Founder of Mansfield Group and Chartwell Literary Group
Pastored in Texas and Nashville, TN
B.A. from Oral Roberts University
M.A. from Abilene Christian University
Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary
Stephen Mansfield: ReChurch
Stephen Mansfield grew up primarily in Europe as the son of an officer in the United States Army. He attended a Christian college, earned a Bachelor degree in history and philosophy and then moved to Texas where he pastored a church, hosted a radio show and began acquiring a reputation as a popular speaker. He moved to Tennessee in 1991 where he again pastored a church, did relief work among the Kurds in Northern Iraq, served as a political consultant, and completed a doctorate. It was during this time that he also launched the writing career for which he has become internationally known. His first book on Winston Churchill was a Gold Medallion Award Finalist. He also wrote widely-acclaimed biographies of Booker T. Washington and George Whitefield as well as a number of other books on history and leadership.
In 2002, after pastoring a church for more than 20 years, Stephen voluntarily left the pastorate after personally experiencing the pain of a church disruption. He retreated to a state of hostility. “I was a mess. It had happened not just from the bludgeoning of the initial church fight, but from my ignorant decision afterward to let my soul become a toxic bag,” remarks Stephen.
He became very bitter until some men stepped forcefully into his life. “They were pastors, but pastors of an exceptionally bold and unapologetic kind. I would like to tell you that they sweetly and gently led me to truth. They didn’t. They nearly beat me to death. It didn’t matter to them that I had pastored a church of thousands. They didn’t care. They called me an idiot, told me that I’d better grow up, and then they proceeded to take me apart, one unclean piece at a time. It was torturous, unfair, embarrassing, and rude. And it set me free,” recalls Stephen.
After leaving the pastorate, Stephen began to write and lecture full-time. Not long afterward, he wrote The Faith of George W. Bush, which spent many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was credited with shaping the dialogue about religion in American politics. Stephen followed this successful venture with The Faith of the American Soldier. To research this story of religion on the modern battlefield, he was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq at the beginning of 2005. Stephen is also widely known for his book, The Faith of Barack Obama.
As Stephen gained some notoriety with his books, he realized that many people began to talk with him about their past experiences of being hurt by the church and why they don’t go to church anymore. He refers to one Barna study among unchurched adults in which nearly four out of every ten non-church going Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people. In, ReChurch, Stephen talks from experience on how he overcame the pain and suffering that goes along with being hurt by a local church or church people and how others can take the tough path to healing too.
FACING THE TRUTH
Stephen says too many people flee from the source of pain and suffering rather than addressing and overcoming it. The problem is that when the pain is emotional one can only run from the cause, not the pain itself. He says running from emotional pain is never a good idea, as it only leaves us damaged of soul and hindered in our ability
to fulfill our purpose. We have to turn and face our torturous seasons and the scars they try to leave on our hearts. Even in the painful spiritual seasons of one’s life you can learn truths about yourself. He offers the following checklist to review when faced with seasons of hurt:
- Question #1: Of the things your critics say, what do you now know to be true? Even those who hate you and mean to hurt you may be right about what they see in your life.
- Question #2: How did you try to medicate your wounded soul? Idols of pleasure. Idols of fantasy. Idols of vengeance and pride. We grasp these in hope of easing our pain. For Stephen, it was bitterness and rage.
- Question #3: Were you clinging to anything that contributed to your church hurt? Stephen says this is a difficult one since most people consider themselves innocent. He encourages people to be honest. For Stephen he admits to idolatrously grasping relationships and power that later backfired on him.
- Question #4: What did those closest to you do when you went through the fire? Take a close look at the kind of friends you keep. Be sure to choose your friends wisely.
- Question #5: During the bruising season, what fed your inspiration and your dreams? For Stephen, in addition to praying and reading his Bible, he was encouraged by history, movies and books. He says find what inspires you and allow it to propel you to new heights in life.
Stephen says forgiveness came hard for him. Stephen grew to hate sermons on forgiveness. They appealed to sentiment and emotions when what he needed were actual steps to take, things to do that would ultimately leave him changed. As Stephen learned more about the words God used for forgiveness in the Scripture he began cleaning out the toxins of his soul. One day Stephen realized that he had built a trophy room in his mind.
“These are the places in our minds where we revisit the episodes of offenses in our lives and rekindle the fires of anger against those who’ve treated us badly,” says Stephen. Upon realizing his sin, Stephen repented and forgave those people who hurt him. He says the key to becoming healthy and whole again is forgiveness. The same forgiveness that Jesus offers to each of us who have wounded Him.
The hardship of your painful church experience is redemptive in the hand of God and it may even have been ordained. There are some wonderful benefits that come from having this view: First, when you realize that the wounding experiences are often ordained and useful, it draws out some of the poison of your pain and helps to protect your soul from bitterness. Second, seeing your hurtful season through the lens of God’s truth can take your focus off of the people who harmed you in the past so you don’t stay angry at them. Finally, you can get on with the ultimate reason for what you have endured and begin to pursue the high calling for your life.
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