As I reflect on the story we heard on Sunday morning, my eyes fill with salty pools again. We were given a gift that few are courageous enough to give another: raw, undiluted vulnerability. Truth, spilled from weary, hurting hearts. I am so grateful for the words that Jonathan and Jeaneece shared with us, and it is a terrifying honor to be sharing and expanding upon some of those words here.
The Schmidts married young. Their journey together began in New Mexico. While working at a youth camp in the mountains, Jonathan heard a call into ministry. He heard these words: “I want you to be my watchtower.”
Jonathan had never aspired to be a pastor. In fact, he shared that, “A pastor is the one thing I never wanted to be.” Much like Jonathan, Jeaneece had never seen herself as a pastor’s wife. Yet, here they were. Jonathan said that this call started a season of bargaining with God, and laying fleeces out–fleeces that God responded to as He, over and over again, provided a way.
They remained in New Mexico, serving at a church there, for three years. During these years, Jonathan recalls rubbing elbows with the higher-ups and not liking what he saw. He said that his thoughts at that time were basically, “If this is what ministry is, I’m out of here.”
A friend told Jonathan, “Run. If you’re called, you won’t be able to hide.”
And so they left. They ran. All the way to Bellingham, Washington. They both worked outside of the church world. But they didn’t stay away from church. They began to serve with the youth at their new church–strictly on a volunteer, unpaid basis though–at their request. They loved their students deeply and, eventually, Jonathan found himself on staff again. Turns out his friend had been correct–he couldn’t hide.
At some point along the way, they had two daughters and then two sons. They landed back in New Mexico–Albuquerque this time–for a season, and eventually they ended up back in Washington. As they described the many transitions and changes, Jeaneece said, “All of a sudden…life happened.”
Jonathan and Jeaneece spent 32 years in ministry. And then, in December 2014, they realized they’d had enough. They needed to be done. They had nothing left. The environment they were in was toxic. That transitional time in their lives is what eventually brought them to Casper.
What had they had enough of? What did they need to be done with? In a word: church. Their experiences in ministry left them empty and needing to be done. Jonathan, in describing some of these experiences, said, “I didn’t think I signed up for what I saw.”
What was it that he saw? When Pastor John asked him how he saw the church, he said, “They seemed to be about building their little kingdoms.” He shared that his relationship with Jesus got dumped on over and over again. He had witnessed power plays, been stabbed in the back by his head pastor, and had seen leaders conspiring against pastors. He saw “self-righteous, religious, church garbage”, and he witnessed fighting over music, buildings, and what would be taught. At a particularly raw moment, he spoke these words…
“I trust no one… I’m having to re-learn how to trust God.”
Of the current season they are in, Jonathan said, “We don’t know what this story looks like tomorrow…”
Yeah. I feel that, too. You probably do as well… We don’t know what the story will look like tomorrow. A different line in our series introduction video stood out to me this week:
“Is the Writer trustworthy to get the middle right? To surprise us with His love one more time?”
It seems to me that this line captures where Jonathan and Jeaneece are right now. They left the ministry after 32 years, but in many ways, where they are now is in the middle. Not the end. Not by any means. And they know that… They articulated that they know God’s not done yet–but they don’t know what it looks like.
They have been hurt deeply by the church… and yet they are still a part of ours. What a gift we have been given in who they are and the story they carry into our midst. The reminder they give us to be on our guard against the temptation to build our own comfortable kingdom–not simply because that isn’t the Kingdom Jesus came to bring, but because when we forget why we exist, we hurt people.
Jonathan said to the faces that dotted the sanctuary, “Thank you for giving us the space to exist on the edges.”
His words gutted me.
He was thanking us for allowing them to come in as far as they could bear, without asking them to dive in further. For letting them be exactly where they are on their journey without making them feel like that wasn’t enough. But the way he put the words together…
“Thank you for giving us the space to exist on the edges.”
“Thank you for giving us the space to exist…”
I wanted to respond, “Thank you for gracing our edges with your existence, for choosing to exist among us.”
How did we get where we are, Church? As the big “C” church of Jesus? That someone’s experience could be so damaging, so painful, that us simply giving them space to exist on the edges would be such a gift? Why are we so bad at simply letting one another exist? Exactly as we are, where we are? How did we get so far from loving God and loving others, from carrying Jesus’ kingdom of love to those around us?
A pastor and his wife who deeply love Jesus, and wanted nothing more than to extend that love to so many who were desperate for what they had, left the ministry after 32 painstaking years–depleted, disillusioned, with nothing left to give. It breaks my heart. And as I sat, shaken to my core by their honesty and their pain, the Spirit implored me to search my own heart. To see where I’ve fallen into the “business” of church life and forgotten to make space for those around me to exist in whatever way they need to. I am grateful for the reminder of how ugly we, as human beings, can be. How selfish and cruel we can be, the ways we tear each other down in pursuit of our own comfort and greatness.
