"We are born helpless. As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness…" CS Lewis –Transposition and Other addresses
Artist rendition of Kepler 11 if the Constellation Cygnus-NASA
“It was very therapeutic to write about this “ So began this gentleman’s email to TWW. Coincidentally or rather, providentially, this communication arrived just as we were beginning our series on the book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery. We immediately saw a correlation to the post on the importance of blogging in recovery. We decided to post the story at this juncture and will continue the review of the book tomorrow.
The word, “therapeutic,” jumped out at us. You see, this man went through a painful process at his church. The very act of writing it down helped him to process the events that occurred, analyze his reactions and thoughts and outline the steps he made towards removing himself from the situation. He is now sharing his journey with our blogging community with the hope that his insights might help others better understand how to react to, as well as avoid, struggles in church.
Although he did not use the word "abuse," we believe in the old adage, "if the shoe fits…." It shows how a pastor, intent on pursuing a selfish agenda, can deeply wound people and destroy a church.This story is told entirely in the author's own words. This is posted anonymously but TWW knows his identity. We are deeply grateful that he would share his experience in such a transparent manner. Thank you! You are a compelling writer!
Also, if you, dear reader, would like to share your story at TWW, just shoot us an email. We are always looking for real life stories, opinions, etc. God gave you unique experiences and insights that would be of help to your brothers and sisters. As you can see from this story, we are happy to keep your identity anonymous.
A few things before I begin. This article is not about Calvinism (in any of its names or aliases), the doctrine of Young Earth Creationism, Inerrancy of Scripture or any of the myriad of other theological beliefs we Christians like to get wrapped around the axel on. As Deb and Dee are fond of saying, these are “B” issues as opposed to “A” issues like Jesus was the Son of God, or By Him alone through Grace alone are we saved. As “B” issues they should be the subject of debate, and yes, even disagreement. This article is about what can happen in a church when communication breaks down and when belief and acceptance of “B” issues are held to be as important or even more important as the “A’s”.
It all started with the loss of a very well thought of (at least by me) Pastor in our Southern Baptist church. This Pastor had been at the church for many years and had taken over the job when his predecessor left a few years before. I even credit the guy with helping save my marriage, as he provided counseling to my wife and I when we entered a very rough patch. Simply put it was sinfulness on his part that led to his resignation. The particulars are not important, but he did do the right thing, he resigned. Whether he really had much of a choice is a matter for debate but the result was the same, the church was Pastor-less and wounded.
Following the church’s charter a pastor search committee was appointed and the church spent the next two years wandering in the wilderness. Many of those that hadn’t left in protest over the matter of the previous pastor started to leave due to the church being leaderless for such a long period of time. I confess that I wanted to be among them but at the urging of my wife (who was baptized there) we stuck it out. Misery loves company and we became very close to the remaining families.
Finally we had a ray of hope. Someone had expressed interest in the pastor position and was willing to accept the somewhat meager pay and compensation package the church could afford to pay. With so many people gone over the past few years, the church’s revenues were a fraction of what they were and ours was a high cost of living area. What was going on behind the scenes was that things were getting desperate. I truthfully think that at this point they would have considered just about anyone for the job. The desperation would prove disastrous.
The interview process went well from what we were told. This gentleman, while middle aged, was fresh from seminary graduation. He had a number of young children which was something our congregation needed. (Prior to his arrival my kids were about the only ones around and we had no youth program or any young people to speak of.) His seminary, while not Southern Baptist, was a respected Baptist one. He sent tapes of some sermons he had preached which illustrated his thorough preaching of the Word. There were no readily apparent red flags. We extended an invitation for him to come and preach en-lieu of a call.
His sermons didn’t set the world on fire for me but I could not detect anything wrong with them. They were biblically accurate and a bit dry. I chalked it up to him being new to the job. This was an excuse that I would use quite a bit over the following year. We had a question answer session with him and again no red flags were raised. Looking back they were mostly softball questions about things like what kind of music would be played on Sunday (a constant argument) or the future of the Sunday school program (a big deal to Southern Baptists).
I honestly did not think or even know to ask questions about the doctrines of Grace, Reformation theology, what Biblical Inerrancy really means or any of a multitude of subjects that would later become big issues. These topics were never brought up to the congregation. The big secret, I found out later, was that some of them had been discovered by the pastor search committee. I don’t think these folks were being deliberately deceptive. I think they just weren’t all that clear on what these issues meant and didn’t think they were very important. After all, he was a likeable guy and could put you at ease when talking to him. He was qualified and willing to take the job at what we could afford to pay. Like I said earlier, things were desperate.
