Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Church Saga - I've been doing it wrong

Many of the comments have asked about the pastor. It is so hard to know what is true and what is not. I know many of his stories are exaggerated. I did not know by how much until we started doing some fact-checking.

What I do know is true is that there was a horrific church split from which my church (now old church) was formed. The pastor was accused of manipulation and being overly controlling. We now know that those accusations are probably true. However, the way in which the split took place was not appropriate. I was not there. However, some of those in my group were. The church called a meeting and invited all members, even those who hadn't attended church in years. There was a public meeting with the pastor and his family present. He was voted out - a close vote with a margin of less than 10. He and his family were then escorted out.

There were tape recorded conversations and even rumors of bugged offices. It was a horrible situation.

It's common knowledge that the pastor is paranoid. Everyone knows it. The pastor admits it. I always assumed it was from the church split. However, his family and those that grew up with him, say the pastor has always been that way. So I'm really not sure what caused it. I know that he is delusional because of his paranoia. He will do things out of his paranoia in attempts to take control. He makes up stories and lies. What is astounding is that he then believes the lies - so he can look you in the eyes and lie straight to your face. I truly believe he could pass a lie detector test.

I realize that my faith has been intertwined with my church. To some extent that is not a bad thing. However, it becomes a major problem when your church leader is not a godly person.

A friend sent me an article entitled "Is your Pastor a Cult Leader?" At first I laughed. But then I read on -

While many of today's evangelical pastors don't reject the foundational Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, the trinity, the resurrection and salvation through Jesus Christ alone; they do however exhibit some of the following characteristics that are common to cult leaders.
1. Specially appointed by God (our pastor claims to be "called" by God. Not unusual for a pastor to claim. However, he sometimes says it happened at age 12, sometimes at age 15, and sometimes other ages. He can not give details of his calling and has never talked about his own faith profession).

2. The cult's adherents often expound the virtues of the leader and seek to cover the leader's sins and wickedness.

Some of the 'virtues' espoused by the defenders of today's cult-celebrity pastors include:

1. Attendance has increased under his leadership
2. Giving has increased under his leadership
3. He is a very gifted speaker and communicator
4. He is attracting and appealing to a younger audience that has been missing from our church
5. He is so personable
6. He is a strong leader (numbers 1, and 2 are definitely claimed by the pastor. He is seen as "attractive" although in a used-car salesman type way. He married a woman who inherited a LOT of money. So he wears very expensive suits and drives very expensive cars. He has the air of someone who is important).

3. Entangling Organization Structure: The less truth a movement represents, the more highly it seems to have to organize itself; the absence of truth seems to make necessary the application of the bonds of fear. Cults often demand total commitment by their converts to an organizational involvement that entangles them in a complicated set of human restrictions, giving the impression of passionate and often irrational devotion to a cause.

Many of today's cult-celebrity pastors rule with an iron fist of threats and intimidation. Some of these pastors don't like to be involved in the intimidation themselves so they leave it up to some of their deacons, elders, associate pastors, or ministry representatives. (absolutely. The pastor has no respect for organizational structure or rules. He completely ignores bylaws and rules that the congregation has established. If you dare question him, he reverts to rule 1 - he is called by God or accuses you of breaking confidence. But he does not take action himself. He hides himself in his home and calls himself "above" such worldly things. Instead his minions are the ones calling meetings and taking action for him.)

Biblically-minded Christians are often completely astounded by how committed the sheep will be to their cult-celebrity pastor. Even in the face of irresponsible, immature, unethical and even illegal activities by the pastor or ministry leader, the flock will passionately defend them with arguments and excuses that are completely irrational as they disregard the truth that stares them squarely in the face.

Those that question the pastor or ministry leader are guaranteed to be admonished by him and his leadership team to cease their criticism or find another church or ministry organization. (this is where we find ourselves now) Indeed this is kind of control and manipulation on the part of the leadership entangles many of the church-goers or followers because they don't desire to give up their freedom of speech, conscience or convictions. Neither, do they desire to leave the church in which many of them were raised, married, dedicated their children and even held funeral services for their parents and/or grandparents. The church members indeed find themselves entangled by fear that the truth with banish them from what they have come to love dearly ' the church.

This fear of banishment is what I've struggled with. I've come to realize that I'm "doing" church wrong. I've been so caught up in church that I've forgotten that I'm called to a relationship with God - not a church. And I'm not finding God in this church, and haven't in awhile. So for me and my family it is time to leave.

This week every member of my small group is resigning all positions of authority. We are seeking new churches. We have also committed to trying to meet for a Bible study, realizing that that our lives have been wrapped up in church. Just for my family, Husband often taught a Sunday school. He was also a deacon. I oversaw many of the children's ministries and was in charge of the toddler nursery. I was also a trustee. I taught a Bible study this past year. We've both attended a Bible study each year. So one weeknight a week was individual study. Wednesdays were fellowship and church. Munchkin's friends are church friends. Our babysitter is a church member.

I'm struggling now to keep myself in my faith because of the anger and sadness with church. And struggling with whether I need to get that issue figured out and resolved before I find a new church -- or whether finding a new church is the key to those issues.


lawyerchik said...

I'm so sorry, Enola.... These things are worse, in some ways, than divorce. I'm glad that you and your group are renewing your commitment to follow Christ and to maintain your fellowship and Bible study times - I hope that you have comfort as you move through this transition!!

I don't know if this will help or not - I've had to struggle with a lot of issues being in a pastor's family, in terms of not having problems with God so much as certain of His followers! I have a really hard time with people who don't live up to what I think (and they profess to be) the standards set forth in Scripture.

