1/28/11- The above title is a play on some words. Can anyone guess it? If not, I will reveal it on Monday.
“When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and you are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” Patrick Overton
The Prodigal Prophet Part 4
We continue looking at the life and faith of Dylan and the lessons we can glean from his sad experience.
A personal crisis can often reveal the true nature of church leadership.
On Tuesday, we left Dylan and his wife nursing a broken heart over the death of their only child. This crisis opened their eyes to the lack of personal support and commitment on the part of leadership. It was evident from Dylan’s narrative that Jake and the leadership had a goal which was to build a church through any means possible. These utilitarian and narcissistic pastors may have viewed Dylan’s calamity as a problem that diverted their attention from their “more important” goal, which was to build a large and successful church program. Dylan noted, very early on in his book, that Jake seemed to be ego driven, not unlike many mega-church pastors today.
TWW has written extensively on the issue of spiritual abuse. In these types of churches, the individual is a problem if he/she has a problem that reflects badly on the church’s image. On the SGM Survivors blog ,there was a terrible story in which a teenaged male babysitter molested a little girl. The family of the little girl was coerced to immediately forgive the teen and the teen molester reportedly continued to work in the children’s ministry in the church. Why? One can only guess that SGM wants to pretend that such problems could not occur in the decidedly superior SGM church..Thankfully, in this time of the blogosphere, SGM and other groups can run but they cannot hide. You can read this horrendous story, called Noel’s Story, at this link.
A rose, by any other name, can still have thorns.
Tomorrow, we will do a background story on Derek Prince who was influential in the Shepherding movement. In the late 1970s and early1980s, the shepherding movement was developing a reputation for abuse. As this faction began to fall apart in America, Prince formally apologized for his involvement in the exploitative nature of the group.
Hoping to avoid being detected as a purveyor of this teaching, the English and Irish groups began calling their version “pastoral care.” This name was supposed reflect a gentler version of shepherding but, according to Dylan, it was just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
At the same time, John Wimber visited London and held a Signs and Wonders conference. Wimber, who we will review in another post next week, was the founder of the Vineyard Movement in the United States. Wimber, who would become the target of cult research groups in the coming years, was very kind to Dylan and prophesied that the couple would have another baby in one year. One year later, their son, Zac, was born.
Music can be an indication of the group’s theology.
Dylan describes the music at Wimber’s conferences as silky smooth and safe. He likened it to the Carpenter’s music. Jake told Dylan that the songs were without deep theological truth and Dylan believes that Jake could have been right in this instance. In fact, this analogy to Carpenter’s music seems right on. As many know, this group was known for their upbeat music and smiling faces. However, Karen Carpenter eventually died from complications of an eating disorder. Once again, the surface does not reflect what is going on underneath.
In fact, here is a good example of the Carpenter’s music. It called “On Top of the World.” As you watch this, think about what is really going on underneath but, it is sure happy, isn’t it?
A belief in apostolic or leadership “covering” is a major red flag.
Dylan is able to get another leader, Benny, to be his apostolic covering. In the book, Animal Farm by George Orwell, there is a saying-“all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” TWW has seen many an instance in which a rigid hierarchy in a church is established by intentional misuse of the terms “apostolic covering” and “pastoral authority.” This is one more method for control by abusive leaders.
This attitude is further revealed when Dylan asks for a raise. Dylan had been surviving on a subsistence salary from the church. He asked Benny for a raise to be able to care for his wife and child. He is told that he didn’t “have enough authority over enough people.” Once again, numbers seem to matter and this group has inculcated this value in a subtle way. Several months later he was let go from his position due to financial constraints.
Subtle doctrinal issues are often a clue that something larger may be amiss.
Dylan began to question many of the assumptions of his group. For example, upon close inspection, he found that communion was celebrated as a remembrance of the community not as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Sometimes, if the underlying issues that led to the abuse are not discovered, the abused person will seek out a similar church situation and the cycle repeats itself.
