Helping a Hurt Church Heal
Charisma Magazine asked me to consider writing an article about the healing that is happening at New Life. Here are some thoughts I am having today. I would enjoy hearing your feedback, especially if you are a New Lifer who has been on this journey with me.
In August 2007, I became the Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. 10 months earlier, in November 2006, the church was rocked by scandal when the founding pastor, Ted Haggard, admitted to a relationship with a male prostitute. It was a story that made international headlines and caused great hurt among the 12,000 members of the church. Four months after I became the leader, a gunman came on our campus and killed two teenage girls, wounded two others before taking his own life in the hallway of our main building. In 13 months, the church twice made international headlines and suffered more traumas than any single church in America had experienced in the past 30 years.
I am not an expert on helping people heal but I am experienced. What did I learn the past two years that could help others heal? What should leaders and pastors do to help a church who has suffered?
1. Talk about what happened
Christians are notorious posers. We have even been taught erroneously that talking about bad stuff is bad confession and proof that we have no faith. What theological baloney! If you have been hurt, the worst thing you can do is ignore what happened. I had to lead by talking about it in Sunday talks, in staff meetings, and in private conversations with members. I regularly discussed my own hurts and my own disappointments which gave everyone else permission to talk about what they were experiencing. When people are allowed to be authentic and take off their “church masks” their hearts are opened to the Holy Spirit and real healing can begin.
2. Deal with the pain
I believe the bible teaches us that is ok not to be ok. It also teaches us that it’s not ok to remain in the dark places of life. I believe in the power of the Gospel to repair and restore all of broken humanity, but we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to experience this healing. Hours after the shooting, hundreds of pastors and volunteer counselors began meeting with New Lifers who had been traumatized. In many cases, after talking about the shooting for a few minutes, many New Lifers admitted they had never dealt with the pain of the scandal. It was a reminder to all of us that time does not heal all wounds, it only hides them. We were determined to deal with the pain, so we kept trained counselors on hand and offered several settings where people could receive nurture, prayer and inner healing. We did not get in a hurry with this process and allowed people to process their own pain at their own pace. Many leaders want instant healing when the human soul often takes time to heal, even under the best circumstances.
3. Move to the next exhibit
When I take my kids to the zoo, they often want to stay at the lion exhibit or the monkey exhibit for what seems like forever. I often have to move a few steps away from them and act like I am walking completely away to get them to look at another exhibit. Once they see me walking, they pry themselves away from the monkeys and join me at the giraffe exhibit. I have learned that I could not ignore the pain of the church, but I also could not spend the rest of my life looking at the same exhibit. Scars are a reminder of a traumatic event, but we do not have to be defined by them. At some point in the journey we must move forward. Fresh wind of heaven has to fill our sails and move us to new waters. God is not finished with any of us and He certainly has not forgotten how to take a broken piece of humanity, restore them and set them on new path to higher places.
Miraculously, New Life is thriving today and experiencing what can only be described as God’s favor and blessing. No one at New Life would say we are completely healed, but most New Lifers would agree that a great deal of restoration has already happened because we talked about it, dealt with the pain and we moved to the next exhibit in our lives.
Twitter – @pastorbrady
July 14, 2009 at 6:57 pm
Pastor Brady, first off I have to thank you. Thank you for being obedient, persevering, and loving us new lifers so well.
I just wanted to say that for me the most important part of healing from all that happened was dealing with the pain. If I had been left to my own devices I probably would have buried it until what had started as a flesh wound turned into an ugly infection. As you mentioned was the case for many of us, up until the shooting I had hidden my pain about the scandal. It was hard enough dealing with jokes from family members and classmates and all of the questions and prodding from coworkers. Let alone dealing with my own questions and emotions.
For me it all met at a climax at the Wednesday night meeting after the shooting. I remember walking into the church trying to hold it together, trying not to be emotional, trying to avoid the reporters that seemed like vultures flocking to a carcass and the whole time thinking, “God, where are you?”
As the band began to play “Overcome” I could feel an eruption inside of my heart. the dam had broken and the tears came flooding. And in that moment I knew that God was saying “I’m right here.” And as I looked across the room and heard the cries I knew that he was.
If it hadn’t been for the community and support to be raw, and even messy, I definitely would not be as free as I am today.
July 16, 2009 at 11:38 am
hi brady 🙂
i spent time in a passage this morning that may be appropriate for future child dedication sundays 🙂
matt 19 / mark 10 / luke 18 re: jesus’s invitation that the children be brought to him.
the thought that came to mind: the (sometimes over-)burdened moms (and/or dads) of the children being presented to the King can be just as blessed by the dedication/blessings as the children themselves!
when jesus invited the children into his presence for His blessing, what a refreshment and comfort to the moms/parents longing for God’s assistance in their challenging life-role ! mothers can be comforted that the King has His arms wide open to receive their children, share mom’s burden, and encourage those moms 🙂
much more could be done with this, even to the point of a mothers’ day sermon 🙂
just an additional perspective on a text usually preached in “the same ‘ol way” 🙂
July 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm
Hi Pastor 🙂
How about new understanding / perspective shift as God’s strategy? Whereas unbelievers might be limited in their options, (e.g. forced to say that we must treat the emotional trauma of those who chose to view themselves as wounded,) I wonder if Jesus (and the rest of us Kingdom citizens) might instead turn the wound into a gift from God (much like Paul turned his thorn into a gift of grace,) thereby dissolving any earthly (fleshly?) perceptions of “woundedness?”
