BLACKLISTED BECAUSE OF BAPTISM
By Michelle B.
BLACKLISTED BECAUSE OF BAPTISM:
HOW GOD FAITHFULLY PROTECTED OUR FAMILY THROUGH UNBIBLICAL SUBMISSION DEMANDS
- Author: Michelle B. | Church Member, Serving Teams
- Attended: Clear River Church, Lafayette, Indiana | 2011-2022
- This story was published February 2023
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
I am humbly sharing my Network story, not to point fingers, not to create division, but with the prayer to help others move forward and help myself heal. Clear River Church was a predominant part of my life for eleven and a half years and I struggled in ways that align with stories from other former Network members. I affirm that the experiences and hurt felt by so many others are real. My story is not one of sexual abuse nor direct interactions with Steve Morgan, but a story of how all Network churches are dispositioned toward and structured to enable spiritual abuse.
HOW I FOUND THE NETWORK
A NEW START
My husband (then fiancée) and I started attending Clear River Church in the fall of 2011. Both being raised in traditional, Christian churches, we were immediately struck by the modern and simple style. The ‘old fashioned’ churches with various committee meetings and board elections seemed heavy with overhead. Clear River felt refreshing. This was during a time when Clear River was rapidly growing, adding a third service, and beginning to look for a new building to fit all the attendees. People around us seemed to be on fire for Jesus. We were quickly swept up in the culture and began to consciously and subconsciously overlook red flags.
My husband and I wanted to start fresh, find a healthy church community together, invest in a place where we could walk out our faith with others, and raise our kids surrounded by Christians who would engage in their lives.
My husband and I were both coming from past marriages, extremely painful divorces, and taking on the difficult task of blending our new family of six. We wanted to do it right. We wanted to start fresh, find a healthy church community together, invest in a place where we could walk out our faith with others, and raise our kids surrounded by Christians who would engage in their lives. We selected Clear River and soon after were married there.
We quickly plugged into a small group, which we eventually hosted, began serving in several areas, completed the required classes, and pursued membership.
The membership application for Clear River Church at the time required the following:
- Become baptized since coming to Jesus.
- Complete the Foundation Series (four required membership classes).
- Attend a Sunday Service and a Small Group consistently.
- Serve others in at least one area at Clear River Church.
- Tithe consistently and give generous offerings to support the Clear River mission.
- Follow the leadership of the Pastors and Board under the provisions of our by-laws.
We checked all the required boxes but ran into a dilemma around baptism. My husband was raised in a church that followed a ‘believer’s baptism’ or ‘credobaptism’ approach. Having never been baptized, he was excited to do so at Clear River. This was a time of growth for him filled with joy. I, however, was raised in the ‘pedobaptist’ tradition and was baptized as an infant. Contrary to many people’s perceptions of infant baptism, I treasured my baptism, and clung to its promises all my life.
I received a ‘welcome and congratulations’ membership letter signed by Tony Ranvestel, the lead pastor at the time.
As I grew and was able to consciously accept my faith I also made a public faith statement. I did not feel that an additional baptism was necessary and the one I had should be considered ‘valid.’ Our DC pastor, Zach Myers, did discuss this with me, but respected my thoughts and didn’t push further. We agreed that I would continue to learn about Clear River’s approach to baptism and he approved our membership. I received a ‘welcome and congratulations’ membership letter signed by Tony Ranvestel, the lead pastor at the time. Tony never mentioned my baptism status during his time as lead pastor of Clear River. We also completed the new Membership Bible Training class in 2017, and our membership was reaffirmed when revised membership forms were required network-wide.
“ALL IN” AT CLEAR RIVER CHURCH
We planted our family at Clear River. We were ‘all in.’ We faithfully attended on Sundays, went to every team meeting and weekly small group session we were physically able to, went to every conference, and all special events. We sent our kids to all the youth activities that their split home schedule allowed. We faithfully served and included our kids in serving areas, such as the greeting team, whenever possible. We generously tithed, offered additionally to church plants and building projects, and gave anonymous gifts to those we saw struggling. We sacrificially gave our time to help others in our church community and loved on those in need. It was a lot. It was too much, but we wanted to submit well and were taught this is what being a true Christian required. My baptism status really was a non-topic for many years. I never discussed it with others, I celebrated during Clear River baptism services, and the fact that I was baptized as an infant never once limited me from being a contributing member of the church.