How Jonathan and Jeaneece got here, to Casper, to our church, is a heartbreaking story. But I am so, so glad they are here. Whether they realize it or not, they are still ministering to those around them. They carry the Jesus that they love faithfully,
even especially in their brokenness. They’re not afraid to ask questions, to wrestle with God about the hard. And their realness invites us to be real, too. They say they are “making it” right now by taking it day by day, trusting that God has enough for that day. Jeaneece said, “Day by day, you have to make the choice to reach for joy. It’s a deliberate search for things to be thankful for, an intentionality of looking for the good.”
They are in process, as we all are. They’re in the murky middle, wondering, hoping and somehow knowing that the Writer is trustworthy to get it right–to surprise them with His love one more time…
Let’s give each other space to exist friends, to be the Church that loves like Jesus and lives for His Kingdom-not our own.
I wish you all could know Jonathan and Jeaneece. They are beautiful, tender-hearted people. Their vulnerability as they shared drew us in. There were a lot of tears, I could hear gentle weeping all around me, and I cried too. Theirs is a story of deep love, and of deep grief. There is much we can learn from them.
Jonathan shared with us that when he met the real Jesus as a teenager, he was overwhelmed by an intense love like he’d never known. Jonathan has experienced the deep love of Jesus, and he loves Jesus deeply–which is why his grief is so deep. Any of us who have been loved deeply, and love deeply in return are grief-stricken when the object of our love is misrepresented and abused. Jonathan shared with us that being a loyal defender has been hard-wired into him since he was a child. What he has experienced on church staffs cut him to the core, because Jesus-the one who loves him deeply, and the one he loves in return-has been misrepresented. Jonathan’s heart is to be lovingly and deeply loyal to Jesus and His mission.
Laura wrote above that both Jonathan’s grandfather and his dad were pastors. Jonathan didn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus, and certainly didn’t want to be a pastor. He said that what he had observed led him to believe that “it” doesn’t work. So, when he was overwhelmed by the love of Jesus, it was a huge moment in his life.
Jeaneece had never aspired to be a pastor’s wife. It’s a hard thing–both to be in ministry (which she was), and to be married to a “professional” minister.
I am the daughter of a pastor–and the wife of a pastor. I did not want to marry anyone in the ministry either. Unlike Jonathan’s experience, my dad modeled Jesus in a beautiful way. My dad is a gentle, wise, shepherd who drinks from a deep fountain and ministers from that place. I did not realize how rare that was until I left home. But even gentle, loving pastors can come under attack from factions in their church, so after pastoring the same church from the time I was six years old until I was pregnant with my third child at the age of thirty, my dad retired early because he didn’t want the church he loved and had poured his life into to split. It was ugly, hateful, satanic. The man who started the ugly went on to be a denominational leader in my home state, and in that state the denomination has been in lawsuits and power plays that have been very public. It makes my heart sick.
Even when the “hard” isn’t that public, life for ministers and their families is challenging.
There is tremendous pressure placed upon pastors and their families. We live in a fishbowl, and many people live as if they have permission to make commentary on how they think we’re doing. The children of the pastor have expectations placed upon them to be perfect, and if they’re not, it’s a reflection on their parent. I hated running into an adult from church when I was with my friends as a teenager. I would be introduced as their pastor’s daughter, and all of a sudden there was an expectation to be a certain way. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that my teen years were wrought with self-destruction and pain–however, I never wanted that to reflect on my dad.
The pressure put on pastor’s children leads either to “performing” as perfect models, or running the other direction and giving up completely. One day, just a couple of years ago, a nationwide Christian radio station was discussing pastor’s kids on the air. The phone calls “joking” or complaining about the kids almost made me want scream. I wrote a letter to the station and expressed how deeply hurtful that was.
I wanted my own children to have permission to cultivate and navigate their own relationships with Jesus. I didn’t want them pretending in order to “look the part”. That didn’t stop the outside pressure, but I have defended them more than once by pointing out that doctors’ kids still get sick, dentists’ kids still get cavities, and neither the kid or their parents are judged for it. What a gift it would be to let pastors’ kids be kids without judgment or unrealistic expectations. I’m in my mid-fifties and still recovering from being a PK.
As for being a pastor’s wife–my friends know never to introduce me that way to anyone. As soon as that “title” is shared, authentic conversation goes out the window. It’s a weird and uncomfortable thing. I want to be introduced as “my friend, Luanne.”
