Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Churches are made up of people: Part 3

Part 1 and Part 2 can be referenced.

In Part 2, I forgot to mention an important event.  This occurred during the same summer, before Russ passed away.

Our youth pastor (YP) was a jovial guy.  He was a truck driver and had the biggest smile.  It was always contagious.  We all adored him.  He pretended he wasn't bright, but the fact of the matter was that he was very wise.  And I sucked every bit of it up that I could.

I was at church, and I don't really recall why.  The youth building was an extra building out back.  (It started out as a shed - but then they determined it was silly to have such a nice shed when we didn't have enough classroom they finished it out for that purpose.)  I was walking from the shed-classroom to the front door.  I remember vividly where I was - but not why.  Memories are funny that way, aren't they?

The Lord said very clearly to me that my ministry under YP would outlast the church we were at.  If you have ever been told something like that, of course you immediately begin to think of ways that would happen.  Church plant?  Some other ministry under that church would spin off?  I certainly never dreamed church ugly side of Christianity that occurs entirely too frequently.

When Russ died, the pastor took a leave of absence.  After a period of time (a month or so), he decided it was time for his family to move on.  They wanted a fresh start somewhere...anywhere but here.  And so the great search for a new pastor began.

I honestly don't know all the details of how the selection process occurred.  I just know that our old pastor (OP) found the new proposed pastor (NP) somehow.  NP had come from a church locally that I like to refer to as the "virus church".  This church has a tendency to go in, take whatever it is from a church and leave - usually some physical thing that was the heart of the church*.  What is left behind is just a shell.  In my family's years of church searching, we had attended virus church when it was small, watched it grow and had a view of the results of their work. I certainly was not a fan - and to this day refuse to participate in any ministry associated with them.

So naturally I became concerned.  Our church had a lot of land.  We were a tiny church, but they had the opportunity to purchase quite a bit of land in a booming area.  NP immediately began talking about partnering with the virus church for various projects to use the land.

OP was really just interested in setting up new leadership before he left.  I don't know why that was so important to him - but it was.  It could be he was trying to alleviate his guilt from leaving.  It could be that his grief was clouding his judgement.  No matter the reason, he pushed it through.  We didn't really have the opportunity to review more than just this one guy.  I learned a lot from this situation.

The first is that church membership is not a bad thing.  Our church tripled in size overnight when NP showed up.  We had to set up chairs in the back so that there was enough room for everyone.  I didn't recognize most of the people that suddenly started coming.  And these people all seemed to know each other.  And they all behaved as if they had always been coming.  They would smile at us, shake our hands and talk to us as if we ought to know who they were.  But original regular members had no idea and we stood around scratching our heads trying to figure out where they came from.

When it came to the vote, the church membership was an "on your honor" thing.  The suggestion was that if you wanted this to be your church home than it was, and they recommended that you had been attending at least a month.  Conveniently, that was how long NP had been there.  We all wrote a "yes" or "no" vote down on a piece of paper and stuck it in the offering plates passed around.

The second thing I learned was importance of church transparency.  There was none in this process.  As I already stated, I have no idea how NP was chosen.  This guy wasn't even affiliated with the "denomination". I use that term loosely, but there was a collective group of churches that were all related that our church belonged too.  In addition, no one was allowed to review the votes.  We were just told that he had a majority.  But when we all talked to each other (because none of us liked NP), we could not for the life of us figure out how it came to be that he was voted in.

So there were two theories.  The first is that all the extra people voted, and there were enough of them to vote NP in.  The second is that he didn't really win.  We were just told that so it would all be settled.  As I said, OP was bent on having the a new pastor in place before leaving.  He was also bent on leaving.  Either scenario could have happened...or maybe neither.  I have no real way of knowing because of the secrecy.

The third thing I learned is the importance of accountability.  The board of directors had no real power.  The pastor just did whatever he wanted.  While it hadn't been a problem before, it suddenly became one and no one could stop it.  OP was making decisions for a place he was leaving anyway.  These decisions should have been left entirely up to the congregation.  And while this church was related to some other churches, they were more like "church friends".  So there was no one that could step in and say "Woah! Let's step back and look at this situation a little closer." We were all at the mercy of OP.

Right after the vote, all of the strange people left and we were left with this pastor that no one wanted.  He tried to convince us to like him, even going as far as to "wash our feet" in a symbolic gesture that he was at our service.  He spoke to me, as a young potential leader.  I smiled and tried to give him the benefit of doubt. 