We sacrificially gave our time to help others in our church community and loved on those in need. It was a lot. It was too much, but we wanted to submit well and were taught this is what being a true Christian required.
There were a few times that our DC pastor or small group leader would encourage me to consider signing up for an upcoming baptism service, but other than that there was not much discussion on the topic. At least five years into our Clear River membership, we met with our DC pastor, Bobby Malicoat, to have a deeper discussion about baptism. I shared my desire to honor my first baptism and he rightly shared the views Clear River held. Bobby was kind and humble, we had some good and mutually respectful discussions, and we agreed that there were brilliant theologians on both sides of the debate and surely, we wouldn’t resolve it ourselves. Bobby said that we were valued members of the church, and although this topic could prevent ‘further progress’ at Clear River, he never brought our membership into question.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Through the years, we consistently felt ‘on the outside’ and a strong yearning to be ‘on the inside.’ We couldn’t clearly identify what made us feel this way, but knew something felt off. This was a regular conversation and frustration for my husband and me. Why didn’t we receive the same invitations that others did? Why didn’t we feel the same warmth in leaders’ voices and body language when they spoke to us as when they spoke to those ‘on the inside’? Why did our children seem ‘on the outside’ as well? Why were we never named during sermons as people serving faithfully and thus worthy to mimic? Why were we (or my husband) never asked to lead a small group, or take on some sort of leadership role?
We wanted to be accepted and contribute more but didn’t feel that we were good enough somehow. If something was wrong with us, and those shepherding us genuinely loved us, why weren’t they pointing out the gaps? We thought, perhaps it was because we were previously divorced and had a blended family, or maybe it was because we weren’t as young and charismatic as some of the others in the ‘in crowd.’ Or perhaps it was just the model. The young pastors, not too far removed from high school, seemed to foster cliques with the ‘cool kids.’ Over and over we mistakenly chalked it up to young leadership. “We’ll love them through it,” we said. “They’re well-intentioned,” we told ourselves. We hoped this was the case, because the alternative was that there was something ‘wrong’ or lacking in us, and that none of our leaders loved us enough to share.
We wanted to be accepted and contribute more but didn’t feel that we were good enough somehow.
To be clear, we understand the concept of different giftings. Some may not be gifted to contribute in certain ways. We respect that, however, beyond tithing and serving donuts, our gifts didn’t feel desired and raising our hands to serve in any leadership space was perceived as prideful. Please also understand, we aren’t too proud for any job. For years, my husband cleaned up trash bags dripping from half-drank cups of coffee while serving on the facilities team. We were happy to serve where the mission required and were capable of contributing in other capacities as well. Numerous times, we highlighted great books, teachings, and resources to our small group leaders which were most often met with no response. Then when someone in the ‘inner circle’ endorsed the same resource it was suddenly seen as worthy and wonderful. Professionally, my husband and I both lead large teams, even leading other leaders. We are successful in this space. Heck, I even have a master’s degree in leadership. While professional skills may not always perfectly translate to the church realm, surely, we had more to offer than we were being allowed or asked, and we certainly had the desire to contribute.
MAKING CHANGES TO TROUBLESHOOT SYSTEMIC RED FLAGS
In 2018, after these consistent frustrations, paired with the growing agitations typical of a Network church (poor teaching, lack of depth in small group discussions, no theological training for pastoral leadership, no outward facing ministries, weak youth program, more church planting, hyper charismatic events, lack of a culture of spiritual joy, etc.) we decided to shake things up and change small groups and DC pastors. We were adamant that we weren’t going to be the fair-weather attenders who church-hop over the color of the carpet. We had committed to Clear River and were committed to putting in the work. My husband discussed with our small group leader and DC pastor and we received support for a switch. We carefully selected a small group that we felt had some mature Christians who were in a stage of life close to our own and were hopeful we would feel better assimilated and accepted. Things started off ok, but then the same red flags popped up again: feeling on the ‘outside.’
