Thom RainerAppears to Overlook Pastoral Transgressions as a Reason Why a Group of People Leave the Church

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Saturn and the DaVinci Glow-NASA

“If you get your ego in your way, you will only look to other people and circumstances to blame.” Jocko Willink


 

As many readers know, I have been Lutheran (Missouri Synod) for several years. Prior to that, I was a member of SBC churches and nondenominational churches. I’ve found peace in my church and I have spent time trying to figure out why that is.

I’ve spoken about the kindness of my pastors. They go out of their way to pleasantly acknowledge new people yet give them space to just be there and not feel like they must *do something.* They had their hands full with me when an irritated BFF of Tom Chantry decided to try to convince my pastors that I should be excommunicated. You can read about that here.

I’ve been learningd more about Lutheran theology in a book recommended by my pastors: Called to Believe, Teach and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology edited by Steven Mueller. This text has helped me define why Lutherans are not Reformed, at least in the way that current day Calvinistas define the brand. I plan to write a post about this soon.

I also audited a course at a Lutheran seminary on Church Leadership which was taught by Rich Shields who many of you know on Twitter. I have dubbed him the Pastor of Twitter for his kindness and prayers for many of us.

In that class I learned a vital teaching that was so profound that I mention it frequently.

Pastors should point to themselves when they discuss sin and failings. They should point to the congregation when they wish to point out good things that are going on in the church.

This past weekend in church, I heard one of our pastors do just that. He mentioned an anonymous person whose life was changing because of his/ her experience in our church. He complimented the love and kindness that those in our church have demonstrated.

With that in mind, perhaps you can understand why I became irritated by this pst by Thom Rainer. 5 common issues when a group leaves a church. Rainer is the former head of Lifeway and is Reformed Baptist in his church life. Even more importantly, he is an advocate for pastors, often pointing out the foibles of members of in congregations.

Rainer seems to be the sort of guy who might point out the sins of the congregation and the goodness of the much maligned clergy. So, his post was not surprising to me. Lets’ look at a few statements.

The exit usually takes place when the pastor’s leadership becomes clear and established.

Rainer claims that the pastor casts his biblical vision and within 2-4 years, people are upset because the pastor did not fulfill their hopes and dreams. I’ve been blogging for 10 years now and have posted a number of examples in which the incoming pastor promised one thing and then pulled a bait and switch.

The most famous example of this is Andy Davis and First Baptist Durham which I wrote about in Andy Davis and First Baptist Durham: I Wonder If Wormwood Grinned? I know some of the people who were involved in this situation. Davis played a game and won. To make matters worse, he called two people who are my friends (as well as many others) *wicked and unregenerate.*

Rainer deliberately overlooks the many pastors whom he and his buddies have shored up or played footsie with through the years. Let me get this straight. All the people who’ve left these churches did so because they didn’t catch the pastors’ visions? Seriously?

  • Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churhes/CJ Mahaney
  • Mark Driscoll
  • James MacDonald
  • Bill Hybels (yes, I know he’s not Baptist but Google this)

People often leave churches due to serious issues. Rainer should be aware of the large numbers of sex abuse cases in the SBC. A bunch of us left our Southern Baptist Church which we felt mishandled a pedophile situation, not because we didn’t catch our pastor’s vision.

Rainer does not provide one statistic to prove his point that people leave because they don’t like the pastor’s vision casting. Could it be that groups leave because the church leadership really mucked things up, were involved in concealing abuse or didn’t tell the truth?

Hurt exiting church members do not often leave well

Rainer claims he is not pointing fingers but isn’t he? He appears concerned that hurt people turn to social media and do not follow Matthew 18. Could it be that the church leadership is not following the way of Jesus and caring for those who are in pain? Do churches turn to church discipline because it is more efficient than trying to care for those who have been wounded? He makes an assumption that Matthew 18 hasn’t been followed. In many of the stories I’ve covered at TWW, the members did go to the church leadership ala Matthew 18 and received a kick in the butt for doing so.

Those often neglected are the members who remain. 

Let me throw another perspective into this mix. Often those who have remained are considered the *good guys.* They are then used by the pastors as bludgeoning rods, perhaps encouraged  to vote for retroactive church discipline. They are told to shun those who have left. Tales are told of the departing former members. In one case I know all too well, people were called up to the altar to pray for those poor, bitter people who caused so much pain. *We must forgive them and ask for God to heal the hate (of course you hate them) in your heart.”

No, many who remain get patted on the head for being good boys and girls.

The other side is a place of hope.

Listen to how he refers to the former members.

  • The church is better off without them
  • They were *misaligned.*
  • They held the church back.
  • They were toxic.

Most importantly, the church leadership can now get the people all on the same page. What they really mean is the remaining members are the one who can be controlled. Often, the remaining members have no idea what is going on. In fact, what goes on in the church can change from year or year. It usually morphs into a new reiteration of the same old, same old but with more tattoos or fancier sneakers.

