De Muth


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Reportando la Verdad.
Restauración de la Iglesia.

Navigating Church Bewilderment

The Roys Report
El Informe Roys
Navigating Church Bewilderment

For more than two decades, Patrick and Mary DeMuth faithfully served as lay leaders at Lakepointe Church, a megachurch in the Dallas/Fort Worth area pastored by Josh Howerton. But as concerns about Howerton grew, Patrick and Mary found they could no longer stay in good conscience. And now, they’re dealing with the anger and grief so many so-called “church refugees” feel.

En esta edición de El Informe Roys (TRR), Mary DeMuth joins host Julie Roys to talk about navigating church bewilderment.

This is a condition more and more Christians are experiencing today, as scandal and corruption are increasingly seeping into the church. And if you caught the previous TRR podcast with Amanda Cunningham, you heard about many of the concerning issues at Iglesia de Lakepointe. This is the church where Mary and Patrick served for 23 years.

How do you deal with righteous anger? How do you navigate the grief? How much is okay to say, and what is gossip? How do you find another church home when you’re dealing with feelings of betrayal and lack of trust? How do you avoid getting in the same situation again?

These are crucial questions, which Mary—an internationally known author and a repeat speaker at our Restaurar conferencia—admits she is wrestling with. And, as is so characteristic of Mary, she engages these questions with grace, wisdom, and a passion for truth and justice.

Sadly, many churches have created a culture where it’s not okay to talk about leaving a toxic church. But as Mary explains in this podcast, the church won’t get better until we talk about it. Believers must begin to evaluate and process the toxicity in churches—and how we can truly become the Body of Christ.

Mary has recently developed a Church Hurt Checklist to help people understand their situation and begin to process and articulate it. Download it free at marydemuth.com/churchhurt


María DeMuth

María DeMuth is an international speaker, podcaster, and author of over 40 books, fiction and nonfiction, including The Most Misunderstood Women of the Bible y We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis. Mary lives in Texas with her husband of 30+ years and is mom to three adult children. Learn more at MaryDeMuth.com.

Mostrar Transcripción

Julio Roys: For more than two decades, Patrick and Mary DeMuth faithfully served as leaders at a megachurch in the Dallas Fort Worth area. But as concerns about the current pastor grew, they found they could no longer stay in good conscience. And now they’re dealing with the anger and grief so many so-called church refugees feel.

Julio Roys: Welcome to The Roy’s Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And today, Mary DeMuth joins me to talk about navigating church bewilderment. Sadly, this is an issue many Christians are dealing with, as abuse, scandal, and corruption increasingly seem to be seeping into the church.

Julio Roys: And if you caught our last podcast with Amanda Cunningham, you heard about many of the concerning issues at Lakepointe Church in the Dallas Fort Worth area, where Josh Howerton is Pastor. This is the church where Mary and Patrick served for 23 years. And if you missed our prior podcast, it was a real eye-opener and I encourage you to go back and listen to that.

Julio Roys: Today’s podcast is a sequel to my podcast with Amanda, but rather than exposing the issues at Lakepointe today, Mary is going to be discussing the aftermath of leaving. How do you deal with righteous anger? How do you navigate the grief? How do you know how much is okay to say? And what is gossip? And how do you find another church home when you’re dealing with feelings of betrayal and lack of trust? How do you avoid getting in the same situation again?

Julio Roys: These are crucial questions and ones that I know many of you are dealing with today. And so I’m so looking forward to diving into this topic with Mary DeMuth. But first I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Talbot Seminary and Marquardt of Barrington.

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Julio Roys: Again, joining me is Christian author and podcaster, Mary DeMuth, and many of Mary from her excellent books like We Too: Discussing the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church, and also her memoir, Thin Places. Mary also was a guest speaker at our last Restore Conference in 2022, and she’ll be speaking again at our Restore Conference in Phoenix in February in 2025. So we’re super looking forward to that.

Julio Roys: But she joins me now to talk about something that’s been a very painful process for both her and Patrick, and that is leaving her church of 23 years, Lakepointe Church there in the Dallas Fort Worth area. So Mary, Thank you so much for being willing to talk about what I know has been a really difficult journey.

Mary DeMuth: Thanks. I certainly prayed about this conversation and what I’ve noticed in this space is that a lot of people in the middle of it. are not articulating how they’re feeling because there’s this general pressure from churches that you leave that you aren’t supposed to say anything. And I think there’s a difference between, and we’ll talk about this, I’m sure, throughout this episode, but there’s a difference between leaving quietly and running around gossiping about things. Certainly, those are two different things.

Mary DeMuth: But I think what we’ve done is we’ve created a culture of silence; you can’t talk about it and literally we won’t get better unless we do talk about it. So that’s one reason why I am having this conversation today, because this is not a completed story. This is a messy story. I’m in the middle of it.

Mary DeMuth: I am heartbroken, and I don’t have all the answers. But I wanted to give word to those of you that may be in that same space, that may be hurting and don’t have words to say about it. And maybe I can articulate some of those things for you.

Julio Roys: And I so appreciate that. I find that people often are willing to talk about experiences years after the fact, when they’ve worked it all out and they can tie it all up in a neat bow and we can all go, Oh, that’s so nice. And here’s three ways that you can apply this message. But I knew you were going through a really painful thing that it was messy. You’ve been tweeting about it, or I should say posting on X.

Julio Roys: You’ve been very open and honest with your pain. And I really appreciate that. And I love the topic. You actually gave me the title for this, about navigating church bewilderment. And I love that word bewilderment because I feel like it really captures the confusion, the real disillusionment, and then the grief and the pain.

Julio Roys: All of these things bound up in one. And so we’re going to get to all that and unpack all of that. But I think to understand the depth of it for you and for Patrick, first I have to understand how deeply vested you were in this church. So talk about what this church has meant to you over more than two decades and the roles that you played in it and the community that you had.

Mary DeMuth: Yeah, we’ve been there for 23 years, and we immediately started serving the moment we landed there. And we also were the first non-IMB, it was an SBC church at the time, and we were the first non-IMB missionaries to be sent out from Lakepointe.

Julio Roys: Define IMB for those who .

