Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence. Erma Bombeck
Program note: I plan to take Friday off to celebrate my birthday, which is on Sunday, as well as to recuperate from three days of shopping and cooking. Also, I have to figure out something that Jeffrey Chalmers has suggested.
I am terribly sad about the continued problems at Chapel Hill Bible Church. This church was once one of the more intellectually challenging and spiritually satisfying churches that meant so much to me. Some of my thoughts on various Biblical issues were formed in that dynamic and culturally diverse fellowship. I was interviewed yesterday by a journalist who was able to elicit some of my feelings on what I consider the decline of the church. But, I left when I saw what I believe to be authoritarian and theologically rigidness (warrior Calvinist stuff) change a lovely church into a confusing morass of heavy-handed pastor-centric rule. In my opinion, it was no longer the priesthood of the believer but the priesthood of the priest. I miss that early church and am grateful for that early ministry to my soul.
“At the end of this post is the “entire summary of the GRACE report. More on that shortly.
The priesthood of the priests.
GRACE appears to have seen some things that I saw and experienced. These were things that contributed to my leave-taking.
GRACE was made aware that CHBC has experienced numerous changes in the past ten years. One type of change described to GRACE was a shift away from grassroots and congregant-led ministries toward ministries that are staff-led, which meet criteria determined by staff. The timing of these changes seemed to coincide with when the lead pastor and the executive pastor started their pastorates, as stated by one respondent. As GRACE said, “GRACE is not attempting to assess whether the changes are good or bad themselves. Rather, GRACE is assessing the transparency of leadership during the transitions and how that impacted church culture and the trustworthiness of the leaders.” Discovery, the Chinese Ministry, and the Sonlight Choir were listed as examples. Participants who had been hurt by these transitions, as well as other leaders, were quoted in the report:
• A Discovery ministry leader described to GRACE that messaging regarding the designation of the ministry in the presence of elders “left the leadership of the ministry feeling confused and uncertain about the ministry’s future.”
• Leaders of the Chinese ministry described to GRACE how they felt CHBC “stopped supporting the ministry.”
• A Sonlight leader recalled an email describing reducing support to the choir. “…it will still get some money to help you out but we’re not going to help you out anymore. We’re not going to make copies. You are not going to have an admin that you can talk to. You guys are on your own.”
In GRACE’s analysis of the handling of these lay-led ministries, they noted there are often legitimate reasons for bringing change to ministry. As GRACE stated: “the common thread[s] GRACE heard in these accounts and others [were] reasons not clearly communicated, leadership not honoring and listening to those who were deeply invested in these ministries, the timing of communication, mixed messages, poor follow through, and other related dynamics [that impaired] trustworthiness and transparency. The way in which changes were handled, and a lack of transparency regarding those changes, contributed to distrust.”
A couple of days ago, I saw this ridiculous tweet.
Dane appears to be upset that people leave the church (maybe even his church.) He insulted the intelligence of thoughtful Christians. I left an increasingly mean, autocratic church and found an incredibly loving church where I have served joyfully for years. No, Dane, it wasn’t about me. It was about them. Sorry if things are tough on your end.
I wrote seven posts about the mess at CHBC. I was approached by a surprising number of folks, some of whom didn’t know that others were contacting me. I wrote those posts to support them. One elder told me I was “attacking the church of Jesus Christ.” I told him I was helping the church of Jesus Christ. What he meant was that I was attacking the priesthood of the priests. Sadly I have been shown no particular kindness from these supposed “priests” who seem to find it hard to, in all humility,” reach out and try to understand why I cared so much for the 85+ people who signed a petition about problems in the church.
Only a summary of the Grace Report, written by the elders, is available.
Only the “priests” can see the full report in a locked room guarded by a “warg.” In other words, don’t even attempt to see it. I have been told that a deacon resigned from the church, saying something to the effect that the summary written by the elders does not tell the whole story.
The leadership at CHBC demonstrates that they know better than GRACE.
Perhaps the more amusing part of this summary is that the elders wrote, under recommendations at A5, that the whole report should be given to the congregation. The priests said, “No.” This response is a recommendation by GRACE experts with experience in these circumstances. The leadership of this church appears to demonstrate that they know better. No surprise to me. This spells further trouble for the church. In my opinion, this was a dumb move that may come back to bite them In the noes.
Lead Pastor Jay Thomas often participated in hurtful, insulting humor.
As GRACE noted, “In the scope, GRACE was asked to assess CHBC’s care for those who are hurting, whether the source of pain was at CHBC or elsewhere. A main way CHBC can care for those who are hurting is through pastoral care. If done well, pastoral care is an effective way CHBC can offer peer support.” In general, caring for others requires making the other party feel safe in the relationship, particularly when they have experienced recent trauma or past trauma. Caring certainly should not cause additional harm.
GRACE reported that they “heard multiple accounts from individuals who recalled witnessing or being the recipient of insults and name-calling by leadership.” Some instances of this type of communication occurred within hearing distance of congregants.
• One congregant recalled the lead pastor and some leaders speaking poorly of other staff who weren’t present and said, “the degree of harshness that I saw, it wasn’t biblical, it wasn’t loving, there was no grace shown.”
• A former staff member described experiences he had with the lead pastor “in which jokes and humor went too far to the point where the individual felt personally attacked.”
• “Another former staff member recalled an instance when she heard two pastors making fun of another staff person in that staff person’s absence immediately after a staff meeting in which the staff person had shared a certain theological view.”