The hardest thing for me to do is to remember that they are human beings, too - flawed human beings who will do what they should know is wrong. I have no trouble remembering that with my non-Christian friends - I just have a hard time with Christians who lack compassion or who do things that even atheists I know would never do.

The result for me has been to withdraw - and I don't know if that's a good or bad decision; I just know that it's worked. For a while. What your pastor seems to have gone through in the last church split should never happen - to anyone. That it should have been accomplished in a church by people claiming the name of Christ is unconscionable.

I wonder if your pastor and his family ever had any counseling to help them deal with the feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt, and other human emotions that they must have felt after the expulsion. The betrayal, especially, of a group of people they were at one time committed to shepherding - to have that group of people turn on them like that must have left some wounds (and later, scars).

Is it possible that the "paranoia" is more related to self-preservation/protection than power? I got a sense of "I'm never going to let that happen again," from your description, which would be a relatively normal reaction. Is it possible that some of his behavior might be pre-emptive - designed to protect himself - rather than strictly for power/control?

Situations like this have issues on both sides - pastors who forget that the church is the Lord's, regardless of size or income, and that He is the one who is really in charge, and church members themselves, who think that it's "their" church, and that they can hire or fire the pastor at will, or that it's a legacy that they can will to their heirs. put them together, and you no longer have a church.......

But I digress - you have to be able to trust your pastor and your church, at least to a point. People are human beings, after all. Some are better than others, but all people, left to their own devices, will act in their own interests first. These things are not supposed to happen in churches, but they do, because churches are made up of people. You still have to do what is best for you and your family, and if you can't work out the situation, then it's sometimes best to just move on.

One thing, though: it's possible that if you don't figure out the lesson to have been learned or the problem that caused the split in the first place, the chances are that you will encounter the same problem again and again. When you learn the lesson or sort out the problem, you get to move on - even if it's to another lesson or problem!

Anonymous said...

Seeing the distinction between loyalty and faithfulness to God and a local church is a good thing to see. Last week as I was thinking about my involvement with a local church and why I feel reluctant to commit myself to any deeper level to any of the local churches in our area,it hit me- If I were single, would God expect me to enter into marriage blindly? heck no- I have every right to be picky about that sort of decision, for lots of reasons..I doesn't expect perfection in my close human relationships, but I do expect some basic things like integrity, respect, humility, Well, when I join myself to a local congregation it's no different. Better to be single and emotionally healthy than entangled in a toxic emotionally abusive relationship. that's why the bible says, not many of you should become teachers(or pastors) the bar IS higher for someone who desires to be in a position of leadership...also why the bible places so much importance on looking @ a persons family who aspires to church leadership..if they can't manage their own family, then they have no business attempting to manage a local church. DM

lawyerchik said...

Absolutely - what DM said! I came back because even though I believe firmly in what I said in my earlier comment, there is the other side, but DM explained it much better than I could!! :)

Kahless said...

The answer to your last question is within you - follow your heart and trust in yourself.


Lynx217 said...

I've held back writing lately because I just don't know quite what to say (and I had a nasty computer virus). I guess I will just tell you what I went through and where I am now and maybe you can see some light through it. I'm not sure.
I started going to this southern baptist church when I was a young kid - maybe 10 or so. It was ok at first, though for a long time, we didn't join the church. Then, right around 13, there was a church youth lock-in (like a sleepover), where they introduced us to this youth evangelist (who later became our youth minister) and showed this horrific movie about the tribulation. It STILL gives me nightmares nearly 20 years later, it was so horrific. So not appropriate for kids. But the movie really guilt tripped me into joining the church and everything it entailed, and Mom followed with me.
Well the baptism was nearly a disaster, the preacher nearly drowned Mom and nearly suffocated me. Now he'd been a preacher for many years and he had been warned I couldn't hold my breath for long, so he should've known better.
You'd think with the trend that was presenting itself, we'd left earlier. But not even verbal abuse by a sunday school teacher could drive me away, I was so terrified.
What drove us both away was almost as bad as the movie. We always sat in the back, closest to the doors, during morning services, because I'm so claustrophobic, as was Mom to a lesser degree. That way we were some of the first out and avoided the crowd. One day around age 14-15, one of my sunday school teachers came all the way back (clear across the sanctuary from top left to back right) and tried to force me to leave my Mom's side and sit with my sunday school class (which really didn't sit all together anyway). After Mom insisted I stay and she finally left, I just started crying, and Mom started getting real angry. We apologized to our friend who was with us and we left - never to return.
Long story short, we were never apologized to, but we stayed in contact with a couple people that truly cared about us, and honestly that's what kept me sane a LOT.
I so agree with you - and I've said it several times. That church wasn't a church - it was a cult. They were Jew and Catholic haters, and if you didn't tithe you were going to hell too (never mind whether you had food on the table or not) - oh and don't think someone would come help you out. Unless you had money, no one cared about you. We went our own way, and while I struggled along the way at times, I found my focus on God was so much better for my faith! I haven't attended a church since, but God and I are on much better terms, now that dogma and rituals are out of the way! I still have friends I turn to when I need guidance, but I don't just go off of what ONE religion says.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that you should go where you're being pulled. Focus on the relationship, not the religion and organizational aspects. I doubt God would care more about you going to a church than being with Him. Sorry this got so long though.

misssrobin said...

I hope you are finding your place of peace. Peace within your heart.

It is so sad when people and organizations come between us and God. The Gospel and the church (whatever church) are not the same thing.

Trust your heart. Listen as God speaks to your heart. I believe that what you are searching for is out there. You deserve to find it and the joy that it brings.

Best wishes and many prayers.