And so it began and so did the griping. “He prays too long…..He preaches too long……We don’t sing enough hymns …..We don’t sing enough praise music…etc.” Truth was he did pray and preach for long periods of time but he’s new at this! We need to give him a chance; I would tell anyone who would listen.
He and his wife were about the only ones in the church close in age to my family. We were invited to dinner in short order. Our kids could play and we could talk. This is where my wife and I started to notice things. First, his wife waited on him and the kids hand and foot. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to leave her a tip. He also kept looking at my wife strangely whenever she would try to talk as if she were interrupting. Stuff like that. Well to each his own we thought. They seem happy together. Maybe we just imagined it.
An inordinate amount of time was spent during sermons talking negatively about other denominations and even other churches. Our kids were in Scouts together and he and I were teaching the kids about maps by looking at our town one evening. Pointing to a Presbyterian church on the map he states “Here kids. This is a place where they don’t follow God.” When I called him on the carpet about it he simply stated they have a woman pastor and that the church had once played host to an inter-faith service as if that explained everything. Now I personally prefer a man as a pastor and I’m not sure about the wisdom of having an Imam or a Rabbi speaking in my church but I don’t think we’re on the highway to hell if there’s a woman in the pulpit and we attempt to reach out to other faiths.
Several of the older folks complained to him about a myriad of issues. Personally I thought they were being very picky about things but they complained anyway. It’s every pastor’s job to deal with those types of things in a gracious and loving manner. Instead, they wound up being used as examples in a sermon. They left the church.
He quotes A LOT of Christian authors in his sermons. People I was not all that familiar with like R.C. Sproul. He also began preaching on topics like the Five "Solas." He started a blog and put a link to it on the church’s website. In his blog he would expound on things like Reformation theology and how he adhered to the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 and the doctrines of Sovereign Grace. He would have some interesting FaceBook postings on subjects like congregationalism and church discipline. Now I’ve attended church pretty much my whole life but had never heard of many of these things and the ones I had heard of I’d never really taken the time to know what they meant. Thinking I was missing something I started doing research and shortly thereafter started getting concerned.
Just to make sure I wasn’t going off the deep end and seeing things that weren’t there I went to speak with one of our senior deacons. A man I highly respected who had helped hold the church together during our pastor-less days and who had served on the pastor search committee. I laid it all out. Things I had seen, heard and learned over the past months. “Oh we knew about the Calvinism thing and some of that other stuff…” he tells me explaining that he had even spoken with some of the faculty at the pastor’s seminary to confirm it. “It’s really not all that big a deal…” or words to that effect. I was astonished and said so. “Trust me. He (the pastor) won’t do or say anything unless it’s scriptural.” In other words your concerns are groundless and the pastor is doing the Lord’s work. Shut up and color. I suck at that. Ask my wife.
Now I’m on guard. Well, if you have differences with another Christian you’re supposed to talk it out. I go to the Pastor, repeatedly, and layout my concerns. Every time I walk away feeling like he heard me and understood. It took a few months to realize I was being played. I’ve got to hand it to him; he’s a silver tongued devil. He would tell me just what I needed to hear to mollify me. I’m not easily played but I confess I’ve meet my match.
Next comes the great Young Earth Creationism debate. Now this subject I was somewhat familiar with in that I have known Christians that believed in the whole six literal days and calculated the age of the Earth based on the genealogies of the Old Testament. I always found the debate amusing and not really of great importance having never had a real opinion either way. I was of the “I don’t really know how long ago it was or how exactly dinosaurs fit into it. I just know God made the whole thing” way of thinking. I suspected the world was a little older than 4000 years though. Science may be Godless sometimes but I don’t think it’s inherently evil. I think God gave us brains and curiosity to discover for ourselves how his universe works. Turns out these are dangerous thoughts to have around some Christians these days.
So the pastor announces that we (our church) will be hosting a Creation Science video conference from a great organization called Answers in Genesis. This will be a wonderful event and you are all encouraged to attend. Bear in mind that none of the other church leadership was even consulted about it. Back to the internet I go. Now for those of you not familiar with the folks from Answers in Genesis they are of course Young Earth in their belief but they take it a step or two beyond. They see disbelief in a young Earth as disbelief in the Bible. If you disbelieve in God’s words then there is something wrong with your faith. You may not even be a true Christian. This sentiment was echoed by the pastor to one of the deacons when he was questioned on it. FYI this particular deacon is an organic chemist by trade and took a rather dim view of this narrow interpretation of scripture. His faith was questioned by the pastor over the issue. He along with another long time deacon resigned over the affair.
