GRATEFULLY DISILLUSIONED

Dear Pastor, leader, dear teacher, dear friend:

Do you remember how I used to call you the “Man of God?” I grew up believing that you  were better than us because surely you spent hours and hours in study and prayer and reflection on The Things of God. I learned to “touch not the Lord’s anointed” before I knew that that phrase even meant – all I knew was that it meant I shouldn’t criticize you, you were above us, our authority. You were my example in all things, the zenith of spirituality. I thought that you spoke for God and your answers were more important than my questions. I thought that pastors or leaders had to have their homes completely in order, be too holy for the rest of the stuff we all dealt with today. I revered your marriage and analyzed your parenting. I held you to impossible standards. Somehow, I thought – maybe because you taught me this, long ago, who remembers anymore? – that you were the Shepherd and I was the smelly, dumb, yet sometimes-adorable sheep.

Then the years began to unfold and one by one by one, those ideas I had about you? All dismantled. All broken. All revealed as charade or hypocrisy or addictions or sin or pride or deep sadness. And it hurt me terribly.

You can understand why that is for someone like me, why it was hard on me when you tumbled off of the pedestal I lovingly propped up for so many years. I’m rather embarrassed that I cried as hard as I did. I’m sorry now that I judged you as harshly as I did, that I cycled through the stages of grief especially anger and denial for your tragic displays of our shared humanity, because weren’t you supposed to be better than me, better than us all?

I was disillusioned. 

Now? I’m grateful to be disillusioned.

My friend, I no longer expect you to have it all together, to maintain a facade of performance and perfectionism that will eventually cripple you, your family and your followers. It’s okay that you’re a person.

I no longer look for you to deliver the message from the mountaintop for me. I like to be there myself, with the wind and the Holy Spirit in my hair.  I’ve also found God in the deepest valleys, driest deserts, and do you remember? I found you there, too. Hail fellow, well met.

Church doesn’t mean sitting in a pew anymore, listening to you talk like a high priest. It’s all of us, glory to God, a mismatched and gorgeous bride and something more besides, something holy in the living life together, the breaking of bread, pouring of wine, family, in the people of God gathered together then sent out.

It’s nice to be partners in this thing, now, isn’t it?

I no longer have expectations on you that I do not have on myself. We are all learning and growing, we are all travellers on a journey.

We are all engaged in holy work – the carpenter, the mama, the business person, the dad, the writer, the programmer – and we’re all anointed for our life, chosen. I value the work you do and I’m thankful for it. It’s just that I’m thankful for godly daycare providers, politicians, parents, labourers, advocates, missionaries, hockey players, and nurses. We are all anointed, we are all called and every part of this body is vital.

I no longer look to you as my shepherd. What a relief to you, I imagine!

No, I look to Jesus as my Shepherd. You can be my pastor, you can be my teacher, you can be my friend.

And this is freedom.

For both of us, do you see?

It’s freedom for the disillusioned because now we get to enjoy the richness of relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit without any intermediary or filter. I get to follow Jesus, not you. I get to be part of community that is rich and full. This flattened hierarchy thing that freaks so many people out? It’s actually pretty awesome.

This disillusionment pushed me away from revering you or heroes of the faith or mystics or doctrine purveyors or models or churches. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still wanting to learn from all of you. But those stinging failures drove me to the true example, the true Shepherd, the true Father.

In this new world, I can embrace you as a true man – or woman, remember – after God’s own heart, flawed, moving forward as we all are towards our true renewed selves with open hearts to God.

Now, when I hear of you falling or a few skeletons in your closet, my heart is free to break for you and your own need for our Abba.

Now when I see one of us fall or stumble or struggle,  I can make my response this time all about you, to love you, to be there for you, no judgements, only grace and second chances – imagine that.

As disillusionment spreads – and clearly, it is spreading – I wonder if it spells freedom for you, leader.

If we were all disabused of our false notions regarding perfect leadership, you would be released from unrealistic pressure or expectations. We could see your gifts and callings as a blessing to be used in community instead of as an isolating boundary of “The Holy and The Rest of Us.”

You would be free to receive, too. We would come alongside one another, looking to Christ alone as the author and perfecter of our faith.

And when you struggle or stumble, you could be honest about it because who among us could ever throw the first stone at your precious face?

We would no longer be threatened by the fact that you also have questions and struggles. In fact, we could be a safe place for you to work through your thoughts.

We could welcome you, the “Man of God”, to the People of God.

Blessings on you, my brother, my sister, my friend. And thank you for all that you do, seen and unseen.

Gratefully yours,

Disillusioned

 

With thanks to The God Journey podcasts with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings of LifeStream Ministries for the phrase “gratefully disillusioned.” This post originally appeared at Deeper Story.

