The Apologies of Steve and Lisa Johnson
New York City Church of Christ
March 25th, 2003
Steve: Lisa and I would like to share a few things with you at this time, and I'm going to, uh, ask her to go first.
Lisa Johnson's Apology
I would... I wrote a letter that is [unintelligible] to you that I would like to read tonight. Thank you for allowing me to come here tonight and apologize. I um, have been bursting, burning to get to do this, to be honest. I am so glad to be here tonight. Um... I've been thinking about a lot of these things lately, but in 1Chronicles 21 is one of the Scriptures I've really been thinking about lately. It's when David counts the fighting men and he, when he realizes what he's done his reaction is "I have sinned greatly and have done a very foolish thing." It breaks my heart to see the sin in my life and the huge mistakes in my leadership because of my sin. The damage is devastating and I deserve a lot more than a broken heart. I'm sorry for the pain that many of you have experienced. I have heard some incredible stories that are just heart wrenching and I am so sorry.
I can't find a way to say how sorry I am. I'm on my face before God working out my salvation with fear and trembling. I was blind. The very things I rebelled against in my youth I became: prideful, complacent and unloving. I didn't see it. I didn't have a clue. That's no excuse. It just shows how prideful I had become. My pride and arrogance have caused me to be self deceived. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry for loving the mission, winning the world, at the expense of people, of loving people. That's absurd. Jesus' mission is people. I know it sounds foolish, but sin very often makes us foolish. I'm sorry for not loving as Jesus wanted us to do, for not listening and making sure that each one of you was respected and valued and heard.
I'm sorry for believing th…(chokes) the New York church was different, that we only had isolated incidences of pain and hurt and abuse. I even thought that I was different. How self righteous I had become. It was my pride. And I am really sorry for labeling people: critical, negative or difficult when you tried to speak up. Each of you is precious to God. How dare I not value you or what you think. I'm sorry for the arrogance. I'm ashamed of the arrogance that it took to make decisions without consulting many of you, and yet, it would affect you. I'm tremendously sorry for the pain that those many decisions caused you.
I'm sorry for the traditions that we developed over the years. Especially any way that you have…that they have stolen your heart or your faith or kept you from maturing as Christians. They must be smashed. We have to obey the Bible, only the Bible, and from the heart.
I put young leaders in over and over, and when people questioned the wisdom of it I thought they were threatened by youth or they were jealous or they wanted to hold back, hold things back. I thought they were like the people Steve and I had to prove ourselves to over and over when we were young. I'm sorry. This is my pride. I thought I was right, but I was wrong. And I'm sorry for all the hurt that my pride has caused you. I'm sorry to you, and I'm also sorry these young leaders and the damage it's done to them. I'm ashamed.
I've been on my face before God trying to express to Him…that's not it. (shuffles through the pages) I had no clue that the women in the ministry in New York felt as they did. I thought they were happy, I thought they were fulfilled. That's how clueless I had become. I'm so sorry to you and to them. I was blind. My arrogance, my intensity, my insensitivity, my pride have hurt them. And this is one of the deepest regrets that I have because a lot of these young women leaders were vibrant, strong, faithful, righteous women. And I'm sorry.
I'm sorry for the lack of teaching about the women's role, the true role of wife, mother and help mate. I stopped meeting the needs of the women. The women's ministry began with many good intentions, to do our part to win the world, to help the brothers. Well, good intentions paved the road to hell. Many of you have heard me preach that all of my adult life. It's true. Good intentions are not enough. It got out of control with the women becoming more evangelist types than having supportive roles of leadership like they were meant to have. I believe women can be in the ministry, but to help and support the brothers that are in charge and to help with the women, to teach them. I'm sorry to you sisters, all of you, the hurts that you've experienced. I feel that my pride has hurt you and I have no excuse, none, and I'm sorry.
As I've come to realize these things, and so many, many other things that we don't have time tonight to talk about, I feel once again as I did when it was near my baptism--overwhelmed by my sin. "How could I?" I asked myself, "How dare I?", "How have I become the things I hated-prideful, complacent and unloving.
I've been on my face before God trying to express to Him my shame and my sorrow, my overwhelming sorrow. He entrusted me and I disappointed Him, which is the most painful thing of all. I hurt Him. But I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling. I know I have many things to understand, yet, and to repent of. Every day I look back and realize something I said or something I thought, even just the day before was ridiculous. So I will be apologizing for a long time to come, I'm sure.
