church building now represents the devil in white clothes. It stands for politics in the pulpit and pew. It
looms up as the enemy.
Can you ever again look at a church bulletin, hear church announcements, listen to a sermon, bow your head during the benediction, and leave to shake hands with the speaker in the same way you did before the slaughter?
And that goes for your family.
So take a much-needed sabbatical from church buildings.
Now with our family, it was not all that difficult. I left the church building immediately, never to return. That meant that I worshiped in my living room or a friend’s living room—or outdoors on lawn chairs during summertime.
There was a small remnant that left the establishment with our family when the slaughter took place. That remnant covenanted to gather on the Lord’s Day for worship, but never to look back to the sanctuary of yesterday. That sanctuary was now inhabited by demons. We would never trust its environs. We considered it covered with a curse.
Nevertheless, in that August breeze we met together the next Sunday morning in God’s open air—sunlight and pleasant winds blowing across our faces. We sang. We prayed. We shook hands with one another. We listened to the Word. We gave thanks. We hoped for the future blessed with the divine smile.
And we got it.
With that there came the “church in a box.” That’s right. We put a few hymnals, an offering basket, a simple wooden cross, some chorus books and a Bible into a large plastic box. That was henceforth to be our church. To this day, it is our church.
We meet on Sundays in the mornings and evenings as well as mid-week in our own homes. We have no more mowing lawn expenses. No more plowing church parking lot expenses. No more heating and electric bills. No more church bulletins. No more church newsletters. No more copy machines. No more business meetings, elections, voting, membership rolls.
We meet for the basic reasons believers meet—something like the Early Church—to worship, pray, learn about God through the Bible, and then go forth to live for Jesus weekdays.
And for you? You must get over your drive to find your body in a church building every Sunday morning. I have talked with others who said that that was one drive that proved most difficult to overcome. They just felt guilty if they were not in a church building every Sunday morning.
But in further reflection, I have heard those same people say that if they had to do it over again, they would take the sabbatical. They would plan on a healthy breather from all that represented slaughterhouse. They would find a quiet place for worship on the Lord’s Day, but it would be far from any symbols of the old guard. They would find that which was fresh and unthreatening.
There is always a living room where you can meet. Even if two or three gather, Jesus has promised to be there with you. So how can you miss with that divine promise?
There is a seashore in summer. There is pasture in spring. There is the back
yard with lawn chairs in good weather. There are plenty of sanctuaries available for keeping the Lord’s Day holy.
Think long and hard before you strap yourself down to walking into a church building soon after the slaughter. But keep in mind that you are going to have to make some sort of plans for Lord’s Day worship for one-in-every-seven-days comes around once in every seven days. So you’ve got to have something in place when it comes to worshiping on His holy day, don’t you?
But it does not have to be the traditional church building. Does it?
Now it’s time to breathe in and breathe out. That’s right. Breathe in and breathe out.
These pages have dealt with a lot of emotion. Now it’s time to put these pages aside for some breathing exercises.
As you breathe in and breathe out, look to God. I know it is hard. God appears nasty and mean. God appears unfeeling. God does not seem near at all.
So where is your theology going in all this? Where is your doctrine flying through all this?
Nevertheless, as difficult as it is, breathe in and breathe out, looking to God, far away as He seems to you. That’s okay. God can handle it if you can handle it.
Time not so much to reason anything out. Put away the logic board for awhile. No more strategizing where you are going to live, how you’re going to pay the bills, how you’re going to tell your friends that you graduated with, and all the rest that is buzzing around in your weary brain.
Time not to make another phone call nor write another letter nor mail out another resume nor check another classified ad.
Time not to talk to anyone in the house.
Time to shut off the television and radio and CD.
Time to breathe in and breathe out, looking to God, far away as He seems to you. That’s okay. God can handle it if you can handle it.
Sit there for an hour breathing in and breathing out, looking to God. Maybe get up and walk around a bit and then sit down some more.
You might even get up long enough to walk around the house. Then go back to breathing in and breahing out, looking to God.
You can cry. You can yell. You can whimper. You can fall to the floor, hugging your knees. You can do all that. No problem.
Just let it go. Let your feelings run their course. God can handle it if you can handle it. Breathe in and breathe on, looking to God.
Tomorrow read over these pages again. And the next day do the same. Then
the next day read them again. When reading them, end the reading by putting these pages aside to look to God, cry, sit still, groan a bit, walk around the house another time, and breathe in and breathe out.