Denherder, Heidi (Foster)

This an Exit Letter of sorts that I wrote to the workers in the field, but never sent. I did share it with several people close to me. This was in 2017. I didn’t fully leave meetings until almost a year later. It took so much processing through fear and faith, but I needed to write this letter back then. Maybe someone needs to read it today.

Dear _________,

If you are receiving this letter, you can be sure I’ve spent quite a lot of time in both thought and prayer before sending it. And you can be sure I’ve passed it by one or two people close to me, including my husband, for their input.

You won’t be seeing me at Gospel meeting for a while. I can’t speak for my husband at this point, but I am currently feeling more unsettled there than I am feeling inspired or fed. My testimony at (convention) this year was the commitment to seek and to stay in the place where my heart burns within me, in the place of worship. I find that place in prayer and in reading, and sometimes in Sunday morning meeting or in conversations with friends, but lately I have not found it in the Gospel meetings.

Earlier this year, the suggestion was made that our fellowship is not Christ-centered, but rather “worker/meeting/tradition-centered”. This thought rang very true and very troubling to me, and yet there is so much I love and appreciate about the ministry, so much that is the most Scriptural in practice that I have ever seen, that I was not prepared to accept this assertion lightly.

I’ve been unsettled for years, perhaps for my whole life, regarding the matter of this fellowship being the only way. I think it’s safe to say that all my greatest anxieties have stemmed from this matter. There are too many issues to enumerate, but among them are these three: an overwhelming feeling, especially when I was in the work, that many of these faithful Gospel-meeting-going people desperately need to hear the Gospel! (something that will help them with their perfectionism, their jealousy, their insecurity, their self-righteousness, their greed…and yes, I am very much including myself in this list!), a true, deep faith I’ve seen practiced in many of my non-professing, Christian friends (how are they able to access this relationship with God if they don’t know the true ministry?), and an almost total lack of really public evangelism such as is seen in the book of Acts and elsewhere (if people are to hear about this one true way, we are giving them pitiful opportunity!)

Just after I was made aware of the possibility that this fellowship is more centered on meetings and workers than on Christ, (worker) started sending out the children’s questions. I was dismayed to find that the subject matter for our precious, struggling young kids is on the “rightness of this way” instead of on Christ. The questions (with answers already given!) are based on where it is proper to worship (in a home) when Jesus clearly said that “neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship…but worship in Spirit and in truth”. The questions are based on the name our fellowship should have, or not have, (instead of focusing on the only name that matters, the only name by which men must be saved.) The questions are based on who is the true ministry instead of on the One the ministry is to present.

(Worker), you are giving us the questions, and you are giving us the answers. I could be wrong, but I don’t see where Jesus ever did such a thing in his ministry. Sometimes he asked the questions, but mostly he let the people work out the answers for themselves, study the answers for themselves. More often than that, I think, (I confess, I haven’t enumerated either questions or answers in the Gospels) he let the people come to him, in public places, and ask him questions. That is an extremely vulnerable place to put oneself. Who knows what someone will ask? How will the response be judged by not only the questioner, but by the crowd? And yet our Savior did just this, over and over again.

I can’t help but think, (worker), that if you opened the meeting up for questions, any questions, as Jesus so often did in his own ministry, that you would find the questions in the hearts and minds of most of us are very different ones than what you are asking. Most of our young kids are either being bullied at school or doing the bullying. Many of them are self-righteous without even knowing it (as I was/am), partly because they feel so smug and sure that they are in the only right way.

Many of them have no education (as I had none) about matters of sex, drugs, and alcohol, not to mention less “obvious” sins, both because it is deemed improper to discuss such “lewd” matters in any sort of real terms in Gospel meeting (though both Jesus and the apostles did so) and because their parents have largely not been taught how to confront such matters. So our children are being left to fend entirely for themselves in the actual matters and actual sins and actual realities of their daily lives, with their education on these matters coming more from the media, social media, or friends at school than from parents, workers, meetings, or God. I believe that this may be less true currently in (city) (knowing some of the parents here fairly well) than it is in other areas, but it is a problem I’ve seen again and again.

I grew up doing everything I knew to do to be perfect and righteous. I wore skirts. I came to every meeting unless I was quite ill. I faithfully gave my testimony. I kneeled by my bed in prayer every morning and every evening. I had long, uncut hair, worn mostly up. And do you know what? In my entire upbringing, 18 years of going to Gospel meetings and at least 10 years of having meetings in our home, I think it is fair and accurate to say that I received nothing, or next to nothing, for my soul from the meetings or the workers. My soul was shriveled.