I ask myself if God “was wounded” (more accurately, “chose woundedness,” assuming He eschews victim mentality / perspectives) or “hurt” by the events of the past years at New Life.
I’d propose not. Saddened? Perhaps. But I imagine His “ability” to re-frame events from 3-dimensional earthly “catastrophes” (as unbelievers might label them) into an eternal, Kingdom perspective might be why He is not “hurt” by all the brokenness of this world.
My proposal: let’s ask how God might view events (“good” … “bad” … whatever labels we choose) from His Kingdom perspective. That way we’re free from the psychological clutterings and hindrances of an unbelieving world?
July 29, 2009 at 10:51 am
Hi, Pastor Brady,
Being a pastor myself, I have observed with great interest how you have handled the overwhelming tragedies that your congregation has faced over the past few years. I have prayed for you many times, for the Lord to give you wisdom and direction, and that he would protect your heart as you help others find healing.
I’m very impressed with what the Lord is accomplishing at New Life through you. You have handled things there with such dignity, authenticity, and grace. The example you have set for the rest of us is excellent. Thank you for taking on such a difficult challenge, and for raising the bar so high for the rest of us.
Know that there is a pastor in Alabama that is cheering you on!
August 4, 2009 at 11:32 am
Hi Pastor Brady, We got here three weeks before the “Ted Haggard” situation. When that broke open there was GREAT TEARS AND GRIEF, one of the things that helped healing (in our opinon) was the fact that Pastor Ross Parsley (whom we did not know) was the ONLY INTERIM Pastor that they put in until you got here. Not only was he solid as an individual and the people already KNEW, LIKED and TRUSTED HIM but he did a great job of leading this “ship through many risky waters!””The people feft the SECURTIY of a KNOWN and TRUSTED Pastor who led us SENSITIVELY and yet there was GREAT STRENGTH THAT CAME FROM THE SCRIPTURES that he taught. We were to put to “LIFE” AND let the WORD OF GOD COME ALIVE IN PLACES THAT HAD BEEN THEORY BEFORE. HE DID A FABULOUS JOB! WE HAVE BEEN IN OTHER PLACES that had had a moral situation and they had INTERIM PASTOR AFTER INTERIM PASTOR UNTIL THE “SENIOR PASTOR got there. People went from one vision to another, one type of leader to another , first led this way, then that way,and lost hope. Many, many people left. The other STRENGTH (AND HEALING ) was the LIFE GROUPS. People were already connected and strong in relationship to each other. We love the Life Groups, they truy can breed ” community!” Then GOD brought you and Pam (and your group from Texas-all such great people)! You were kind and sensitive to Pastor Ross, this congregation and then the “shooting, which we (my family) were all in the building at the time. In fact, our grand son was in that same hallway and shot at. You so took the time for the people whoever they were to have counseling both private and public (teachings of healing by Dr. Wright ) and all that brought sooo much healing. You did not say, ” Just quote the WORD, and you will be fine!” You allowed people to grief, to talk, to talk some more and then over time healing came and for some is still coming. You also spoke from your heart (at times with tears) and that spoke to the multitudes of peoples hearts that you felt their pain as well as your own.The memorial for the Works family is beautiful and is a reminder of a “time that we will never forget!” Thank you for your sensitivity to us as a people, who had been very tramatized over the last few years and yet have come forth, in STRENGTH and as OVERCOMERS! A few years with a different type of “peaceful happenings” would be nice, but either way we have lived and (not just know in theory) but haveTRULY LEARNED” that our lives are truly in the LORD’S HANDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!THANKING YOU AND YOUR STAFF FOR THE WAY THAT ALL THIS WAS HANDLED! GOD BLESS!!!!!
August 18, 2009 at 8:36 am
Good morning, Pastor Brady
I have been a New Lifer for many years and was at church during each one of the a fore mentioned events. I want to express my deepest regard for the leadership that Pastor Ross and you have modeled for us. You are loved, appreciated, and respected. A perspective I would like to share which has given me great stability during the past several years comes out of the book of Ephesians 4: 11-13 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”
I have found stability because I realize that the Holy Spirit didn’t have me trust in a man (The Pastor) prior to the events of the past. Rather, He has given me the Word to trust in. The role of the minister is indeed to teach the Word, but my trust is in the Word not the man. Does this make sense?
As New Life Church continues to mature as a body of disciples, I encourage you to continue to bring in ministers from outside of NLC and to continue to utilize the gifted ministers from within our fellowship. Hearing the Word from the various “five-fold” ministers is what any local church needs to be equipped for whatever possible crisis might arise. The love and stability of New Life Church is a testimony that this is true.
Lastly, I thank you, Pastor Ross, and others on staff for being candid with us and vulnerable. I thoroughly believe that the openness you share with us is a strength, as you model for us reliance on the presence of God. Thank you.