I have heard of one too many churches in which the new pastors decided to ram home their latest and greatest ideas after reassuring the church they they would never do anything of the sort. I am grateful to be a member of a church in which radical, new agendas will not be introduced because, unlike many of the churches that Rainer seems to be talking about, the theology and church hierarchy is stable.The authority structure is well developed and people coming into the system know exactly what they are getting.

I have happily left the evangelical jungle which means not knowing what you’ll get when you walk into the latest and greatest and newest or reimagined church on the block. I’ve found a church that makes sense to me. The pastors will say that It’s not perfect by any means but I say it is far better than they imagine.


Comments

Thom RainerAppears to Overlook Pastoral Transgressions as a Reason Why a Group of People Leave the Church — 83 Comments

  1. So, I just recently had a discussion with a colleague of mine who came from another country that has a very strong Roman Catholic influence. To him, the problem with him and “religion” is the deep seated corruption within the church, not necessarily “religion”. I am not here to bash Roman Catholics, as clearly shown on TWW, corruption known no limits…. my point is that internal corruption turns many away, and the only way to address it, IMHO, is to shine floodlights on this corruption…

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  2. “Thom Rainer Appears to Overlook Pastoral Transgressions as a Reason Why a Group of People Leave the Church”

    Why would he want to do that?! Pastors and pastor-wannabes are the folks who buy his books! It would be best for “us” (the pulpit) to point the finger at “them” (the pew) for that which ails the institutional church. But at the heart of the problem is a spiritual leadership crisis in the American church.

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  3. Rainer’s article is another misuse of the Scripture “They went out from us, but they were not of us.” His assessment that “The church is better off without them” does not spring from a pastor’s heart. The New Calvinist movement – Rainer is a part of that – is all about control, manipulation, and intimidation.

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  4. Is this the Lifeway branding that blew into town, scooped up all of the Christian bookstores, failed, and now have mostly disappeared?

    (Maybe they’ve transitioned to online? In any case, their takeover of the brick and mortar in this neck of the woods is pretty much a fail.)

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  5. “Rainer does not provide one statistic to prove his point that people leave because they don’t like the pastor’s vision casting.”

    “Vision casting” is a term I had never heard until about 10 years ago. The same with “missional.” Likewise with “winsome.” It’s hard to keep up with the latest lingo employed by the hipsters in the pulpit, but then I don’t really care to.

    https://youtu.be/aQd65utTnAQ

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  6. Rainer claims that the pastor casts his biblical vision and within 2-4 years, people are upset because the pastor did not fulfill their hopes and dreams.

    I have been in a church which was thriving and growing, people were blooming and serving with joy, only to have the pastor reject it all, because it wasn’t “his vision.” In other words, he was not the least interested in what God was doing or serving in the place God had placed him. He had played make-believe and decided who he was going to be and what kind of people he was going to lead, and he offended everyone in the church and drove them away, eventually losing the pastorate.

    In spite of the bogus “biblical” label, this whole idea of “casting a vision” is foreign to the Bible. It is the antithesis of “Lord, send me.” It is presumption, entitlement, and ego run amok.

    Rainer does not provide one statistic to prove his point that people leave because they don’t like the pastor’s vision casting.

    Of course he doesn’t because he is not examining the situation and seeking truth or a solution. He is creating a narrative; a bit of propaganda.

    He appears concerned that hurt people turn to social media and do not follow Matthew 18.

    We followed Matthew 18. What a mistake! I would never do it again. I would slip out the back door and never return. I would, indeed, turn to social media and find like minded people.

    When you go to the leadership of a church with your Matthew 18 complaint, be aware that they have known from the beginning that people would have that complaint and their response was chosen and set in stone before you ever came along; you won’t be saying anything they haven’t already anticipated and prepared for. You will be betrayed, silenced, and cast as the bad guy, the “Jezebel”.

    Often those who have remained are considered the *good guys.* They are then used by the pastors as bludgeoning rods, perhaps encouraged to vote for retroactive church discipline. They are told to shun those who have left. Tales are told of the departing former members.

    These are the people and the purpose he is crafting the narrative for.

    Churches are a lot like families. Some are healthy and some are dysfunctional. In the dysfunctional ones you will run into control issues, dishonesty, gaslighting, backstabbing, scapegoating, shunning, and similar deeds of the flesh.

    Dee, I am glad you found a healthy church. You almost persuade me to try again. Maybe someday.

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  7. Todd Wilhelm:
    “Rainer does not provide one statistic to prove his point that people leave because they don’t like the pastor’s vision casting.”

    That term “vision casting” really sets off all of my internal alarms! The Holy Spirit is the only One in the church Who should be doing ANY vision casting, NOT the pastor! When are these guys ever going to get on their faces and invite the Holy Spirit back into church?