 

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  • Hazel Moon

    WOW your post is so true, as we often expect our leaders to be (as a god unto us) then we discover they are human like us and we must instead turn our eyes to Jesus who can never fail us

  • ckdean2

    Thank you Sarah! What a beautiful post. I’m so thankful to lead a church where I’m just one of the people. I wish sometimes that those who live on pedestals (and let’s be honest, sometimes the pedestals are of their own design), could see the beauty and freedom of living on the same playing field!

  • Amen and amen and amen… This resonates with my heart in more ways than I can express. Very well said, Sarah. Thank you…

  • Julie

    What a beautiful post, and i’ve been thinking similar thoughts lately. It’s freeing to take pastors off a pedestal and to realize that we can have the same spiritual insight…

    Also — I used to listen to The God Journey back in my days of figuring out my faith (which is still happening 😉 ) and I’m glad to be reminded of the podcast! 🙂

  • Yes! And how can leaders feel free enough to live in this freedom? Only if we allow them to be messy and stop demanding perfection. I SO yearn to see this lived out.

  • Luke Allison

    My wife Krista and I went through a period of separation from this past July to December. Nothing like living with your parents again at 33 to encourage humility (and juvenile rage bouts). Anyway, I am on staff at a church and have a fairly public role; Krista works at a tattoo shop in a very different kind of environment. We decided from the beginning that we would be open and honest about the whole situation, rather than having people find out for themselves.

    The responses were equal parts encouraging and despair-inducing. I had literally dozens of people (staff, leaders, relatively uninvolved people) come and say: “We’re going through something similar (or have gone through something similar)…thank you so much for talking about it!”

    But then we also had people who were highly offended by the fact that I was even allowed to teach or speak publicly when this was happening; some were bothered by how uncomfortable it made them feel; others thought I was airing dirty laundry (I was tasteful with details, but also brutally honest about my anger issues and the anxiety that leads to them) and disrespecting God, the Church, Krista, President Obama…you name it.

    It was an interesting and growing experience, to put it mildly. I’m gratefully disillusioned as well.

    We want community without personalities, authenticity without vulnerability, conflict without honesty, and “TRUTH” without truth. But there is also hope; keep leading the way! I

    • Luke, the ones wanting to live true full lives appreciate your honesty and NEED it to steady ourselves during rough times.

  • So relate to this, more than you know. I have been angry-disillusioned, but I am moving into the peaceful place of grateful-disillusioned. I think at first, there will be resistance from some leaders, but I think as more and more of us show our pastors that being disillusioned doesn’t mean being cynical, they will rejoice in the freedom of not having to be everyone’s spiritual gatekeeper. I have written on this topic several times, but not with this much grace. Thank you.

  • R W

    And I am so greatful for the most humble of pastors! This was really good, thank you 🙂

  • Brilliant post, absolutely spot on as ever. Thanks Sarah.

  • Karrilee Aggett

    LOVE this… trying to live this out loud and saturated in Grace!

  • Karla Holton

    Oh…this just made my heart hurt and scream for joy at the same time. My hurt bursts forth so unexpectedly and vividly at times it feels so fresh, yet softens with the truth of your words and I lift up an immediate thank you to God for where He has seen me through and placed me. But also I am thankful for beautiful people like you that I ‘meet’ on the way that stengthens, blesses and supports me.

  • Onedra

    Thank you so much for this! You just opened up the door for Pastors and their families to live in real community with people. It’s impossible to live in community when you feel like you have to have everything together and live a pedestal life in front of everyone else. Let us all just follow hard after Jesus together!

  • Jane Halton

    Let’s nail this to the door of the church and free our pastors to be people.

  • Oh I so needed this today. After pouring my feeble, doubting heart out on my blog last night I woke up to find that a pastor-relative had taken everything I had said personally, and missed the point completely. Thank you for the reminder that he needs this shambolic grace as much as me.

  • CJ

    Well, gosh. I just gotta comment. I spent 20+ years as a lay leader in the church when my kids were small. Then at the ripe old age of 50, I completed my ordination and became a pastor. I’m familiar with the pedestal from both angles; the pew-view and the pulpit-view. It ain’t pretty in either place, let me tell ya! The overwhelming expectation to Be All, Know All, Do All as a pastor sent me running frantically to keep up. It didn’t matter how much I insisted “I’m just like YOU!”, there was still constant pressure to be more than just myself. I seldom wanted to use my ‘title’ because people treat you differently. They do. Even at Pampered Chef party. It took a toll and, having been away from vocational ministry (and the organized church) for almost a year, I’m not sure I want to go back. At least, not in the capacity I was before.
    I very much appreciate your blog, Sarah, and I’m grateful for your disillusionment.

