They Lied to Me!

October 14, 2009 at 4:47 pm (change, Introspection, Leadership, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Several things led to our termination:

  1. My Drive to do the right thing – part pathology, part vision.
  2. My wife’s illness.
  3. The mismatch of expectations between the church and us.
  4. The sloppy recruiting process.
  5. The vast difference in values between a liberal church and a conservative pastor.
  6. A failure on the part of church leaders to actually lead.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23)

From the very beginning, I knew I was in trouble.  A more experienced pastor would have seen it.  Me?  I had head knowledge – but I’d never experienced this level of deception.  It wasn’t that they were maliciously trying to deceive me – not at all.  Rather, they were deceiving themselves.  They didn’t even know to what level they were living lives of deception.  It’s sad really.

I have spent a lifetime seeking clarity, purpose, and integrity.  The lack of these things nearly killed me – and so, as a man clawing his way out of a pit, I sought authenticity and transparency with an unquenchable spirit.  Most have never allowed themselves to fall this deep into the quicksands of life – they live their lives in quiet desperation.  Most hope that by avoiding the deeper meanings, they’ll also avoid the deeper conflicts – they avoid rocking the boat at all costs.

I think one of the reasons I’ve been so discouraged, is because I allowed myself to be sucked in – again.  It’s one thing to be deceived by a drug-dealing Jezebel – it’s quite another to be deceived by religious leaders.  While my recovery from the grips of the prostitute was intense; in retrospect, what did I expect?  Yet, this deception came out of left field.  I thought I was smarter than this…

They told me they wanted a leader.  “OK, that’s what I do.”  They told me they wanted to change, and grow.  “Good – I’m a born change agent.”  They told me they were ready to do what it takes.  “Let’s go!

What I didn’t realize was those were aspirational values – not actual values.  They really did want to become those things – but they weren’t there yet.  Like young adults on a first date, they told me what they thought I wanted to hear.  And, while I knew that was going on – I didn’t heed it as cautiously as I should have.  Again, like a dating young adult, they really did want to commit, to grow, to change, and to get married and settle down – but not yet.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23)

I have just enough self-determination, self-assurance, and a drive for achievement and responsibility in me, that I think I can overcome those obstacles.  And then there is context:

  • I had just come from a church plant where my word was gold.
  • I had more authority in that scenario than most church leaders anywhere.
  • We had been hugely successful among the unchurched.
  • We had not focused on ordinary pastoral care ministry.

So, with these things in my immediate past, and the momentum and velocity that I was used to, I hit the ground running.

Should I have taken more time to make sure everyone was on board?  Yes.

Should I have taken more time to cast a vision that could be easily caught?  Yes.

Should I have waited for some smaller victories, to put some chits in the bank, before attempting the calling that God has put in my heart – and commanded the church to do?  I’m still pondering that one.

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“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23)

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, `If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.'” (Matthew 23)

“But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started.Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” (Matthew 23)

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.” (Matthew 23:23-36)

I was in trouble from the very beginning.  We moved with a six week-old newborn – and a truckload of stress.  The move was a relative surprise to us – though it shouldn’t have been.  Within a few weeks of our arrival, my wife developed postpartum depression. (In retrospect, we’re pretty sure she suffered from this malady when our first child was born)  Though we had a crisis over the Thanksgiving weekend, I didn’t really catch on to the seriousness of my wife’s disease for several months.

There were times when I didn’t believe it was safe to leave the house.  I feared for the safety of my family.  But, being the hard-driving, recovering workaholic that I am, I pushed on.  I would take care of my family during the day – while trying to work – and then stay up late building websites, reading, building relationships, and working through the stresses of the day.  It was a miserable time in our lives, and it wasn’t until I full realized the seriousness of my wife’s illness that I got serious about dealing with it.

Now here’s where things get interesting.  Because I was in denial about her depression, I was still pushing forward with the church.  As I admitted to my superiors and overseers, this was most likely a pathological desire to succeed, regardless of the hardships.  I’m not sure they heard me when I tried to explain this.  It might have been a bit too touchy-feely.  But in retrospect, that’s how I see it – because of, not despite of, but because of the hardships at home, I became more driven.

I wouldn’t have been able to see that in myself if I hadn’t spent a lifetime chasing those demons out of my life.  The sins of my father, and his fathers, have been passed onto me in generational curses.  I’ve spent the last 20+ years trying to exorcise those demons – ever since my baptism.