At church, when I am introduced as the pastor’s wife, I ask people not to hold that against me and to let go of any pre-conceived notions that they might have, because I’m not any of those things. I would rather get to know real people and let people get to know the real me–then if they learn that I’m the pastor’s wife, it’s not so weird because they already know that I’m normal. And one other thing–I don’t serve in my church because I’m the pastor’s wife. I serve because I love Jesus, and like any other lay person, I am using my gifts in the body because I love Him.
Unrealistic expectations and pressures put on pastors and their families was one of the things that was difficult for Jonathan and Jeaneece. Expectations that pastors/leaders are somehow supposed to have all the gifts, do all the things, and if they are not perfect or doing it well, the large target on their back is shot at ferociously.
On the flip side of the issue of unrealistic expectations, there are pastors who use their role to exert power and influence, and who sometimes abuse that power and harm many in the process.
Jonathan, with incredible passion and pain shared about his experiences on church staffs by stating: “My relationship with Jesus got dumped on over and over again. This is supposed to be the place where we come share that love–not about stupid arguments. I didn’t get into this to run a church. I didn’t want it.” During the second service he said he had seen too much “self-righteous, religious garbage–fighting over ridiculous things and the church huddled together to try to make ourselves more comfortable while there are thousands on the outside in need of what we have.”
His righteous indignation is spot on. He loves Jesus deeply. He made attempts to redirect elders and pastors who were sidetracked. He was told to “shut up”. The stress caused symptoms that mimicked heart attacks. Jeaneece, finally said to him, “Jonathan, we’ve had enough. We need to be done.” and then she looked at us and stated, “It was toxic.”
It was toxic. The church was toxic.
Jeaneece, in talking about that season, reminded us of the time when the prophet Elijah ran and hid.
He begged the Lord, “I’ve had enough. Just let me die! I’m no better off than my ancestors.” Then he lay down in the shade and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel woke him up and said, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked around, and by his head was a jar of water and some baked bread. He sat up, ate and drank, then lay down and went back to sleep. Soon the Lord’s angel woke him again and said, “Get up and eat, or else you’ll get too tired to travel.” So Elijah sat up and ate and drank. The food and water made him strong enough to walk forty more days. At last, he reached Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, and he spent the night there in a cave. (1 Kings 19:4-9)
The Lord sent an angel to minister to Elijah. He was gentle with Elijah. He met Elijah in his despair. And a few verses later the Lord spoke to Elijah in a still small voice, refreshed Elijah, encouraged Elijah, and gently called him back.
Elijah wasn’t the only person in scripture who wanted to die in the middle of a ministry career. The Apostle Paul did too. In his second letter to the Corinthians he wrote:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (1:8)
Paul had mean, religious people stirring up trouble everywhere he went in his ministry. Jesus did too–mean religious people who had an agenda, were willing to buddy up to the Roman government to get their way, were willing to lie and listen to false testimony (read about the night time, unlawful “trial” of Jesus), in order to kill him and retain their power.
And dear ones, it is still happening today. Like Jonathan and Jeaneece, it grieves me deeply.
Religion makes people mean. The Holy Spirit transforms people into the likeness of Jesus.
Religion is issues focused. Jesus is people focused.
Religion follows agendas. The Holy Spirit leads lovers of Jesus to follow His ways.
Religion has no heart. Being a new creation in Christ means that the heart of Jesus is in us–the heart that beats with the intent that all people experience His love through our love.
Speaking in generalities, the corporate church is not introducing the real Jesus to the world. We are loud about political parties. We are loud about concrete commandments being posted in public spaces. We are loud about who is in and who is out. We are loud as we shame people who have made decisions we disagree with. We are loud, and we are mean.
Inside our walls we argue about music styles, carpet colors, who gets to use which tables, ridiculous temporal things, while-as Jonathan noted, thousands of people are desperate for what we have.
We are toxic.
It hurts my heart to write those words. Over the centuries, we have lost our way. We are having affairs with many things, while forgetting that we are the bride of Jesus.
The Lord is faithful in every generation to have prophetic voices that call us back to single-hearted devotion to Him. Jonathan and Jeaneece have that voice. It’s been costly. The religious resist the prophets, and the prophets pay a high price.
In Matthew 23 Jesus lamented over the hypocrisy of the religious. He finished his lament with these words:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.
Will we listen to the voices that He is sending us in this generation? Will we let go of religion, of agendas, of issues? Our real mission is clear. Jesus made it clear. Love God. Love people. Model His life. Proclaim good news to the poor. Proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind. Set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). Go everywhere and teach people to love God and love people–do this, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In doing this, God’s Kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And if you are a prophet who’s had enough, Jesus says to you:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message.
Thank you Jonathan and Jeaneece. God will not waste your pain.