[shoulders] SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #93 ---- 10/25/99

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From: lifeunlimited@...
Date: Sun, 24 Oct 1999 22:36:38 -0500
Standing Shoulder To Shoulder With You In The Trenches
As We fight The Good Fight



SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #93 ---- 10/25/99


TITLE:  "Healing Through Grieving ---- A Church's Pathway To Restoration"
(Part One)



My Dear Kinsman in Christ:

Each occasion it is time to write a salutation, I find myself at a loss
for words, trying to find just the right expression that adequately
describes my heart's fondness for and appreciation for those numberless
brothers and sisters whom I have never met, but yet love with an
unexplainable affection.  There is no less stumbling even when it comes
to greeting those whom I do know personally.

As my son-in-law, Jim, says ---- "It's probably a God thing."  

I agree.  There is just something so very special about the kindred
spirit relationship we hold dear between all fellow believers.

So ---- joyous greetings, brother!  Blessings above measure to you, dear
sister!  You both are part of my life, and I'm so grateful and so
blessed!  Thank you from the depths of my heart for being who you are,
and for being who you are to me.  What a privilege God has given me!



UNEXPECTED REVELATION:

Last Monday was an ordinary one ---- Jo Ann and I had enjoyed a somewhat
leisurely morning of respective office work after a "sleep late" cup of
coffee, and we had made our trek to our favorite eating place in Collins
(Smith's Berry Farm and Family Restaurant) for a big juicy cheeseburger
and spicy fries.  (We do indulge in such evils on occasion.)  Even though
such a tiny hamlet on the highway, population 144, Collins has four
popular and busy restaurants situated on the main highway between Kansas
City and Springfield.  Smith's, in our "most humble but accurate"
opinion, is the best.

And, yet ---- it turned out to be a quite unusual and unbelievably
exciting day for me.

During that lunch break, Jo Ann shared a conversation she'd had the day
before with one of the ladies in the church where I serve as interim
pastor.  As you recall, the church has had a history of difficult and
troubling experiences, the most recent of which was to lose a pastor
earlier this year, and subsequently, scores of church members.

Our ministry there has been thoroughly thrilling to our hearts as we have
watched hurting and hungry people grasping for virtually every word of
hope and encouragement I have been able to offer them.

Yet, there has been something troubling my spirit for the past three
months.  

While there has been unbelievable healing and restoration taking place
among these believers, it seemed as if there were barriers remaining that
prohibited these dear saints from being free to share mutual
communication and fellowship with each other in unobstructed fashion.  

I first noticed it within the Church Council ---- more times than not I
had to initiate discussion about specific matters, and sometimes, after
nearly forcing the issue, I would still come away aware that no
substantive communication had ever occurred.  This happened at almost
every meeting.

Then there were those periodic experiences when I sensed a key leader was
unusually quiet and sullen in his mannerisms and conversations during
services.  I would also get occasional reports of continued bickering and
hurtful discussions going on either during business meetings (which I
never attend) or over the phone.

I got the feeling that these people were going through a "hell on earth"
episode of having the rip tide drag them under again, just about the time
they thought there were going to make it to shore.

So, when Jo Ann offered me her "hamburger helper" comment, I wasn't ready
for what she said ---- but it sure got me excited when she said it.

"I had an interesting conversation with [Sue] yesterday while you were in
Church Council meeting," she said.

Not waiting for my response, she continued.  "As we were talking about
the state of the church, [Sue] said she felt the church was like a family
that had not finished grieving over the painful experiences of recent
months.  She says she feels that's the reason some people are still
hesitant to share their hearts, and still others share their anger and
frustrations when they speak."

F-L-A-S-H-!    

B-R-I-G-H-T   L-I-G-H-T-S-!  

T-R-U-M-P-E-T-S-!    

It hit me like a lightning bolt!

THAT WAS IT!  

That explains everything!

When a family ----and the church is described in familial terms (sons,
children, brothers, sisters, family, household, etc.) ---- goes through
some type of a heart wrenching traumatic experience, lots of things
happen that tend to magnify or extend the varied forms of hurt, pain, and
frustrations.

So, why not the same thing with a church?

Before my cheeseburger was half consumed, I knew in my heart that the
following thoughts I am sharing with you would be the content of my
message for the church.  I shared it with them yesterday, and told them
that the number one need they had as a congregation was to complete the
grieving process over things that have happened over the past year or
two.

Here's part of what I shared with them.



WE'RE FAMILY:

Of the more than 25 different terms used to describe the Church, "Family"
is one of the most obvious, but also one of the most neglected.  As a
Biblical reference to my following comments, take time to read Romans
12:9-15 (3-5), Ephesians 4:25, Ephesians 2:14-22 (19), and Ephesians
3:14-21 (15).