Like a bulldozer, I only get more determined in the face of opposition.

Depression is an ugly disease.  It has a lot of social stigma attached.  Though it isn’t anything that my wife could control – a high percentage of new mothers experience postpartum depression – we often think it is a character flaw.  So, we hide it.  That’s what we did.  We desperately needed help, but we didn’t experience a level of safety that allowed us to let down our guard.  It’s sad when the one place that is supposed to be a refuge, our church, isn’t.  In the meantime, family and close friends were far, far away.  It was a very desperate and lonely time for us.  I think believe this is why the termination was so hurtful.

In the meantime, I began to get some pressure from the established leadership at the church.  Apparently I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  What time I was spending in the field, was not being spent with church members.  They wanted that to change.  Some of their issues with me were legitimate – some were just adding insult to injury.  It is sometimes difficult to separate the two.

In seminary, we were taught to focus on the unchurched – and since leaving Southern California, I have made that a practice – with good results.  From my understanding, and from the reading, study, and lectures I’ve absorbed, the church is supposed to be a self-managed entity.  We are told that if we focus on the already-churched, they will become spiritual weaklings.  I believe this – and my ministry and my calling revolves around this.  I thought, from what I’d been told, and what I experienced during the interview/search process, that this church understood this too.

So, when I was told that I needed to spend more time with the members and less time with the unchurched, I brushed off the suggestion as just so much nonsense.  I had already met with the elders and they assured me they would assume the visitation and pastoral care roles of the church.  The fact that they hadn’t done that, was beside the matter.  Indeed, when they began pressuring me to take on the tasks that they had promised to do, well, I just pushed back.

Most pastors are really nice guys – what I mean is, they are people pleasers.  When people want something done, most pastors are only too quick to jump in and do it.  I believe this is why pastors are now expected to work 10 hours a day (or more) and be available 24/7.  Unfortunately, for this church – and the whole situation – I’ve learned to draw boundaries.  I said no.

In the business world, one cannot get away with telling their boss no.  But church is not a business.  However, some people don’t understand the difference.  On top of that, I’m a lousy politician.  If most pastors are people pleasers – I’m on the other end of the spectrum – I don’t go out of my way to please others.  I tend to tell others exactly what I think.  That is not a good thing.  Ultimately, it is the lack of building consensus that was the cause of my ouster.  They wanted to hold me accountable to things I’d never agreed to do, and I wanted to hold them accountable to the things they had promised me.

The issues they were trying to hold me accountable to are things they assumed to be in my job description.  I never saw those in my job description – and in fact, when out of my way during the interview process to make sure those issues were addressed.  I should have recorded it.

But there were two other really big issues that came between us:

  1. The first, as outlined above, was a difference in expectations and philosophy of ministry.
  2. The second was sloppy recruiting process.
  3. The third, which has never really been addressed, is a difference in values.

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2. Sloppy Recruiting

I was told from the beginning that this church was, on a scale of one to five, about a four in their level of being progressive.  The other church that I was offered was about a three.  I define progressive as being tuned into the needs of the unchurched, and not focusing on the needs of the church.  In reality, I’ve found that people misuse the terms progressive, liberal, traditional, conservative, and their synonyms.  For clarity sake, I’d like to offer a brief overview:

  • Progressive:  This is about style, not message.
  • Liberal:  This is about theology and lifestyle.
  • Traditional: This is about style, not message.
  • Conservative: This is about theology and lifestyle.

So here’s what I’m saying:

Traditional churches are attuned to a traditional format of the worship service.  They are more inclined towards doing church the way they’ve always done it. This doesn’t mean that they are not open to some changes, but for the most part, church is done at a set time, in a set manner, with the traditional trappings (e.g. pews, hymns, sermon, organ/piano, bulletins, announcements, potlucks, socials, etc.)

Progressive churches are more likely to meet in alternative locations, not have pews or bulletins, and lean more towards meeting people where they are, not expecting people to come to their facility – or their gathering.  Small groups, evening gatherings, non-sermon discussions, and other means.  Music style, may or may not be a part of the progression.  Most progressive churches have moved past making music style an issue.

Conservative churches are focused on maintaining the sanctity of the Gospel message.  Style (see above) isn’t even a part of this equation.  I’ve seen conservative churches that do “high church,” and I’ve seen conservative bodies that do church on the beach.  To these people, it is the message of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” – at all costs.  All doctrines, all creed, and all beliefs point to Him – and it is important to uphold these standards, for the sake of vindicating His character in the world.

