Sunday, May 16, 2010

‘ReChurch: Healing Your Way Back to the People of God’ by Stephen Mansfield – Book Review

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It seems as though it is fairly rare when one attends church over a period of time and is not hurt by other people.  As the saying goes, ‘hurt people hurt people.’  And it is also not surprising that those people who have been hurt will either leave the church from which they have been hurt, or will leave the church – and perhaps even their faith –entirely.

Those important issues are addressed in Stephen Mansfield’s latest book, ‘ReChurched: Healing Your Way Back to the People of God.’ 

Here is the biography for Mr. Mansfield:

Stephen Mansfield is the New York Times best-selling author of The Faith of George W. Bush, The Faith of the American Soldier, The Faith of Barack Obama, and Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill, among many other works of history and biography.  Founder of both the Mansfield Group, a research and communications firm, and Chartwell Literary Group, which creates and manages literary projects.  Stephen is also in wide demand as a lecturer and inspirational speaker.

And here’s the description from the back of the book:

          If you’ve ever attended church you’ve probably suffered a church hurt.
Our stories are all too familiar.  The church we once loved broke up or our favorite pastor was fired or the musicians all left when the elders cracked down on the style o worship.  The former pastor had an affair or the new pastor doesn’t support Israel or the youth pastor rebuked the teenagers for wanting to date.  And on it goes.
Stephen Mansfield has been there.  Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, a popular speaker, and a man who advises leaders around the world, Stephen was also a pastor for twenty years.  And he loved it for most of those two decades.  Then he learned how much a church can hurt.  Thankfully, he also learned how to dig out of that hurt, break through the bitterness and anger, stop making excuses, and get back to where he needed to be with God and his people.
If you’re ready to take the tough path to healing, Mansfield will walk you through it with love and understanding, showing you how you can be better than ever on the other side of the mess… but only if you’re willing to ReChurch.    

George Barna, in the Foreword, explains the problem from his perspective:

The United States is a huge, populous nation.  As such, it is home to numerous epidemics.  One of them is the dreaded, but widespread ecclesia exitus disease – the Latin term for church dropout.  Perhaps you’ve experienced it – the decision to permanently withdraw from a congregation you have considered to be your “church home.”  The symptoms are many, but the outcome is unambiguous; pain, disappointment, and spiritual anomie. (p. ix)

Stephen not only experienced hurts, but he seemed to attract people who wanted to share their wounds with him:

I came to the conclusion that no matter how large or petty the cause, every religiously wounded soul I encountered was in danger of a tainted life of smallness and pain, of missed destinies, and the bitter downward spiral.  And every soul I encountered had the power to be free, for each of them, no matter, how legitimately, was clenching the very offense or rage or self-pity or vision of vengeance that was making life a microcosm of hell. (p. 10)

He explains his purpose in writing ‘ReChurch’:

I want to show you how to get clean and free from what you have done to yourself in your church hurt.  That’s it.  Along the way we are going to talk a bit about how to be a part of a church without surrendering your soul and what healthy churches look like.  But I’m not trying to fix the body of Christ.  I’m trying to get you to fix what you can in you, so that God can fix the rest and get you back into the fold.
Counselors nurture souls.  Coaches teach skills.  I’m your coach.       
Second, I want you to understand that you will not get free unless someone gets tough with you.  When we are in pain, we have too many voices playing in our heads – voices from the past, voices of our critics, voices of our admirers, and even the voice of our own inner dialogue.  There are likely other voices from demons we have known and loved… Suffice it to say, a riot is taking place in our souls when we hurt.  All of this tends to make us distracted at best and crazy at worst.  We need someone to cut in harshly and silence the storm.  (p. 14)

I think many people need that sort of ‘tough love.’  I personally have never been helped to any great extent by counseling.

Mr. Mansfield makes this observation about what many hurt people experience:

Let me tell you a mystery of life in this world.  When we hurt, we walk alone.  Or at least we think we do.  Our pain tells us that we are unique among people and that others cannot understand and do not wish to draw near.  We search the faces of those we pass by and wonder if they have ever known agonies like we endure.  We conclude that we have not, that no one has, and so we decide that we alone are wounded wanderers in the earth.  (p. 19)

Stephen goes on to highlight example after example of otherwise successful people – such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, St. Patrick, Vincent Van Gogh (one of my favorite artists of all time) and evangelist George Whitefield.  Mr. Mansfield concludes:

Here is the lesson: Great men and women of God are not exempt from hurt and offense.  Instead, enduring the wounds of fellow Christians with mercy and grace seems to be the call of every true saint, and we should not expect it to be any different in our own lives.  (p. 30)

I completely understand his point.  I have always been encouraged by the foibles of some of the great people of the Bible – such as David and Paul – people who were greatly used by God.  He didn’t hold their pasts against them!