  • Thank you, Sarah.
    I am grateful for the relief that disillusionment brings as well.

  • Amy Hunt

    The moment in which I realized that my father is no better than me is the moment I stepped into the fullness of forgiveness, Sarah. I had always thought that anyone older than me was wiser and lived so disappointed, so disillusioned (!) about him being so much holier than me when really he isn’t. My father is messy and broken and giving him the permission to be as he is, a human, connects me to him and gives me empathy. The same goes for pastors and I think of them a lot, actually. I’ve been thinking about how it’s their job. Their JOB. And we somehow make their job be about them, while we’re compartmentalizing our lives and living as two different people: the professional and the real life person at home. There’s so much to think about here and I’m just so grateful your words provoke so much good thinking. (And, when you said “hockey players” I welled up with tears because that’s where my 9-year old dreamer of a son is right now, ya know . . . hockey all the time and so many big dreams and me dreaming with him of the potential platform God could give him to represent God, and my humbled reminders that even those “professionals” mess up, too.) Might we all live in this freedom and pull each other and ourselves off the pedastals. Might we have more of the flat kind of hierarchy. Amen. (This is the best thing I’ve read this week, by the way.)

  • Gillian Marchenko

    Good stuff, Sarah. Thank you!

  • As I was reading this post…Wayne and brad came to mind…. For a season I felt I was looking through a fuzzy lens… Things looked different but I wasn’t sure what I was seeing…God used them and their writings to bring Into focus what God was already speaking to my heart…. So thankful for my grateful disillusion as well!!!

  • Joann Hartman Eyster

    This is a huge hurdle jumping moment for me. I just pinned some stuff down and crushed some walls! Thank you so much for being the catalyst!

  • elizbe

    Sarah you are amazing! Beautifully written and so true! Thank you?

  • Donna Meredith Dixon

    Wonderful. Amen. Yes.Yes.Yes.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    I appreciate the sentiment, but pastor (Greek poimen) means shepherd.

  • Deb Owen

    Preacher’s kid, preacher’s grand-daughter, preacher’s niece, preachers cousin (three of them), preacher’s great-niece here. (Yeah. Our family is full of ’em. On both sides. All over the place.) And I cannot tell you how much I love this. I never understood why people thought they got some extra-special-holiness rubbed off on them if they felt they personally knew the preacher, or why others spent so much time worrying about us/our family scavenging our lives with a scalpel looking for anything they could find.

  • Melinda

    Amen. Loved reading about your journey! Looking forward to picking up a copy of your book and reading it. I’ve heard from friends that it is good!

  • Ruth Murphy

    still in a place of unforgiveness. For a leader who is still on their pedestal, who used Hebrews 13:17 to create al most a cult like environment. I took every word uttered from them as gospel. Now what? I can’t even make contact with them anymore, I’m still angry.

  • Emilie

    I have watched friends and colleagues in ministry drown themselves in fear and perfectionism trying to keep their congregations from coming to this disillusioned state. It breaks my heart every time I see them plaster a smile over a care worn or tear-streaked face and say everything’s fine, a little busy, but it’ll be okay, because God is good, yes? God never asks His leaders to hide from the world. The few who’ve given me glimpses of them in their brokenness have become dearer to me than almost anyone BECAUSE of that humanness. We so desperately need to remember that we all need Jesus in equal measure, regardless of our job titles. Thanks for describing it so eloquently.

  • My favorite Pastor was a “what you see, is what you get” person. No facade, no politics. I have always trusted him, even when we “crossed swords”. The Make Believes hurt their credibility, with me, and ran off ministers living authentic lives. Some have Bodies of Christ while others have businesses. Sarah, I am glad you are only disillusioned and not disconnected.
    God bless.

  • janetb1

    I believe that is why Pastors should be teaching us more about Jesus and his love for us rather than how we “should” treat others because when they screw up it does not seem hypocritical.

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  • daisymama

    Thank you. I’ve been going through a difficult time sorting through my faith lately. Years of lies crumbling down around me as I sort through the pieces and decide what to keep and what to discard. Tonight I felt drawn to your blog. Your words and the way you use them always bring me such comfort. A while back a friend had a word for me that he shared. He said, “I feel like God is telling you, ‘you don’t need a pastor anymore. You need a shepherd’.”. At the time, I loved it and have held onto it for many months now, treasuring that revelation but curious as to what that might look like. Where is this shepherd? Why doesn’t anyone in my life look like this? How slow I can be sometimes. The Lord is my shepherd…thank you ♡

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