I found nothing that helped me, deep down inside, to feel loved and known and safe. Nothing to help me overcome my deep insecurities or to have healthier relationships. Nothing to teach me inward modesty, only outward rules and conformity. Nothing to keep me from lying, or feeling superior and self-righteous, or greedy. In college, and through my call into the work, I began to sense something that could actually help and heal me. The promises of Jesus, and the voice of God, sometimes began to be quite alive to me. And yet, over and over again, I had this faint sense that the form of the meetings, and the rules I had learned to follow could actually be counter-productive to that life.

I have struggled for years with anxiety and depression. I came to a place, a few times, when I was in the work, when it became quite clear that the only way for me to continue in the work would be with the help of antidepressants. More than one companion of mine even said so to me! I don’t know the actual statistics, but from my experience, I would hazard a guess that at least half of the sister workers in (xx) state are on some form of antidepressant. And yet, when God led me out of the ministry, into marriage with Dave (and He did, very clearly, though I am not above saying that it might have been for my own severe failings that He did so!), I have found no need for antidepressants.

I have begun to love God and his Christ more, to know them better, and to feel more whole and healthy inside than I have in years. I feel able to ask and process questions and doubts (with the help of prayer, certain friends, and my husband) that have gnawed at me relentlessly for years. So, I have to ask, what is it that is so broken in our ministry or our fellowship or our individual souls that requires so much medication?

The recent meetings have come at an interesting time for me, when I am praying so much about where to go in regard to spiritual fellowship. I have heard more preaching than ever on “this way (our group) being the only right way to follow Jesus”, and on “attending every meeting”, and on “upholding the standard” and all the things that have led me only to more anxiety in my life, and so precious little about love, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness, and redemption, and worship, and all the things that make my heart sing.

You cannot beat obedience and worship into people, but you can inspire it. You say that you weep for us when we don’t come to meetings, but do you ever come to us and ask why we are absent? Feed us on Christ, make our hearts burn within us, tell us the same things that God is telling us individually in prayer, and we will come, in droves. We will invite our friends. Warn us against hypocrisy and having only an outward show (coming to meetings, wearing skirts and buns, being in an outward place such as an elder, a worker, etc.) and you will begin to see fruits of repentance.

Give us both words and living proof in your own lives that there is so much more in this way than cost and self-denial. There is both promise and reality of a new nature, a free gift accepted by faith, that we so desperately need. Tell us the thing that we already know deep, deep within: that we are sinners to our core, that we are broken, that we have a fundamental problem, that we cannot do enough to change that by coming to meetings or reading and praying or anything that we can try to measure our spiritual worth and growth by.

Tell us how God knows about our problem and that He has a remedy. He sent His Son into this Earth to experience flesh, and to redeem us. And He can actually give us something new in our hearts that is different, something that actually hates the evil and loves the good (because, as much as we may dress it up, our human nature even at its “best” is the very opposite of this.) He can actually make us love to pray, and love our enemies, and even want to deny ourselves. In short, preach the Gospel, not the meetings.

I still don’t know what is the right next step for me. I don’t feel comfortable at Gospel meetings, and I don’t know how long that will last. Sunday morning meetings still feel necessary and edifying. I have begun to have fellowship with other Christians that feels both alive and Spirit-led. I feel very open just now to whatever direction God would have me go, wherever He would like to lead and teach me and give me fellowship.

Having said all this, I must say the thing that I ought to have said first: I love you men, I love that you have spent so many years of your lives trying your best to serve God, and I believe that you are doing so from a sincere heart. If I am wrong in sending this letter, or in the thoughts I’ve expressed, I hope you will pray for me and lovingly help me to see it, and more than that, that God Himself will show me where I err. I’m sorry for the hard feelings that I’ve begun to have both toward you and toward the meetings, because those cannot be from God. If I cannot love you with all my heart, I am not following Christ. But these issues have weighed on me for so many years, and I seem to be granted the freedom from God right now to work them out, to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

Dave and I would like to welcome you into our new home. I hope we can have fellowship there.

With care and concern,

Heidi (Foster) DenHerder
Seattle, Washington USA
Written: 2017
Posted March 18, 2024