Mary DeMuth: Yes. International mission board. So typically SBC churches send, they don’t really send their own missionaries. They sponsor IMB because all the money comes out of the SBC into this fund for the International Mission Board. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to be actually supported because we believed that people who paid prayed. And so we were not IMB, but Lakepointe sent us out. So we were church planters in the South of France for a couple of years. And honestly the leadership there at our church, even though we weren’t going through our church, they were the ones that helped us through a really untenable situation. And our loyalty to that church was because they put us back together when we got back from the field..

Mary DeMuth: So much pouring in and so much love. And so we have been a life group leader for 20 of the 23 years. The only three years we weren’t was when we were in France, planting a church. And then I have run a couple of conferences, interestingly enough, called the Re-story Conference, which was very similar sounding to the Restore Conference.

Mary DeMuth: And I also recorded a Life Way study at Lakepointe for an audience. And then my husband was an elder at the church for five years. And so we have led mission teams all over the world for Lakepointe. We have definitely been in the upper levels of volunteer leadership all these years and have enjoyed a lot of conviviality and fellowship.

Mary DeMuth: And I never never. I always bragged about my church. It never crossed my mind that there would be a day that I wasn’t at that church anymore. And so as of December of 2023, we are away from there and making our way into a new space.

Julio Roys: And I’ve talked about this on this podcast, but we’re in a house church with, some of the folks in our house church were at their previous church for over 30 years, and the amount of pain and loss and especially when you’re, when you’re our age, early 40s.

Julio Roys: That’s it. It’s early 40s. No, when you’re a little bit older and later in life and to be at this point where you’re starting over is not at all where you expected to be, and it’s pretty tough to be there. You retain some of the friendships, but everything’s changed. And it just makes for a really really difficult road that you never planned to be on.

Julio Roys: Your church; and this is a lot of the reason behind you leaving, changed dramatically in the last 5 years. Stephen Stroop was your previous pastor. And in 2019, I believe Josh Howerton came in. Your husband actually was on the elder board that approved him, right?

Mary DeMuth: Yes. Yes. And we’ve had to work through that as you can imagine, because that’s painful to think about. And just to expand a little bit about the why is the basic reasons why we left. There’s a lot of things. As an author, as a published author and as a speaker, the plagiarism was just grating on me and I couldn’t stomach it, but that wasn’t the main reason.

Mary DeMuth: Although it’s still very problematic to me. What’s more problematic is that they don’t think it’s a big deal and they don’t see it as sin, and I just disagree. But the two things that we, the two main things that caused us to walk away, one was we were told by leadership, by upper-level leadership, that there was no place for us to serve.

Mary DeMuth: And that was really, that was about a year ago. And so it took us about a year to make that decision. Like we were still serving in our life group, but there were things that God has put in us as church planters. And as me, as an author and an advocate that we have a lot that we would love to be able to offer, and to have that cut off when we feel like we’re in the prime of service right now. We weren’t asking to be paid. This is all volunteer, but we were told we couldn’t.

Mary DeMuth: And then the second thing that was kind of the straw was all of the crude words and the misogynistic statements that started around 2022 almost every sermon. And as an advocate for sexual abuse victims and as an advocate for women, I could no longer be associated with that church because it just didn’t, I just couldn’t be associated with it.

Mary DeMuth: I have stood in front of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I have spoken and advocated, and I have been chewed up and spit out for it. And if I’m going to a church that is marginalizing women, it does not make sense. And so no place for us to serve, big, huge problem. And then I just couldn’t be connected with a church that had that kind of reputation.

Julio Roys: Those reasons are huge. and make an awful lot of sense. The plagiarism as you said, the crude remarks, the misogynistic remarks. And for a lot of folks, if you’re like, what are they talking about? I do encourage you to go back and listen to our last podcast with Amanda Cunningham, where we went over a lot of these things that Mary’s talking about that have happened in her church.

Julio Roys: I’m sure there’s people listening, and they’re like, okay, that sounds really, really awful. But how do you know when you hit that tipping point? Because I remember talking to you a couple of years ago and me going, Hey, is this really your pastor? I’m seeing some stuff. How is this your pastor? And you’re like we’re serving, and we love our life group. I get it. I totally, totally get it. But how did you and Patrick, how did you get to the point where you’re like, this is the tipping point, no more?

Mary DeMuth: We decided we went into this together, so we decided that we both had to have the same decision. We weren’t going to have one of us leave and one not leave. We were going to do this together. So that took a year of a lot of conversations. And we saw those red flags when you saw them. So we’ve seen them, but as you mentioned, the model of Lakepointe used to be, it seems to be shifting now, but it used to be church within a church. And so your life group was really basically what you’re doing, Julie. It’s a small gathering of people where there is someone who teaches, and there’s someone who’s the missions coordinator. And there’s someone who, it’s that’s how, like your church is that group. And so we felt a deep, strong connection to our group. And we felt like we were the pastors of that church within a church.

Mary DeMuth: The model has shifted. And I don’t know, it has never been articulated publicly, but it seems from the exterior looking in that it’s more becoming a franchise model, which is where you create this mother church, and it can be duplicated like MacDonald’s in any context. Therefore they may not have that idea that it is church within a church anymore. It has to be something replicatable on all other campuses. And so we began to see this shifting of, this is no longer church within a church, which is really what kept us there. We had people we were serving. And then honestly, I just couldn’t stomach sermons anymore. I couldn’t walk into that building anymore.

Mary DeMuth: And as everything became a spectacle the longer we were there, it was all about Sunday morning and the spectacle that it had become like a circus, and I could not find Jesus there. And I would sit in the audience. We had beautifully. articulated and performed auto-tuned worship. It was beautiful. It sounded amazing. There was a lot of rah-rah-rah. There was a lot of energy and it felt like Ichabod to me, like to me as a Christ follower, a mature Christ follower of many years, I couldn’t feel the presence of the Lord anymore. And for me, that’s what is the point of going to a church, if that has happened to you?

Mary DeMuth: I’m not saying that other people aren’t experiencing the Lord there. I’m not saying that other people aren’t becoming Christians there. They are. And that’s probably the most problematic part of this whole thing is that they are easily able to point to numbers that are flowing in through the front door, ignoring all of us that have left out the back door.