We had committed to Clear River and were committed to putting in the work.
We felt connected to a few individuals within the group but, over almost four years in that group, neither of our assigned DC pastors even once prayed for us, invited my husband out for coffee or lunch, or even engaged us in a conversation much past “hello” or “good morning.” What exactly was the job of a Discipleship Community pastor if he wasn’t engaging with active members?
Once again in troubleshooting mode, we sought to strengthen our relationship with our current DC pastor, Jimmy Yo. My husband initiated a lunch with Jimmy, and we thoughtfully planned some friendly conversation topics to grow a relationship. The lunch did not go as planned.
Jimmy posed some difficult questions under the guise of wanting honest feedback. It turns out, honest feedback was something that Jimmy was not really open to. He asked about areas we struggled in and for any thoughts on ways the church could improve. My husband reluctantly shared that he felt that both the opportunities for deep bible study and the depth of Sunday morning teachings were lacking. He explained how we had recently invited several people to church, and how they didn’t continue attending due to ‘poor sermon quality.’ When pressed for an example, my husband shared that he’d noticed a recent Sunday teaching was incorrect. He went on to qualify that after the scripture was read, the sermon explanation described exactly what the ESV (the Network selected bible translation) study notes said it did not mean. The defensiveness was immediate and clear, and my husband was scolded for not supporting his leaders. Towards the end of the lunch, the conversation pivoted to my baptism. My husband had matter-of-factly mentioned it as an example of something that we continued to process and seek alignment on.
TOLD I NEEDED TO SUBMIT TO LEADERSHIP AND BE RE-BAPTIZED
This was the start of a series of very hurtful phone calls and in-person meetings. Shortly after the lunch, Jimmy called my husband to tell him that I needed to get re-baptized, as an adult, as soon as possible. He went even further to say that my failure to do so was us not submitting to Clear River leadership and me not submitting to my husband’s leadership. Whoa! – submission was a connection I would never have imagined. And one that felt like a stab to the heart. How could me trying to follow God and listen to Him in this area be a submission issue? And how could my submission to Jimmy, or even to my husband, be more important than my submission to God?
Jimmy called my husband to tell him that I needed to get re-baptized, as an adult, as soon as possible. He went even further to say that my failure to do so was an issue of us not submitting to Clear River leadership and of me not submitting to my husband’s leadership.
I’d like to pause from the story here and provide a little more insight into my baptism perspective, as I recognize it isn’t in alignment with some popular US churches, including Clear River. I fully agree that a church should, and in fact must, take a stance on this important element of Christianity. I deeply respect the credobaptist view. The key point of disconnection for me, however, comes down to my belief that baptism is a gift from God, and I have already received that gift. For me, to be baptized again would require me to say that God did not already give the gifts He promises through baptism in scripture essentially challenging God’s baptismal promises to me. I would have loved to have felt led by God to get re-baptized and make this whole mess go away. But for me, it is a matter of conscience and conviction. Despite varying views on baptism, this issue really is a result of leadership’s handling of the situation and the connections they made to it being a submission sin.
I would have loved to have felt led by God to get re-baptized and make this whole mess go away. But for me, it is a matter of conscience and conviction.
I have done an exhaustive amount of work pouring through differing systematic theology books, other baptism-related books, various sermons by credible theologians, historical documents, biblical commentaries, academic research papers, and on and on. We even met with another local pastor and researched the membership requirements of other respected churches. I also prayed over this. Hard. And, after all that work, I kept landing in the same place. Will I land somewhere else in the future? Maybe. But for now, this is where I am. And regardless, I’m still a Christian. And, from my perspective, attending a church with a credobaptism view, was submitting to my husband’s leadership. I was supporting Clear River as an organization and placing my children under this teaching. While doing so, I never spoke negatively about their baptism views, and always encouraged anyone who had not been baptized to do so.
