CALL IT WHAT IT IS: ABUSE
CALL IT WHAT IT IS: ABUSE
I GAVE 10 YEARS OF MY LIFE AS A LOYAL MEMBER IN A NETWORK CHURCH. OBEDIENCE, CONTROL, AND CONFORMITY GRADUALLY SHADED THE FREEDOM OF THE GOSPEL
- Author: Anonymous | Service team leader for 8 years + Member for 10 years
- Attended: Network Church, Midwestern United States | 2010-2020
- This story was published December, 2021
HOW I FOUND THE NETWORK
I was raised in the church. A wonderful church. I had a beautiful and life-giving foundation of church background growing up. One to this day I can say that I am deeply thankful for and impacted by. Jesus saved me and grounded me early in life and I'm eternally thankful. When I started college I left my church I grew up in solely because there were very, very few people my age at my home church. A friend invited me to try a Network Church with her. A new to town, young church plant with hunger and zeal. I remember feeling the unfamiliarity of the format of service my first Sunday, but at the same time excited for change with a young church.
In 2010 I started getting involved and jumped in with both feet. I was single at the time, joined a women's small group, and began helping with a group of young women that I would lead and walk with for the next 8 years. Along with the worship team. The first couple of years were full of life, joy filled, and deeply encouraging. Relationships were deep and the community was on fire and flourishing. A couple years later in 2012 I met, dated, and married my husband. We joined a new small group of couples together.
We have been married for a decade now, but our first couple years of marriage were quite challenging for a number of reasons. We began to feel what we now know were the first signs of spiritual abuse during this season as our story joined and shifted together at the church.
I share none of the following out of bitterness or anger. But to attest to the facts of our experience. I just don’t want to be afraid anymore to share our story or of what people will think of us. Jesus has done much healing and undoing the past almost 2 years since we left. And we know that the Lord will always be at work in messy places. His glory will be revealed in the end and the mystery of his goodness working is profound. We believe that God's goodness is forever at work in the lives of broken people and broken places. However, we think we must join the conversation of accountability to a network of churches that's leaving a pile of bodies behind them for the sake of “the mission” and calling it worth it.
We must join the conversation of accountability to a network of churches that's leaving a pile of bodies behind them for the sake of “the mission” and calling it worth it.
I had a boss at an old job who called the people at our church “weirdly loyal.” That was us. We were the weirdly loyal ones.
In 2012 we found ourselves in a toxic and unhealthy small group with leaders who were hurting as well. The male leader was willing and wanted to lead the small group and his wife did not want to be in the position they were put in. It was a group of people who had a lot of emotional and mental trauma in their own personal lives and it was brought to the group. Marriages were hurting, and we found out later one of the men in the group was verbally abusing and controlling his wife. It was a group of people with some aggressive and loud opinions that truly struggled to have fun together and we were all getting bad advice and following it from leadership. We were a part of it the best we could be at the time and the small group leader did the best with what it was. But it was not a healthy or thriving group. This mattered because we wanted to pursue a licensed christian counselor for our own marriage and were told: “No, talk to our small group leader instead of pursuing a therapist outside the church.”
So we didn’t pursue counseling at that time, but equally didn’t feel comfortable or trust sharing our struggles with our small group leaders because of where we knew they were at.
Two years into this small group it was growing increasingly harmful and hurtful to us and others. We talked with our DC Pastor at the time and asked him to join another small group because we were hurting, the group was hurting, and our leaders were hurting. We would end up asking 3 times to leave this group. We were told “No, I would like you to keep with it. They need solid people that are coming consistently.” The trouble was we equally needed help and were not only having to ask permission to leave a unhealthy small group and told “no,” but also deterred from getting help with a licensed therapist for our marriage because we should go to our small group leaders who had absolutely no training in marriage counseling and were equally in a painful season themselves. Eventually things came to light, one couple got a divorce, a group of people from the small group left the church, and others walked away from the Lord altogether. The small group “dissolved,” and we had a sit down with our DC pastor who did apologize to us for keeping us in this group for three years, but damage had been done.
Our pastor told us not to pursue counseling and to go instead to our small group leaders who had absolutely no training in marriage counseling and were equally in a painful season themselves.