GRACE noted that “much of this communication was couched in humor and innuendo. The communication left witnesses and recipients feeling confused and humiliated. Indirect, veiled, and subtle put-downs couched as jokes are sometimes used by others because it affords the communicator the ability to deny any ill intent or argue they are being misrepresented or misunderstood if others take offense. The communicator might say at that point, “It was just a joke!” They may also minimize any harm caused by the communication.” They go on to state that ‘the descriptions of uncaring and hurtful insults, name-calling, and jokes shared with GRACE reveal that this form of hurtful communication has been experienced by staff members as early as 2012 and as recent as 2022, revealing a pattern of communication over time that has not been adequately addressed and reformed.” The person most often mentioned related to this form of speech was the Lead Pastor. GRACE noted that this type of communication used by those with more power toward those who held less power can be particularly hurtful.
“A follower, such as a staff member, should not have to be put in a position where they are unsure of whether their leader is crossing boundaries, uncertain as to what their leader really thinks of them, and uncomfortable with the denigration of others in their absence. Followers should not have to be put in a position where they have to decide whether or not to say something about the appropriateness of their leader’s communication.
Name-calling, jokes, and insults fail to live up to the biblical standards of speech that ought to edify and build up. Paul told the believers at Ephesus to not let any unwholesome talk come out of their mouths, but only that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Caring communication is wholesome and promotes the well-being of others. When pastoral care involves the awareness of and concern for the needs of those under the church’s care, thenpastoral communication will be focused on that which promotes the building up of the body in accordance with the needs of the body. Additionally, edifying pastoral communication will serve the good of the whole group – those who listen will also benefit. The descriptions of the communication in this section describe a kind of speech that fails to meet these biblical standards, standards that apply not only to pastors but to all believers.”
I will never be part of a church where the lead pastor is insulting and unkind.
The above paragraphs were a seriously disappointing revelation to me. I never found Jay particularly outgoing or people-centered. My husband once told him that he needed to try to smile more. He did not take the suggestion. In my current church, the pastors are other-centered and are known for their kindness and concern for others. I have never heard one unkind or insulting thing said by them.
To find that Jay Thomas (the elders prefer not to use names, but the only Lead pastor is Jay Thomas.) I am shocked that the elders allowed things to go on like this. With this in mind, I would not recommend anyone attend CHBC unless the pastor leaves or has spent some time in personality reconstruction. Seriously, CHBC, Your lead pastor insults others?
GRACE wants CHBC to forgo NDAS and release all those who had NDAS.
Today I listened to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Episode 14, The Tempest. As Mars Hill began to implode, people became concerned about the apparent automatic NDA applied to all the staff who left. If they didn’t sign the NDA, they would not get severance. Many in the church found this practice wrong. Why would a church want to keep former employees quiet? Isn’t a church supposed to be transparent?
GRACE concluded “[t]hese agreements had the effect of silencing former employees and isolating them upon departure. In effect, these agreements were not transparent and gave the perception that CHBC was taking a posture of protecting the institution through use of these agreements.
…GRACE is particularly concerned about the use of limiting agreements in cases in which there is a power differential. They also warn that the use of such agreements “raise concerns when dealing with situations of sexual misconduct and may have the impact of silencing a victim. Failing to disclose abuse may also have the effect of covering up abusers and their misconduct,” though it should be noted that no instances of sexual misconduct were alleged by any of the witnesses surveyed or interviewed by GRACE.
I spoke with an elder who said, “All churches and businesses use them.” I asked if this meant it was OK. There is no place for the church to use these tactics. It leads me to believe that the church fears its underbelly will be exposed. And more and more, there appears to be much to be told.
CHBC is a strongly complementarian church, and women often feel sidelined.
This is no surprise in a church that has radically changed its theological base to espousing hard-core Calvinism. Grace said;
GRACE concluded, “How CHBC has lived out its stated values has at times been inconsistent with and undermine[d] the values CHBC claims to espouse. While the formation of the advisory committee and a stated apology are good first steps, CHBC must decide which values regarding women in ministry it will follow, and how those values will become part of the very DNA of CHBC.”
CHBC has a long history of ministering to various cultures and races. Sadly, therre has been a decline in the Chinese ministry and concerns from African Americans. Supposedly, the church is aware of this and plans to do more. I hope they can regain what appears to be lost. I’m skeptical.
GRACE noted in their report that the lead pastor addressed his failure to lead well around the topic of race in a 2021 Congregational Meeting where he said, “I have allowed for lack of clarity and tussles over social theory to cloud our Biblical desires and actions. I am sorry. …..I want to grow in my leadership in bringing Biblical truth, clarity, and action to this very important fruit of the gospel.”
The need for a sincere service of lament to acknowledge the harm caused by CHBC.
I hope that the “priests” consider this recommendation from GRACE. So many times, leaders have couched their apologies with caveats. Do the leaders have the wherewithal to do this? I can only hope.
GRACE recommends that CHBC host a service of lament related to the harm addressed by this assessment.A service of lament can be an opportunity for prayer, for acknowledging harm caused by CHBC, seeking wisdom going forward, for honoring those who have been hurt by CHBC, and for acknowledging a shared priority of the church as a whole to do better in the future.
There is so much I haven’t covered, but I leave the elders’ abbreviated summary for you to consider. I would love it if others pulled out some things that jumped out at them. It’s a long one.
RELEASE THE ENTIRE REPORT OR FOREVER HAVE PEOPLE SUSPICIOUS, WONDERING WHAT IS BEING HIDDEN.
A deacon supposedly quit, saying the summary is a problem—what a surprise.