My pastor became unexpectedly transparent Sunday morning as he preached. I was so moved by what he said that I emailed him that afternoon expressing my gratitude for his transparency. He replied and told me that he had no plans to be that transparent or even to share what he shared. He said it just happened in the moment.
As I prayed this morning, a painful memory resurfaced that transpired more than 13 years ago. I tried praying through it but it was difficult then I thought of my pastor, who has only been my pastor for less than a year now. In honor of his example from Sunday, I decided to write out my memory, or pieces of it, because maybe someone needs to hear it.
It happened over a period of time but came to a conclusion roughly 13-14 years ago. The conclusion is that certain relationships I had, important ones, were destroyed. They were destroyed in part because of my own sinful actions.
Like many young ministry-minded men, I thought I knew everything. I thought I had everything about church and following Christ figured out. My friends and I often discussed the problems in our home church and why the pastor was wrong in how he handled many things. I talked often of their lack of missionary zeal (only lack of in my opinion) and I knew (thought I knew) how to fix it. Over time that anger developed into bitterness. That bitterness ruined vital relationships.
I did not jump immediately into bitterness. I started with anger and judgement. I marinated those thoughts over a long period of time until it developed into bitterness. My bitterness is, in part, what caused me to leave that church to join a different one down the street.
Four years later, a close friend at my original church invited me to return and help him launch a bible study for international students. The catch was I had to leave my new church and return to the church where my bitterness was unresolved. Like many bitter people, I had no idea my bitterness was unresolved.
Months after returning, I began to sense the unwanted nudging of the Lord. I cannot recall what prompted that nudging, what I heard or whether it was something I read in God’s Word. But, there was a point of nudging that was Holy Spirit inspired and terrifying at the same time.
Over a period of months, I went from person to person confessing my sin of bitterness and seeking forgiveness. Most where leaders in my original church. At one point, I thought I had reached out to everyone until one day sitting in my office I received another nudge. That nudge was something I never saw coming. It was a nudge I knew I did not want. But, I also knew that if I wanted to follow Christ obediently, I needed to obey that nudge from God.
I immediately emailed the Sr Pastor. I asked him if I could confess my sin in front of the whole congregation. I never thought in a million years he would agree. Our church hosted 3-4000 people every Sunday and stage presence was tightly controlled. To my surprise, he wrote back and said, “I think that will a good idea”.
The following Sunday, I stood in front of a few thousand people and confessed my sin of bitterness - seeking forgiveness from the leadership (publicly) and the congregation as a whole. It was a difficult morning but freeing at the same time. While I wish I had never reached that point of needing to stand on that stage, I am glad I did it.
Standing on that stage is not the painful memory. It was a necessary act on my part because of my bitterness prior to that moment and how I allowed it to manifest publicly. It was the right thing to do, without a doubt. The pain that surfaces periodically is the remembrance that certain relationships in my life from that time are no more.
I have tried to restore each and every relationship that was damaged. By God’s grace, some where but not all of them. I have done everything I can, within my power, but I cannot force relationships to reunite. I can only make the attempt.
I bring this up because bitterness has the great potential to do a lot of damage, even in the life of a follower of Christ. Relationships between believers can be destroyed because trust is broken. Ministry can be hindered when trust is no longer present. This does not mean forgiveness cannot take place. It simply means that trust is beyond repair. In my case, it meant I needed to depart the very church I was baptized, discipled and where my missionary work began in my early years.
I am well aware that God can show me mercy on this earth and restore those relationships and I hope He does. But, if He chooses not do so on this side of heaven, I know it will all be restored on the other side. If that is the case, I pray that my story will help two kinds of people, maybe more.
I hope my story helps those wallowing in anger and bitterness against a fellow believer and/or their church. Bitterness is not the answer. It is not worth it. It is, in fact, sin. I encourage you to seek wise biblical counseling to help you walk through shedding bitterness from your life. You will be grateful you did.
I hope my story helps those who have dealt with the sin of bitterness but who are struggling with the scar and pain that might have resulted. I know how you feel. It sucks! But, you are on the right path. Find someone you trust, if you haven’t already, and confide in them. Let them know what happened. Let them know you need their help to fully heal. You will be grateful you did.
Steve Schirmer, President of Silk Road Catalyst and co-Host of Missions Talk. Least Reached Advocate. Dedicated to No Place Left.