As on any other Sunday morning, I was greeted at the door of my church. The drawn out “How——are——you, Amy?” seemed a little over-the-top. As did the soulful look into my eyes; but I shook it off as the greeter being his moderately dramatic self.
Stepping into the narthex, a woman came up to me and said, “I thought of you first.” The buzzer in my brain started to go off, but I was still clueless. Why did she think of me? What was going on?
Jack, our beloved pastor, and Sally, our equally beloved youth pastor had betrayed the congregation in such a way that overnight we were pastorless.
But to me, the loss was more than church leadership. We three were dreaming big for the church and though only several months into our partnership, we saw already how we clicked in ministry. How we had the same values and priorities. How we three enjoyed working together. Standing in the narthex, the floor opened up below me, swallowing me. The hole swallowed our working together for the Kingdom, it swallowed my dreams and hopes for our shared future; but more than that, in one instant, it swallowed two friends.
Where there had been three, there was now one. Of course the ground did not actually open, though I wish it had; instead, I had to turn around and walk into the sanctuary like a “normal” person. Stepping around the invisible hole that now held this slice of my ministry life, I moved forward.
This was not my first ministry betrayal rodeo. How could betrayal be happening again when I had been careful to learn from my first experience? When I had taken the time to do the work of healing? When I am pretty good at reading people and knowing who is safe and who is not?
If you’ve been betrayed, and I know most of you have, you know the pattern.
Shock. Did that just happened? Wait, what?! Most likely you will spend several days in a fog, unable to function at your normal level. Even if the actual awareness of the betrayal comes over time, there will be a moment when a piece falls into place and someone asks a questions or reflects back what they see. Once you see something or have a new word introduced to a familiar story—for a friend, it was the word “abuse”—and you know it fits even though you so very, very, very much wish THIS WAS NOT MY STORY, you can’t unhear or unknow. And you are in shock.
Questioning. Obviously the questions will be tailored to your situation. In my case, I wondered if what we three had been building was real? I wondered how long the betrayal had been going on. God knew what our church had been through in the season before, why did He allow more damage? I replayed conversations in my mind and tried to figure out what I had missed.
The Feelings. Betrayal always comes with loss. What you thought was going to be, isn’t. Or it can’t continue on without intervention. Instead of being on a road going somewhere—be that in ministry, on a team, or in your marriage—you are in a ditch, trying to assess the damage and figure out where to go from here. Anger is common, and while helpful at the beginning, you need to move beyond the anger to the feelings anger is protecting. Hurt, loss, disappointment, sadness, fear. They are exhausting to feel and don’t need to be felt all the time, but they do need to be a part of the process.
The long slow walk of healing. Here is the good news: you can heal from betrayal. Sometimes a betrayal comes in a clear break, like a bone, and can actually be stronger after the healing has occurred. Other times, healing may be more like back injury. You do heal, but a level of maintenance in some form of exercising or rest needs to be built into life. Healing can come in the form of counseling, spiritual direction, reading and learning, and resting. Healing cannot be rushed, but it can be pursued.
After my first big ministry betrayal, I was reluctant to throw my lot in with another group. Jack said, “Amy, ministry comes with risk.” We were eating Vietnamese noodle bowls and I thought he was talking about working with others in the church. But God has used the words of my betrayer to speak truth. Ministry does come with risk.
I will admit that one of my buttons is slapping a Bible verse on a situation without earning the right to use scripture. But I feel lead to share two verses from the Bible Study Caitlin Lieder wrote for this week’s bird in Consider the Birds (found here). She had us look at 1 Peter 1:6-7.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I appreciate the flow of these verses. God understands you have been grieved. He sees the injustice in it. You do not rejoice that you have been betrayed or hurt in ministry; no, you mourn over the betrayals. You seek to spare others being hurt. But ministry and life come with risks and trials and you will be grieved. God’s redeeming touch can reach into any situation and in the end. No situation is beyond his reach.
We can still praise God. Not because of what happened, but because of who God is. He journeys with us on the long slow walk of healing.
(If you are in the midst of the “The Feelings” stage and can’t fathom redemption in any form, don’t force yourself to believe that your situation is redeemable. Feel what you feel, trusting that God is able to redeem and that where you are today, is not where you will always be.)
If you have experienced betrayal in ministry, what has helped with your long slow walk of healing?
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