We started marriage counseling with a licensed therapist right away, outside the church, and without telling anyone, because we knew therapy was heavily frowned upon. To this day I still don’t know why, but many knew the stigma and were told the same. Friends at the church were deterred by lead pastors not to go to counseling outside the church. Those I know that did go did so quietly without telling anyone for fear of being told not to or the stigma within the church of it. People that had experienced real trauma, loss, abuse, and illness in their lives and needed help were deterred from getting it and kept in the advice of the church. Very few of the male pastors in The Network have training in mental, medical, or emotional health or are licensed in any way to talk through and help with those who have experienced real trauma, loss, or abuse, illness or disabilities. Prayer is wonderful, right and good. It's also not the only answer to help people or a substitute for counseling with a licensed therapist or Doctor.
During this period we knew we needed help. Which takes a lot of courage to even admit that, but every interaction we had with our leaders and pastors prodded us to stay in line. And we did.
I personally felt that if I went against what he asked or advised me to do they would ask us to leave as they did others, remove us from serving places, shame us, or continue to keep us stuck in an unhelpful cycle of control over us. To this day I struggle with a fear based “just be quiet” obedience because of how I was led. Not for what was best for us, our marriage or the actual people in our small group at all, but what was best for the church's growth, the small group, and leaders' agenda in growing and multiplying groups. I was afraid to do anything “wrong” or disappoint them so I complied with their requests or “advice” and grew more and more afraid to question authority or ask questions. Not because anyone was harsh or mean, but because there was a very controlling, manipulative, extremely defensive atmosphere.
Our leaders and pastors prodded us to stay in line with every interaction.
Every time we tried to question a belief or practice it was met with great defensiveness, and rarely humility. To this day we can tell you that God used our time in marriage counseling outside the church, with a licensed therapist, to bring a life and deep healing to our marriage despite our DC pastors’ bias against it. I will be forever thankful for these sessions of marriage counseling. We have been flourishing and thriving, of course imperfectly, since.
In 2015, we got involved in a new small group for the next several years that multiplied out eventually taking us with them in the “core.” At the time I continued leading the young women's group I had served since I started coming. My husband was serving on a worship team and we began a rhythm for a number of years. We participated and joined the culture of the church, and rarely missed a thing. It felt alive and we had dear friendships (or so we thought). We loved being a part of it all and serving. There were some beautiful relationships and seasons I will always hold dear there.
However, we watched as the church went from outwardly focused on the community to extremely inwardly focused, paranoid, secretive, and quite legalistic in church and network. So much became about the mission of church planting or church beliefs in an extremely dominating way. This included our roles in the church now.
CHURCH PLANTING SHADED THE GOSPEL
Church planting, the way it's done in the network, was the new king and the gospel seemed taught to serve it.
Money was taught to serve it. Revolution kids were told to consider applying to colleges in the Network cities or consider going on the next church plant and begin college there instead of going to colleges anywhere else. They did away with Bag Hunger for the local community for I’m sure many reasons, but one reason we were told was the recipients were simply showing up to take food not coming to be a part of the church.
As we looked around we started to ask ourselves where the poor, orphaned and widowed were. Those Jesus came to love and serve. And even if we did have open arms for them would they be “allowed to stay” if they didn’t participate the way leaders eventually would want them too?
We began to see more patterns emerge as time went on. Things that we wouldn't know till later were spiritual abuses, subtle manipulations, and controlling behavior because they were the “normal” church culture. Many that we don't believe were intended or orchestrated by any means and others which were quite intentionally caused by the systematic ways that young men are taught to lead. We were all expected to “give it all up for Jesus” to be on mission and if we didn’t...our faith, serving areas, and willingness was questioned as we will show in the rest of our story.
We were taught that God would be pleased with us if we benefited the church, even if that meant struggling or sacrificing until it hurt.
There was this teaching that if you owned something or had something or someone in your life that brought you joy...then it was an idol and needed to be given over or up to God. I felt often an air of if we were struggling or sacrificing till it hurt, but the church benefited then God was pleased with us. And some suggestions for giving were extreme and unwise in many cases. Suggestions like selling cars, giving up your savings/retirement, or downsizing to give to church plants when it simply wasn't wise in many cases. But wisdom and “giving it up for Jesus” were a thin line and an often debated topic. Unwise or even risky financial decisions were often presented by leaders to be wise if they benefited the church or unwise if they didn’t. Like moving to a different city for a new job.
LEADERS SHAMED AND MANIPULATED OTHERS TO CONFORM
We watched even more as young people who were new christians were prayed over and told what God wanted them to do with their lives. A number of times when leaders and prayer team members prayed over us they told us, supposedly, what God was directly telling us to do with our lives. And sadly we were taught and did the same.
Personal revelations by leaders that “knew better” or God had given them personal revelation for that person. New Christians that were learning and didn’t yet have their own teachable, biblical, discernment. Things like guilting and shaming people into coming to conferences, and if they couldn't, were unable, or simply didn't want to, people were shamed, guilted, and shunned in manipulative ways. Young men with charisma and an all-in attitude (including my own relative) were groomed and “called out and set apart.”
Personal revelations started to become another way of control. A pastor or leader would supposedly get a personal revelation from God about what was next for the people they were praying over. Ironically the people being prayed over with the same Holy Spirit didn't often seem to get these personal revelations from the Lord themselves till they were prayed over by this pastor or leaders is an extremely dangerous practice for a number of reasons. Speaking for God directly to another person about “what's next” for their life. You can quickly control people with this practice, it’s unbiblical, and many were controlled by this practice and did whatever revelation was given to them. They often came from a pastor or small group leader. And “God” was specific in these revelations for the next pastors. Young men under the age of 30 with a lot of charisma.
This became a pattern. Young men were asked to give it all up and serve Jesus by becoming the next pastor or small group leader. And how could you argue with your leader...they heard from God right...and the Bible tells us to obey our leaders. This topic is heavily, heavily emphasized. Obey your leader. And there is a cost if you don’t. The phrase “if you disobey me you are disobeying God'' was thrown around on a number of occasions. Shepherding with a humble, servant heart of Christ by coming under His will and leading was replaced with a fear-based demand for behavioral obedience. The young men that responded with obedience were noticed.
On more than one occasion I heard a leader say, “If you disobey me you are disobeying God."
One example there was a young man who had loads of charisma that had started coming to our small group with his wife. Naturally, church leadership was very excited about him and wanted to “fast track” (a common phrase) him to leadership. One night his wife was upstairs in our home during prayer at small group crying and shared with me that he was abusing her at home. I realized then they didn’t actually take the time to get to KNOW this young man at all. But he had loads of charisma and fit the role of the “boys club” (another common, sadly comical, phrase among a lot of us about the all male leadership) really well. Even if it was caught and he wasn’t going to lead we started to see the danger and lack of depth of any real relationships.
We were cared about when we served a purpose in that system.
Real relationships in many ways became second to attendance, obedience or what you could do for the church. Showing up when they wanted and becoming who they wanted them to be earned you a spot in the inner circles. Small groups and small group leaders that could grow, gather people, and multiply groups like crazy were held up and verbally praised for their shining example. I often wondered and grew concerned though about how many souls were actually growing in real relationship with a biblical Christ and who were thrown into the system of it all cause they could gather and replicate. You can see it all over the leadership. We were cared about when we served a purpose in that system. That was often the reality of our personal experience.
THE CHURCH STEADILY BEAME MORE CONTROLLING AND INSULAR
We also began to notice we had to justify what we did with our time outside of the church. We had to defend our friendships with people who were not in the church unless we were pursuing them to “disciple them.” Our love for Jesus was called into question when we had questions about the problematic behavior we were seeing or when we were not aligned with the controlling aspects of the church’s secondary beliefs and mission.
Teachings were taken down publicly and password protected for members only. If we were unable to attend an event, conference, DC, or team meeting we received phone calls or texts asking for a reason for our absence. We were “the core” and we were required to be at everything unless there was a truly good reason. I started to feel like my life, time, and freedoms were not my own but the church’s.
Small group attendance was strictly enforced, watched and communicated. Attendance was actually recorded into a system after group by name. I know this because I personally recorded attendance by each person's name after group. I have never had a church I have attended before or since take attendance. Keeping track of numbers for planning sake, yes, but not by name attendance. Now being out it's such an obvious red flag of control, to have a record of each name of how often people were or weren't coming. Now that I have some distance from this environment I relish the freedom to come and go and just be in community without a record of my weekly church attendance.
If we were unable to attend an event, conference, DC, or team meeting we received phone calls or texts asking for a reason for our absence.
