The Shack

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For the first six months of this year, I volunteered at a local church that ministers to homeless people six days each week.

The church doesn’t have a pastor. The church building is owned by a couple (Sam and Mabel — not their real names). They used to be the worship leaders at a large, established denominational church a few miles away. Sam and Mabel lead the church and the worship team, and every Sunday, one of a rotating field of several independent or retired ministers delivers the church’s Sunday sermon.

The church is only open 5 hours each day, but because many people knew that I cared about them, so they sought out my help, I worked for up to 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. I was blessed to be able to get to know many homeless people, and to help them with their spiritual and physical needs.

After the first week, I joined the church’s Sunday worship teaam — but I also told Sam several concerns that I already had about how the church was being run.

After six weeks, upon Sam’s request, I joined the church’s leadership team, a group of about a dozen mature Christians who Sam and Mabel had hand-picked.

But over time, I continued to observe several more “red flags” about how the church was being run, and I continued to express my concerns to Sam.

Unfortunately, I noticed that Sam and Mabel did nothing to address any of my concerns — in fact, they appeared to actively resist making any improvements to the way they were running the church.

For example, when Mabel gets mad at one of the homeless people — which she does a lot — she swears at them and threatens them.

She says she does it because “it’s the only language they understand.”

Sam says she does it because “sometimes they need tough love.”

Many of the homeless people say she does it because she’s a hypocrite.

I told Sam that there must be hundreds of people who have done homeless ministry for decades, and I’m sure we could find one of them to teach us what we can do to improve the church’s ministry.

But he had no interest in that idea. Sadly, after twenty-something years of leading worship at a denominational church, and one year of owning the homeless church, Sam sees himself as an expert in homeless ministry.

To me, Sam’s attitude was a huge disappointment, and another red flag. So, for several weeks, I struggled with trying to determine what — if any — relationship God wanted me to have with that church.

As I continued to see more red flags — some of them potentially very dangerous, to both the church and to its clients — I asked for the opportunity to bring my concerns to a specially called meeting of the church’s leadership team. That was the first and only leadership meeting I attended in my entire time as a leader.

That meeting ended up at Sam and Mabel’s house, and Sam led it. It was obvious that neither them wanted to discuss any of the issues I had brought up, but I asked several questions, and brought up several issues, including “What is this leadership team’s relationship to Sam and Mabel?”

No one answered me.

I couldn’t tell if they didn’t know the answer, or if they were afraid to tell me.

A few days later, Sam approached me at the church, wanting to talk in private. He told me that because he owns the church building, all authority in the church flows through him, so he has no accountability to the church’s leadership team — they’re just there to support him. Then he told me that he and Mabel don’t want the members of the church’s leadership team talking about any of the church’s issues among themselves.

In his statements, I saw several serious red flags.

A couple of weeks later, I quit the worship team, but I continued to attend the Sunday service, and to work with the homeless people at the church all week long.

Two weeks after that, I stopped attending the Sunday service, but continued to work with the homeless people at the church all week long.

After watching the church’s potential for danger continue to grow for six more weeks, I finally turned in my letter of resignation, explaining that I originally had high hopes for the church, but that I could no longer be a part of it.

That’s when I turned in my keys and stopped working at the church.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been just as busy ever since then, in my own ministry, as I was when I was working at the church every day. A growing number of the people who I used to help at the church, — and their friends — still call me every day, and I still help them, at all hours of the day and night.

Two weeks after I resigned, Violet (not her real name), a young woman in the church, suddenly died, under suspicious circumstances.

As soon as she heard the news, the good-hearted woman who had acted as Violet’s “mother” for the past two years, called me from the church, sobbing uncontrollably.

So I went to the church, to comfort her and Violet’s fiance.

Within 30 minutes of my arrival, Mabel called the church and told the cook to tell me that she was going to have me arrested and trespassed if I didn’t leave the property immediately.

I know — it didn’t make any sense to me, either.

My only guess is that, when I chose to resign from the church, I suddenly became evil and persona non grata in her eyes.

I ignored Mabel’s threats, and continued to help those who were grieving for several more hours. The police didn’t show up, and I wasn’t arrested or trespassed.

But that incident confirmed to me that, although doing so had broken my heart at the time, I had been wise to resign from the church.

Several weeks ago, my good friend, Vic, from Elkhart, Indiana, packed up a few inspirational books and videos, and mailed them to me, before I had even told him about my spiritual struggles with the church. He later told me that he had actually thought about sending them to me several weeks earlier, but that God had led him to wait until later — which turned out to be exactly the right time for me to receive them.

One of the books that Vic sent me was The Shack, by William Paul Young.

I just finished reading it.

Its nearly indescribable evil broke my heart, but its depth of beauty restored it, stronger than ever; and both confirmed and expanded my faith.

I found it to be absolutely inspired, and a tremendous blessing.

In fact, The Shack is probably the most love-inspiring, faith-challenging book I’ve ever read.

For a huge “faith-lift” — and for precious insights into understanding how the joyful, “living” relationship that God wants to have with you can help you overcome the often-indescribably soul-crushing evils that life presents — please read The Shack.

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