Nancy tells her story of experiencing church cancel culture
Hi, I’m Nancy. I was canceled from a church staff. I loved ministering at this church and never would have dreamed something like this would happen to me. But, it did. After several months of going through turmoil, I made plans to exit. There was no possible way I could stay there! I saw the cancel writing on the wall. Before long, my canceling would pass on to various church members, which hurt even more.
I’ll never forget the pain of church hurt. It leads me to despise the modern church cancel culture. Whether you’re on church staff or a church member, I’m challenging you to be different! I’m pleading with you to join me in canceling our church cancel culture.
What does an unexpected exit look like?
Uncounted numbers of church staff that have left their positions battered, bruised and broken. The details of the departure are held quiet, often only the subject of rumors. The canceled staff, as a matter of loving the body they are being canceled from, often do not publicize it on twitter or call out the church. They just hurt quietly, sometimes for years. Most church people don’t get it, but we lose a job and a church family. A family we love dearly and were loved dearly by. All at once we’re disillusioned, defeated and working at a Target store doesn’t sound half bad. Our dreams, our focus, our support system, it has all been canceled.
My canceling began with disagreement
My particular story took place some years back. While the pain has lessened, I doubt it will ever fully go away. After many years of success and thriving, watching God successfully use me in His ministry, things changed in a heartbeat. On a year where had just received a glowing evaluation, it was a few months later when I was told had an issue with conflict. I knew my new boss didn’t like me and seemed unusually insecure around me. But, never did I think he’d go to these lengths. A new narrative had been set up and nothing could change it.
Once selected for canceling, I had no voice
All at once, I had no voice. My role on the leadership team was no longer recognized. I felt instantly felt some of the staff treat me differently. I was told I would be going to counseling, selected by the pastor and paid for by the church. That plan seemed to backfire for the leadership as I was asked if I could pay for the counseling out of my own insurance. As time went on, this same counselor eventually decided to share her findings with several church staff, not on the confidentiality form. I confronted the counselor and I was immediately “fired” by her! There was nothing ever said again about counseling.
Canceling severs the church family- I think I had a good understanding of how Christ designed the church family to be. Because of Christ, we can have oneness and unity that is beautiful! When you’re on a church staff, your church home is complicated. It’s your job and your church family! For me, as a single woman, I was so blessed by both! But the two, (being on staff and church family) can get intertwined and messy. So, when the painful time comes, and one needs to leave the church, one also leaves the church family. Leaving my job was hard enough, but losing some of my precious friends stung deeply.
Canceling hides what really happened- To see my story from the outside looking in, you’d think I’d had a lovely exit from the church staff. Nice parties. Kind words. Gracious gifts. One gift stands out… Pink Ariet cowboy boots. They sat in my closet for a few years and I just couldn’t get myself to wear them. (I wear boots almost 365 days of the year!) What was wrong? Those boots represented the pain and verbal abuse I endured from several elders. I just couldn’t wear them. Before long, my boots got a new home at Goodwill. I hope the new boot owner can freely enjoy them!
Canceling is not God’s way- Journey through Scripture with me for a moment. In Luke 15:11-32, we see the loving Father welcome the prodigal with open arms, despite his rebellion. Do you have a person like the prodigal in your church or did he never return? I would love to return to my church for so many reasons, but I’m not sure I can again.
Although the Corinthian church chose all sorts of incorrect paths, Paul never stopped loving them. Rather, he loved them so much, he warned that he was either coming in love or with a stick. (1 Corinthians 4:21)
Take a look at the final greetings of many of Paul’s epistles. I see a ton of encouragement. I see blessing those in the churches. I see reminders to his friends. I see the importance of staying in touch. I see him sending greetings to those in the ministry. I see prayers on their behalf and extending blessings. It’s goodness at its best and one to model as a church leader.
It would feel so wonderful to me if I could hear words similar to what Paul wrote about John Mark when he said “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11) If you remember, Paul and Barnabas had a feud over John Mark, because Paul didn’t think he was reliable. But Paul didn’t cancel Barnabas or John Mark! He reconciled with them and saw their worth.
So many of us are written off, as if dumped in the garbage never to be seen again. For me, the pastors didn’t care to reach out. Few said goodbye. I was part of the receiving end of the cancel culture before the cancel culture was cool. But I say, let’s cancel the cancel culture. Let’s choose to love, truly love, permanently. Let’s cancel canceling!
Let’s cancel canceling!
How could the church do better?
Stop the judgments –Since leaving that church, God opened my eyes to how I’ve judged people. Being on the receiving end of judgment changed everything! It just killed. I wanted nothing to do with dishing it out and had to repent to God for the countless ways I have judged people. I don’t’ believe believers today even realize how quickly we judge other people. It’s a sickness that must be dealt with. And guess what? Judging people becomes even more natural as you age. Trust me.
Years ago, my husband and I began working in a prison ministry. Over time, we learned how to share agape love with the brothers in white. We never asked what they had done to warrant their prison sentence. We basically lavished them with love like many had never seen. We acknowledged them with dignity, kindness, acceptance and love. We wrote letters encouraging them. It was through that ministry I realized a different way. We let them know that “We’re ALL the church” and we want them to be a part of the church regardless of their past. They are not canceled.
We let them know that “We’re ALL the church” and we want them to be a part of the church regardless of their past. They are not canceled.
I’ve also enjoyed a tremendous opportunity to partner with the LGBQT community in my work as Chaplain for a YMCA. I have jumped into this with a willingness to love and partner together. In one staff meeting, I apologized on behalf of the church for the way we have treated this community. There was a lot of weeping going on in that staff meeting. I wept too. My experience on a church staff has helped me identify with some of the pain that my LGBQT brothers and sisters experience from being canceled by the church.
I apologized on behalf of the church for the way we have treated the LGBQT community.
How you treat people, talk about people and love people matter. Your church can have all the latest and greatest church goals, plans and visions. But, if you don’t love people, you’re nothing but a clanging symbol. And clanging symbols don’t sound so good after all.
Learn to love well those who leave- Pastors, have you and your elder board crafted a plan for how to help people exit well? It’s not so much about giving them gifts and throwing a nice party that matters. Loving matters.
Unexpected exists are tough for you and the staff person leaving. But it’s up to you, pastor, for doing this with grace and dignity. Picture yourself like Paul. Read through the epistles and prayerfully consider crucial imperatives for helping a person leave as well as possible. Truly care about them. Be determined not to cancel them. Plot out on your calendar some future dates to connect with them. One simple caring text could mean the world to someone. Praying for them changes your attitude about them. The ex-staff person may still be upset with you, but you initiate like Jesus. Keep loving well.
Fellow church peeps, how do you love those in the body of Christ well, especially those who leave? Are you a part of the gossip train? Do you freely judge others, whether on social media or quietly among a few? Do you cancel people out of your life? 1 Peter 1:22 says “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” God has called each of us to “love one another deeply from the heart.” When are hearts are purified from all earthly affections and selfish desires, we are able to love one another with the Holy Spirit’s help. Did you know we have an obligation to love all our brothers and sisters in Christ? For me, my prayer is that I can love others deeply from the heart in word and deed. I am compelled to be different!
How has the unexpected exit changed me?
This unexpected exit shook me to the core. Being canceled felt worse than being called wrong! Once I stepped out of church ministry, I had a hard time feeling safe in any church. No matter what church we tried, it wasn’t right. I was attempting to cancel church myself! Thankfully, God has done some deep healing. Today, I love our church and enjoy serving there.
Exiting this church was by far, one of the most painful things in my life. But, I like who I’m becoming. I’m more me. I’m way more desperate for the Jesus. I can’t start my day without prayer and time in the Word. I hunger for godly wisdom. A special bonus? A few years after this “forced” move, I met my husband! God can do just about anything. He did mean it for good.