I had a wonderful opportunity to recently speak with Ken Garrett. Ken wrote a book that has impacted me as much as any I’ve read on the topic of abusive churches, In the House of Friends. He is a kind and gracious man that offered to speak with me and another couple about our experiences in cultic/abusive/authoritarian churches. I’m not sure it’s necessary to name all these adjectives which carry a lot of overlap, but I hope it helps define more clearly what I mean.
Ken is a good listener. Listening is generally not a skill employed by authoritarian pastors. They’d rather be talking. But Ken listens and then he thinks and then he responds. I really admire how he does that, and I want to learn from how he interacts with people. Lastly, he asks questions. Good, probing questions. Designed to make you think. I like that.
In our conversation, Ken asked how will surviving an abusive church impact your future life in ministry. What kind of a pastor do you think you’ll be? He goes on and articulates that someone that has been through the abuse dynamic has a much more in-tuned sense of abuse and authoritarians. I believe this is true for me. I’ve become quite adept at picking up on things I wouldn’t have noticed before.
My response to the question is that I want to be empathetic and compassionate. To know that God’s design in suffering is not only for our benefit (and it is) but it is for the benefit of others. All these ultimately glorify God.
I’ve written before, in other places, that suffering primarily comes in one of three ways. Suffering can come via the sinfulness of others. Someone wrongs us or does harm to us. It might be intentional or unintentional, but we are often hurt by others.
Secondly, our suffering can come from our own sin. When we do things that are ungodly, or just plain stupid, it often causes intense pain. For example, a man is unfaithful to his wife. His sin caused the pain and the betrayal that comes upon them. Do you remember David’s sin?
Lastly, suffering can come from the Hand of God. Job is a good example of God’s Sovereign use of Satan to ultimately humble Job and glorify God. Most people in our modern Christian context find this reprehensible. After all, “why would a loving God do such a thing?” At the end of the trial, Job knew why, and he acknowledged the Lord’s purpose in it all.
The last words we hear Job speak are these; “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” – Job 42:5-6
Job was a righteous man, the Scriptures make that clear, but God had things to teach him. Just as He may have things to teach us. Even in our suffering, there is a great purpose. If you’ve had these sufferings, you know the pain, but in the pain, there is a future joy that surpasses our present circumstances. In this, we can have great hope and peace.