Helping a Hurt Church Heal
Charisma Magazine asked me to consider writing an article about the healing that is happening at New Life. Here are some thoughts I am having today. I would enjoy hearing your feedback, especially if you are a New Lifer who has been on this journey with me.
In August 2007, I became the Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. 10 months earlier, in November 2006, the church was rocked by scandal when the founding pastor, Ted Haggard, admitted to a relationship with a male prostitute. It was a story that made international headlines and caused great hurt among the 12,000 members of the church. Four months after I became the leader, a gunman came on our campus and killed two teenage girls, wounded two others before taking his own life in the hallway of our main building. In 13 months, the church twice made international headlines and suffered more traumas than any single church in America had experienced in the past 30 years.
I am not an expert on helping people heal but I am experienced. What did I learn the past two years that could help others heal? What should leaders and pastors do to help a church who has suffered?
1. Talk about what happened
Christians are notorious posers. We have even been taught erroneously that talking about bad stuff is bad confession and proof that we have no faith. What theological baloney! If you have been hurt, the worst thing you can do is ignore what happened. I had to lead by talking about it in Sunday talks, in staff meetings, and in private conversations with members. I regularly discussed my own hurts and my own disappointments which gave everyone else permission to talk about what they were experiencing. When people are allowed to be authentic and take off their “church masks” their hearts are opened to the Holy Spirit and real healing can begin.
2. Deal with the pain
I believe the bible teaches us that is ok not to be ok. It also teaches us that it’s not ok to remain in the dark places of life. I believe in the power of the Gospel to repair and restore all of broken humanity, but we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to experience this healing. Hours after the shooting, hundreds of pastors and volunteer counselors began meeting with New Lifers who had been traumatized. In many cases, after talking about the shooting for a few minutes, many New Lifers admitted they had never dealt with the pain of the scandal. It was a reminder to all of us that time does not heal all wounds, it only hides them. We were determined to deal with the pain, so we kept trained counselors on hand and offered several settings where people could receive nurture, prayer and inner healing. We did not get in a hurry with this process and allowed people to process their own pain at their own pace. Many leaders want instant healing when the human soul often takes time to heal, even under the best circumstances.
3. Move to the next exhibit
When I take my kids to the zoo, they often want to stay at the lion exhibit or the monkey exhibit for what seems like forever. I often have to move a few steps away from them and act like I am walking completely away to get them to look at another exhibit. Once they see me walking, they pry themselves away from the monkeys and join me at the giraffe exhibit. I have learned that I could not ignore the pain of the church, but I also could not spend the rest of my life looking at the same exhibit. Scars are a reminder of a traumatic event, but we do not have to be defined by them. At some point in the journey we must move forward. Fresh wind of heaven has to fill our sails and move us to new waters. God is not finished with any of us and He certainly has not forgotten how to take a broken piece of humanity, restore them and set them on new path to higher places.
Miraculously, New Life is thriving today and experiencing what can only be described as God’s favor and blessing. No one at New Life would say we are completely healed, but most New Lifers would agree that a great deal of restoration has already happened because we talked about it, dealt with the pain and we moved to the next exhibit in our lives.
Twitter – @pastorbrady