ESCALATING PRESSURE OVER RE-BAPTISM
While in the midst of these baptism conversations, Jimmy Yo was named the lead pastor of Clear River Church. Our discussions escalated and we were told that we could not be ‘on mission’ if I decided not to be re-baptized. Jimmy said this was ‘the next thing’ for me to keep growing in my faith. And then he said he felt like God told him I needed to get re-baptized. Finally, we were told that I must get re-baptized (or have an active plan to do so at the next baptism event) or we needed to leave Clear River. I remember being shocked at how matter-of-fact he said this. No emotion at all in his voice, distractedly, like he was thinking about what he was going to have for lunch that day. It was so cold and dismissive. Our minds were racing and our hearts were breaking. But they approved our membership? We planted our family here and now we’re not even welcome? We were being asked to leave like someone with a grievous, unrepentant sin, not as Christians struggling through how best to follow Jesus in baptism! Would we have to move our kids to a new church home? How disruptive would a transition like this be to children of divorce who already had less stability than we would have hoped for? It was evident that we weren’t loved at Clear River and that all of our time and contributions throughout the years were not valued.
We were being asked to leave like someone with a grievous, unrepentant sin, not as Christians struggling through how best to follow Jesus in baptism!
Each of these meetings with Jimmy were preceded with prayer and tears and sleepless nights and careful preparation in the hope that if we said the right things, maybe we would be permitted to stay? Now looking back, I believe much of this strife was because we were conditioned to believe that we couldn’t follow Jesus if we couldn’t attend Clear River.
I recall singing during worship one Sunday,
I love you, Lord
For your mercy never fails me
All my days, I’ve been held in your hands
Tears streamed down my face because I knew Jesus loved me even though I felt so unwanted and unaccepted. The disconnect was so confusing.
After reeling from the pain of the statements Jimmy made, we talked through all of it with our small group leader, who also happened to be on the Clear River leadership board. We shared our struggles and sought his counsel. He seemed to be more understanding and even a bit surprised by Jimmy’s hardline response. He stated that he loved us and encouraged us to take a break from our research on baptism and redirect our attention to just prayer, which felt helpful at the time.
In our final meeting with lead pastor Jimmy Yo on the topic he said that we could continue to attend Clear River Church, but that our spiritual growth would be ‘stifled’ and implied we would be considered a ‘lesser’ type of member.
In our final meeting with Jimmy on the topic, we were expecting to be kicked out of the church and were prepared to plead our case to stay. He surprised us by softening his ultimatum. We’re not sure what changed but assumed that our small group leader had talked to him. We shared that we didn’t feel loved at all during this process, which Jimmy acknowledged, but came short of an apology. Jimmy did say that we could continue to attend Clear River, but that our spiritual growth would be ‘stifled’ and implied we would be considered a ‘lesser’ type of member. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that. I’m assuming he meant we would continue to be ‘on the outside’ but, honestly, it didn’t end up feeling any different. Though we were never officially notified, I believe our membership was removed at this time. We continued to devote ourselves to church attendance, service, and tithing as we had before.
MY REFLECTIONS AND CONCERNS ABOUT THIS REBAPTISM DISCUSSION
- Our pastoral authority had no depth to his understanding of baptism. Throughout the discussions Jimmy pointed to a few verses in the Bible and the related section in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, then, regurgitated some hand-me-down baptism notions. It was abundantly clear that he was unread on other baptismal views, the reasons behind them, and the progression of baptismal approaches throughout church history. How could I possibly submit to someone on a topic in which they were so uneducated, and displayed such a lack of interest and humility to become so?
- Our pastor was ill-equipped and unskilled in pastoral care. He showed no love or sympathy for our situation. This was hard for us, too. We desired alignment within our marriage and with our church on this topic. Jimmy haphazardly labeled it a ‘sin’ issue and offered no grace. This was literally the first deep conversation Jimmy and my husband ever had and he poked right at it. There was no investment of time to get to know and love us first. He didn’t attempt to learn about our hearts and other things we brought to Clear River. He offered only accusations and demands of compliance.
- The speed at which lead pastor Jimmy Yo linked this topic to a lack of biblical submission was very concerning. If I didn’t follow everything my pastor told me to do, I was viewed as a problem. It is understandable for local churches to want common alignment on baptism, but this was oppressive.
If I didn’t follow everything my pastor told me to do, I was viewed as a problem.
- The topic of baptism is unique to other doctrine when applying marital submission concepts and our pastoral authority did not understand this. Not once in all of my research did I uncover a tie between believer’s baptism and marital submission. Baptism requires the individual to submit to God directly through personal conviction by the Holy Spirit. While my husband and I do support an accurate complementarian view, baptism must be separate from doctrine on submission and spiritual leadership.
- Our pastoral authority stated that God told him what I should do. Of course, God could have done this. Yet, why would God not have made the same abundantly clear to me after all of my seeking? Additionally, during our final meeting with Jimmy on this topic, why did he relent? Wouldn’t he have kept pushing the issue if he truly thought he heard a directive from God?
- The Network has no clear understanding of baptism. Over the years, I have heard varying guidance from Network leadership on when someone should or should not be baptized. Recognizing that it could vary from situation to situation, there were still many inconsistencies. The Network often challenged whether even a previous ‘believer’s baptism’ was ‘good enough’ resulting in pastors, leaders, and congregants being baptized multiple times. In one striking example recently detailed by a former Network pastor on the Leaving the Network Reddit page, Sandor Paul, current lead pastor of Christland Church in College Station, TX, and the Vice President of the Network, once dumped a cup of water on Steve Morgan’s head while he was struggling with sin and then publicly declared his re-baptizing in the name of the Holy Spirit. If the Network holds that baptism is a mere symbolic act of obedience, this action doesn’t align in any way, neither in their reason for baptism nor in their total immersion requirement.
- Our pastoral authority had insufficient leadership ability, training, and experience to navigate normal day-to-day questions and situations posed by membership. We watched this lack of ability result in damage to the flock, time and time again. We pitied Jimmy for being placed in this position so ill-equipped, tried to understand his plight, and coached ourselves to love him through it. Again, chalking it up to a young pastor who was still learning.
ISSUES RIPPLE TO OUR CHILDREN
As our children grew into their teens and pre-teens, they also began to struggle at Clear River. Maybe they were more willing to recognize concerns we kept pushing down. Youth Night was typically a very small group of awkward teens gathering to hear a fairly surface-level teaching. Our kids didn’t connect and they didn’t enjoy going. We met with the ever-changing youth pastors several times to brainstorm how to better engage our kids with church and their faith. We begged for a text message or one-on-one coffee between them and their leaders, anything that might involve them better! There was a notable difference between the profound investment into children of select families than into ours. There were a few helpers who did engage for a time, but that tapered off as their attention returned to the kids of parents on the ‘inside.’
Clear River Church leaders showed a notable difference between their profound investment into children of select families than into ours.
Despite the challenging realities of the youth program, I do believe we were effectively influencing things to go as well as they could until 2020 when COVID came along. Our twin boys were high school sophomores, and a new energetic youth pastor had just been appointed. Our boys had started to connect in a positive way, and we were optimistic. However, when COVID hit, the pastor went completely dark for months. Our kids were struggling with remote school and isolation. An encouraging voice (as simple as a text message) would have been invaluable and appropriate during that time. I believe the youth pastor was well meaning but wasn’t being held accountable in his role and wasn’t being provided sufficient direction from his leadership. This demonstrated yet another example of how the intimate relationships between our lead pastor, the youth pastor, and the non-staff board members jeopardized and prevented healthy church oversight, and our family suffered.