Then let me make the following observations:

The Church is clearly described as a "family" with such terms as I
mentioned earlier.  We are indeed a part of God's family, and
consequently, a part of the same family ---- like it or not, we're
brothers and sisters with an awesome "elder brother" and an unbelievable
"Father".

As such, the church family carries many of the characteristics of a
typical human family into its life, practices, and relationships.  It
experiences familial joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments,
victories and failures, reunions and squabbles, celebrations and losses.

During those many experiences of corporate family life, there are things
that happen which will either bring that family together or will pull it
apart ---- for example, a birth or a death, a marriage or a divorce, a
blessing or an abuse, and so on.  

Depending on both the individual and the corporate spiritual condition
found in the church family, it will either positively Respond or
negatively React in regard to those experiences.  If there is a positive
response, the church family is blessed all the more; if there is a
negative reaction, it is wounded still further.

In any given year, the average church will have enough "family" struggles
to create fragmentation at the very least, and perhaps even destruction
at the very worst.

For there to be proper Biblical resolution of such family struggles,
there must be a number of things that transpire, not the least of which
is the necessity of adequate grieving, healing, reconciliation,
forgiveness, appreciation, understanding, respect, and acceptance.

Often the primary missing ingredient is, of all things, the inadequate
presence of the Grieving Process.  When a person has been sorely wounded
or disappointed as a result of some event, circumstance, or conduct, his
world is often jerked out from under his feet like a rug on a slick floor
---- and when he lands, he lands hard.

When that happens, many inappropriate reactions can take place ---- angry
words, self pity, rallying around a "cause", abandonment of
responsibility, withdrawal, withholding of tithes and talents, etc.

Many of the feelings, actions, and expressions a church goes through
after a traumatic and hurtful experience are the direct result of the
lack of thorough and satisfactory grieving over what happened.  People
tend to "stuff it" inside, refuse to talk about it, and are fearful of
getting too open and vulnerable to others because they don't really know
where the others may themselves be in the process.



WHAT REQUIRES ADEQUATE GRIEVING?

There is more than adequate Biblical precedent for making this case.  For
example, Sarah, deeply depressed and disappointed in her own barrenness,
recommends Hagar to Abram with whom to have a son.  After Ishmael is
born, Sarah becomes spiteful, jealous, sullen, sarcastic, and nearly
blasphemous in her attitude toward Hagar, Ishmael, Abram, ---- and even
God.

Or, consider Esau and Jacob.  Esau, a "live for the moment" guy is so
stunned over his brother's calculated strategy to both steal and keep the
birthright, that the entire family is fractured and alienated from each
other for more than twenty years.

How about Jacob's wives, Rachel and Leah?  Again, because of Rachel's
barrenness, Leah creates an alienating wedge between Jacob and his first
love that results in  years of family disfunction and misery.  That
shouldn't be all that surprising, though, when you have Jacob for a
husband and Laban for a father, both subtle manipulators filled with
trickery and deception.

Then, of course, you have David and his heartbreaking spirit crushing
episodes with Absolom, having begun through David's adultery and ending
with Absolom's tragic death as the despicable leader of a political coup
against his own father.

Look at the two Prodigal Brothers and the chaos brought into that family
when one brother wanted to sow his wild oats so early in life that the
older brother got stuck at home tending the family farm and taking care
of his parents.  Jealousy, self pity, self indulgence, accusations,
hatred, resentment, and even guilt ---- all fully disfunctional reactions
to episodes totally lacking in a grieving and forgiving process, in spite
of the honor and integrity of a loving and caring father.

Finally, consider all Paul has to say to the Corinthian Church and how
unbelievably distorted and malfunctioned it was in even the most basic
and fundamental of Christian human relationships.  Misusing spiritual
gifts, condoning sexual perversions, abusing the Lord's supper, are just
a few of the things that church endured before they finally got their act
together.



So ---- what are some wound creating events that require adequate
grieving as a part of the healing process?

1.  Death.  When a pastor leaves a church under blissful conditions, it
is like a loved one dying.  In both cases a special person has been taken
from them, and an empty void is all that remains.  

Yet, at the same time, they are required to move on, when, in many
instances, they have not adequately grieved over their loss.  There is a
place and a need for a church to sufficiently grieve the "death" of a
pastor (or another person of influence) before health can be restored and
vision can be renewed.

2.  Divorce.  When a pastor is terminated under some type of difficult
situation, it is like a divorce.  All of a sudden the spiritual "bread
winner" has either left in anger or has been kicked out of the house.  

The wife is deeply hurt, the kids are confused, often wondering if it was
all their fault, there is an alienation of affection and a division of
loyalties as some remain loyal to the "mom" while others take up the
cause for the "dad".  There is so much wounding that has taken place
here, that what little healing that does take place will happen only on
the surface unless there is adequate opportunity for the "family" to
openly and corporately grieve ---- for as long as necessary.