When I was told in Henry's letter that I was a Pharisee, I was shaken to the core of my being. And then as I prayed I realized that when a Pharisee sees their sin and they radically repent their not a Pharisee anymore. Like Paul. I don't want to be a Pharisee. I feel more passion and determination about loving and obeying God, and "getting it", really understanding, than I ever remember about anything before.
I realize that God wants to forgive all of us. That's an incredible thing, that amazing grace. I know there's no way to repay Him. But I want to find a way to say "thank you" for His forgiveness. And this time I want to do a lot better job. Please pray for me that as David must have felt at the sight of 70,000 of God's soldiers laying dead because of his own pride, that somehow I can find a way to deal with the guilt in my life. I beg you, please forgive me. I'm sorry.
Steve Johnson's Apology
I'm here tonight to confess sins, and to apologize, and to be rebuked, and to listen, and to submit to you. For the past month I've heard the heart rending testimonies of hundreds of disciples and I'm sorry for failing you as a leader. I've read Henry Kriete's letter and countless others, and I confess the convictions I now have of the following sins.
I built a hierarchy of order of leading in the Lord's church. In our world wide fellowship I was a world sector leader. I assumed the job to evangelize one fifth of the world. I allowed the role of world sector leader to become an office not found in the Bible. I believe the office ultimately conflicted with what the Bible teaches about local church government. I am ashamed and sorry and beg God's forgiveness as well as yours.
I wore the title of lead evangelist. Instead of training and teaching local men how to serve as elders and shepherd the flock, I strongly asserted my leadership and opinions. I did not invite opposing views and, in fact, sometimes maligned them. I became a man hard to say "no" to and believed I was right and enjoyed the unity of my brethren when, in fact, people were often afraid to speak the truth to me. I'm ashamed, sorry and humiliated that I fostered such an environment. I'm embarrassed that it took so long and such turmoil for me to shut up and to listen.
I became painfully aware that under my leadership we had at least two different churches going on at the same time, a leader's church and a member's church. That's what division between clergy and laity is. I'm so sorry to all of you. I do not claim to "get it" yet. But I do know that I have perpetuated a hierarchy that didn't often reward those trying to alert me to what my leadership was causing. I was a fool. I was a fool and I am sorry.
This became a little clearer to me when I understood that I must repent of my misuse and abuse of statistics, what some have called the ABC's of ministry--statistics about attendance and baptisms and contribution. This realization is another reason why I feel solely to blame for so much of your hurt. I used these statistics of the attendance, the baptism, the contribution to push you to bring visitors, to baptize people, to get the contribution. If you had a bible talk leader push you on any of these as well as on quiet times or other things that we would consider to be a part of a Christian's life, then please understand that's why I feel the blame, totally, for the legalistic Pharisee-ism of the church. Your leaders, your bible talk leaders and others were simply doing to the best of their ability what they thought I expected. It all began with my instruction.
In my pride I arrogantly, with a clear conscience, thought that I was right. One of the first verses we teach people is Proverbs 16:25, "There's a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." I thought I was right. I am so sorry for how I've misled you.
You've been coerced to give money and to do so many other things that I know disciples freely do in their Christian liberty, but my leadership turned it into a burden and broke many of your hearts. I don't know how I can live with that. I am sorry.
I am sad and sorry that I have broken your trust and that it has caused you to mistrust others who have loved you and tried, in fact, to protect you, and labored hard and honestly among you.
I'm sorry to the elders. Sam has always tried to speak the truth to me and I have been hard to deal with. Dale and Sherwin have always been more focused in their local ministries and were not seen as what we would call quote unquote congregational elders, but more local or regional elders. I have let these brothers down and they've only tried to help. To the elders I say please forgive me.
I'm sorry to the young couples who were put into leadership--tonight because I'm in Manhattan I'll say especially to the young couples who were put into leadership in Manhattan. This group in particular, I led their discipleship group all last year. They were trying to do as they were taught and still often would be conflicted in what I said and what they saw going on in the church. It was my mistake to put so many of you under such young leadership, but please blame me and not them. They did work hard for you. I don't know how to deal with the pain that I feel for having hurt these young hearts or having placed all of you in positions where you felt disregarded in your opinion, your opinion so little valued. That is my fault. The fault rests solely with me and I am sorry.
I am sorry to all of the sisters and brothers with deep emotional issues which I have been so insensitive to. I've said things now that are so humiliating to remember. I was so out of touch and I am so ashamed.