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  8. Root 66: The Holy Spirit is the only One in the church Who should be doing ANY vision casting, NOT the pastor!

    Yes. This. I’m reminded of “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. God never asks us to dream up what we want to do for Him. Instead, He tells us what He wants us to do for Him.

    “Jesus was the Son of God. Yet He never took the initiative to dream a dream or launch a new ministry. He lived His life in absolute dependence upon His Father.”
    ― Henry T. Blackaby, Experiencing God

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  9. Max:
    Rainer’s article is another misuse of the Scripture “They went out from us, but they were not of us.”His assessment that “The church is better off without them” does not spring from a pastor’s heart.The New Calvinist movement – Rainer is a part of that – is all about control, manipulation, and intimidation.

    Max:
    Rainer’s article is another misuse of the Scripture “They went out from us, but they were not of us.”

    If Thom Rainer said that of me, I’d take it as a compliment.

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  10. Jeffrey Chalmers:
    So, I just recently had a discussion with a colleague of mine who came from another country…

    The engineering school is next to the business school where I teach, in fact, I walk through the engineering building to the parking lot. If your school’s like mine, I’d say that describes a fair number of your colleagues! : )

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  11. Law Prof:
    Maybe they left because the whole idea of a pastor vision-casting is dead wrong and absolutely destructive to the health of the Body of Christ.

    Yes, and it also smacks in the face of the principle of the “priesthood of the believer.” I don’t need a pastor to go between me and God to let me know what I need to do. I can receive my marching orders directly from the Source!
    However, most believers don’t realize that.

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  12. Law Prof: Maybe they left because the whole idea of a pastor vision-casting is dead wrong and absolutely destructive to the health of the Body of Christ.

    It has (for me, at least) the “feel” of the leadership using the led, rather than serving them. “The great men of this age exercise their authority; it shall not be so among you…”

    In practice, it often really is so. This isn’t Jesus’ “vision” of leadership in the Church He intended to found, and I’m tempted to think that this isn’t the Church that He intended to found.

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  13. Brian:
    Question: Church “revitalization”, the neocal pastor refuses to leave the church, even after the deacons tell him he’s fired?

    That’s exactly what happens. Except usually as soon as the pastor is able, he dumps the deacons, writes a retroactive covenant that he claims binds everyone who is already a member, and picks a group of “elders” from the men he thinks will say yes to everything he does.

    The fastest way to a cult is to remove all methods of member input, like deacon boards.

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  14. Oh, and let’s not forget the ever-popular claim in Episcopal-land that the former member in question was a “domestic terrorist.”

    All kidding aside, spiritual abuse seems much more common than people realize. While I don’t have hard numbers, I published a piece on Episcopal Cafe on informal shunning in church, only to get numerous comments from people saying they’d experienced it. Indeed it was one of the most commented-on articles, so I suspect many more people leave churches due to pastoral misconduct than we realize.

    Besides, most clergy I know have have only one vision: Keep things going just long enough to retire.

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  15. Tom Rainer is a sell-out and wants to make a buck. Most of his resources try to point you towards buying other things. However, most of the stuff he says, including this article, has been true in my context.

    We didn’t have any vision casting, I don’t really know what that means. We just wanted to serve the community and be evangelistic where we were. But within a year, people started rising up against us. I have no doubt that if you asked any of them they would tell a much different tale, about how my husband was a “false prophet,” how we never did anything with their families and never reached out, how we’re arrogant, and how we didn’t help them grow spiritually. These are all things that were said to other people. Only three times did they ever confront us – once because my husband was going to keep our daughter for a couple days instead of letting the elder’s wife watch her (apparently this made her very upset and they confronted us at our house?!), the second time because their son’s name was accidentally left off a brochure as a ministry leader and that showed we were trying to destroy their family, the third time because they said a lot of people had been offended by us and we needed to apologize. When we agreed to apologize and talk to the people to see what we did wrong, they refused to tell us who was mad. They had secret meetings, phone calls, and probably embezzlement. We have emails and texts of us trying to get together and meet to discuss what was wrong (we still don’t know why they disliked us so much), but they refused and then told others we never contacted them. And yeah, since they left there has been minimal conflict – and we don’t agree with everybody by any means.

    Anybody can be a bully, can be entitled, and can act in very unChristian ways.

    Tom Rainer is speaking to a largely evangelical-type audience. We personally aren’t evangelicals, but Churches of Christ can look really similar and are also autonomous low churches. There is no denominational support and individual church members have the potential for a lot of power. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories of congregations and elderships treating their ministers shamefully. Dee, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t Lutheran Pastors assigned in some way? I imagine that could make a difference in church dynamics.

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  16. My suspicion is vision casting is a concept from Eastern religions. I’ve read the concept is dated from the beginning of the 2000’s.
    Knowing nothing more, I assume it’s a self deluding influence passed from individual to individual.
    30,000 foot view, is somewhat related phraseology.

