Book review: “Neglect is a deadly form of abuse” in the church
I lucked upon a new book in my local Christian book store by the name of Wounded in the Church: Hope Beyond the Pain by Ray Beeson (Overcomers Ministries) and Chris Hayward (Cleansing Stream Ministries), both in California. I have to say it is a marvelous product [Whitaker House, 2017] and should be on every pastor’s shelf.
More often, when we come across a title that is about churches that cause pain and heartache, it can come off as shallow and glib. Not so with Wounded in the Church. In fact it seems scholarly and theological, and requires a slow reading to capture all the goodness it will deliver for the reader.
I was fortunate to grow up in an Anabaptist congregation and denomination that was not doctrinaire and rigid. The authors write: “The religious spirit is an agent of Satan assigned to prevent change and to maintain the status quo by using religious devices, namely, manipulation, domination and control. Without the willingness to listen, Christians embrace this religious spirit, become judgmental, and display an overwhelming lack of compassion. Many of them refuse to dialogue with anyone who doesn’t agree with them.“
But there are a number of churches out there that are like that. Luckily I was never in one, or I wouldn’t have stayed long. In my eight years editing a national magazine for the megachurch movement, I almost never came across a church with that predisposition or attitude or theological stance.
The authors spend some time giving attention to neglect. In situations when members leave a church (or other social organization), “in far too many cases you will find they were neglected, or at the least, feltthey were neglected. By the time it’s noticed by the offender, it is often too late and the relationship is broken. It’s a sobering thought. Neglect is usually never accompanied by hard facts—it’s just the way we feel about some relationships and situations. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It also doesn’t mean that people haven’t learned to use it as a weapon.”
“Neglect,” they write, “often comes in very small doses that, if taken individually, would seem to be of little importance…. Neglect is one of the easiest forms of censorship, rebuke, and castigation…. All you need to do is ignore them. Neglect is a deadly form of abuse and is highly contrary to godliness. It bears on people with the message that they are irrelevant and insignificant.”
There were a couple occasions in the churches of my past, in different congregations, where there was a matter of tension and disagreement with the pastors, but I was told by another staff member, or came to a conclusion on my own accord, that “the pastor will never call you to talk the matter over at a lunch or breakfast.” After reading this book (and I am still working through it), I can now put a name on that behavior—neglect. Until now I was burdened with the feeling of wronging the leader, when in fact, he was likely holding me in disrespect.
Hayward and Beeson put it this way: “If you have suffered from feelings of neglect by church, whether true or false, you will not get infused into any kind of ministry. You may remain faithful in some ways, but you will pull back from continued involvement because you are not sure of your acceptance, either by God or by the leadership of the church.”
This theme of neglect goes on for several more pages. The writers address the matter of members who “didn’t feel they would fit in” and move on for a lack of acceptance. “They felt the subtle monster of rejection, but often not from anything specific that they could put a finger on. It was a neglect that was ever-so-faint, but still powerful enough to make them feel unwanted.”
Having read the first four chapters, I can feel somewhat better about the churches I was involved in, but felt unwanted at the time, more than likely. Following chapters deal with such titles as “Nobody Sees Me,” “I Feel Beat Up in Church,” “I Live in Shame All the Time,” “I Feel Used,” and “I Can’t Forgive.” That’s “The Pain” of this title. And then there are eight more chapters on “The Hope.” It’s a dynamite book; and “dynamite” is my highest accolade.
Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa. His church interests lie with congregational transformation, church health movement, church strengthening and revitalization and reporting on churches that have not just survived but thrived.
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