Women were drastically taken out of leadership positions and have nearly no place in the churches or Network anymore. For example, we had a women's retreat one fall and women were not allowed to teach at it regardless of the fact that many women had a gift of leadership and teaching. Only the male pastors could teach at women's events and it was always awkward. I realized recently what I deeply missed out on because women are not allowed to speak...I’m not talking pastor...speak at events at all. I went to a women's event at our new church this fall and they had women teaching at it and I was afforded the beautiful gift of hearing someone teach from a Godly womanhood perspective, a motherhood perspective, and a single woman perspective. Godly women sharing their hearts and teaching from the Bible about living this life as women that want to honor the Lord together. I missed out on hearing the church make a place and room for the voices of God fearing, God honoring women for 10 years.
PEOPLE WERE TREATED LIKE COMMODITIES
People's gifts, abilities, talents, jobs, and even ethnicity were used as “tools'' for the mission. My own husband's ethnicity was used on worship teams to make the worship teams appear more racially diverse on Sundays. A message went out explaining that they split people with ethnic diversity and put them on different teams to make the teams look diverse. They told my husband God wanted him to lead so he started leading on our DC nights and yet when they no longer “needed or wanted” him, not kidding, they asked him to step down from those serving areas and he did as he was told. “God's calling” that they prayed over him must have changed. But that's specific to him and his story to tell.
We watched couples and friends we knew with jobs and night shifts, friends with illnesses, family needs or special life circumstances that did not accommodate the ability to attend all the meetings, conferences or events be told God would want them to find new jobs or go somewhere else that suited them because “this church isn’t for everyone or it is not everyone’s cup of tea”, even though the Bible tells me that God's church is for everyone. Some that lived out of town were asked to move closer to town in order to be a better, more involved part of the church body. If they couldn’t accommodate the leader’s request they were asked to find another church that better suited them. A friend in our small group with depression was suggested to go off his medications and “trust” God for healing. Can God do it? Of course. (But to tell a young man what to do for his mental health and base it off of fear of obedience instead of love or care for his wholeness and wellbeing.) Why were 20 something year old pastors, with no medical, emotional or mental health training telling people what medications to take or not take?
As church planting ramped up in 2015 things started to take another drastic shift in the culture of the church and leaders. We were told they felt like God may want my husband and I on the latest church plant. However, as we prayed and discerned for ourselves the latest church plant was not indeed what God was telling us through this pastor to do. Far from it.
I remember people would often use the phrase “I would follow so and so anywhere” and I always felt so uncomfortable with it because we should never be willing to follow any one person, anywhere, at any cost, but only the will of God in our specific lives. And we can ask the Lord for clarity for our own stories and He gladly gives it. I realized a lie I believed for a long time because of the culture of the Network. It's the original lie from the garden. That God was withholding from me. That some leader had a “personal revelation” from God about my story and it would only come through their prayer or my leader's permission for us. It's been in the undoing that I know the truth. That God my Father isn't withholding anything from me. The Holy Spirit is in me too and will lead me and my husband biblically and will never cause confusion or dominance through a leader to control us and what's next in our family’s story.
WHY WE LEFT THE NETWORK
Our last couple of years were the years the Lord started to bring to light the controlling culture of the church & Network. We started to feel like things were off. Unity was now uniformity. Our church would plant 4 churches in 5 years. Our final year would come to be the most telling year of all for us. Bringing things into light and us finally recognizing years of controlling, manipulative behavior by our leadership and even people that we thought were dear friends. Not the whole time by any means, but a large part of it in hindsight.
We deeply believe the Lord allowed the following breakdowns and events for us to see behind the curtain of the church and their agenda. We likely wouldn't have seen it otherwise.
SHARING A CONCERN ABOUT THE CHILDCARE PROGRAM
In 2019 the latest church plant was announced.
At this time we had an incident with our daughter in childcare at a team meeting. She was 7 months old. We were called back to get her and she was on the floor alone, crying, and (you know your kid) we could tell she had been crying for a long time before we were called back. There were twice the number of children as there were adults. It was an alarming scene. She was ok, but we had some growing concerns and questions about the childcare situation at that time. We weren't those painoid first-time parents. We and many others had concerns about how few adults for how many kids there were. We had already been keeping her out of DC child care and having my Mom watch her on DC nights because of the questionable care for the amount of kids on DC nights.
This was not the first time something like this had happened with our child or others. We felt a conviction in our spirits and decided, with autonomy over our own lives and child as God has put us over her life, care, and safety, when my Mom wasn't able to watch her, to keep her in church with us just till they had time to sort out childcare. We knew it was an influx of people and simply needed some time and attention to get sorted out.