    I reject the belief that spiritual thoughts have powers and can change the World. Shamanism is the same thing. The use of the spirit world, to leverage an improved personal experiance in the physical world.

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  17. This crowd makes way too big a deal out of Matthew 18.

    Matthew 18 is a good model to settle a dispute between yourself and a believing neighbor. First, talk to him privately. If you get nowhere, take one or two with you, as per Deuteronomy. If that fails (and this assumes that all are believing Christians), you take the grievance to the church.

    NOTE TO THE FAITHFUL: elders are not mentioned in Matthew 18, and this may disappoint Thom Rainer and his followers. Certainly elders should be included in any discussion that involves the church body, and certainly they may facilitate if asked. But this is not to be an exercise in “discipline” by and about the elders.

    Further, Matthew 18 is never to be considered the only “biblical” model to settle grievances (and “biblical” counts for a lot with this crowd, however they interpret it). For example, other biblical models include Galatians 2, where Paul “opposed Peter (Cephas) to his face because he stood condemned” for legalism and hypocrisy. And in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas split up over irreconcilable differences concerning John Mark’s ministry. These too are biblical.

    Our former pastor (of the church I now rarely attend) also had a “vision,” modeled largely around 9Marks, and CBMW, and the new-calvinist movement; and yes, we did read Thom Rainer’s books (I Am A Church Member; and Autopsy of a Deceased Church). The pastor and a few others firmly and systematically tried to make First Baptist (an ABC church here in Maine) into the image and likeness of a 9Marks SBC church. The plan failed; the by-laws did not pass a 2/3 majority after three years of indoctrination and careful sermon series.

    Long story short, immediately after the negative vote the deacon most ardent for the change pulled his family and left for a church already 9Marks (and there are not many of those in Maine). His brother-in-law’s family too left shortly afterward, and these included a lot of our youth and young adults. I stuck around for about a year, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, and involves me in a new-found appreciation for those with PTSD. The pastor “retired” last year at 62, to be closer to grandchildren.

    Net result of that experiment: Three of us out of five fill-in preachers left, plus the pastor, who may have been on the way out anyway; and loss of significant tithing and several youth.

    Thank you, Thom Rainer: you have contributed much to this movement, may it die a slow and well-documented death. I view this new-calvin, elder-led, male-authority baptist movement as the current equivalent to the pre-millennial dispensationalist movement of the 20th century. It will certainly be written up, but too many church members aren’t even aware of it yet. And too many inherently approve, seeking authority and legalism and accepting it all as “biblical.”

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  18. Dee,

    Good post. I too have found a home by returning to the LCMS, and have had much the same experience as you. It is very comforting to not have to wonder what we will get when we walk thru the doors. The service is packed with Scripture, something that I saw heard very little of in evangelicalism. Then there is the whole famine of the Gospel thing, which I am glad to be free from.

    But I think the over arching reason for the peace I now have is that they helped me to turn my focus to the right person – Jesus. My wife says the same thing. Before we were turned inward all of the time. Now we have been turned outward to worship Jesus and receive His gifts, and pointed to serve our neighbors via our various vocations, something that was completely foreign to the religious folks I used to hang with. Coincidentally, most of those will no longer associate with me and consider me a lost heretic.

    So at least I got that going for me…

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  19. I don’t mean to come across too strongly through this comment, but this post has touched on a nerve. In my humble opinion, one main reason that people are leaving churches is because they witness a lack of character and integrity on the part of the leaders of those churches. This observation is based on 20+ years of experience with organizations and churches within a major Presbyterian denomination. I have served in many different levels of leadership in this denomination, including an ordained minister on church staffs. Over and over again, I have seen narcissistic leaders grab power and control because their identity and the church’s identity are inseparable and the church has become their idol. I have seen unabashed hypocrisy preached from pulpits. I have seen the sinful and unethical behavior of church leaders excused or ignored when most corporate environments wouldn’t even have tolerated it. I have seen elders championing the grace of the Gospel, while refusing to acknowledge and repent of their own blatant sin when confronted. Why would people want to stay in churches where their leaders look more like the shepherds of Israel whom Ezekiel condemned, rather than the Good Shepherd whose kingdom they claim to be advancing?

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  20. Law Prof, I completely agree. “Vision casting” is just wrong for a church. Cripes, a church is a BODY. Bodies have their own patterns already embedded – I can “vision” myself 6’ tall, but I’ll never be taller than my 5’ something DNA dictates. A pastor should be DISCERNING the pattern of that body, to work with what God has already placed there, not being upset with it and performing plastic surgery or leg-lengthening or . . or . .

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  21. GreekEpigraph:
    Law Prof, I completely agree.“Vision casting” is just wrong for a church.Cripes, a church is a BODY.Bodies have their own patterns already embedded – I can “vision” myself 6’ tall, but I’ll never be taller than my 5’ something DNA dictates.A pastor should be DISCERNING the pattern of that body, to work with what God has already placed there, not being upset with it and performing plastic surgery or leg-lengthening or . . or . .