Mary DeMuth: And because it is successful, therefore they can just call me names and malign me or people like Amanda and others, and they can dismiss us because look what God is doing.

Julio Roys: And Amanda talked about that same thing about the church within a church and even how each of the churches had different women’s ministries.

Julio Roys: And I think about it, it was so personal because people are different and they all had different campuses, have different makeup, they have different cultures and now, this franchise model where you go in, you order a Big Mac, and you get a Big Mac. That’s what you’re used to, right?

Julio Roys: But is it? And probably our conversation today, we probably don’t have enough time to really delve into this, but this is something I have been thinking more and more about, is it even church if you have a place where it, maybe a Christian organization and maybe a Christian organization that blesses a lot of people but is it a church where you say to members of the body, we don’t need you, we don’t need your gift, and you can’t serve here? If we have a pastor who doesn’t even know people’s names, if we don’t have that kind of shepherding, is it even a church anymore?

Mary DeMuth: I’ll back up before I answer that in that I’ve, been overseas and, anyone that’s been overseas and gone to a McDonald’s overseas knows they have different categories. So even franchises like McDonald’s in France has McWine, right? Or McVine. McDonald’s even understands contextualizing the hamburger to the person, and to the people. So that’s an odd thing for me that there would be this idea that you can just, this is the model and we’re superimposing it on all sorts of different economic people and people in different cultures, and we’re just gonna superimpose it there, which seems super weird to me.

Mary DeMuth:  On the, is this a church? We have to just go back to simplicity, which is, are we celebrating the Lord’s Supper? Are there sacraments there? Is the word of God being delivered and is it?

Mary DeMuth: And then deeper than that, are  disciples being made? because there’s a big, huge difference between converts who hear something. And I think about the parable of the soils, they hear it, they receive it with joy, they have no root and then they walk away. We’re not teaching a theology of suffering in most of these bigger churches for sure.

Mary DeMuth: But I think we need to remember that a church is supposed to be a place of koinonia, a place of fellowship, a place where we are iron sharpening iron, and a place of discipleship where people are not just converted, but they are just doing the slow work of people pouring into each other’s lives. That’s discipleship. That’s not a top-down model. That’s not pastor to congregation. That’s person to person. And when a church gets so big for its britches these things can fall through the cracks.

María DeMuth: Now, Lakepointe had done a very good job of doing that discipleship piece through their vehicle of a life group. But as things have shifted, we’re seeing a lot less of that. And again, I haven’t been there for six months, so they could be doing it. I don’t know, but just from my perspective today that’s something that’s been difficult to see.

Julio Roys: You alluded to this earlier, this idea of leaving well. It’s hard to leave well and even to define what leaving well is. I will say there was one church that my husband and I ended up leaving and it was over a theological disagreement that we just felt we couldn’t bend on. And at the same time, we felt really pulled to another church. They actually had us come up and explain why we were leaving and gathered around us and prayed for us.

Julio Roys: That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen where it was just like, differences and God makes calling you here. We want to bless you as you go. And you’ve met a lot to this church and we mean a lot to each other and let’s just bless each other. It was so beautiful, and I don’t know why this can’t happen more. But usually it’s just a lot of pain and a lot of heartache And when you talk about leaving well, what it usually means to a lot of people, and I’ve heard even Christian leaders talk about this. When you leave well, you just keep your stuff to yourself.

Julio Roys: The issues that you had, you suck them under, and you don’t speak about it. And honestly, I think that’s part of our problem in the church is that we don’t talk about our problems. And so we wait till they become a major scandal or crisis. And then they really blow up. And we allow abusive pastors just kind of reign; to continue doing what they’re doing.

Julio Roys: So talk about this concept of leaving well. Obviously, you’ve chosen to speak rather boldly about what happened there. I think really from a heart of love and concern for both the church and the people there, not just to vent how you’re feeling. But talk about that and how you’ve come to the decision you have about that.

Mary DeMuth: First, I’ll say there’s been kind of  an unholy silence. We were pretty high up and we have not been followed up with, and the very few times we were invited into those spaces, it was difficult. So there is that. I would encourage church leaders to do what your former church did, because I think there’s a lot to be learned.

Mary DeMuth: I also need to say that we didn’t leave from a position of canceling and of immaturity. There’s one thing if you’re like a church hopper and you’re like, just running around with a consumeristic mindset like, what do I get in this for me? A lot of people that are leaving churches are being accused of being that. But the ones that I know that have left this church are mature, deep believers in Christ who are seeing so many red flags.

Mary DeMuth: And the reason I articulated it was because I was running into people who were brokenhearted and didn’t have words for it. And somehow through the grace of God and through his power and his ability, I was able to say the things that people were feeling so that they would no longer feel alone. I would rather have been silent if the Lord hadn’t put his hand on me.

Mary DeMuth: I would rather grieve this alone and quietly, but I have seen a lot of really good conversation and ministry happen because of this. I’m not out to harm the reputation of the church. I will never tell someone to leave a church unless they’re being abused, obviously, that’s their own decision.

Mary DeMuth: They have the autonomy to make that decision between them and God. But I do want to be a listening ear and an empath for those who are bewildered at the church they’re going to that no longer looks like the church they used to go to.

Julio Roys: So tell me what is gossip because this is what is, this is the word, I’ve gotten called this myriads and myriads of times. But what is gossip? And clearly you don’t believe this falls into that category. Why?

Mary DeMuth: It’s not gossip to share your emotions about how you’re reacting to an abuse. That is actually being a lot like Paul. And if you look at the letters throughout the epistles in particular, you see Paul saying things about churches.

Mary DeMuth: And so if we’re going to talk about gossip, we’d have to call him a gossip because he was constantly calling out, Hey, listen, those Judaizers, they don’t really have it right. Oh, listen, this Gnosticism isn’t good. And that guy’s having sex with his mother-in-law. These kinds of things are, he’s very clear.

Mary DeMuth: These are not untrue things he’s saying. These are actually true statements. And underneath all of that is a desire for the church to be the body of Christ and to be holy. It’s not slander because it’s telling the truth. And it’s always with a desire to see God do good work in the local church. And if she is straying, if you love her, you will say something about it.