After COVID we pushed to get our kids re-engaged, even organizing game events with some of the youth leaders at our home. Our kids, however, felt done with Clear River youth programs. One time we even received a last-minute cancellation by a youth helper so they could hang out with a different family’s kids. We were at a loss and our hearts broke for our children. We asked our kids to continue attending conferences with us, but the opportunity for growth they should have received from a dynamic and solid high school youth group was lost. At the last conference we attended, we brought our high schoolers, and approached several people beforehand to ask them to pray for our kids after a session. They all agreed, but no one ever did. Meanwhile, a special selection of other teens (children of leaders) were receiving prayer after prayer. After eleven years attending, investing, and contributing at Clear River Church we are pretty sure that, to this day, neither the lead pastor nor our DC pastor even know the names of our children.
WHY I LEFT THE NETWORK
TOO MANY RED FLAGS TO IGNORE
By 2021 we were struggling once again with not feeling meaningfully connected to anyone other than a few people. It shouldn’t be so at a church which consistently claims to be ‘all about community.’ So, in our normal mode of response, we leaned in further. We resolved that in 2021, we would go ‘ALL IN’. We’d punch up our intensity even more than before. We wanted to ensure that our lack of connection wasn’t a problem with us. We even drafted a plan! We initiated more invitations to gather with people in our house and elsewhere. We initiated more coffee meets and lunches, executed more thoughtful surprises to ‘love on people,’ sent encouraging texts, and so forth. The months went by but we were still disconnected and more exasperated than ever.
We resolved that in 2021, we would go ‘ALL IN’. We’d punch up our intensity even more than before. We wanted to ensure that our lack of connection wasn’t a problem with us. We even drafted a plan!
In late 2021, I finally had my turn with COVID, and it was fairly rough. I couldn’t help but notice how many ‘in’ people were receiving meal trains and large care packages during this time through COVID. While one kind individual did drop off cookies (I can’t completely discount all care), I’ve lost count of how many meals I delivered to people, leadership included, during my time at Clear River while working full-time and juggling a family of six. Meanwhile, not once in our eleven years at Clear River, was a meal brought to my doorstep or a ‘check-in’ phone call received from a pastor. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming my small group peers here. The members of our groups were also busy with families, and I now know that many were battling the same exhaustion that plagued us. We were told several times that we didn’t seem to be ‘needy’ enough to require attention, however, that was a front. Special treatment was evident, and it was obvious we would never be cared for as select others were.
In January of 2022 we talked with our small group leader about how discouraged we were feeling as well as the lack of opportunities for spiritual growth. We confided that we might need to take a break from the group. We were very scared to have this conversation as we really sought to be cheerful ‘no-complaints’ members in an attempt to keep our profile low after the baptism debacle. We did not want an “X” on our back or to be labeled as problematic.
We tried to explain the ‘in crowd’ concept, how the pastors didn’t engage, how the lead pastor seemed to avoid us, and the negative effects that the rigid submission demands of the Clear River culture had on us. We were met with confused expressions and were challenged on if we had tried ‘hard enough.’
In retrospect, the fact that we were so concerned about being shunned following this conversation, was a red flag to an incredibly unhealthy culture. We took the humble approach of asking for help. “Please, tell us what we’re doing wrong, we’re desperate to know.” It was very difficult for us to articulate what we were feeling. We tried to explain the ‘in crowd’ concept, how the pastors didn’t engage, how Jimmy seemed to avoid us, and the negative effects that the rigid submission demands of the Clear River culture had on us. We were met with confused expressions and were challenged on if we had tried ‘hard enough.’ It might be that our small group leader, unlike us, was so embedded that he and his wife just couldn’t imagine feeling this way.
WE REALIZED WE WEREN'T ALONE WITH OUR CONCERNS
Ironically, without even knowing, we had been expressing many of the exact sentiments that others on the Leaving the Network website were sharing as well! Though he was aware of it at the time, our small group leader never mentioned the website and seemed to not comprehend what we were expressing. Today we know that hundreds, probably thousands, of others were feeling the same way! It feels deceitful that our small group leader knew about the Leaving the Network website at this time and didn’t acknowledge the parallels to our struggles.
