A Time to Heal
Extending grace in difficult seasons
In 2005, my husband and I were 18 months in to a self-imposed church sabbatical after a painful experience in a congregation we’d been a part of for five years. Our hearts were full of disillusionment, bitterness and confusion about the people of God and our place in God’s family.
After praying for many months that God would help us find a safe church environment, we found out a new pastor was coming to town to start an Assemblies of God church. With a half-hearted step of faith, I exchanged a few emails with the pastor, and then my husband and I decided to attend the launch service (and, as it turned out, many services after that).
Rich and his team were kind, humble and welcoming to us, as any church planters would be. Every Sunday, the launch team worked hard to set up — and then tear down — the sound system and children’s room. Their trailer got stuck in snow and ice during that year’s harsh Iowa winter. There was hardly enough money to keep things going. I’m sure it was Rich’s daily prayer that God would send people and financial resources to continue building the church.
Meanwhile, my husband and I continued to attend regularly. We were cautiously hopeful that these people could become family to us. They were warm, authentic, transparent and seemed to like us, even though we didn’t help on Sunday mornings and we didn’t give financially (we had stopped tithing when we left our previous church). When other friends asked us about the church and why we attended, our honest answer in that season was, “Well, it doesn’t suck.”
If the writer of Ecclesiastes had diagnosed me then, he’d have said I was in a healing and mending season. Slowly, but surely, God was binding up my heart, showing me places of bitterness I needed to relinquish to Him, and rewiring my thoughts about my past relationships. At the same time, trust and love were building between us and our new pastor and church friends, who kept growing in friendship with us even though we contributed nothing to their plans or vision.
Nine months into the church plant, I had several meaningful encounters with God that helped accelerate my healing season to completion. I gained a new lightness of heart, renewed joy and fresh hope for the future. It felt as though 100 pounds of dysfunctional church baggage had lifted from me.
It’s important that we pastors dial in to the seasons the Spirit is taking our people through.
Suddenly, I found myself excited to give, starving to contribute something to the people in our new church out of an overflowing hope that I was experiencing for the first time in a long time. We also started tithing again.
Within six months, God called me into vocational ministry. Over time, I became a credentialed minister and served as an associate pastor at Rich’s church. Then, two years ago, he and his board made the decision to support me in planting a church in a nearby community.
Now that I’m a lead pastor, I survey CityChurch’s attendees on Sunday mornings and think about my own experience coming back to church. Many of the people in my congregation have had terrible experiences with other Christians or encountered painful situations in church. Others have seen poor representations of Christ on social media, in the news or — let’s be honest — in their next-door neighbors. Not everyone in our church helps or gives or has buy-in, but when I look at them through the lens of my history, I understand them.
While eager pastors (and especially church planters like myself) would like to lasso every able body into the work of the church, if we push too hard, we can work against the Holy Spirit’s intended purposes and seasons in the lives of our congregants.
Ecclesiastes so clearly articulates the nature of these seasons that we can’t miss them if we pay attention. There are people in our churches right now who are searching, mourning, healing and being mended. Others are simply being born — of the Spirit. And the fragile process of birth takes a lot of tender and loving attentiveness. It would be a grave mistake to resent or devalue souls in our churches because of their seasons.
American theologian Thomas Merton was on to this when he wrote, “It is both dangerous and easy to hate man as he is because he is not ‘what he ought to be.’ If we do not first respect what he is we will never suffer him to become what he ought to be: in our impatience we will do away with him altogether.”
The trajectory of my life might have gone very differently if someone had demanded my service, my money and my buy-in during my season of mending. I suspect those demands would have added more baggage and wounds and delayed the healing process significantly. Rich had no idea — and neither did I — that his patience, kindness and grace toward me would, in part, help me grow into a pastor and church planter.
It’s important that we pastors dial in to the seasons the Spirit is taking our people through. We must learn to appreciate the process and in all sobriety, avoid words that ring of shame and pressure. We preach the good news and the implications of the good news for a follower of Jesus, including service and giving and other spiritual disciplines. But we keep our love turned on, and we trust the Lord of the harvest to make all things and all people beautiful in their time.
See also the Q & A with Heather Weber, “Sowing Seeds in America’s Heartland.”