Mary DeMuth: Now there’s a manner in which you can do that. You can be really caustic. You can speak the truth without love, but we are called to speak the truth with love. And I believe that we have conflagrated speaking the truth in love with gossip, and those are two different things. Gossip intends to harm the reputation of another or of an entity; telling the truth in love tries to help that institution have a mirror and see what’s going on.

Julio Roys: The motive is really important, although I always get frustrated when people try to judge other people’s motives because the truth is, you don’t know somebody else’s heart. And that’s something I never do. I’ll talk about actions, but I don’t know someone’s heart. Only God knows the heart. But I know that’s something I constantly check myself about is my desire for repentance? is my desire to see these leaders repent? 100 percent, and I know you well enough to know that you would be absolutely thrilled and would extend grace if the leaders who have hurt you so deeply would repent of their sin and would change their ways. I know that and I’m sure you pray for that, that you and Patrick are praying right now for that. Am I right?

Mary DeMuth: Absolutely. That is  underneath all of this, is just a desire to see the local church healthy and to see her lift up the name of Jesus. And we also just want to again put up a mirror of is this representing the kingdom of God or is this representing something else? And that’s what we were coming to find. Patrick and I both were. The kingdom’s upside down. It’s counterintuitive. It’s the least is the most. And the most is the least. It’s not about building platforms. It’s not about being the winner. It’s not about Christian nationalism. It’s none of these. I don’t even like those two words together.

Mary DeMuth: It’s not about power. Jesus willingly laid down his power and he considered equality with God, not something to be grasped. He made himself nothing. And when I see a lot of these big churches and not all of them, but a lot of them where it is very male leader centric celebrity driven. And really about, we want to be the coolest people with the biggest numbers.

Mary DeMuth: I don’t get it. They’ll point to Acts chapter two. They’ll talk about how many were added to the kingdom on that day. They’ll call that a mega church. It was not a mega church. People were still meeting in homes. So we just have to be careful. I’m not against mega churches. I actually think that there’s a place for them.

Mary DeMuth: Over the years, they we have had the benefit of a megachurch that can go into a community and say, oh, you need a church building, here you go. Like they can do some things that a littler church can’t do. So I’m not against the megachurch, but there is something fallible in the model, the consumeristic model, that is causing all of this anguish.

Julio Roys: And I’d say the leadership model. Because we have imported a leadership model that’s of the world and done the exact opposite of what Jesus said, don’t be like the Gentiles who lorded over them, but instead, whoever wants to be first should be last, whoever wants to be greatest should be least.

Julio Roys: It is the upside-down kingdom, and we’ve forgotten that. We’ve become just like the world, and we count our success the same way as the world. And we’ve seen this going, it’s been going on a very long time, and I think the megachurches get a lot of the criticism because they’ve. been kind of doing it in spades in an awful lot of them and then exporting these values to all the smaller churches who are wannabes, right?

Julio Roys: So you even have smaller churches that are trying to do the exact same thing and they think it’s right because it’s successful very much in the American model of success, which is bigger and better. Before we go forward, there is something I do want to ask you, though, and I would be remiss if I didn’t. What was it about what you and Patrick that you were doing that they didn’t want you serving?

Mary DeMuth: I don’t know. They just didn’t want us. That’s what’s been hard is, it’s a speculative, I just don’t know. And I’m willing to be talked to about those things, of course. Like if they feel like something that we’re not godly enough or we’re, or I’m too public or whatever it is, I don’t know.

Mary DeMuth: But I do know this, I do know this. When we were told this, what we learned was that they had been morphing from a church that had a lot of lay leaders to a higher control situation where only people who are employed by the church could be in charge of ministries. And so, you can control that. If you can control someone’s salary, you can control the whole thing.

Mary DeMuth: And so we were just told there is no place for you because we’re not on staff. So that’s probably my guess at a reason is that we were not controllable. And the statement made to us is I’ve got 30 other people just like you that are well trained and that have gone, my husband went to seminary, and all that, but will never use them. We will never use them. And basically, you just need to get over it. You will never be used.

Julio Roys:  What a waste of resources. Unbelievable. The kingdom is not so well resourced that we don’t need every single person; that God didn’t give gifts every single one of them to be used.

Julio Roys: But I will say, I’ve seen this happen before. And the beautiful thing is, people get dispersed, people like yourself and like Patrick, too often churches that are very needy very welcoming. Like Oh, thank God. It’s like Christmas come early, come to Moots, come to our church. And I’m sure you’re experiencing that because I can’t imagine not wanting you and Patrick at my church. It’s just shocking to me. But yeah, that is a benefit of it. It’s the church in Jerusalem getting persecuted. Then they went to the ends of the earth, and we can do that.

Julio Roys: One of the things that I’ve seen be a silver lining, if you can call it that, in these sorts of situations is you’re a church refugee, but there’s a lot of other ones out there, too. And there can be a great deal of deep fellowship. And, in many ways, that’s what RESTORE is. It’s a gathering of a lot of not just refugees, a lot of helpers and pastors and people who are allies who just want to know more. But. There’s an awful lot of us there that have been hurt by the church, and there’s just this beautiful, sweet fellowship.

Julio Roys: And my understanding is, and Amanda alluded to it in our last podcast, that you guys have served as pastors to these refugees. Would you talk about that sweet group that you were able to love on and pastor through this and just help them?

Mary DeMuth: Yeah, we definitely were praying, and we just kept coming upon people. And in particular, people who had been employed but had been harshly fired in very traumatic ways. And we just felt so deeply. I mean for us, it’s sad and we were highly involved and it’s sad, but it wasn’t our job. And so we just had this empathy for those folks. And so we gathered as much as we knew, we put the word out quietly.

Mary DeMuth: We gathered people for several weeks and met with them. And these were people that some were still there, and some were not, and some were walking away from Jesus. It was just the whole gamut of a wide variety of people in a lot of pain. And what we wanted to do was just to help them know our first session was called, You are not crazy. We just wanted them to know. that what they had seen and experienced was real and validated by the rest of us. And then we’ve just been walking through Chuck DeGroat’s information about narcissism in the church and narcissistic church systems. And then talking about what is a safe person and what is a safe system. And then praying and crying and grieving and giving people the space that they are not allowed to have to get out all this junk that’s inside of us because it’s been so, so painful.

Julio Roys: And I want to get to the safe system and the safe person, because I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening who would like that information as well.

Julio Roys: But let’s talk about the feelings first, because when this happens, there is. Again, we talked about bewilderment. There’s just this mix of negative emotions that you don’t know what to do with a lot of times. One is anger and anger in the church has been one of these emotions that we just don’t deal with very well. And I’ve said this numerous times, but this is one that we’ll get. We’ll get thrown back in my face and people say, you sound like you’re angry and I’m like, darn I’m angry. Why aren’t you angry? Why wouldn’t we be angry when these awful things are happening in the church? And yet again, as a Christian, we feel guilty when we’re angry. So how have you dealt with your own anger, and helped others who are dealing with similar anger?

Mary DeMuth: The first thing that we did was we process outside of the circle of the church because we needed to know if we were going crazy. Is this normal? Are these things that we’re saying? Is it a big deal? Or are we just being babies? We definitely did that. And then it’s been the prayer of let this anger fuel something beautiful, because I do believe that great movements of God happen because there’s injustice and we are angry at the injustice.

Mary DeMuth: I often joke that I write a book when I’m angry, so I must be a pretty angry person at book 52. There’s injustice in this world and our God is righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. When we do the work of making note of people who are being hurt and oppressed and harmed, we are doing the Lord’s work. And so that anger can be a fuel to doing positive things

Mary DeMuth:. Now, I also just want to say, it’s okay to be angry. I’m angry and I have been angry and I’m processing that with friends and I’m processing it with my husband and with the Lord. Rightfully so, because I see so many people, to use Mark Driscoll’s frustrating phraseology, the people behind the bus. I’m meeting so many people behind the bus that are getting the bus is backing up over the people. Because not only cause when if you say anything, if you dare to say anything, you will get run over again and again, you will be accused of all sorts of things when really your desire is to see people set free and to open the eyes of people that are being harmed so that they no longer have to be in that system anymore.

Julio Roys: And what a great deal of fear these leaders must feel. to behave that way that you have to annihilate people who say anything negative. I’ve gotten quite comfortable with people saying negative things. I just want to make sure if there’s truth in it, that I take it to heart. It’s okay, but in the end of the day, you’ve got to be okay with who you are before your Lord. And those closest to you who will tell you the truth when you’re veering off. That desire to control that desire that you have to shut down negative communication. I can’t imagine living in that much fear that you constantly are doing that. And yet that’s what we see.

Julio Roys: And that whole thing about feeling like you’re crazy. So much of that’s because you’ve been told you’re crazy. You’ve been told that because that’s the gaslighting that happens when you say there’s a problem. No, there is no problem. You’re the problem.

Mary DeMuth: It’s back to the emperor with no clothes. We all see the naked emperor and only a little kid says he’s not wearing any clothes. And we’re like Oh, yeah, but there’s this like kind of delusional thing or czarist Russia, the Potemkin village. If you know what that is, it was a village that was just set up like a movie set so that when the czar went by he could see that this Potemkin’s village was actually a really cool place, but you open the door, you walk through, it’s just mud and dirt on the other side and some horses grazing in a field. Church is not a Potemkin village. It should never be. It should not be a facade that we are trying to hold up by shaming people who say negative things. The church is a living, breathing organization. It is the body of Christ.

Mary DeMuth: God does not need to be defended. He can do just fine by himself. And this fear that you talk about is very real because it’s about human empire. Whenever we build our Roman empire on our cult of personality and our particular views about things and not on the word of God and not on studying the word of God, then we will be threatened by anyone who says anything negative because that will eat away at the foundation of our FACO empire.

Julio Roys: Very well said. That is very well said. Let’s talk about grief. And I was reminded of the Kubler Ross Stages of grief. And let me see. Those are denial, which is often where we start, right? When things go wrong, anger, the bargaining we can work this out somehow, right? Depression and sink into that deep depression. This is just so sad. And then there’s acceptance, which is that last one. And it’s not like these are completely linear because what I found is you go through, oh, I’ve worked through to acceptance. No, I haven’t. I’m back at anger again.

Julio Roys: Something will happen. it’ll put you right back there. So it’s not completely linear, but how have you moved toward acceptance? What does acceptance look like? And maybe that’s a long way off but talk about where you’re at in that whole process.

Mary DeMuth: I think a lot of people are in this space. There’s a lot of loyal people and that’s where the bargaining comes in. And a lot of the people I’ve talked to are like, yeah, I never go to that church anymore, like to the services, but I’m here because of my small group and they’re my church. There’s this, that we were in that space for a really long time. We can make this work. This is our church, not that other part is not the church, but it’s all together.

Mary DeMuth: So once we got to the decision and made the decision, then the depression set in for sure. And I think I’m still there working my way through it of thinking that I was going to be there the rest of my life. As a person who grew up in a really difficult home and met Jesus at 15 years old, the church became my family. My family was not my family. And the church was the one place where I could go to be loved, to be healed, to be worked, just to work through my salvation with fear and trembling. And so, to walk away from something that you’ve been at the most we’ve ever been at a church is 23. This is the longest we’ve ever been somewhere to walk away from. It felt like I lost my limb. I lost my family, my father’s in the faith, my mother’s in the faith, my aunts, and my uncles in the faith. And then to be villainized for just having eyes to see what the heck is going on, has been devastating, devastating. So I’m still in the grief phase and I don’t cry much about it because I’ve sometimes just shoved it way down deep because I did not ever expect that I was going to have to leave a place I loved so much.

Julio Roys: There’s a, I think it’s a short story and I should know the name of it, but it’s about someone, a man who goes to a cemetery and he sees a woman just weeping and weeping, and he’s there to visit his partner who had died. I don’t think he had actually married her. But he realizes in that moment that the person who’s grieving, who’s crying and just sobbing is the richer person. Because they had loved deeply and he had never loved that deeply. And I’ve thought about that, I lost my mother over 20 years ago and she was so special and I never like, I hear some people talk about their mothers, and how difficult or what I never felt that way. My mother was just a joy, but it was so hard to lose her, but it was hard because I loved her so much.