A formal plea was made to the remaining deacons in an effort to stop the conference. Many members thought it to be tantamount to endorsement by our church of this belief to have the conference in our facility. The pastor assured me personally that the Answers in Genesis folks never disparage anyone for not believing in a young Earth. This was of course a boldfaced lie and yet another attempt to mollify me. Several folks told the pastor they were upset enough by this situation to leave the church. The conference went on anyway. This illustrated two things to me. One the pastor was willing to be deceitful to further his ends. Two he was willing to sacrifice any member of the church on the altar of his own agenda.
It was time to leave. My wife and I wrestled over that decision for months. Eventually it came down to our children. Seems the pastor had taken it upon himself to purge the church library of thousands of dollars of books and Sunday school materials that he deemed biblically inaccurate. These were to be replaced with “acceptable accurate material” as determined by him. He took a keen interest in the children’s material especially. Its bad enough we have to deprogram our kids from some of the things they learn in public school. Now we have to do it with the things they learn at church. That was the last straw. There was one last thing to do before we go.
Most Southern Baptist churches have a personnel committee which often holds the power to hire and fire church personnel. Several of us wrote letters. I can’t speak for the others but my letter did not specifically call for the pastor’s firing. My fondest wish was to see the situation corrected and for us all to move on in Faith. The committee of course showed concern and assured us they would take care of the situation. The pastor got a very stern talking to I’m told. Good thing they didn’t put him in a timeout. Sheesh!!! We left along with several long time members others.
The church today is a shadow of its former self. Attendance, which at one time numbered in the hundreds, is counted by the tens now. The financial pages have way more red ink than black. The church is very much like the Church at Laodicea in Revelation. Dead and dying. The pastor continues like he did before. Friends of mine who refused to leave the church hoping to outlast him say that he’s attempted to pack the deacons with “his” people without them being voted on by the congregation. This is in direct violation of the church charter. When someone calls him on it he claims he wasn’t aware of that rule. One would think that he would have read the governing document of the church he leads.
He constantly tries to do end runs around that charter document. If things don’t go his way in business meetings then he will call a “special” short notice business meeting. He counts on people not showing up and that these meetings and they are heavily attended by “his” people. They will then “reintroduce” the issue and have a vote. Magically things go his way this time. It’s kinda funny but the whole thing reminds me of our federal government sometimes.
He apparently likes to use those of us who left as sermon fodder. We supposedly left because we could not handle hearing the “truth” being preached and we needed to have our “ears tickled”. He’s very two faced though because every time we see him around our small town he’s all hugs and kisses, we miss you and wish you would come back. I generally give him the looks and tone I reserve for politicians and used car salesmen (no offense to used car salesmen). Every week or two we here more stories of people leaving the church and of things that have happened. Some of it may be true some might be embellished a bit. Who knows? There is always more than one side to a story. These days I just shake my head and feel sad. I also thank God that we’re not in the middle of it any more.
Time goes on and so do we. We certainly have not come through this unscathed but we have found a new church that we really like. The kids are very happy there and look forward to attending. More importantly this church’s leadership are Godly Christian people.
It’s funny how God works sometimes. Some things happened when we first started attending there that, had this been our old church would have been swept under the rug or ignored. This is just what I expected to happen and I figured this place would prove to be just another church. Instead it was dealt with in the proper Christian way and everyone involved has grown closer together because of it. Sometimes God hits you in the head with a bat.
I closing I would like to offer some cheap advice. If your church is in the process of hiring a pastor you must carefully and PRAYERFULLY vet the person BEFORE he or she is hired. One has only to read the Wartburg Watch and sites like it to see that guys like this are not at all rare. Seminaries are producing them at what I consider to be an alarming rate.
Once again it’s not the theology that the problem, it’s the attitude that adherence to those theologies is necessary to being a good Christian. These types of pastors see themselves as being on a mission from God to purify His church of 50 years of “liberal” teachings and to a certain extent they have a point. Modern evangelicals do tend to gloss over the thornier aspects of Christianity (the hard parts like dealing with sin and God’s judgment and wrath) so that everyone feels good and so we’re “inclusive”. Sometimes we do this to the point that we water down Christianity. In that aspect there is nothing wrong with getting back to the fundamentals of Gods kingdom BUT we don’t have to become Puritans to do it. Besides, I would look terrible in one of those hats! God Bless!
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 10:1-11:23 Mark 14:1-21 Psalm 51:1-19 Proverbs 10:31-32