Liberal churches are often non-traditional, but just as often have a traditional format.  The Episcopalians are a good example of traditionalists, with a liberal agenda.  While they have lavish pipe organs, preachers who wear expensive and elegant robes, and vaulted cathedral worship centers, their message, as evidenced by their lifestyle and actions, tends to be one of social justice and everyman doing what they please.  Homosexuality, alcohol, and various other attitudes are non-issues.

So, with that prelude, let me explain what I mean by sloppy recruiting.  Because I was a church planter, my recruiter assumed that I was liberal.  And because the church I was being recruited to lead deemed themselves (in a self-administered survey) to be progressive, this was deemed to be a good match.  In retrospect, nothing could be further from the truth.

My wife and I are very progressive.  I have no qualms about wearing jeans to church, adjusting the times of worship, having a dialog – and not a sermon, and using colloquialisms to convey deep truths.  However, we are also quite conservative.  We tend to go above and beyond the social norms of Sabbathkeeping (e.g. I don’t believe the choir and/or worship team should practice on Sabbath; I don’t like dealing with church “business/busyness” on Sabbath; and I don’t believe Sabbath is a proper day to be conducting community services training); we are very careful about what we eat and drink; we uphold the fundamental beliefs of the church, even if we don’t always understand their background, meaning, or purpose; and, we don’t believe church exists to meet our needs.

So, I would describe us as conservative progressives.  On the other hand, from the very beginning, I saw vast differences in the way these people “do” church.  I would describe the core leadership of this church as liberal traditionalists.  Yes, they have adapted their worship style some – while it isn’t a 1940s worship style, it is still about 20 years out of date.  More importantly, they are not very open to change.  That’s where I see the traditionalism.

I believe a more astute recruiter would have deciphered this better.  He or she would have spent more time with the church to determine their philosophy of ministry – and would have asked me some harder questions in the process.  Ultimately, in a large institution, it is easy to assume that everyone is one board with the status quo.  But I wasn’t raised in the church.  In many ways, I’m a relative outsider.  This often creates a bumpy path – but it also opens up great opportunities.  I ask questions that don’t seem to get asked.

During the interview process, I was asked to leave.  I gathered up my stuff and drove back to my motel room.  Several reliable sources have shared with me some of the discussion that occurred after I left.  Because I tend to interview well, most were ready to vote in the affirmative to invite me to lead pastor their church.  One person, who later became a good friend, spoke up.  She wanted people to take some time to pray about the decision – maybe even take a few days before deciding.  She was sternly rebuked by the conference recruiter.  He shut her down – and she was hurt.

I later verified this with others who were there – all of them confirmed the details.  But in my discussions with superiors and overseers, leading up to my dismissal, this man firmly denied this event ever occurred.  I now believe this is the epitome of sloppiness and incompetence that occurred.  At the post interview discussion, my friend said, “Just know, that we are getting exactly the kind of pastor we are asking for.” Her statement turned out to be prophetic – but my family is paying the price.

3. Values Disconnect:

From very early on, I was dismayed by the laissezfaire approach to church “standards.”  While I understand that we all have issues and sin to overcome in our lives, there are certain things that the church has determined to be unacceptable.  Of my core leadership, there were several issues that greatly concerned me.  My head elder was very liberal – and while I see him as a true man of God, his lifestyle choices were setting a bad tone in the church.  Alcohol consumption was my biggest concern.  The chair of the board, was ignoring the needs of his family, and asking me to do the same.  I now believe that it was my refusal to acquiesce to his demands that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

One of the elders had no official role, but held great respect amongst the old guard of the church.  Yet, he didn’t participate in the ordinances and worship practices that required more than sitting in the back row and observing.  He had an air of humility, but just before my departure, he was leading a band that was going to split the church.  This was quite concerning to me.  His theology was traditional, but not deep.  His approach to church seemed to be more social, then spiritual.  He talked more about his favorite TV shows and sports teams than he did about his relationship with Jesus.

Another elder was regularly smoking marijuana and drinking with her husband at a local bar.  Another was tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and was almost arrested for beating up his son.  And so it went…

When I sought advice from my overseers and superiors as to how to handle these situations, they blew me off.  I was truly dismayed.  I’d never encountered this level of cultural relativism and liberal theology in my 20 years in the Church.  What was I supposed to do?  How was I to handle this?  Are these no longer issues?