Julio Roys: And I think, I’m so grateful for you that you did have that church experience where you were loved so deeply, where you loved deeply, and I’ve got to believe that God will provide that family again. It will be different. And I know I just feel so blessed by our church family that we found in this wasteland or out of the wasteland.

Julio Roys: But it’s been really, really special because I don’t have to explain anything to these people. They understand the world I work in. They understand. It’s just, it’s really been a gift. And I think it’s been a gift too. And I know you have adult children. I’m glad I had these adult children because they’re a blessing in ways that they couldn’t be and a support in ways that they couldn’t be when they were younger, when we had to be everything to them.

Julio Roys: And I’m glad I’m not dealing with, and I know a lot of people are,  is what do we do for our kids now? And then there’s that pressure to find something for your children right away. And that makes it really hard. But as believers, we are taught, Hebrews 10:25, let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but all the more as the day of the Lord approaches, let us encourage each other and all the more as the day approaches. I have found sometimes that can be used as a club against people who are just grieving, and they’re dealing with a great deal of betrayal trauma at this point.

Julio Roys: And now we’re going to hit them over the head and say, you better be in church on Sunday. When they walk into a church and it just triggers, it’s a trigger for them. I believe in fellowship. I believe in the church. I love the church, but I am concerned about the process of helping people reengage after they’ve been wounded so profoundly.

Julio Roys: So speak to this process of finding a new church home, or even having the freedom for a period of time to say, I don’t know. I don’t know that I can do that right now. Obviously, there is a danger if we’re out of fellowship for too long. But speak to that person who right now is outside of fellowship and really afraid to reengage with it.

Mary DeMuth: Yeah. First, you’re super normal. And if you’ve been wounded in a terrible community, the stakes are pretty high, when you walk in, especially if you’re triggered or traumatized by walking into a building. I don’t know that I could walk into a big church right now. Like I just don’t think I could, I think I would have a hard time with that.

Mary DeMuth: So for us, how we went about it and everyone’s going to be different, we did want to land somewhere because we just feel like we’re in that stage of, we want to serve the church. And so for our little parameters, and I think it’ll be different for every person. Ours was, it needs to be local. And we’re hoping that there will be people there already that we’re friends with.

Mary DeMuth: And since we’re in a little town, right? So there’s, 1 billion churches and little towns in Texas, right? So we had plenty to choose from so many, and we didn’t even get to all of them, but that was our parameter in choosing a home. In fact, we just officially joined a church yesterday. So it did take some time to get to that place. But I just want to let you know that it’s normal to be scared, to be triggered, to be in pain.

Mary DeMuth: Don’t let it stay there. You are wounded in a negative community and the Lord is very frustrating and he asks you to be healed in good community. That’s hard. But a relational wound requires a relational cure, and that’s one reason why Patrick and I have been pouring into people who are hurt because we want to be that safer relationship for people to be falling apart or hurting or ask really blunt questions and be really ticked off. Because I believe people are healed in community when they’re wounded in community.

Julio Roys: 100%. And I know when I came through just so much grief and pain and church hurt. I know a lot of people go to therapy and I’m not against therapy, but I was like, I don’t need to talk to this about this with a counselor. It’s just not like that. I need to be in a community where there’s love. I need to see beauty in people like again. And even though I’m afraid to be vulnerable on some levels at the same time, I’m compelled to be vulnerable because I know until you do that, you can’t heal.

Mary DeMuth: When we met with the person who became our pastor and there’s a multiplicity of pastors in this particular denomination, but we sat across from him and we told him our story and he just listened, and he dignified the story. And then he said this, he said, we just want to love you. And I just immediately just, I was like, what? you don’t want to use me? Cause we’ve been in leadership positions in the church for so long, our whole adult lives we’ve been in those positions and for him to say, we just want to love you. And that was foreign to me, but that was the beginning of that healing journey.

Julio Roys: I had a pastor at one of the churches we visited when we were in this search process. And it was at a very large church I would say it’s probably a megachurch, and we sat across from him and he said a very similar thing. It was really wonderful. And he said, “I think you guys have been wounded deeply, and you need a place to heal. And we do just want to love you. What was interesting is when I came back to him with a follow up email, because part of me is like wait, this is a megachurch. Am I insane?

Julio Roys: I’m just like looking at it and being like,  I don’t think this is at all what I want. And then I emailed him. I said, we want a pastor. Would you be able to pastor us? And then he basically declined as nicely as he could; like I’d love to be, but I can’t and I’m like I don’t need a small group leader to try and pastor me. I was just kind of like of course, you can’t because you have the corporation to run. And so that is again a fundamental issue that I do have with the mega church.

Julio Roys: One thing I found and I see it here, because I don’t know how many people in the Chicago area who have left Willow Creek and ended up at Harvest. They’re like, wow, di I know how to pick them! They’re going from something that’s become familiar. And if you became a believer at Willow, then that big model, that big service, whiz bang entertaining sermon or inspirational talk, whatever you want to call it.

Julio Roys: Although I’ll say at Harvest, he preached he discipled people. I know a lot of people from Harvest that were discipled shockingly by a really depraved pastor. But I see them going from what they’re used to. And it’s almost like when I see people who grew up in a dysfunctional home and thank God you didn’t do this, but they often then replicate that in their own home, or they’re attracted to that same kind of dysfunction in the next home.

Julio Roys: And I’ve seen it with churches and I’m just like, why are you going to the same model of church that you just left? And I see that there’s this thought in their head that it’s just the one bad apple. That’s all it is. It’s the one bad apple, but basically there’s nothing wrong with the system.

Julio Roys: I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system. So speak to that. Do you think, I know you’ve got some pretty strong opinions now about celebrity megachurches, even though you said some megachurches we’ve seen work. Do you have some thoughts about the model of church and what makes a safe church?

Mary DeMuth: Yes. So many thoughts. I’ll start with a story. In the early two thousand, I went to my first Christian writers conference before I was published and on the airplane on the way there, my story flashed before my eyes and I said, Lord I’ve withstood a lot of trials. Like I’ve gone through a lot of trials.

Mary DeMuth: And he said clearly to me, you have withstood many trials, but will you withstand the trial of notoriety? And that has stayed in my mind all these years because fame emaciates, fame makes you think that you’re better than other people and that people exist to serve you rather than you equipping the saints for the work of service.

Mary DeMuth: And when the systems are in a place, typically what happens is the ego takes over. There’s something deep within the narcissistic system. And in the narcissistic pastor, they have this wound that they can’t fill except by acclaim. And then it’s like a drug, so they have to keep being acclaimed. They cannot have negative things said about them.

Mary DeMuth: Therefore, the next thing they’ll do is they will dismantle the elder board, or they will significantly reduce the influence of the elder board that exists or completely dismantle it altogether. They will gather yes-men around themselves who will only say positive things to them that are not in their context that cannot see them do the bad things And who are other megachurch pastors. So there’s just this like cabal of megachurch pastors that are sitting on each other’s boards saying you can do whatever you want and have fun.

Mary DeMuth: That system is ungodly and that will cause the fall of many leaders, which we have already seen over and over and over. It’s like a broken record of sameness. It keeps happening. Why? Because I think we are creating a church structure from a pyramid, which if you look in the Bible, the Israelites left Egypt, but were still looking back at it. One person at the top, one Pharaoh at the top, one supreme ruler, and then everybody has to fit into that system underneath that pyramid.

Mary DeMuth: Whereas the kingdom of God is the opposite of that. It’s an inverted pyramid. The kingdom is of people that are last to are not acknowledged. And I think we’re going to be super surprised at where they are standing in line and the new heavens and the new earth, the people with all the acclaim are going to be way at the back. The people that nobody knew about that were silently and quietly serving the Lord are going to be at the front of the line. And we’re going to say, tell me your story, I want to learn from you.

Mary DeMuth: But these structures cause the downfall of many men who do not have the character to hold up that structure. They’ve been given leadership responsibility without having maturity, and therefore they are stealing sermons. They are harming people with their words. They are demonizing others. They are all sorts of things you talked about last week. They’re doing those things because they have to keep their empire because their ego needs it so badly.

Julio Roys: And the other thing is, and we can’t really even go into this, although I know you see this too, because you run your own literary agency, is that the evangelical industrial complex needs these celebrity pastors to function. So they need the publishing companies need the celebrities so that they can publish them, so that the megachurches need the celebrity to fuel their model of that great attractional speaker that can be everything. Which again, does just feed into the narcissism and it attracts the narcissism.

Julio Roys: We like the narcissist. And the whole entire moneymaking empire runs on these narcissists and these celebrity pastors. And so it’s not just even the pastor himself who needs to be a celebrity, but it’s this system that needs celebrities. And at some point, Mary we’ve got to deal with this and evangelicalism, or we’re just going to keep doing this over and over and over again.

Mary DeMuth: And I believe the Lord is bringing judgment on those systems. And we’re seeing that in publishing as well. I think it’s a broken system. We make these requirements of how popular you are to be able to be an author. In the nineties and before, it was really about can you write a good book? Is it theologically sound? Do you have a good mind? Do you have a heart to minister to others? And now it’s how many social media followers do you have? Which is you can buy those.

Mary DeMuth: So what does that even mean? I hate being a cog in the Christian industrial complex, both as an author and as a literary agent, but as an agent, I feel like I’m championing projects that would otherwise not get sold. That are more global voices people that are marginalized and not often given a voice. So that’s why I have a literary agency. Cause I’m trying to have those voices platformed.

Julio Roys: Before you go, I want to ask you also about, we’ve talked a little bit about a safe church, but what makes somebody a safe person as you’re trying to process this?

Mary DeMuth: A safe person is someone who doesn’t speak initially, who is an active listener. Who doesn’t jump to conclusions, who doesn’t feel the need to defend the church that you are leaving, who doesn’t say things like Hebrew says don’t forsake your assembling together. Those kinds of like cliche, like super cliche oh, you better do this instead of just meeting you in your grief.

Mary DeMuth: A safe person doesn’t try to change your state. They come alongside you into your state and they weep alongside. And that to me is so powerful. People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember that you were there with them in the pain. And we’re just willing to say, yeah, that hurts. And, oh, that must’ve been very painful. Just that empathy piece.

Julio Roys: And they won’t shame you for deconstructing. They’ll walk with you; they’ll allow you to process. And I hate that when I see that. I see it on social media all the time, people denigrating people who are deconstructing and I’m like, maybe if you didn’t do that, maybe they wouldn’t be walking away from their faith. But again, deconstructing, I think takes a lot of different forms. I think for a lot of people that have gone through it; they’ve come back to a richer faith that stripped of maybe some of the baggage that they had previously.

Julio Roys: Before I let you go, because I know a lot of people listening are in this place of just really, really  struggling and in a lot of hurt. And I know you have names and faces for those people too. Would you be willing to just pray for them and what they’re going through right now?

Mary DeMuth: I will. And I’m just going to mention, I have a free resource, MARYDEMUTH.COM/CHURCHHURT. And it’s a hundred statements about things that people feel when they’re going through church hurt so that you can share it with a friend and check off the ones that are you, and then have a good conversation about it.

Julio Roys: Wonderful. What a great resource. Thank you.

Mary DeMuth: Yeah. Okay. Let me pray. Lord, thank you for loving the least of these. Thank you for leaving the 99 and chasing the one. Thank you for being counterintuitive. Thank you for the Sermon on the Mount. Thank you for your grace being sufficient for us and your power is made perfect in our weakness.

Mary DeMuth: Lord, forgive us for these systems where we are worshiping strength, power, and numbers when that’s nothing to do with your kingdom. Reorient our lives and our hearts to what is your kingdom. Help us to hear your voice in the midst of the madness and the muddledness of what this has become. I pray that you would send friends to my friends who are suffering in the aftermath of spiritual abuse and church hurt.

Mary DeMuth: I pray for hope Lord in these kinds of situations, it can feel like a death, and it feels very hopeless and sad. I pray for comfort and pray all of this in your beautiful name, Jesus. Amen.

Julio Roys: Amen. Mary. Thank you so much. And how beautiful that even in this you are ministering to others through it. So I am just so grateful for you and for Patrick and for what you bring to the kingdom. And thank you so much for being willing to talk so vulnerably and bravely. So thank you.

Mary DeMuth: Gracias.

Julio Roys: And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys, and I want to invite all of you to our next Restore Conference in Phoenix in February 2025.

Julio Roys: This is one of the most healing gatherings I know of, where you won’t just hear from amazing folks like Mary DeMuth and Scott McKnight, author of A Church Called Tove, and Dr. David Pooler, an expert in adult clergy sexual abuse. But you’ll also meet lots of other people who have gone through similar experiences, and I’ve found that just being in that kind of community is so healing.

Julio Roys: And so powerful. So please come. I would love to meet you there. To find out more information, just go to RESTORE2025.COM. Also just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or YouTube. That way you won’t miss any of these episodes. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review.

Julio Roys: And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you were blessed and encouraged.

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11 Respuestas

  1. Mary, thank you so much for sharing your life with us, especially while you’re still in the thick of it. My husband was fired (in front of his wife and kids) from ministry during COVID because we brought up concerns about the executive pastor mishandling funds. Nothing feels as cold and alone as a pastoral staff who wants to be rid of their “problem”. We were immediately removed from the church, with nowhere really to go.

    Some days I feel like it’s so far in the past, but other days it’s just RIGHT THERE. What I am grateful for is my more hypersensitive radar for other church “refugees” and less of a judgmental stance for people who leave the church.

    I’m so grateful you didn’t wrap it up with a cute little bow. I really appreciate that and I really resonate with where you’re at!

    1. Right then and right there you were fired? Absolutely cold and unbelievable.Did you ever find out if your inquiries were proven true April?

      Regardless I hope you and your family find a responsible,good church home.

      1. Yes, right then and there, with a few (silent) elders in the background nodding in agreement. We did find out that our accusations were true because eventually a lot of congregants were figuring it out as well and they let the executive pastor quietly resign and leave on “good terms”. He’s now at a different church I believe. As for us, they told the congregation that we were dismissed due to insubordination and that was never cleared up.

        It was so painful and cold and heartless, but I’m also glad I’m no longer there. It’s difficult to find a good church in our area that doesn’t have the same toxic leadership, so that has been a struggle—but that struggle sure beats being on a toxic church staff, you know?

  2. Gosh. This dialogue had depth and substance. Touched on critical points. Loved the simple yet potent prayer at the end. Much to say, limited words.

    Can we judge heart motives? Yes & no.

    Yeshua said, a good man brings forth good things out of good heart & vice versa. So, Evil man + evil deeds= evil heart. Evil heart + good deeds = evil motives. Good man + good deeds= good heart. Good heart + evil deeds = good motives.

    Problem is in this day and age (social media especially), no one truly knows anyone. In these impersonal cases, best defer judgement of heart/motives to YHVH.

    Biblical vs secular leadership: church leaders become executives building and running business empires. No fear of YHVH. Focus is on quantity rather than quality true converts. Yeshua said: more given= more required. Mega church= mega souls to answer for in the day of judgment. #wisdom.

    Character vs charisma: leaders become gods of men; charm & flowery speeches; fawning fans= hero worship = ship wrecked faith when such leaders fall. Like sugar-coated edibles: sugar rush & crash =empty nutritive value.

    Followership vs discipleship: Focus is on amassing fans & followers (= paying customers) instead of shepherding and making disciples that are true salt and light.

    Church hurt happen because we place much stock in people. Remedy? For starters, put no man on pedestal. Invest in your own relationship with the LORD. Study to show yourself approved. Christian leaders should denounce, rebuke hero worship. Divert all adoration, praise to HaShem. Thank YHVH NOT people. Keeps one humble, reduces hero worship and resultant church hurt.

    Prayer: LORD, keep me on a short leash. When self and pride surface, reel me back in. In all I do, may YOU get the glory & and THANKS.

    1. I think you mean well but, it sounds like you are blaming the victim of church hurt. The DeMuth’s weren’t hero worshiping they were simply trying to serve their church.

      1. I did not get that from Serafina’s comments.
        What she said about the mega church is true. So thankful for the DeMuths that they are sharing their story because we need more people bringing attention to the problems in the church related to the model.

        There are lots of people in these mega churches who are worshiping rightly. That’s why it is so hard to see when you’re in the midst of it and surrounded by people who love God and love each other. It’s by God’s grace that people can be a part of these churches and still follow Jesus together.

        My prayer is that one day mega churches will be a thing of the past and there will have been some real lessons learned.

  3. This is nothing new. It’s been happening since the inception of the Papal Reign and even more so pronounced in the 20th century with the rise of the Shepherding Movement in the 1970’s. Authoritarianism in Church governances has always been condoned due to misinterpretations of Romans 13 and like scriptures. As Solomon wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Until man deals with his own flesh nature by taking it to the Cross, this will always continue in some form. The best way to “combat” it is to continue to educate people, create checks and balances, BUT we must realize, this is also a spiritual problem. Without true transformation of a person’s heart, behavioral modification is always subject to temptation to sin in the same way as satan when he was given power. He steals our power through manipulation, intimidation and domination. Nothing new here…

  4. Great podcast Mary and Julie! Sounds all too familiar, but THANK YOU for being willing to share! Gives others hope and assurance!

  5. Great podcast! Thanks so much for not making it all cliché. Church church is just that, hurtful and it is both bewildering and disorienting. Thanks for showing all of us what that looks like.

  6. This was quite edifying, but I wish both speakers had been more detailed at several points. When Ms. DeMuth said that the church she and her husband were attending didn’t want them to “serve,” I wanted Ms. Roys to ask, “What kind of service were you going to provide, if allowed?” When Ms. Roys said she wanted “a pastor,” I would have liked her to explain what she felt she needed the pastor to do for her.

    Basic questions, from a reporter to an interview subject, include, “Can you explain what you mean by that?” and “Can you give a specific example of what you’re talking about?” The podcasts could use a little more of that.

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