Not in my 10 years had I ever sent an email or raised concerns like this. I had always talked in person but this felt bigger and we wanted to be heard well and that was hard to accomplish. I had asked a friend on staff who to talk to and the best way to handle our concerns and questions in order to be heard well. She suggested an email as a place to start, and to keep it simple and lighthearted. We sent an email with both encouragement to the DC pastor, a willingness to talk more in person, and raised our concerns. It was received with grace, understanding, and kindness.
Or so we thought.
NOT EXCITED ENOUGH ABOUT CHURCH PLANTING TO LEAD A SMALL GROUP
At the same time we were bringing up these concerns, our small group leaders were going on the next church plant. Our group leader met with my husband. And asked him to lead and take over the small group we were in. Turns out he jumped the gun and wasn’t supposed to ask us. We ended up being called to the church without our group leader, just the DC pastor, and he told us the group leader had not talked things through with him yet and we were not supposed to be asked nor did they want us (well, my husband, not us) leading a group.
Naturally, we asked their thoughts and reasons? One of the reasons told to my husband was that when church plants were announced he had a lack of excitement and that they could tell the church plant process was hard on him. Which it was. You go to these meetings where secrets have been kept for months. Then they drop this big announcement of sending a team and name some of the members and dear friends who were going that you didn’t know of till that moment. Secrets were to be kept from dear friends till the big Church plant announcement night. You were hit with all these emotions at once and you are trying to process everything, and you're expected to respond accordingly with celebration!
But because he was being watched at team meetings and when church plants were announced he didn’t clap and jump with excitement; his lack of zeal during church plant announcements was a reason not to lead a group. I shared with this DC pastor that my husband is one of the truly most humble, meek, loving, gentle, kind, genuine, Godly men I know. I see all of it at home and these characteristics they wanted in their leaders are deeply true of the amazing man I got to marry. He's a man of great character that loves, serves, and leads his wife and family well, as well as others around him. Did solid character and a love for Jesus and others to know Him not matter as much as excitement for church planting? The DC pastor said those things do matter, but that they needed leaders who are “on mission.” Our DC pastor told us.
AH. There it was.
He proceeded to also bring up our email about our child care concerns saying it had been shared with all the staff pastors and mentioned as a reason they didn’t want us leading. It was concerning to them that we would make a decision about our daughter without talking things through with them first.
It was concerning to the pastors and staff that we would make a decision about our daughter without talking things through with them first.
Lastly, this might sound like a nuisance but I think this is important to note because of the way relationships are viewed and done through the Network. Friendships were, not always, but sometimes used and abused for what you had to offer. Friendships were not for simply walking through seasons of life with people in a healthy way. It was not ok to just inhabit the beauty of Godly friendships; the good and the hard.
When the goal was to plant churches every year people became commodities and friendships were viewed as revolving doors. We valued real relationships, walking out life together, and we just simply wanted to care for the people we were walking with. Not for who fit the role we were playing at the time in the church.
When the goal was to plant churches every year people became commodities and friendships were viewed as revolving doors.
Our DC pastor shared with us that we had too high of expectations for community and friendship. I was taken back and stopped him, and asked him to share with us what he thought those expectations were. Because we certainly hadn't verbally shared any of our “expectations” and knew for sure they were getting misinterpreted by him and other pastors on staff. He shared with us that he thought we wanted this bizarre sort of “close relationship like I have with my wife.” An emotionally intimate best friend sort of friendship. He was “lovingly informing us” we were never going to have that with him. We were shocked. I remember my jaw-dropping and feeling extremely uncomfortable. We didn't want that. At all.
My husband jumped in and assured and corrected his bizarre assumption of our expectations that we were not indeed looking to be his intimate best friend. We just wanted people to care. And leaders often stopped caring and started controlling when they were given a pastoral role. He had been our DC pastor for years and often only talked to us when he needed something or we served a purpose. When we no longer fit the inner circle of our friends' new leadership roles in the church we were cut out of relationships. Expectations were suddenly too high regardless of the fact that we had been "doing life" together before their leadership changes. Now we were the ones with the wrong view of relationships?
MEETING WITH THE PASTORS
This confusing turn of events led to a list of questions and deeper concerns for us about our continued involvement in the church. Things began to snowball, come to light, and blow up. The next day two pastors came to our home in the middle of the day to talk with us. My husband had to take off work.