In April of 2022 we finally learned of the Leaving the Network website. What a blessing it was! We weren’t crazy and we weren’t alone. It articulated exactly what we had been trying to put into words for years. Reading the website was like reading my voice. I saw how each struggle and each story was different, but the experiences were the same. And now I knew what this was called. This was spiritual abuse.
As I read the Leaving The Network website I saw how each struggle and each story was different, but the experiences were the same. And now I knew what this was called: this was spiritual abuse.
We met with our small group leader again. We expressed earnest concern and shared that we had encountered many of the grievances outlined on the Leaving the Network website first-hand. He told us that the website was created by a few angry outliers and that the issues being raised were not really concerns. We were told we were welcome to look at the church financials (which were never shared with us), that the board structure was sufficient and safe, and that Steve Morgan was an incredible leader. We were also told that the depth of teachings were the right model for the Network. He went on to say that if someone wanted deeper biblical knowledge, they would probably need to do that on their own but should question the intent in their heart. He implied that seeking deeper biblical understanding could be self-serving. Then later said that he prays for more prophesy gifting among the Clear River board overseers.
It was clear from our observations through the years and validated during this conversation that the written Word was operationally deprioritized to charismatic gifts. This was deeply concerning to us. Again, drawing from our professional leadership experience, we advised that some damage control and transparency in response to the website was in order. People were struggling and leaving and there should be a plan to acknowledge and respond to what was happening. We also suggested a few helpful changes that could be easily made but it was clear that we had no influence and the party line was all that we would be offered.
As soon as that conversation ended, we knew we had to leave. The red flags were not imagined. They were real, and they were dangerous.
As soon as that conversation ended, we knew we had to leave. The red flags were not imagined. They were real, and they were dangerous. After praying and seeking counsel on how to leave well, Easter (2022) was our final Sunday at Clear River. My husband called our small group leader and told him we were leaving and it was an amiable conversation. We never met with a pastor to officially share the news. They never reached out while we were there, or after we left. They never really cared.
LIFE SINCE LEAVING THE NETWORK
GOD IS STILL GOOD
Since leaving we have gone through a meticulous church search, joined a bible study, and are resting at a church that seems healthy and a good fit for our family right now. To be sure, it won’t be perfect, but that was never what we were looking for. It is encouraging to see how many healthy churches are in our area. Most of our children are out of the home now, but the one who remains has plugged into a thriving youth group at our current church. It now seems so strange that we thought there was nothing for us outside the walls of Clear River. Many others have also left and faithfully continue to follow Jesus. Leaving the network does not mean leaving your faith or your faith leaving you.
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel a strong sense of relief from the pressure of being a part of Clear River Church. I feel joy in my faith again.
Not a day goes by that I don’t feel a strong sense of relief from the pressure of being a part of Clear River Church. I feel joy in my faith again. I feel encouraged and refilled on Sunday mornings. I feel a freedom to seek biblical depth without guilt. Our new pastor has been appropriately trained, knows the bible, understands the nuances of gray areas in scripture, and can speak to them in an informed way. We are finally feeling loved rather than used.
I now understand why churches have member-elected boards, keep finances transparently available, and prioritize and require pastoral training. It’s to protect the saints. It’s also to reverently steward Jesus’ church the most careful way possible on this side of eternity. While church bureaucracy isn’t perfect, or even ideal, you can’t just rent a building, call a fresh college graduate a pastor, and shepherd souls well.
We are finally feeling loved rather than used.
I pray that over time this ache in my heart from the hurt experienced at Clear River will subside and closure will come. I pray that my vulnerability, honesty, and sincerity through this story is evident and useful. I pray that God continues to shine light and purify His church. I love so many from our time at Clear River, those who have moved on and those who are still within. I do know that by God’s grace, following Him within the confines of the Network is possible, but outside it is so, so much sweeter.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.