    I believe a little differently than you on vision casting. When a pastor “casts a vision” for the church, he is turning the tables. Instead of the pastor serving the church, he his making the church members his servants. I think vision casting is just a way to make the pastor king of the hill …… and it is wrong.

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  22. Nancy2(aka Kevlar),
    “When a pastor “casts a vision” for the church, he is turning the tables. Instead of the pastor serving the church, he his making the church members his servants. I think vision casting is just a way to make the pastor king of the hill …… and it is wrong.”

    This! Well said.

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  23. Noevangelical,

    Hard to fathom a world in which a Missouri Synod Lutheran would be considered a lost heretic. I’m a former Lutheran who lived in Lutheran country (Minnesota) for the better part of a decade. You Missouri Synod types are considered the staunch conservatives of Lutheranism, the stand on Jesus at all costs Lutherans, the old-fashioned sola scriptura, Jesus types.

    Maybe that Jesus thing is why your former church friends now consider you a heretic. Too much emphasis on Jesus, you’ve fallen away from all the major Christian celebs and now rely on Jesus.

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  24. Jack: I always love the space pic. Today’s feature is currently my desktop wallpaper at work.

    Yes.

    It’s very beautiful.

    Makes me think of William Blake’s artwork with The Book of Job as subject.

    Anyway, on 26 May 2013, I got to see Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter just after sunset in my locale.

    All three planets were within the field of my binocular.

    Even with the light pollution, the tableau was stunning.

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  25. Law Prof: Max:
    Rainer’s article is another misuse of the Scripture “They went out from us, but they were not of us.”

    If Thom Rainer said that of me, I’d take it as a compliment.

    You got that right, Brother LP! Many of us left the Christian Industrial Complex in our rearview mirror – we put our behinds in our past – because we were not of them. The “Done” tribe is perhaps the largest growing Christian group in America because of stuff like this.

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  26. Law Prof: Hard to fathom a world in which a Missouri Synod Lutheran would be considered a lost heretic.

    Their world has a bizarrely skewed coordinate system, so it’s no wonder they’d see good Lutheran folk as hell-bound hamsters.

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  27. Nathan Priddis,

    “My suspicion is vision casting is a concept from Eastern religions. I’ve read the concept is dated from the beginning of the 2000’s.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++

    i bet The Leadership Network planted it. and it took.

    (i’ve tried to start trendy buzzwords [just for fun]. they didn’t take. i think you need powerful people in strategic places)

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  28. I’d been confused as to what ‘vision casting’ was for years. To me, it always sounded like some sort of a magic spell in a video game or a psychic Pokemon attack.

    Apparently, it’s the hipster pastor way of saying “My way or the highway.”

    Yup, glad I left my old spiritually abusive church that crammed ‘vision casting’ down our throats.

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  29. Todd Wilhelm: “Vision casting” is a term I had never heard until about 10 years ago. The same with “missional.” Likewise with “winsome.”

    Yes, I feel the same way about “Vision Casting” and “missional”, haven’t really encountered “winsome” in the church world. I especially don’t like the term “missional”, and my dislike of certain words, certain styles, certain ways of talking in the church world is something I have kinda beat myself up over in the past, that I was just being too judgemental. But increasingly I feel that well, maybe some of this stuff just grieves me, because there is really something foul going on, even if I can’t put my finger on it.

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  30. AnonInNC: I’d been confused as to what ‘vision casting’ was for years…, Apparently, it’s the hipster pastor way of saying “My way or the highway.”

    Oh my stars, same here, confused, except thought that “vision casting” maybe had something to do with fishing?

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  31. When we see things like “Vision Casting” in churches it makes me think that maybe this is Protestantism gradually becoming encrusted with a bunch of nonsensical traditions, just like Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, etc became encrusted with long ago. Protestantism is younger, what 500 years old? so hasn’t had as much time to accrue all this stuff that is entirely beside the point and may even be a hindrance to living the Christian life.

    For example, there is the whole “armor bearer” thing for the guy that makes sure there is a bottle of water in the pulpit for the pastor before each sermon, or the practice of referring to the pastor’s wife as “First Lady”, Episcopal prayer mazes, the annual blessing of the Christian 50-something motorcycle gang, I’m sure you can think of many more!

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  32. Disgusting Calvinists are doing great harm with the misuse, corruption, and perversion of scripture to ‘Christ’s body’ today. They have made their mambo jumbo Theology the ipso-facto gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is identifiably unmistakably NOT. This cr@p trap has been going on for over 500 years. Chances are you will never convince them of that. DON’T TRY Calvinism is a Blatant Lie —>RUN. Their god is a monster—>condemning souls to hell before conception (before the world was even made, they say…) for ‘this their God’s ’ pleasure and glory. I kid you not. Look it up!