I wasn’t getting answers.  In fact, it seemed as if these men couldn’t wait to get out of this discussion.  “What do I do?” I asked. “According to the biblical mandates that I understand, these folks are not fit to be in church leadership.  But if we remove them, there won’t be anyone left to lead the church?” I talked to the two ministerial guys, but they hemmed and hawed.  So, then I went to the VP, and he did the same.

I wasn’t asking for them to fix this – I just wanted direction.  Do I ignore this?  Do I act on it?  What do I do – how do I handle this?  I got no answers.  I received no direction – no coaching – no mentoring – I was on my own.

The Collapse:

So, this perfect storm finally came together.  The poor recruiting process, the mismatch of expectations, and the disconnect in values all came together and joined forces with my wife’s illness, my type-A pathology, and my self-differentiated boundaries.  Separately, each may have been manageable – but together, they were more than any of us cold deal with.

  • The church didn’t see my exhaustion and lack of exuberance as signs that my family was in distress.
  • I called these leaders out on their leadership by example failures.
  • And when they went running and complaining to the very people who should have enacted some conflict resolution procedures, instead, they just terminated me.

That’s the easy approach.  Get rid of the guy who is rocking the boat.  Don’t deal with the issue(s) – don’t help the people to resolve their conflict, just move on.  My family had been through hell over the last several years.  Not just the postpartum depression – but we gave our heart and souls to raise up a church from scratch.  There was nothing we didn’t sacrifice in order to make that church succeed.  But to have all that followed up by being fired – it has been very demoralizing.

It’s been said, “That the only thing evil needs to succeed, is that good people remain silent.

It feels to me, and I believe, that all of this could have been easily resolved, with some good leadership.

  • If the recruiter had taken the lead and helped the church process.  Tell them they have very little say over who is “assigned” to lead/pastor their church.  Don’t give them false hope that their search process really means anything.
  • If the ministerial team had actually helped me know how to handle the chasm of values between me and my leaders.  Don’t blow me off;  Don’t assume this isn’t important; and Don’t leave me hanging out there on my own.
  • If the conference officials had sought to discover the cause of the conflict and not just treat symptoms, maybe my family could have been spared a lot of pain.

I don’t blame the church for crying out.  My children do the same thing when I point out the errors of their ways.  Often they will run to the other parent seeking relief – but we work together as a team – for the best interest of the “family.

Getting rid of someone like me – who is dedicated, eager to learn, and willing to grow – that just doesn’t make sense.  We led one of the fastest growing churches in North America a few years ago – and now we are in very real danger of losing our home.  I just don’t understand it.

It seems as if the conference leadership said:

“Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.'” (John 11:49-50)

Unresolved Conflict:

and that's the way it is...

and that's the way it is...

Ultimately, I misjudged other people’s resolve to deal with conflict.  I believe that through conflict comes better relationships.  I was hoping others would have the same resolve to deal with the conflict that developed.  I was wrong.

And with that, we were dismissed…

Epilogue:

We are learning to move on.  We don’t blame anyone for their failures – we are just seeking to analyze and understand.  I realize that I’ve made as many mistakes as anyone.  I think my disappointment is in realizing that my church family doesn’t really care about my struggles – cuz, not only have we become unemployed at a very difficult time, but we’ve lost our support group too.

Others who made mistakes in all of this, were not effectively dis-fellowshipped from their church family.

Our God is in control – and at least we weren’t crucified, stoned, or flogged like many of God’s prophets have been.  God’s people have always rejected a call to accountability – and God’s prophets have always been mortal men and women who made serious mistakes.

My fear, is that a church that has gone through several pastors in the last several years, will not learn from their mistakes.  It is never good to leave conflict unresolved.  I don’t blame the people of my former church – in fact, I have forgiven them even before this was all over.  I knew, months before this came down, that my time there was done.

I am still strugling with the elected leadership of the local conference though.  They are held to a higher standard.

I also struggle with those who failed to show outrage in the way this has been handled.

I’ll get through it – I will forgive – I’ve been through worse.  But I’m still seeking to understand.

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If you care to make comments, I would appreciate constructive comments.  I’m not afraid of criticism, but I and my family are still pretty fragile.  Beating us up more, will not help us understand.  Helping us to gently see our blind spots, could greatly help us.