This conversation was an incredibly painful and hurtful one.
This painful day was the first time our once-dear friend had come to our home or talked to us that year since becoming a pastor.
One of the reasons being the other pastor who came was once a dear friend to my husband and I. Until he found out he was going to be a pastor then we were slowly cut out of their lives. His wife had lived with us for a time before they got married. We were in his and his wife's wedding. We did life together.
This painful day was the first time he had come to our home or talked to us that year since becoming a pastor.
He also brought up our email and shared that because he felt comfortable putting his child in childcare we should as well. Regardless of the fact that we have had different experiences.
We couldn't believe someone who was at once a dear friend was manipulating us. Because these Pastors feel strongly about something for themselves and their families, others must as well? The Pastors were composed and diplomatic as we conversed. My husband did most of the talking when we did speak, but this conversation ended with frustration on our part, tears, and a fear that we knew what was coming. We could have cared less about leadership roles or position. Christ came to serve and sacrifice. We want to do the same so others would know him and be saved by him.
What concerned us deeply and what we were seeing behind the curtain – what led to our leaving – was what was being shown behind these events. That they were willing to sacrifice people with an authentic love for Christ who wanted to care for other people, and had genuine faith, for the Network mission and leaders they could control.
They were willing to sacrifice people with an authentic love for Christ for the Network mission and leaders they could control.
We decided we needed one more conversation with a less emotional scene where we could ask our questions. Questions like why have women been taken out of most leadership positions? We were told they were having women lead only-women's small groups, but they kept getting married and only men lead coed small groups. They found it made more sense to just have men lead groups since women “kept getting married” and the small group would have to dissolve. A couple other things that stuck out to me in this conversation: We asked what happens when a christian’s “calling” or excitement for something outside the church or spiritual gifting doesn't serve the church planting mission the way they were executing it. (Note: We absolutely believe that church planting is Biblical...but the way it was being done in the network is damaging in so many ways as this site attests.) Can they be a part of the church if they feel led to help the community or love the people around them in a different way? For instance, The Network is opposed to external student ministries (Cru, Navigators so on). The pastor diplomatically shared that if someone felt led to be involved with these organizations that this just might not be the church for them. This stuck out to me, too.
DIVIDING FAMILIES, NOT FOR THE GOSPEL, BUT TO SERVE THE CHURCH'S GOALS
The DC pastor then told us he would not want to plant a church in his hometown because his family in his hometown would be a distraction to the mission. He also shared that a parent of his was not a believer. And I thought how odd...you have someone in your own family that doesn’t know Jesus and instead he's a distraction from your mission...which as a Christian should be simply sharing and telling people about Jesus so they might be saved and know him also, right? But that's not the mission that he meant, and we knew it. There is such a deep emphasis on leaving your biological family because they are distractions. I had believed this teaching for years with my parents and deeply regretted the way I treated and cut my parents out of my life for a number of years because of “the mission.”
Now that we’re on the outside we have had to carry all this through our own experience with our family and The Network. I now get what it feels to be on the outside.
One of my favorite Jen Wilkin quotes that clarified this for me is about loving her own children as her neighbors as we are all called to love others (as in Mark 12:31).
“Please help me to love the little neighbor you have placed in my home, and family, even as you have loved me.”
There is no distinction between our biological neighbors in our families and our next door neighbors. These are people we are called to love. But this distinction is very present in The Network.
Relationships will of course shift and change over time, but this was different. People were treated like they were disposable. Since we have left I have never felt more cast out or abandoned by people we once called dear, dear friends or even my own family members. The week we left one of the pastor's wives, someone I served with for 8 years, and a friend who was in our wedding (I hadn't spoken to her about anything in the leaving process) found out we were leaving through the grapevine and unfollowed me on all social media and hasn't spoken to me since.
I don’t share that at all out of bitterness, but because I want to communicate and show that the message when you are a leaver is more often than not: “don’t let the door hit you on the way out, and we are no longer able to be friends. When you're out you're out.”
Verses like Luke 14:26 were used and taught out of context as verses to leave your family. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Regardless of the fact that this verse is speaking to the idolatry of family rather than being an actual call to disown people that raised you, love you, and whom you're equally called to honor (Exodus 20:12).These verses from Exodus or the story of Ruth remaining with her mother in law contradict The Network’s teachings on this topic.
Teachings were often taken out of Biblical context to meet an end of teaching for the mission. Pastors don’t have one ounce of formal biblical training. They are simply taught by the young leader ahead of them who also has no biblical training which can dangerously create the systematic cycle that exists.
AFTER LEAVING THE NETWORK
I decided that my voice was not helpful in the leaving conversations so I stepped back and quieted my voice all together. I said and asked no more so they would hear our hearts as well as possible and that conversation was going to have to come from my husband. My husband had two more final conversations without me with staff pastors and he gave them our decision to leave the church in March 2020 after 10 years.
Please don’t get me wrong in any way. There were and are people there and across the network that we love. They are kind, love Jesus, and we care for them and they care for others. This makes leaving hurt all the more. It's been a painful 2 years since we have left. It's been disorienting trying to see and undo 10 years of it all. But to now be in a different, healthy church we see it all so clearly. No church is perfect of course, but we now know the beauty of a healthy community.
We now know the beauty of a healthy community.
A couple of examples: I own my own business and I was so happy to serve The Network church with it. I wanted to serve, truly. But also the expectation is that you give your gifts and talents to the church because you are there to serve the body. However I didn’t realize till I had this experience with our new church how used, and abused people's gifts, businesses, and talents were. My first month at our new church the pastor asked me to do two things from my business and paid me without even thinking about it, asking me, or expecting me to just do it. I had no clue they were going to pay me. It was so kind. And I cried at the healing that brought to me and my value. I had never had a church offer to pay me to do my job. It just made me feel so cared for, valued and appreciated. My new church did not use my gift. They supported it. Even though I would gladly offer it! It felt healthy and valuing.
I had never had my church offer to pay me to do my job before. I felt so cared for, valued and appreciated.
We also found out our new church offers to pay for their staff to go to counseling if they would like so they are pouring from a cared for, healthy, filled up cup. Learning that information about our new church was so healing and healthy based on our experience with it.
We have been able to keep some relationships from there and we have a tie back to The Network because my relative is a leader in the church. These relationships are difficult when they think we are making all this up or over-exaggerating when we see so clearly the spiritual abuses and controlling culture taking place while feeling the fear of being completely cut off from them when we love them. It just hurts.
The abuses and manipulation that took place with us are hard to undo. It's taking time, counseling, prayer, and undoing in many conversations that feel exhausting sometimes.
The abuses and manipulation that took place with us are hard to undo.
It's been one hit after another as we have been shunned in the leaving process. Only three people still speak to me from that Church. As we processed and prayed we felt the Lord caring for us deeply in leading us to a new church home. Unfortunately we left two weeks before the pandemic shut down. Trying to get to know a new church during a pandemic has added to the loneliness of leaving.
We have slowly been able to get involved and try to trust a new church again. Our first Sunday in person I felt like the Lord put on my heart that there would be joy for us there. It was a moment that melted my heart and gave me hope. Ultimately, God is our healer. And of course church will always be messy and imperfect. I have since seen that there is a huge difference between imperfect and unhealthy.
After we left we felt the nudge that it was time to start over. For other reasons as well we sold our home, moved across town, and have started over in every way. We needed to. And it was hard, lonely, and isolating. God has been so kind, healing, and faithful at EVERY turn in our leaving and healing process though.
It has been healing to call these experiences what they were: abuse.
I have been speaking to a counselor since leaving and realizing in that decade all the spiritual abuses, unbiblical teachings, controlling, heavy-handed leadership, manipulations, and mourning those who watched at the end and didn’t stand up for us that took place. It has been healing to call these experiences what they were: abuse. Even if unintended, it was abuse.
I remember while we were a part of it all the leavers were often talked about as if they were blowing up their lives and abandoning the mission because they didn’t have what it took to give it all up for Jesus or were not fit for it. One lead pastor in the network calls these the people who “didn’t make it.” But we will make it, won't we!? Not because a leader in a church tells me I will, but because Jesus has saved us and made us right before him! We are his children. Not because of what things we have done or will do for him, but because of who he is and what he did for us. The beauty of the gospel.
We know what king we will be standing before at the end of our days. And it isn't The Network, but Jesus Christ. King of kings and Lord of lords.
We know what king we will be standing before at the end of our days. And it isn't The Network, but Jesus Christ. King of kings and Lord of lords. We will make it.
Because it is He who loves us perfectly as we try to move forward, heal, start over and love others the best we can till that day!