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  33. Flat Top: Episcopal prayer mazes

    Are you referring to replicas of the medieval prayer labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral? That is a venerable device for assisting people with meditation, like a confined pilgrimage walk. It has been around since the 12th century, and many different denominations have used it in recent decades.

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  34. Lady Preacher: my husband was going to keep our daughter for a couple days instead of letting the elder’s wife watch her (apparently this made her very upset and they confronted us at our house?!)

    Red flag- that gives me the creeps

    I have no doubt that the church can be a toxic place for pastors as well as for churchgoers. It seems it can be a toxic place for anyone who is sincere. Could it be because they are outnumbered by those who aren’t?

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  35. As stated here before, I was formerly a denominational executive that worked with churches/ministers/families, and yes, MANY members departed churches because of their pastors. Top five pastoral transgressions that chased away members:
    1. Lazy pastoral staff – lack of interest in visitation, pastoral care, etc. Ministers who felt their job was not to take care of people. My special favorite was the church that fired a pastor because he said it was not his job to perform funerals . . .
    2. Personality deficits – some in ministry, though they may have gotten a 4.0 in their M.Div. work, do not have personalities that allowed them to be able to relate to others in an empathic and authentic fashion.
    3. Worship wars – changes in worship styles, music, etc.
    4. Authoritarian leadership styles – “My way or the highway” and many members chose the highway.
    5. Moral indiscretions – issues with illicit sex, pornography, poor boundaries, lack of care with church funds, etc.

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  36. Lowlandseer,

    IMO, in order to accept the concept of vision casting you have to accept the concept of extra-biblical revelation. So the pastor is like Moses who went up on the mountain and received the vision from God Himself, apart from Scripture, according to them, and therefore is supposed to have instant credibility. Except all he can bring is law.

    Funny how none of these guys ever come down from their mountain with a vision to sell the church property and open a food pantry or homeless shelter. If God ever did meeting with them face to face, they would be completely undone.

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  37. Noevangelical: IMO, in order to accept the concept of vision casting you have to accept the concept of extra-biblical revelation.

    This is exactly the concern I had with the “vision” promoted and taught by the pastor of the next-to-last church I attended. I don’t know how widespread this phenomenon is, but in my case, I think that the pastor really did believe that he had a personal revelation from God (one that he had “received” decades before and that may have shaped the entire course of his career). So, it seems to me, while his job description was “pastor”, his self-conception was closer to “apostle” and he seems to have felt conscience-bound to use his congregation as the means to fulfill his God-given vision (perhaps a bit like Paul twisting the arms of the Corinthians to fill up the inter-church mercy gift he was carrying to Jerusalem). And the “vision” itself was not a bad or self-exalting thing; it was mainstream “center of the road” “ministry multiplication”.

    What went wrong in this case was that the pastor sought to portray the “from God vision” he was pursuing as “the will of God for the congregation.” Classic Reformed call this “binding of the conscience” and reckon that one should never do that with regard to matters that are not plainly taught in Scripture. The proposed plan was not plainly commanded in Scripture — it was more of a “wisdom agenda” that should have been examined carefully from every angle but instead a lengthy period of time was invested in using the teaching office to essentially “groom” the congregation to make the decision the pastor wanted the congregation to make. Along the way “sight considerations” (aka “wisdom considerations”) were deprecated in favor of “faith in what we know of God” and the congregation was given the impression that the leadership knew more than they were letting on, in the sense that large gifts were anticipated if the congregation embraced the proposal. It looked a bit manipulative to me, but it was hard to find ways of objecting that did not run afoul of the public definitions of “unbelief” that the pastor had laid out as part of the teaching agenda.

    I don’t think that the pastor was a bad person or even a bad pastor; I think he was ensnared by a bad idea that was widely embraced by his peers.

    In the end, at a surprisingly docile congregational meeting, the proposal was adopted with an inadequate “counting of the cost”. It was late 2007 and the economy was tipping into recession, the “global financial crisis” less than a year away. Needless to say, the “vision” did not work out as envisioned. I think it badly damaged the pastor’s career, and perhaps even his mental health.

    The idea that pastors can use their office and “authority” to command the laity to do things that are not explicitly commanded in Scripture is a trap that leaders fall into at their peril.

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  38. Luckyforward: As stated here before, I was formerly a denominational executive that worked with churches/ministers/families, and yes, MANY members departed churches because of their pastors. Top five pastoral transgressions that chased away members: Lazy pastoral staff … Personality deficits … Worship wars … Authoritarian leadership styles … Moral indiscretions …

    After 70+ years in the institutional church, I agree with LF’s assessment. I’ve witnessed all those transgressions by the pulpit and their effects on the pew. Thom Rainer knows this, too … he is protecting the shepherds at the expense of the sheep when he places all the fault for declining church membership on “toxic” members. Truth is, the pulpit in many corners of Christendom is so toxic that it’s poisoning attempts by the Body of Christ to worship.