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11 Comments

  1. danceswithklingons said,

    One of the books that I read that has helped me to understand the attitudes of churches like the one who lied to you is “Pagan Christiainity” by Frank Viola and George Barna.

    Our Father opened up my eyes and heart seeing that there are those who are milk toast when it comes to Jesus. Not understanding that once we are in Christ, you are a new creation and need to be changed.

    My views can be very liberal, in fact you and I might disagree on quite a few things, but it has taken time to understand about Jesus, and some never get the right message. Jesus’ Gospel is “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is very good news for all.

    What I have found is that after going through a period of anger, hatred and sadness over the institutional church, I find myself saddened for those that choose to still believe in a creed over Jesus. That believe in the Bible OVER the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    Jesus broke “ranks” with the religious sets of his day, and now it looks like you are starting to see what he saw when he walked the earth. Our Father is going to show you the true face of Jesus and take you on a grander journey than what you were on with an institutional church. Yes, even non-denominations take on the form.

    My hope for you and your family is like mine. I really screwed up when it comes to credit and now have debt that I turned over to our Father to show me what to do, and some days I still fall back on my own understandings. No way am I fully formed, but I’m getting there.
    I have tons to learn, and the problem I have is that no institution that believes only in the “church” being the way , and not Jesus being the way, will ever be able to give us comfort.

    We are all connected. When one is hurting, ALL are hurting. The earth is in need of renewal, good men are hard to find, and it is our ACTIONS that will tell people we KNOW, really KNOW Jesus and his message of the Kingdom of God and the Father here and now.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Oh, I’ve seen this dysfunction for a longtime – before I even joined the church, 20 years ago. But someone told me that it’s easier to change the church from the inside, then it is from the outside – I believe that to be true. If it wasn’t for my love and compassion for those people, I don’t believe I would have been terminated. But it was because I was willing to rock the boat, to try and change the status quo, that people felt threatened. A friend of mine said it well here: http://reinventingsdawheel.blogspot.com/2009/10/new-order-of-things.html

      Though people are oppressed, abandoned, discouraged, and hopeless – they somehow prefer this to any changes in the status quo. The story of Moses, and the reluctance of the Israelites to leave Egypt is a classic example of this. The plagues weren’t just for Pharaoh’s sake, but they were necessary to convince the Israelites to flee Egypt too. For the harder God made it on the Egyptians, the harder they made it on God’s people.

      Remember – “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”

      I knew the risks of trying to awaken a sleeping giant. God’s people have been persecuted since Cain killed Able – why would I think it would be different now?

      It seems though Steven, as if you have a one-note symphony, as if you want me to rage against the machine too. I have, I’ve moved on – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few wounds to lick. As I said in this post, I don’t blame the church people for crying out in the face of pain – that’s what my kids do too. What I struggle with are the “Religious Leaders and Teachers” who try to give the people what they ask for – but in reality, are hurting them more than helping.

      If this were a family, we’d call it co-dependence. In a political system, the leaders need the people to re-elect them. If they don’t give the people what they want, the people won’t reelect them. If they give the people what they want, the people will choose selfishness, mediocrity, and a Laodecian mindset. The people and the leaders are co-dependent upon each other. The leaders need to keep the people unhealthy, in order to get reelected (reappointed, rehired, renewed, whatever…), and the people need to have weak leaders in order to get what they want – not necessarily what they need.

      I defy anyone to show me a biblical model when the majority has been right – as opposed to the minority report (10 spies vs the two) who have proven to be on the right track.

      Jesus give us a clear antidote to this dilemma in Revelation 3:14-22

      > > 14″To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

      These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarmneither hot nor coldI am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

      Unfortunately, my church didn’t want this message. They wanted one of hope, and love, and comfort.

      > Luke 12:51-53

      51 Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! 52 From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two againstor two in favor and three against.

      53 Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

      Spurgeon said it well here: http://sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=1380

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Have you seen this review? http://theresurgence.com/pagan-christianity

  2. Kathleen McDade said,

    I have a hard time with the idea that not holding the church elders to a higher standard = liberal theology/cultural relativism. To me, that sounds more like a simple unwillingness to confront those who are in power (on the part of the denominational leadership, or on the part of the congregation). And that’s something that can happen regardless of theology/values.

    I would consider myself more liberal/progressive, but I’d have to agree that a person with an alcohol or drug problem, for instance, probably doesn’t belong in a leadership position.