Another person of fame who did not succumb to bitterness is Bono, the lead singer of U2 (one of my all-time favorite bands).  This creative and artistic man struggled with the structure of a church youth group environment; he left that group.  Mansfield made this point:

This might have been the end of Bono’s connection to God.  His artistic, nonconformist soul did not thrive in system and ritual, was not fed by a regimented spiritual life.  He might well have moved away from God while moving away from what the church offered him.  But somehow this young man found a middle way.  He grew to love God and honor his church but sustain his faith in a variety of expressions.
“I just go where the life is, you know?  Where I feel the Holy Spirit,” Bono has explained.  “If it’s in the back of a Roman Catholic cathedral, in the quietness and the incense, which suggest the mystery of God, of God’s presence, or in the bright lights of the revival tent, I just go where I find life.  I don’t see denomination.  I generally think religion gets in the way of God.” (p. 37)

Bono went on to do God’s work in a variety of settings, has influenced world leaders, and has recorded some wonderful worship music!  

Stephen states that the hurt can be overcome:

It may be hard for you to believe it.  Having been chewed up and spit out by the church, perhaps you believe that the destiny you felt for your life is lost, that you will never achieve the greatness your heart reaches to.  But this is a lie – unless you choose to live small.  Unless you choose to give in to the bitterness and the rage.  And this is the lesson you most hold dear:  The confirmation of history is that we are not called despite our wounding and betrayal; we are wounded and betrayed because we are called.  And God yearns to make your pain redemptive in your life. (p. 39)   

Mr. Mansfield points out the key to dealing with the other saints in our churches:

This, then, is the key.  This is how we do it, how we live in a church of fallen, desperate creatures and love them completely.  We love as Jesus did.  He knew what was in our hearts, knew the evils and fantasies and wickedness that circle like sharks in the waters of our souls.  So he did not base his life, sense of self, or sense of purpose on people’s words or admiration.  Still, he perfectly loved those he interacted with or even enjoyed them, because he has no illusions about what they could be. (p. 61)

Stephen shows us how we should approach difficult relationships:

We often spout platitudes about how hard times make us better.  What we should say is that hard times can make us better if we go through them in a redemptive way.  Otherwise, hard times can just kill us, or crush our spirits so we are never whole again.  But then, yes, hard times can lift us to new heights if we learn what we can about ourselves, during those hard times and let those lessons lead us to a wiser, weightier life. (p. 66)

Mr. Mansfield provides a checklist – a list of questions we need to ask ourselves in the push toward healing (pp. 67-84):
  •           Of the things your critics say, what do you now know to be true?
  •            How did you try to medicate your wounded soul?
  •           Were you clinging to anything that contributed to your church hurt?
  •           What did those closest to you do when you went through the fire?
  •           During the bruising season, what fed your inspiration and your dreams?

He warned us this process was going to be tough!

Stephen points out that the battle is not only between humans; there is a spiritual battle which we are always involved in:

If the devil is indeed setting traps for you – you in particular rather than believers in general – then ask yourself what bait he might use for you.  In other words, if you were the devil, how would you trap you?  If you will give this some thought, you will probably arrive at some keys to avoid taking the bait of offense in the future. (p. 93)

We not only need to forgive, but we have to take our healing a step further – we need to try to 
overcome the doom that we feel.  Stephen suggests we do it this way:

Hold it before God as the lie that it is.  Wash it out of your soul with the truth of God’s Word.  Expose it to others so the light of truth and the help of comrades can drive the darkness away.  And seed the opposite of doom – a destined life of blessing, of wholeness, and of meaningful service to God – into the lives in your family.  Quietly go to war for the generations to come.  You are not cursed.  You were just hurt.  Don’t let a lie keep you from what you were made to do. (p. 132)

I have to admit that there have been incidents of hurt in my past – hurtful enough that we moved on to a new church.  I was under the impression that I had gotten over those issues – but reading ‘ReChurch’ made it clear to me that there was some unresolved pain that had been carried over.  I am grateful to Stephen for writing this book; I think it will be a way of healing for many people.  For those of you who have lived through some hurts, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book – and to purchase a copy for anyone in your life who could also benefit.

You can order this book here.

This book was provided by Tyndale House for review purposes.

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