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  39. Sòpwith: Explain the “Done(s)” Thom.

    I’m sure he would say something Biblical like ““They went out from us, but they were not of us.”

    To which I would shout “You got that right, Thom!” I’m “not of us” when the pulpit manipulates, intimidates, and dominates the pew. I’m “not of us” when false prophets twist Scripture to make if fit a theological box. I’m “not of us” when the Main Thing is not the main thing in the institutional church. I’m “not of us” when the precious Name of Jesus is less important than the names of Christian celebrities. Yep Thom, I’m so “not of us” that I’m Done … done with the likes of you, but not done with Jesus.

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  40. I never heard the term “vision casting” before, but when I was in Maranatha during the 80’s it was very much part of the cultural DNA that if you were in the organization it was because God wanted you there, and that God gave the leaders a vision, and that God wanted you to be part of that vision. That ends up transforming the pastoral staff from shepherds into taskmasters.

    I believe the reason for all of this was actually so the organization could continue to ignore following some of the less glamourous commandments found in the New Testament. “Not part of our vision, don’t you know.”

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  41. Max: the pulpit in many corners of Christendom is so toxic that it’s poisoning attempts by the Body of Christ to worship.

    We discuss some horrible clergy on TWW, but this thread is not the only one to raise the topic of horrible members. Do you think that the pulpit is reflecting changes in what we accept? Are there more egomaniacs everywhere now than when you were younger?

    I am blessed to attend a church where humility and service to others are still quietly practiced by clergy and members. (Obligatory comment that the place is far from perfect.) It is a lot easier to see and hear evidence of Jesus when there are actual Christians helping one another.

    Some years ago I called our church offices in a moment of despair, and asked to speak with a particular clergy member. Well, he was out of town. But, you know what? The person who answered the phone (someone I knew, but not terribly well) consoled me and gently drew me out. She also matched me up with a newly hired clergy member who had the right background to help me.

    People seek the church during transitions and crises. Jesus set a fine example we can still follow.

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  42. Friend: Do you think that the pulpit is reflecting changes in what we accept?

    Indeed! “Tell me which way you want to go and I’ll get out in front to lead!” In recent years, there has been an emphasis in the pulpit to be “culturally-relevant” … the problem is, the culture is at the wheel now. In some ways, I think Generations X, Y and Z enjoy bad-boy preachers (e.g., Mark Driscoll) as a counter to stuffy church. Thus, the 21st century pulpit and pew in some corners of Christendom are reflections of each other.

    Friend: Are there more egomaniacs everywhere now than when you were younger?

    Well, from my snapshot of the organized church which goes back to the 1940s, I would say that pride and arrogance has taken over much of the pulpit … those characteristics when left unchecked produce egomaniacs and narcissists. The New Calvinist movement has a large population of them. Perhaps I was just blessed to be in churches in the 20th century which had humble servants of the Lord who loved and pastored their congregations, which now appear to be a dying breed. Those dear pastors were demonstrations of love, they visited members in their homes, they called when you sick, they sat with dying members, they married you; they buried you, they knew the names of each child and their dog’s name … they were genuine examples of agape love. There were exceptions – there have always been false shepherds – but most pastors were of this nature during most of my church experience.

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  43. Friend: Jesus set a fine example we can still follow.

    Yes. I think there is a kind of “Gresham’s dynamic” (“bad drives out good”) at work in and among religious institutions as much as in other spheres of life. It’s there but one does not have to go along with it.

    To put it another way, the polarization between “winners” and “losers” (the “winner takes all” dynamic) that is not hard to see in the economy is also happening in the churches — this is my interpretation of the rise of the megachurch movement. I think that one could argue that there’s an analogy between the way Walmart has crushed local retail and the megas have crushed the small “corner” churches. Scale has its attractions and its economies, but there are also drawbacks and costs, and the concentration of congregational leadership into the hands of fewer and fewer leaders of larger and larger groups might also have unanticipated consequences of attracting into “ministry” people who want the kind of power, prestige and prosperity that being in charge of a large group provides.

    I think that the traditional smaller church model is a lot better than what has arisen in recent decades. But I also think that the traditional model might tend toward what has arisen. It takes a lot of self-denial to say “so large and no larger; we ‘bud’ a daughter congregation if we exceed our target (small) size”. My private sense is that non-institutional forms of ministry with avocational “one-another” servants, some of whom will specialize into the kinds of functions described by Paul, may be the least bad option.

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  44. Max: they were genuine examples of agape love.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful response. I guess we have to live the example so that future generations will recognize it and seek it out at church. Can’t hurt to try, anyway. 🙂

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  45. Samuel Conner: traditional smaller church model is a lot better than what has arisen in recent decades. […] It takes a lot of self-denial to say “so large and no larger; we ‘bud’ a daughter congregation if we exceed our target (small) size”.