I'm sorry to all the men and women who have given their lives to work in church administration. One of the only things, at this point, that I disagree with Henry Kriete's letter about is in the area of finances or more directly the way some people have interpreted the broad strokes of his letter to incriminate the ACES world sector administration or the New York City church. Tonight is the night to apologize, not to explain, but I long as much as any of you for our finances to be clear to you. There's been no appr, uh, misappropriation of funds, though I would readily agree that when you see all the finances you may well disagree with the way different decisions were made.
But the mistrust in me has cast a shadow on honest Christians whose work should be lauded not suspected. There's nothing to hide. But in the turmoil caused by me, you've lost trust in me. And your office staff is smaller than it's ever been, its harder work that it's ever been, and they're all the while conscience of the fact that they may soon be unemployed. No one could hardly work under these conditions that they're now facing. I beg their forgiveness and I beg your forgiveness that my broken trust has caused you to mistrust people who have done no wrong.
You have questions and I'd like to answer them, but as I understand now is the time for me to say nothing but what I repent of. I would like to inform you that I personally have a website. It's named in honor of my grandfather. It's unclescrub.com. Some of you used to email me at unclescrub@aol. I won't be able to answer all of your emails--I promise I will try to read all of them, but beginning this week I will try to answer some of the questions that I have been hearing about and have been asked. I'll give you my opinion. And I know that my credibility is at best questionable to many of you, but I will try to do my part to answer these questions and share with you what I have seen happen in the last two years in our fellowship.
Also, today I received permission from Henry to put his letter on this website and I would like to encourage anyone who has refrained from reading the letter, or for some reason or other simply has not seen it, to read it. When I spoke to the bible talk leaders a month ago at Baruch, I had only seen the letter that day for a moment before I spoke. And one of the only things I noticed was that Henry had criticized the leader's meeting in Long Beach, calling it a failed meeting, and I made a sarcastic remark which I have since regretted and which to Henry I have apologized for. I did not mention him by name, but many of you who had read the letter before I did I believe knew what I was referring to.
I am sorry that I have fostered a culture where constructive criticism and the honest truth voiced by our leaders would ever be encouraged our members to avoid. It's my fault. But I beg all of you…that right now many of your leaders are in a time of a steep learning curve. What we believed and practiced for a quarter of a century is being challenged and being changed and many of us would like to catch up with what many of you have been feeling for a long, long time. I would like to ask you to be patient, but I don't know if I have that right. Words I spoke a month ago, a week ago, a day ago, I'm changing every day what I believe. And I ask, "Can you forgive me?"
I repent and renounce and beg your forgiveness for:
I have fasted and prayed. I am listening. If you want me to answer a question, ANY question personally to me, everything now is fair game. Ask and I will answer it.
I have no one that I know of who has sinned against me. I'm ready to kneel at the altar with you. But if you need to Matthew 18 me, if I have sinned against you and before you can pray with me you need to talk to me, I promise I will listen. I promise I will not turn it around on you. I'm confessing, repenting and I'm trying to be transparent, but I know and will not try to act like I "get it". There are many things I'm sure I still don't get. I'm asking you to hold me accountable. Test me of these things. And if you want to know what this repentance, and the repentance of others, if you want to know what its going to change then please consider these things.
I resigned as a world sector leader on my own volition last August. The world sector leader group was disbanded in November. I resigned as a lead evangelist last month and renounced the title. We have no money to give to the International Churches of Christ, which became a Para church organization, anymore. And consequently, the International Churches of Christ as an organization, as a separate entity, is going away. We have no money to give to ACES, which was a Para church organization that actually did give money to the African and the Caribbean. Well we do still have approximately fifty churches in Africa and the Caribbean that need support from somewhere, and with ICOC and ACES gone the money it takes to support those brothers and sisters in foreign lands is a fraction of what the mission contribution has been in the past.
We have no statistics and none of us believe in taking or giving the statistics, and if we did there's no place to send them anymore. But we all believe in God. We all believe that Jesus is Lord. And I believe we all want to be a church. The church will never be led like it was before, but I don't believe the church can stay like it is now, either. I've talked to so many people and we're all sleepless, we're all so miserable we can't eat, our children aren't sleeping, we're sick, we're grieving.
I am not indispensable. You do not need me. I am not fighting for a job. But I beg for the day that you'll allow me again to participant in changing, to participate in restoring the church as we all long for the day we'll hear God say, "Well done good and faithful servant." I'm very sorry.
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