But it just was not working.  In true form to gossip, I'd hear little things that lead me to believe he was simply not as friendly as he was to my face.  And make no mistake - gossip certainly played its role in this situation as well.  It is easy for it to take a foothold when there is secrecy.

I didn't have a good feeling about NP and I wasn't alone.  YP had started a small Bible study at the start of all this and I had begun attending.  The conversation soon took over with the problems of the church.  YP and one of the "board of directors" (BD) had found a loop hole in the bylaws that they could use to force NP out.  So they had all the locks on the church changed, to give the people a choice. 

It was a pretty drastic measure.  And it scared a lot of the real members.  After all, we are all supposed to be nice Christian people.  The end result was that the congregation chose to leave him in.  That was all that the YP and BD were after.  If they hadn't taken this step, secrecy and wonder would have shrouded NP continually.  Gossip would continue to rip the church apart.  While odd, it served the purpose for everyone to say "Yeah, we really want him."  YP and BD handed the new keys over without complaint or qualms.

The Bible study members were aware of the actions, but took no part in it.  YP and BD told us their plans, but that was the extent of it.  We didn't choose or endorse their actions (but if you had asked me, I probably would have said it was a good thing - for the reasons I stated above!) And after the actions were taken, we all shrugged our shoulders and said "OK, NP it is then!"

The very next Sunday we went to church.  Everyone smiled, shook our hands.  We were all very friendly.  Even NP was friendly.  There was absolutely no indication that there was a problem or that the whole change-the-lock-and-force-NP-out thing had happened.  It appeared that we were going to finally move past it all and pick up the pieces of our little church.

In the middle of worship, the Sheriff's department arrived.  You could see them pull into the parking lot through the windows.  The singing continued and everyone just sort of looked to the side through the windows and kept on singing, not sure what to think.

NP then walked out, chatted with the sheriff officers and followed them back inside.  They went around tapping people on the shoulders, asking them to leave.  I was one of them.  We were told that we had to immediately vacate the premises or face being arrested for trespassing.  We did as we were told.

Everyone who attended YP's Bible study was asked to leave.  There were about 10 of us in all.

I didn't step foot back in the church.  I determined that onwards and upwards was a much better view point.  Who wants to attend a church that didn't want you anyway?  After discussing it amongst ourselves, we figured a few things out.  The first is that NP called the police as soon as the first one of us showed up before service even started.  The police had been out to the building before when the alarm was accidentally set off...umm, multiple times.  HAHA!  And each time it took at least 45 minutes for them to show up.  We were about 15 minutes into the service.  Which means he didn't wait to see if there was going to be a disturbance.  He wasn't interested in healing and restoration.  He just wanted us gone.

We also figured out that someone told him who all attended the Bible study.  We aren't really sure who or why.  I could completely understand him asking YP and BD to leave.  But the rest of us were only guilty by association.

From there we formed a new church.  I will say I no longer attend this church, but will share more on what happens with the new church next time!  :-)  It is at this church that I am compared to Satan himself. :-P  So see?  It only gets better!

And as an anecdotal tidbit - several years later (maybe 3-5, somewhere in there) William and I returned to this church.  We just wanted to return and see what it was like after so much time.  We had no church home, had visited many churches, and thought it was worth a shot.  NP was gone.  A different pastor was there and most of the members were not people that I recognized...which means there were big changes.  We didn't ask a lot of questions.  We knew what had happened in our hearts.  The gossip didn't stop and NP couldn't keep it was all I really needed to know. 

* NOTE:  I don't really believe that the heart of a church should be a physical thing.  But it happens.  As an example, another church I attended before and after the "virus church" invaded had a school.  Before, the school was a very important part of the church.  Then there were some scandals that took place, which made the church vulnerable.  The virus church came in and offered to help manage the school.  They took the school over and moved it out (and is how they got their school started).  The vulnerable church was left with nothing after that...and when we attended post-event, it was a very sad sight.  Was it entirely the virus church's fault?  No - there was a bad event that took place to begin with.  But, I don't believe it is right to take advantage of situations in this manner.  And this is how "virus church" has managed to go from a tiny church to a rather large church.  Sad sad sad...and a great warning to churches to keep their focus!

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