    Maybe this is why the SBC is going through so much pain. Caveat: I only know of the SBC what I read on TWW and hope this is not wildly inaccurate… but it seems like the tiny church on the corner could be designated as the next mega. That’s not how growth would work in many traditions. Likewise, other traditions have a different structure of property ownership, control of ordination, clergy oversight, congregational power, etc.

    Every structure can harbor abuse. Sudden explosive growth, though, seems to be a problem in itself.

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  46. AnonInNC: I’d been confused as to what ‘vision casting’ was for years. To me, it always sounded like some sort of a magic spell in a video game or a psychic Pokemon attack.

    Or the “vision quest” of Plains Tribal culture filtered through a game of “telephone” that included Shirley MacLaine until it became just another proto-Hipster Woo-Woo.

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  47. ___

    “501c3 Lunatic Fringe”

    Max: “I wish these guys would catch a vision of Christ, high and lifted up in all of His glory … maybe then they would stop playing games with the church.”

    hmmm…

    Max,

    Theirs is not a game…

    Their damage is undeniably real.

    Many who attend 501c3 services today are ill prepared.

    (sadface)

    Sòpy

    ;~)§


    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uqUa_G1h3pw
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HTTAPCUtbc8

    ;~)§

    – –

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  48. Friend: Every structure can harbor abuse. Sudden explosive growth, though, seems to be a problem in itself.

    I think that there is a kind of “Darwinian selection” going on in terms of “how to do church.” Whatever is most attractive in a specific locality will grow more rapidly than everything else and come to be dominant, either as a dominant congregation or as a dominant “way of being church” in that region. The “ways of being church” that end up becoming dominant may do so for reasons that have nothing to do with the Scriptures, but the fact of the growth will be interpreted to be God’s “blessing” on the “way of being church.”

    It’s a kind of genetic algorithm, but the resulting forms of christianity are likely to be highly mutated.

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  49. Samuel Conner: I think that there is a kind of “Darwinian selection” going on in terms of “how to do church.”

    Funny you should mention that. I was thinking just the other day about Doug Wilson’s describing criticism of Marq Driskle as “revenge of the beta males”, and the more general push to be “alpha males” among leading pulpit narcissists, with a grasping of territory – there is hard evidence of elders leaving Mars Hill actually having to sign non-compete agreements to prevent them preaching the gospel locally. This was buttressed by Driskle publicly appealing to smaller church groups to submit themselves to Mars Hill in order to be part of something bigger.

    It’s ironic that the males who are among the most influential and noisy opponents of the theory of evolution… are living evidence in support of the notion that humans and apes do indeed share a common ancestor. And a recent ancestor at that.

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  50. TS00: Seems to me ‘church growth’ and ‘spiritual growth’ are mostly mutually exclusive.

    It has been noted before at TWW that the “church growth” movement resembles the “prosperity gospel” movement in the shared assumptions that “more is better” and “more is evidence of God’s favor.”

    I think these assumptions fall under what Luther called “theologies of glory”, which he contrasted to the “theology of the Cross.” I won’t elaborate here; there are adequate summaries online and, if you can find it, von Loewenich’s “Luther’s Theology of the Cross” is a worthy read, though a bit hard to wade through, IMO, at the beginning.

    I think that Luther would reckon that the contemporary church growth movement, while perhaps at heart rooted in a good motive (‘saving souls’), in practice can become a kind of denial of the Cross.

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  51. SiteSeer: Samuel Conner: It’s a kind of genetic algorithm, but the resulting forms of christianity are likely to be highly mutated.
    Like… a cancer

    Well, “Growth for the sake of Growth” IS the philosophy of the cancer cell.

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  52. To those survivors of childhood physical and mental abuse and molestation and those currently children and young people being abused and molested, don’t give up God like I did.

    I blamed Him along with my pedophile stepfather for what happened to me.

    I still to this day don’t understand why He didn’t intervene. But He wasn’t the perpetrator.

    Call out to Him. He’s there to comfort you.

    If you turn away from Him, your anger will eat you up on the inside. Your defense mechanism in adulthood will be detrimental to you. It will impede your growth emotionaly and socially. It can lead to alcoholism, drug use and dangerous behavior. It can also horribly impact your health later in life.

    Even though I asked Jesus to be my Savior in my late 40’s, being filled with joy, I wished I hadn’t turned my back on Him earlier in life.

    Call to Him, ask Jesus to become your Savior, feel His love. Survive until you are able to escape your abuser/molester. Ask Him for His healing love to heal you.

    I’ve survived some of the worst abuse/molestation my therapist has ever seen. After being saved/born again in my late 40’s, His love helped in reducing my anxiety some.

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  53. Brian: I’ve survived some of the worst abuse/molestation my therapist has ever seen.

    I am so sorry this happened to you. I have no words. I believe you, and it was not your fault. I wish you continued healing and peace.

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