3.  Devastating Events.  Experiences of a tragic nature cause extremely
deep pain and suffering.  The death of a beloved church member, a tragic
bus accident, the moral failure of a staff member or other church member,
the discovery of terminal illness by one of the pastors, are events that
require a time of grieving in order for the church to move on in the
future.

Keeping a stiff upper lip is not the order of the day in such a case. 
People need to be able to openly weep and grieve instead of trying to
hide the hurt behind a facade of intensified activity and artificial
distractions.

Both the medical and psychological fields agree that there is some
extraordinary therapeutic catharsis that takes place when proper grieving
is allowed ---- and it nearly always will bring inevitable healing and
restored health.  It is a good thing to grieve properly.

4.  Divisive Conflicts.  Again, such family fist fights and feuds result
in hurt, sorrow, and shame ---- and they must be grieved over before
reconciliation can be achieved.  If a person is not brought to a point of
grieving over his own conduct or that of another against him, he will
never be able to forgive and be reconciled. 

I think this is a part of what the writer described as "godly sorrow
leading to repentance".  Divisive conflicts will remain both divisive and
ongoing if they are not Biblically resolved.  A time of godly sorrow and
grieving is the beginning of the healing process, and must not be avoided
or overlooked.

5.  "Run-away Children".  Nothing wounds a family like a child that
leaves home in anger or rebellion.  And, it doesn't have to be a physical
phenomenon ---- they may just run away emotionally.  They have,
nonetheless, run away from home.  And it hurts ---- terribly.  Jo Ann and
I know.

The family must have an opportunity for grieving if they are to ever
return to normal function, health, and vitality.  When members of the
church family "run away" the same pain is experienced, but with a greater
intensity I feel.  

Why is that?  I think it is because in a biological family, your appeals
can come from some degree of parental authority in which you can sometime
"demand" the child return home.  In a church family, though, the pressure
and influence of authority do not exist ---- hence an intensified degree
of frustration, sorrow, and hopelessness.

6.  Suicide.  Perhaps nothing is more devastating to a family than a
member willfully taking his own life.  After the shock and the sorrow,
the anger and feelings of guilt can come ---- anger toward the one who
killed himself (or anger toward God for not stopping it), and guilt over
one's own possible failure to prevent it or even actions that may have
caused it.

Church members commit spiritual suicide sometimes, and those moments are
heart wrenching to the church.  Writhing in convulsive regurgitations of
unspeakable pain, a church must have time to mourn and grieve such a
tragedy before it can face the future with hope and without fear of
possible repetition in the future.

7.  Death before Birth.  Many families suffer the heartbreak of
barrenness, miscarriages, and even abortions ---- all of them experiences
of death before birth.  During the first three years of my pastoral life,
I conducted the funerals of a suicide, a centenarian, and a still born
baby.  The grief and sorrow I saw on the faces of that young couple as
the dad carried that little white coffin less than 18 inches long to the
gravesite remains vivid in my mind more than 25 years after it happened.

Church families often face the premature death of a vision yet to be
born, miscarried because of some event that totally dislodged the vision
from its womb of development and preparation.  A sanctuary can burn, a
factory can close down putting too many members out of work, a pastor can
be struck down by a speeding automobile ---- and the world comes crashing
down.

And all hope is gone.  Something died before it had time to be born.

I know of nothing that will intimidate a church family more than
wondering if something like that might happen again if they dare to dream
a new dream and follow a new vision.



INTERLUDE:

At this moment, I see I cannot adequately cover my remaining thoughts, so
I will continue the subject next week.  It would not be fair to you or to
the subject for me to go further.  In the next one or two letters I will
discuss . . .

"Characteristics of Inadequate Grieving"

"Basic Elements of the Grieving Process"

"Keys To Restoring Church Family Unity and Health"

In the meantime, my friend ----

Do you know of a church that needs to grieve?  Do you know of believers
who are holding it all inside, unwilling to let the heartbreak and pain
of past episodes be released to the healing touch of our Great Physician
and Wonderful Counselor?

Is it possible you might be such a person?

I have great news, precious brother or sister!  

And I anxiously and impatiently wait to share it with you next week.

In Christ's Bond of Mercy, Grace, and Love,

Bob

Bob Tolliver ---- (Rom 1:11-12)
Copyright October, 1999.  All rights reserved.

If this letter has blessed you and you know of someone else who needs to
be encouraged, feel free to forward it in its entirety to all such people
you know.

If you would like a list of past issues which you could receive upon
request, just let us know.

                                __
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                          { (O) (O) }
------oOOOo--------U-------oOOOo------

        Hang in there!   I'm with you!

-------.oooo0--------------- Ooooo--------
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