This was sent via email on Monday, 3/26/2018 at 1:34 p.m.
Hi Pastor ___,
Thank you for talking with me on the phone Sunday. I appreciate that you took time out of your day to respond to the questions that [my husband] and I had.
I’d like to add some additional thoughts as a follow-up to our conversation. It is true that my family hadn’t been attending [the name of the church] for a year after consistently going for two years (so it’s been about three and a half years since we first starting coming). We weren’t at another church during our break (although we did visit one other church on Easter last year). We were adjusting to the needs of our family at the time of our absence. [Our oldest child] had just started school, and it was difficult for me to handle the Monday through Friday routine of getting him up and dressed (with a 2 1/2 year old and a 9 month old at that time) and then to do the Sunday thing, too. This is a time-old excuse, but this is the main reason why we stopped making Sunday a priority. We feel that going to church isn’t synonymous with having a deep relationship God, but we know that it’s part of a healthy life of faith, to worship with other believers. Ultimately, we took our needs as a family into consideration, and for a season, we chose to step away.
We didn’t come to you first about this decision, and looking back, I admit that we should have. I think that neither one of us felt comfortable conceding to the fact, in your presence, that things were really hard for us at that time. The message coming from long-term families who serve in the church (not necessarily those on the vocational ministry team but those who were more or less volunteers) was (not that they said anything per se but that we got this sense from them) that it was church first, then family. This was tough for us to digest because we see the priorities as God first, then family, then church. I think we have come to this conclusion because a good portion of our lives has been spent under the direction of our parents who put their needs and priorities before ours. As adult children of these types of people, we have had to be sensitive about our inclination to do the same thing with our children. I regret that our attendance at [the name of the church] was what needed to give, and I hope that, now that our children are a bit older, we will not need to alter our church-going much anymore.
So the first point is why we were gone for a year. It was a family decision, and it wasn’t personally directed towards you–though I am sorry that we didn’t include you or anyone else from [the name of the church] in our decision-making process. We could have mentioned to someone that [our oldest child] didn’t like going to the big kids church after transitioning from the preschool classes–but we didn’t want to be “those kind” of people. We handled our family issues ourselves so that we didn’t come across as unnecessarily critical of the new leadership (i.e., the G___ [family]). [Our oldest child] stayed with [my husband] and me and [our youngest child] in the crying room for those few months he started Kindergarten because it was important to us to go to church and also factor in our family needs (we didn’t put [our youngest child] in the nursery as a newborn because that was something [my husband] and I were not comfortable with since it’s always been important to us to respond quickly to crying, especially in the first year of life).
The second thing is about vulnerability. I think it takes a certain kind of earned trust to be able to be vulnerable with others, even those who go to church. I think early on (so early 2015), [my husband] and I noticed that there was a lot of duplicity, as there often is in most churches. Not a surprise or a shock or an offense, but it was just something that made us cautious, both individually and together. While we made efforts to keep ourselves open to others (like attending your community group, the G___’s group, and the Kids Church activities), it was disappointing to us that it seemed too risky to let our guards down much more than that. (This is coming off as a spy novel with words like risky.) What I mean to say is that it’s hard to make friends when they are already judging you by how you met your spouse or the fact that you hadn’t been going to church for fifteen years. The truth of the matter is that [my husband] and I have been through a lot in recent years, and it was important that we stuck together. Once the community groups were dissolved, we were okay with keeping Sunday morning alive without committing to anything else just yet.
The third thing is about the gossiping and critical spirits you made mention of. I think it would help squash much of the gossip if things like Sunday morning’s meeting were either not had or more fully expounded upon. If I were M__ or E__, I think I would be angered and hurt that our “privacy” wasn’t exactly honored by that meeting. If their privacy is really what is in need of protection, then perhaps all that needed to be said was that E__ was taking some time off but that he would be back soon (if in fact you were/are planning on re-instating him in a leadership role). That way, it’s truly no one else’s business unless the G___s themselves chose to share what was going on with them. To say that someone has stepped down because of inappropriate behavior is kind of like a jab in the back, excuse the directness. If the goal is to rehabilitate or reconcile or simply just help, then there is no need to label anything to the general public. But if you want people to talk, then I think the way that E__’s time away was presented will give fertile ground for the talking. How many other people do you think will come to you directly with their questions and speculation?