It is a well-known fact that females who are abused in childhood, often go on to choose a spouse who is abusive. The same thing can happen to those abused by the church.
Dylan received an offer to spend some time at the Vineyard churches in California. Dylan, ever honest, said he chose one of those churches because it seemed flashier and exciting. He would learn that flashy and exciting does not indicate spiritual health. This is something that we are still learning here in America’s seeker-driven, entertainment venues sometimes known as mega-churches.
Although he liked Wimber, he became discouraged with the worship and fellowship at the various affiliated churches. He found the worship “plastic” and seemingly orchestrated while many of the people appeared distant in their relationships. He found this to be the case in the cell groups as well. The leadership appeared to be ignoring him, after inviting him to come to America. He became confused and discouraged.
In the midst of pain, God is still present.
Dylan attended one of Wimber’s conferences and met Bob Crane who helped to run a Vineyard Church in San Luis Obispo. His family is made to feel very welcome and the kindness shown to them began to break down some barriers. During this time he read books on cultic mind control and realized that there were some similarities with his experiences in his group in Ireland. During a cell group meeting, he expressed his concerns and the group prayed over him and his wife. He felt that all the years of pain and abuse came tumbling out and he cried for a long time. This was the beginning of new journey.
After this watershed event, he bumped into Wayne Dunn who we spoke about in the first part of this series. Dunn had left the shepherding movement as well as his original church. He was pastoring a church in California made up of people who had been hurt by the shepherding movement.
Abuse and legalism can lead to loss of faith.
Wayne asked if they were still believers. Many of the people that were members of his former church, when he was still involved with shepherding, had lost their faith. He prayed that God would break the spirit of legalism that they got from shepherding.
Dylan offered to share his experiences with his former shepherd, Jake but he is rejected. Dylan and Zan returned to Ireland and told Jake that they are leaving the ministry. Jake acts irritated and does not show any compassion for their pain. This seals the deal for them and they drop out of church.
The Morrisons were isolated and shunned by the members of their old church. Dylan, ever introspective, began to see the “us versus them” paradigm that was an integral part of their old church. He felt the pain of their rejection, which appears to lead to further isolation from the faith. (For an amusing take on shunning, please go to this link for an clip from The Office which deals with subject of shunning, starring, of course, the every amusing Dwight. This video cannot be embedded but the link takes you directly to the clip.)
By this time Dylan and Zan have lost their belief in what they call the evangelical God. They stopped praying and reading the Bible and both went back to teaching. They tried some churches but were not interested in what they term the evangelical power game between pastor and congregation with the pastor playing the role of “the guy in charge.” They began to explore eastern religions and mysticism because they still sensed what they termed “the divine” in their lives.
We plan to finish Dylan’s story on Monday. Tomorrow we will look at the life of Derek Prince, a leader in the shepherding movement who was complicit in the abuses, which affected Dylan and so many others.
A Rant from Dee (Bet Deb agrees)
I want to take a minute to confront those who are still involved in churches (both congregation and pastors) that utilize abusive tactics that have caused many to leave the faith. I have heard statements from boorish Christians who claim that people like Dylan were never saved in the first place. Such people seem to be able blow off the role that they have played in causing people to run from our Lord.
Some of these folks misuse Reformed theology to suggest that, if someone is meant to be saved, they will be saved no matter how badly they are mistreated by those in the church. It reminds me of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands of the blood of Jesus. It didn’t work, by the way.
Here is a challenge. If you do not have deep empathy for the Dylans of this world, you may need to see if you really understand, and have received, the grace of Jesus Christ.
The following song, "The Canticle of the Turning," is meant as a song of encouragement to those who have been hurt by those in power in this world. It speaks of tyrants and God’s ultimate justice. There are tyrants outside the church, but, sadly , there are many inside the church.
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 27:14-Numbers 1:54 Mark 11:1-26 Psalm 46:1-11 Proverbs 10:23