    I think you have a pretty good handle on what happened overall. My experience is that is DOES take a long time, perhaps years, to process and heal from something like this. I had similar-but-different experiences working in Girl Scout camps, and have only recently been able to re-establish a positive relationship with one of those camps.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Thank you for the affirmation.

      I do believe it will take some time working through all this, what with the melancholic personality type and all. I may I have not been clear about the whole liberal, progressive, conservative, traditional delineations. Our church has a very fundamentalist streak – coupled with a very conservative theology. Even these are different (I think I’ll have to flesh this out a little more in another post). From my perspective, sometimes people choose to not fully surrender to the Lordship of Christ – then they tend to justify their behavior by rationalizing their theology.

      What may be news to the fundamentalists is that more information, and better hermeneutics, does not push people into better behavior. It is the relationship with Jesus that enables people to become the men and women that God created them to be.

      In our situation, I’m actually not too concerned with behavior – unless it is a leader who is talking the talk, but not walking the walk. This disqualifies them to lead. I see three discreet (and many, many more strata) of groups in the Church:

      • Seekers – anyone, everyone, whomever. Just come and be a part. I don’t care what you eat, what you drink, who you slept with last night, or what your secrets are. Just come and sit at the feet of Jesus.
      • Members – these are folks who have agreed to abide by a minimum set of standards and have signed on the dotted line to be voting members of *”the club*” – the church. This is separate from a saving relationship with Christ. This is just a set of community standards that brings order to our gathering.
      • Leaders – these are people who go above and beyond the minimum standards. Hopefully, they don’t even have to look at their behaviors because their relationship with God is so grounded. There behavior exemplifies a saving relationship with Christ – and as I said above, they don’t just talk the talk, but it is obvious that they walk with God.

      My struggle was that I had only a few people who fell into the latter category – and they were being oppressed by powerful people who didn’t walk in this light. In addition, there were several (so called) “fringe” people who had no voice. They were looking for Jesus, but the “official” leaders were preventing that from happening.

      Despite all the stuff I listed above – the real issue is that I was turning over the money tables. I was upsetting the balance of power. Already several prominent families had stopped coming to church – and that was a good thing. The elected core leaders couldn’t handle the heat they were getting from the old guard – so they turned it on me. Which, by the way, I knew would happen and was prepared to deal with.

      Unfortunately, what I didn’t know, is that my employer would not support me. They don’t know about the stuff I’ve written about, because they never asked. When I tried to explain, they shut me down. They didn’t want to know. The quickest route, for them, was to eliminate me. The sooner I left, the sooner the emails and phone calls would stop coming into their office.

      I call this the nuclear option:

      • If you and I are having a discussion, hopefully we will both use active listening techniques and will be open to new ideas. If not, this discussion may raise to the level of an argument, and possibly to a full blow conflict.
      • If we care about the other party, we will seek to resolve this conflict. However, if we care more about our own point of view, resolution is going to be difficult. It is the love we have towards others that gives us the motivation to resolve issues. Even if we don’t feel that love, sometimes we decide to love – and that, my friend, makes all the difference. (Sometimes we put our position, power, authority, or reputation ahead of our love for another person) Either way, if we don’t love the other, as much as we love ourselves, we are violating God’s commandment.
      • If we don’t care about the other person, we will do whatever it takes to win. Our lack of love sets the precedent and our morals begin to decline after that. We will lie, cheat, stretch the truth, defame, degrade, and deny the other person’s right to be heard. When we can’t use superior logic, we will use power – if that doesn’t work, we will withdraw. Our desire to win becomes the supreme excuse to do whatever it takes.
      • The ultimate form of power is to pull out the largest weapon that will subdue the other party. It may be logic, it may be yelling, it may be pouting/withdrawal, it may be hitting, fighting, stabbing, shooting – or a well placed nuclear weapon.

      Families and countries experience this. Someone may have an affair, they may call the other names (Hitting hard where it hurts the most – because we know where our partner’s skeletons are buried), or they may withhold affection, sex, whatever.

      We see this in bar-fights, first the yelling, then the shoving, then the hitting, and then maybe someone pulls out a knife – or it goes nuclear and someone gets shot in the chest. Game over.

      That’s what happened here, we were having nice, honest conflict. I was fighting for the weak and oppressed. I wanted to see them really experience God’s love and be set free. Not just the attenders, but the 1000s of unchurched I see who are so disillusioned and angered by the Church. Like the texts in the post above, I saw the damage being done by the “religious leaders and teachers.” I just didn’t expect the nuclear option. Instead of continuing the dialog, they went around me, and got my employer to agree with them.

      ka-BOOM! I’m gone.

  3. Glenn G. Poole, II said,

    Reading your story brings back everything for me. Since you know most of those details I’ll tell you what I’m really starting to learn, now two years out from the thermonuclear detonation over Colorado Springs:

    Transformation: God has used the terrible pain of dismissal and denominational marginalization to show me that I have had a repeated cycle of putting the religious corporation in the place of God – trusting them to validate my life and ministry, seeking their stamp of approval as the very approval of God. This idolatry has been a source of pain throughout my life, but the dismissal from Central has been God’s catalyst to being setting me free from it.
    Safe Friends: God has also begun to show my wife and I that there are actually very few genuinely safe people in our environment. Conference leaders, local elders, even “friends” we’ve had for years live in varying degrees of manipulation, self-absorption, people-pleasing, and personal-agenda driven activities. In the past, we have (again) idolized these people to the point of ignoring all warning signs (like you did when you first went west) and trusting them like we would God. We set them on a level of infallibility. We blew off their obvious self-absorption, telling ourselves that we could be safe around them. Today, however, we are beginning to realize that, while tact and general kindness should be afforded all people, we are under no biblical obligation to take these people into safe confidence. People that exhibit these characteristics are unsafe people. Without shunning them, we will no longer open to them the treasures of our hearts or entrust them with our lives.

    I know that as the fireball cools, the gamma rays subside, and the dust settles, there will be even more powerful lessons for your heart than those you have even listed here. I know your heart is a heart for God. I believe you stand justified in all your ungodliness right now (like I do), because you have faith in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t look at you like your former employers and congregation look at you.

    May you experience that true Fatherly affection.

    GP

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It really helps me to know that I don’t stand (crawl?) alone.

      In fact, as I review the careers of some of the best young leaders in Adventism, I am amazed at how many of them no longer work in the denomination proper. Some have been able to dance the dance, and stay connected, but are free to be who God has gifted them to be – without the encumbrances of denominational employment. A great many of these people are freelance writers, or tentmakers on another level. And several have pulled up stakes and moved to developing nations to participate in the raw work of being gospel missionaries or relief workers.

      Then when I look at those in the administrative roles of the Church, I see kind, nice people, but very few leaders. What is wrong with this picture?

      The pain and the angst are still very fresh and it doesn’t take much to reopen old wounds. I hate that – I want to get back to the vibrancy and unconditional love that I value so much.

      But you are right, there are very few truly safe people. Yet, with that said, I love the example of Jesus at the Last Supper. Even though He knew Judas was betraying Him, Jesus didn’t hold back around Jesus. He treated Judas with the same love and respect as He did Peter, James, and John. That is holy boldness – that is a perfect love that casts out fear. That is the kind of walk I want to live – No fear!

      I want to relate a story here, but I’m going to save it for a blog post.

      Thanks again for all you do Pastor!

  4. J. said,

    Dude – and I thought I wrote long posts! 🙂

    In my humble opinion, your basic issue seems to be that you do not yet fully appreciate the extent to which the Seventh-day Adventist Church (or any other church, for that matter) is a fully human institution, and all of the negativity which comes along with that.

    It’s human. And it’s an institution. At the end of the day, institutions exist, more than anything else, for one basic purpose: to perpetuate their own existence. That is undergraduate sociology. The Adventist church is no different: in the end, no matter how much liberal, progressive, or whatever other language you want to dress your praise service and community outreach program in, hard decisions about actual change are going to come down to the lowest common denominator. And it can be no other way. It’s an institution, after all.

    As humans Adventists suck just as badly as everyone else. They/we lie, cheat, steal, fornicate, give in to greed… just as much as anyone else. Adjust expectations accordingly.

    Not exactly a cheerful analysis, but it’s how I see it.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Indeed, you do write long posts – but at least yours are well thought out, don’t wander down various rabbit holes, and give your reader some hope there will be an ending soon, someday. As you may have gathered, this post was pure catharsis. It was written for me – but I greatly appreciate the feedback I’ve received. This is why I blog and don’t journal into some anonymous document in the cloud.