I think, too, that having a critical mind and thinking critically about things is different than having a critical spirit. My mom and [my husband’s] dad shared this trait (the critical spirit thing), and we have worked hard to keep it out of our lives and out of our family. What we do value, however, is thinking critically about things, about life, about everything. The reason I called you about the recent developments in the Kids program (besides wanting more information) is to offer an alternative perspective on things. It is possible that this thing with E__ might not have happened the way that it did if different decisions had been made back when there was a crossroads and/or if along the way certain decisions were made to help alter the course to a more favorable destination (for example, why is M__ just now seeking credentials (and what about E__?), and why hadn’t you required such credentials sooner?). I say this not to find fault but to retrace the pattern so that stuff like this doesn’t keep happening to [the name of the church].
I remember you saying something about how people had been spreading lies about the first major fallout (and the events surrounding that fallout) that happened after you became the lead pastor. I think it’s important to note that the re-writing (and the spreading of the rewriting) of objective reality is equivalent to telling non-truths, and I would not want, after all you have been through, for you to be viewed (by those of a less understanding disposition) as no different than those who spread lies about you. For no reason do you need to divulge personal information about your staff (including what credentials they may be seeking until they actually have them or unless they were seeking them right away to quell the concern of un-qualification–understanding that, yes, God is the one who qualifies us but that, yes, we still are accountable to the people we serve on this earth). And there’s no reason to change the story about who was originally put in charge and why that order has changed. [My husband] and I were here when E__ and M__ were given their posts, and it was never made clear (at least to us, who were consistent attendees at the time and had children in the Kids program) that M__ was the main (or only) children’s pastor. It was always assumed (and there was no literature or posted information to contradict the assumption) that it was E__ who was the main Children’s Leader (then, later, “Pastor”) with M__ also leading. We don’t care which way it is or why. But it bothers us that it seems like the story is changing when we’re pretty sure of the facts as we know them. To re-iterate, I appreciate the clarity you gave in this area, but it still makes me scratch my head.
The way to stop the lies is to be upfront about what actually happened (regardless of what we’re talking about) while accepting that it’s not our responsibility (as the people supporting the truth about things) to always smooth the edges out for everyone. People appreciate honesty (even if it’s uncomfortable) much more than a sterilized or re-arranged version of the truth (which could be interpreted by some as no different than a lie).
One more thing is on my mind. The observation (whether true or not) regarding a lack of judgment is not that the situation (from before our time at the church) wasn’t addressed (which you did) but that someone was put in a position of oversight/leadership with the youth when perhaps more time might have been called for to allow this person to heal or recover or whatever he needed–before he assumed role model responsibilities. No one is or will ever be perfect, except Jesus himself. But part of learning how to make good choices is understanding that making poor choices sometimes results in losing favor for a while–especially as it relates to parents and their desire to have someone trust-worthy watching over their kids (albeit teenagers). All that might have been needed was to wait a little longer to let the shock and awe pass before giving someone a second chance in the form of a public profile role. I think a similar sentiment could apply to E__’s situation, regardless of the nature of the inappropriate behavior (assuming that it’s not criminal).
To wrap this up, [my husband] and I have decided to stay at [the name of the church], mainly because it’s where we’ve been going and where we became members and where our kids were dedicated. We have some sprouting history with you, and we’d like to continue to grow our family at your church. I am not sure how many other parents would arrive at the same conclusion because, well, you know how parents are. If it doesn’t matter to you at all what parents think, then it similarily doesn’t matter what you do or decide. But I think if it becomes a thing (as what seems to be happening) to continue to lose parents’ good faith in the Kids program because of who’s part (or used to be a part) of its leadership, then it’s okay to let the pieces fall where they may and make the effort to perform a proper search for new pastors over the Kids Church. I think that what is being expected of M__ right now is beyond what is fair to her (and the parents of the children she oversees), though I expect that she isn’t going to be upfront about that since it’s evident that she enjoys and is good at what she does for the church. (In other words, it’s possible that M__’s willingness to serve, albeit for compensation now, is being taken advantage of, for whatever reason).
Beyond what I think, I trust that you are going in the direction that you believe in and can stand by. You are in our prayers, and we know that you will do whatever you decide is right, under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the pastor’s response (that he sent to my husband).
And here’s my drafted but unsent response to the pastor’s response.