Information, Gossip, or Just Voyeurism – (what about grace?)

January 4, 2010 at 11:47 am (change, First Impressions, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Upon being ejected from our previous church, my wife stepped over my bleeding body and quickly transfered our membership to another church.  This was exactly the right thing to do.  It falls in line with the “women and children first” model of survival.  I would not only expect, but hope that she would do the same thing if our house caught on fire, or our car plunged into an icy river.  I had enough energy to take care of myself, but my mangled and bloodied pysche was too weak to look out for the family.

She was looking to maintain a platform of stability that would allow our children to feel safe, despite the storm raging around us.  In fact, to this day, one of my kids continues to cry about missing her former friends and prays regularly that we be allowed to return to that church.

One day, the pastor of the new church, which is less than 13,000 miles from here, told me how they had been talking about my situation in staff meeting.  It actually wasn’t a planned conversation on his part, it felt as if the words had accidentally fallen out of his mouth, so he scrambled to quickly explain that he just wanted the other pastors and ministry leaders to understand our situation.  At the time I kind of shrugged.  I try really hard to be transparent, so I’m not too bothered by information.

But as we’ve begun to settle into this new church, one of our observations is how unfriendly the group is.  We don’t find people going out of their way to meet “the new family (us)” or even to help us feel included.  Although this is a large church of a couple-hundred people, it has the feel of a single-cell church.  Healthy, mid to large churches, are often multi-cell.  Each cell is self-sustaining in its own way – taking care of fellowship, ministry, and spiritual growth.  However, this church appears to have three cells – as follows:

  • Aristocracy: There is a cadre of people who seem to be the leaders and board members.  I don’t know them personally, but it is clear who they are.  They have an aire of command, and others seek them out to solve problems.
  • Semi-Affluent, Young Families: This group is made up of a number of families.  They are good people, friendly, and relatively easy to be around.  But due to their youth (mid-40s), and general apathy to church administration, they seem to be excluded from the inside track.
  • The Fringe: While I hate this term, for the sake of verbal brevity, I will use it.  This is the largest group and is mostly made up of people who are blue-collar, socially unique, infrequent attenders, and who may or may not openly struggle with addictions, depression, unemployment, or spiritual resolve.  These are the invisible people in the church.

In addition, I’ve seen a verbal and though pattern begin to reveal itself.  It is subtle, but very real.  Upon our intial impressions of the worship service, it appeared that this church was doing everything right.  As far as Adventist churches go, it is quite progressive.  Unfortunately, it is modeled after what other mega-churches were doing 20 years ago and despite a few modifications, it really hasn’t progressed much.

There is one thing that has leaped out at me however.  That is the value to nurture, be compassionate, and sympathize.  Now, like my wife, you may say, “Great!” That’s what churches should be doing, right?  Only as a part of a balanced approach to ministry.  If it is all sympathetic, then it becomes co-dependant, enabling, and stifling.  This is what I see happening.

During one of our initial visits (BTW, I still feel like a visitor), someone up front invited people to come to the front for prayer.  I’ve always enjoyed corporate prayer that way.  So, we went forward as a family and prayed with others up front.  I thought it was curious that so few came forward.  I also thought it curious that strangers were putting their hands on me.

Over time, I realized that it wasn’t really a socially acceptable thing for people to go forward in prayer.  Only the real broken people of the fringe, or the superior members of the aristocracy went forward.  It was about the only place these two groups encountered each other.  Then two weeks ago, I listened carefully to the man who was about to lead this prayer session.  He of the aristocracy, used a lot of words like: broken, pain, shame, guilt, help, etc.

Right after that, when the pastor was making anouncements, he too used a lot of those words.  It was as if they were saying: “We, who are not broken, really understand those of you who are.  So, let us hold your hand and show our sympathy for your pain.”

Last week, I heard the same sort of words.  They were tender words, meant to be comforting, but to me they were seperating words.  It was them and us.  It was as if one group was saying, “Oh, am I glad I’m not like those poor sinners.  I’m rich, but let me help you.