      BTW, I agree with your analysis. When I was the general manager of campus industries, at an Adventist University not more than 25,000 miles from here, I saw two groups of employees (generally). First, those who truly had a missionary spirit and had devoted their lives to the cause. Then there were those who had always worked in the system, and were it not for nepotism, probably would be making french fries for a living. It was the latter group who struggled the most with their attitude (what does this say about me?).

      I don’t know how many times I heard from people complaining about how “The Church” didn’t do this, or that, right. How they got screwed here, or there. It suddenly dawned on me (years ago) – that the people in the church, and out of the church are the same people. They make mistakes, they fail, they fall, they succeed, and they are incompetent – It’s no different. But expectations are what get us in trouble.

      Expectations are premeditated resentments.

      I asked my church to not have any expectations of me – I told them I was different, I told them I was a rebel, I told them I was a barbarian. I told them I wasn’t their typical pastor – and that I am still amazed that God “called” me (and yes I am familiar with your post that talks about this) to be a pastor, despite all my brokenness.

      Unfortunately, church-people have been expecting certain things for years – the church “leadership” (I use that term loosely) has set them up to be coddled. Why did I expect I could change that attitude overnight?

      Yes, it was my own expectations that got me into this mess. #sigh

  5. G. said,

    For the most part I agree with your assessment of expectations and how they get all of us into trouble. I was watching a rerun of one of my favorite TV shows the other day (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and the engineering officer was challenged with these words: “she did to you the most horrible thing a person can do to another… not meet your expectations.” I understand the challenge and the need to keep our expectations in careful review.

    One week after I was baptized, in the summer of 1981, I got into the worst fight with the neighbors I have ever been in. I was so mad that I actually hit a girl. I still can’t believe it. It was like I was possessed by a demon. When it was all over I was in despair. There I was, 13 years old for one thing, and for another just baptized into the “remnant church.” I figured hell wouldn’t be hot enough to consume my hypocrisy and sin.

    Since then I have hoped that Christianity would somehow help me away from that. Somehow there would be transformation, somehow there would be a real and discernible redemption. I’ve had an expectation that Christianity was a transformational religion. I’ve hoped that myself and the people around me in that “remnant church” would truly enjoy the blessings of that real and discernible spiritual growth.

    *********
    Three days ago I nearly murdered my dog in cold blood because she ran upstairs when I let her in and refused to go into her kennel.

    And I have over very painful and despairing failures of this morning that I can’t even share.
    ***********
    I don’t know what to do with my expectations any more. Expectations of myself. Expectations of my former denomination. None of us have made any progress.

    Without expectations there is no hope. I read this morning that God guarantees our inheritance. He does that by His grace, not by our keeping the Law. I have a feeling that if I don’t somehow shift my expectations to be completely grace-based, I will go completely crazy. Grace is so foreign to the “remnant church” in which I was brain-washed that I think it’s going to be a long dark journey out of it.

    I hope to make it (I guess that’s another expectation) and I hope you and everyone else who reads this finds there way too.

    G.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Well, I’m not so sure about your fatalistic (,i>or is it realistic?,/i>) view of our lack of progress. I think maybe it is just you! For, it wasn’t that long ago I was solving my problems with drugs, alcohol, sex, and anger – throw in a little food and mass amounts of TV, and there you have a pretty good image of my life.

      But, for the grace of God, I have reduced these to just TV and food. Of course, the TV is online and only an hour or two a week, and the food is well, a secret. #shhhhh!

      I know about murdering dogs. The first time I did that to my best friend, and now deceased dog, I cried. And I vowed that I would get it figured out before I had kids. Scary. Sometimes I hate myself.

      But to me, this is what it’s all about – not necessarily the transformation as much as it is the realization that the God of the Universe (the same God who has planets to keep from bumping into each other, global poverty to deal with, and people far worse off than me to save…”) – yes, that God – is crazy about me.

      He loves me despite myself. He picks me up when I fail (often). He believes in me. He ignores my foolish pledges of change – and encourages me to pursue them nonetheless. “He walks with me, He talks with me…”

      He knows me better than I know myself – yet He still is crazy about me.

      He knows my past – and hasn’t shunned me (like many who think they know my past.

      He knows my future – which like Peter, James, and John – is most likely filled with weakness and denial – but he still is crazy about me.

      Fatal? Yes – life is fatal. But this is realistic.

      Hopeful? Yes, for I am a favored son of the King!

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