Submitted by Anonymous on Tuesday, Jun 5 @ 9:53am
ReChurch by Stephen Mansfield (Tyndale, 2010)
A review, endorsement, and testimony
Lead Pastor, Elk Grove Baptist Church
I’ve read a lot of books over the years—many good books that were both interesting and helpful. I can still count them on one hand the ones that impacted me in a significant, life-shaping way. I just added one to the list in the last six months, ReChurch by Stephen Mansfield.
I’m still debating if the book is as great as I think it is, or if it was simply the greatness of God to drop it in my lap precisely when I needed it. It’s probably a combination of both. The subtitle “Healing Your Way Back to the People of God” makes it clear this is a book for those who have been hurt by God’s people—the church. I was given the book during one of the hardest seasons of ministry in my life. Our church went through a year of disagreement and turmoil where we lost families and a staff member. It didn’t all happen in the most Christ-like manner. I found myself hurting deeply.
I skimmed the book and was struck by its relevance for my situation. I saw that it could guide me through some practical steps to make sense out of what I had experienced and move beyond it. I scheduled a 2-day personal spiritual retreat and headed off with my Bible, ReChurch, a pile of emails and all the pain I had accumulated. I had never done a personal retreat before. I was not prepared for the way God would meet me.
Before getting to what for me was the “practical” part of the book (I like practical!), Mansfield lays a good foundation. He shows that throughout church history some of the great leaders were hurt by Christians before their season of greatness. He also puts the way we sin against each other in the larger context of the spiritual drama that is much larger than me and my pain. Then chapters 4 and 5 provided me with some concrete tools to deal with the weight I knew I needed to unload.
Early on in Chapter 4, “Lessons from a Season in Hell,” Mansfield says, “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.” He then gives five questions to help us learn from what we have experienced. I found the first and the last most helpful for me: Of the things your critics said, what is true and what was just intended to hurt? and During the bruising season, what fed your inspiration and your dreams? The first helped me see some things about my ministry and leadership style through the eyes of others—to discover the valid nuggets of truth in the criticism and to dump the things I knew were simply not true. The last question gave me insight into the nonnegotiable core values I held for my ministry and my church. I knew I needed to make sure these things are clear to others—and embraced by the leadership and people in my church.
Chapter 5, “The Throne Room of Your Mind,” has to do with forgiving those who have hurt you. I couldn’t have said it better than Mansfield does, “Most sermons on forgiveness didn’t work for me... they wanted me to feel differently about the people who had wronged me and then to act sweetly and lovingly toward them based on those new feelings… What I needed were actual steps to take, things to do that would ultimately leave me changed.”
As Mansfield explained the concepts behind the three New Testament words for forgiveness, I saw some specific actions I could take. It was easy for two of the three; the middle one was more of a challenge. The first one had to do with “releasing and setting free” as in the Old Testament scapegoat idea. After making a written list of offenders and offenses, I placed it on the cross in the chapel of the retreat center, praying through it—transferring the responsibility for handling those hurts from me to Jesus. I didn’t have a scapegoat handy, but there was a stream. I shredded the page into small pieces and watched them float away, never to be mine to find or deal with again!
It was a long day and at times a hard day, but at the end of it I felt a weight lifted from me and a release like I had never felt before. I felt release—physically, emotionally, spiritually. I slept longer and better (in not that great of a bed, I might add!) than I had in months. I was ready to meet God the next day and look forward—to what he could do through our church in the months and years ahead.
I know that everything in my church does not depend on me or even revolve around me. (Oh, how I know that!) Yet I’m well aware that I set the pace, and that the church will not go beyond where I am able to lead it. I knew last fall that I had to deal with the weight of my own pain and hurt and move beyond it to lead the church past it. The last six months have seen a marked change in the spirit and tone of the church. We have seen the faithfulness of God in the difficult times, and are dreaming a larger vision. We are seeing his hand at work in remarkable ways. I know what God did in me isn’t the only thing that contributed to the change, but I know it was an important piece.
I’m not sure how I would have arrived at where I needed to be without God using Mansfield’s ReChurch the way he did. It joins the short list of books that have profoundly impacted my life and ministry.