It suddenly occured to me, where much of this seperation and lack of friendly safety comes from.  The aristocrats see themselves as the protectors and benefactors of the poor, the broken, and wthe weak.  And this is where the co-dependacy kicks in.  If the poor and broken were allowed to actually be empowered, healed, and set free – do the power-people believe they will lose their purpose and place?  Probably.

It is then that my mind wandered back to the senior pastor letting it slip that they ahd talked about me and y situation.  Suddenly that feels really unsafe.  I’ve witnessed those kinds of conversations.  Whether they take 15 minutes, or an hour, they are basically the same.  There are rumors, questions, speculation, gossip, half-truths, and just enough truth to allow the participants to think they are doing the right thing to discuss this.  Often, the conversation is wrapped up with a statement that we should pray for these poor people.

What actually has happened is that one is tried by a jury of their peers, but without any opportunity to defend, clarify, or take responsibility for mistakes made.  People who participated, have developed a group-think opinion of “the facts” – and all hope of getting to the real truth is basically been eliminated.

If anyone from that group had ever sought me out, to pray, to befriend, to love, to serve, or even to inquire – it might not feel so unsafe.  But here, several months later, not one of those people have actually asked me what happened.  Worse, their close confidants have picked up even less clear rumors, and they show even more fear of being seen with us.

I wonder if Mary Magdalene was treated this way after Jesus cast out her demons and saved her from a life of prostitution?  I wonder if Zachius ever fully integrated back into the safety of the fold?  I wonder about hose two chained and naked, demon-possessed men, whom Jesus released – were they ever embraced by their community?

What makes this so real, is that this is the argument I have regarding a broken church.  I’ve seen it in a lot of churches, and it boils down to the primary reason I was terminated.  I was set on disrupting the status quo and removing the aristocracy and empowering others to be set free from their chains of apathy and addiction.

Until the aristocracy realizes that they too are blind, naked, and broken – or the other groups rise up in rebellion – we will continue to repeat this cycle over and over and over….


  1. danceswithklingons said,

    To everything turn, turn, turn
    There is a season, turn , turn, turn
    And a time and purpose under heaven.

    Jesus saw and spoke the truth, that is why a “church” will never replace Him or what he taught.

    Good truth here.

  2. J. said,

    Run – don’t walk – the hell away from there.

    You will never be “aristocracy.” You will never really be well-integrated within the “semi-affluent…” And you have too much to offer to waste your time there as part of the “fringe.”

    Or. On the other hand, keep going and blogging about it undercover 😉 (that’s kind of what I do…)

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Oh believe me, I would have made a hard right a long time ago, but I’m afraid I would have lost my family out of the back of the pickup. As I said above, this is a temporary “resting” spot – but it really isn’t all that resting.

      So, yes, the latter. 😉

  3. Brent Logan said,

    I watched a relationships video a while back (maybe a Smalley series?) that talked about the three degrees of gossip:

    1. Gossip in the first degree. This is what we think of when we talk about gossip. “Did you hear about Joe and Sally?…
    2. Gossip in the second degree. Talking about others under the guise of trying to help. “Did you hear about Joe and Sally? What can I do to help?”
    3. Gossip in the third degree. Talking about others under the guise of asking for God’s help. “Okay, what are our prayer requests? Did you hear about Joe and Sally? Thank God we’re not like them…”

    There are those who wouldn’t dream of committing gossip in the first degree who see no issues with the second and third degrees. Sometimes, it’s just an issue of awareness.

    • Tabor Vistas said,

      I was actually thinking of those degrees as I wrote this Brent. Thanks for adding to the conversation. IM (not-so) Humble opinion, this is rampant in our churches.

      And sadly, I don’t stop it, and probably contribute too often.

  4. G. Poole said,

    I do hope you and family can find a better place. I can feel all that you feel, checking your back, knowing you don’t belong (not because you couldn’t, but because you’re just too smart to belong there). I’m afraid staying will damage your soul.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: