Sunday, June 19, 2011

Churches are made up of people: Part 4

As a reminder: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 3A.

Also as a reminder (in case you don't have time to go back and read all of them):
YP:  Youth Pastor
BD:  A gentlemen from the previous church's board 

Looking back it is so easy to pick things out and say "Man, that should have been a clue!"  I guess that is why they say hindsight is 20/20.

When the group was tossed out of the church, a couple families came along.  We decided to create a new church.  YP got his pastor's license from online so he would be legal.  I had been taught (by YP) that a theology degree was not required in order to be a person of God.  This made sense to me, because God often did not choose the scholars for His work.  The most important thing was the relationship between God and said person.

William and I were not married yet but engaged.  We were invited to lunch by another family who I had a great amount of respect for.  Dale had been in prison (and I don't know for what, I never asked) where through a prison ministry came to know Jesus.  When he got out he met his wife, Jessica, and they got married.  At this point in their life, they had their first child who was still a baby.  I think the baby was around 6 mo old or so.  They had been married for a couple of years.  Dale was incredibly wise.

Dale and Jessica left the church because of the actions of the pastor, but did not join our church.  In fact, this lunch was the last time I ever saw them.  It became clear to us that he wanted to warn us about joining up with YP's church.  Dale told us rather bluntly that a church created from a church split would not succeed.  I smiled and thanked him for his concern and said I'd keep it in mind.  I was young.  I was naive.  I was an idealist.  I was sure our new church would be different.

Of course it is obvious it didn't turn out.  And since the end of the story is clear, let me set it up a bit more in an effort to explain the emotional turmoil that I ended up in.

I had a great amount of respect for YP.  I felt he would not steer me wrong.  I was convinced I was in the right spot, because of what God had told me previously. I viewed YP as my mentor and I felt I had a great deal to learn from him.

When the new church formed, we all hung out on Sunday afternoons.  We'd swim in my folks pool and have potluck BBQ's.  It was a time of healing and bonding.  We originally met at someone's house, but soon moved to a community building.  The church was setup so that there were three elders...YP, BD and my father.  The idea was that with 3 of them, they would all be held accountable to one another.  I was convinced our church had proper accountability, something that was detrimental to my last church.

I helped YP with the youth group.  I took care a lot of the administrative stuff and whatever he wanted me to do.  William and I regularly hung out with YP's family.  We had dinners together.  We hung out Sat afternoons together.  We spent a lot of time together.

When William and I were married, he was the pastor that married us.  YP's daughter was our flower girl.  His two boys were the ring bearers.  YP was my mentor.  And as a person who doesn't have a lot of family, I've never been shy about incorporating non-blood-related people into my family.  YP was family.

After being married a short time, YP and I had lunch.  He asked if I wanted to run the youth group.  I was excited about the opportunity.

Shortly after I started we decided to meet at one of the youth's houses instead of the community building.  Two neighborhood kids had been coming to the group.  They lived right by the community building and would walk over for the service.  One of them was an appropriate age for the youth.  The second (the first's sister) was younger.  But she was old enough that she participated well.  This was the only church she got to attend.

After we changed locations, I would pick up the girls and take them to meet at the house.  They lived in my neighborhood, so this wasn't really a problem.  About 2 weeks into this YP and I had lunch again.  This time, he ordered me to tell the parents that the older girl could go but not the younger.  I questioned it and he told me it was for the best, that she was too young.  My inside screamed it was wrong - but in general I have a tendency to "do as I'm told".

So I did it.

The mom was angry and both girls stopped coming.  I had nightmares about this for probably a year.  I still wonder what sort of impression I left on these two girls about Christians and church.  I would love to ask their forgiveness and let them know what a horrible mistake this was.

This incident was never very far from my thoughts or my heart.

Other things began to happen too.  Anytime I disagreed with YP, the result was usually a berating lecture.  If I even jokingly pointed out some of his less flattering characteristics, I was cut down verbally.  Example:  YP was always at least 30 minutes late.  You could set your watch to it.  One time I was late for a function.  When he began to lecture me I joked I thought I had an extra 30 minutes because he was always late.  The result?  He got in my face and yelled that I should not judge others until I had walked in their shoes.  (I learned very quickly that him being late was not something to even mention!)

The last time I ever saw Carmen in concert (hey - he was cool back then!), we had planned on going as a youth group.  The only vehicle in the church that could hold a decent portion was YP's minivan.  I reiterated to him that it was so important he be on time.  Because the concern was free, it was packed.  And the youth had expressed to me that they really wanted decent seats.

That week the Lord had been talking to me about time.  He was reminding me that He is the keeper of time, the creator of time...that time belonged to Him.  It was an interesting week.  When it came to concert day, YP was again 30 minutes late.  We were late to the concert...but a miracle occurred.  A friend of the church had managed to save us seats.  He was an usher at the concert.    He wasn't sure he would see us.  He wasn't supposed too do it and honestly if someone had decided to sit there, he would not have been able to stop them.  He had just set some stuff down...and no one bothered.  I really counted it as a miracle!  And I knew it was just a confirmation of what God had been teaching me all that week.

On Sunday we always shared praise reports.  And so I eagerly shared mine...I had said that we ended up being 30 min late to the concert...yadda yadda yadda.  I was beaming to share what God had done!  When I sat down YP pointed his finger inches from my nose and very sternly said "You will not work here Satan!  You will not affect the life of me or my family!" 

The words went through me like a flash.  They cut me to the core.  The hurt and pain welled up in me and I couldn't hold it in or keep a brave face.  I certainly didn't want YP to see me cry so I ran out of the room.  My mother followed me out and hugged me, told me it wasn't my fault and that he was wrong.  All I knew was I didn't really care that he was late...again.  All I cared about was that God took care of it.  And THAT was my point!  I felt humiliated.

Our youth group was small.  There were 5-6 kids total.  For a majority of the time during my tenure as youth leader, I was picking up of 3 of these kids.  Two lived in community on the edge of town on the east side.  The other lived about 30 minutes west of my city.  So I spent my Wed evenings driving.  It was an hour and a half to pick them up.  I put a lot of miles on my car in a hurry.  And gas?  Yeah - I spent a lot of money on gas.  I did this for 1.5-2 yrs.  I looked at it as part of my service.  These kids wouldn't go if I didn't pick them up.

Often I would be told about plans for the youth group by the youth...meaning at some point YP had made some plans, expecting me to follow through with them and telling the youth but not me.  I was not pleased.  At first I tried to talk to him about it, but he would not acknowledge that it was a problem.

William and I bought a house.  We had a weekend to get out of our apartment and into our house.  While we didn't have a lot of stuff,  but the move still required time.  That same weekend our church decided to have a harvest party.  William and I had already decided we weren't going to make it.  The Sun before in church YP announced that the youth would be performing a skit.  He smiled wide at me and said "I'm sure it will be great!"  I just starred.  We hadn't been practicing a skit.  That was the first I had heard of it.

After church I tried to explain to YP that we were moving.  I told him I hadn't planned on even attending because we were already busy.  He just smiled again and said "I'm sure you will figure something out!"

This was the final straw for me.  I did the skit, attended the party (while poor William was left at home to clean a fridge we had been given).  I swore I would not do this again.  I felt so bad I wasn't there to help William.  Whenever it happened from then on, I'd smile and refer to YP about any details.  I couldn't be responsible for every idea he had float through his head. 

Each summer we went to camp - the same camp.  I had brought up ideas about trying out different camps or doing anything different, but YP insisted that we had to go to this one camp.  They did the same thing every year, and after about the 4th year of it (2 years of me going as a youth and 2 as a leader), I had come to sort of view the camp as fake.  I could not wrap my head around the fact that "God would move" in the exact same manner each and every year (right down to the way the alter calls were conducted - with word for word speeches).  But as with anything else, if the idea did not come from YP, then the idea was not approved and did not come from God.

The last summer as the youth leader, I was working with the kids to raise money for the camp.  YP had given me a set amount that I needed to raise.  It was enough for about 20 kids to go to camp.  And it was this way every year.  Even though the youth group was only 5-6 kids, we always had a ton of kids going to camp.  It was not unusual to have 20!  One afternoon as we were spending a Wed walking door to door selling candy bars, one of the youth asked me why they had to work so hard every year to raise so much money for camp.  Many of the extra kids that came did so every year.  They wanted to know why they couldn't help.  I wondered the same thing myself, but told the youth that it was an outreach ministry.

I went to YP and asked the same thing.  The extra kids were not friends of the youth or people they interacted with each year.  Typically they were relatives of YP (nephews, nieces and younger cousins).  I did not argue that this was an outreach ministry.  But I did believe that it was unfair for the burden to be placed on the 5-6 youths for all 20 folks to go to camp.  YP became angry and told me that it was God's will, that it was an outreach ministry and it was the right thing to do.  What he did not address was why the church couldn't help out more and why we needed to tell the youth that if we didn't have enough money for all, that we wouldn't go.  Our little youth group spent so much time fundraising that usually in the summer there wasn't much time for enrichment.  It was a rather large burden.

Suffice it to say - there was a lot going on that troubled me.  There was a lot of inequity.  There was a lot of things that went on that I had trouble finding a rational explanation for.

During this tumultuous time, I spent a lot of time in my car debating my sanity.  I wondered why I was allowing myself to be beat up by YP day in and day out. At this point in my life I wasn't speaking with God daily and finding His will for my life.  I was speaking with YP.  The attitude was that if it didn't come from YP, then it wasn't God's word.  I knew this wasn't a healthy place to be, but I wasn't really sure how to change my situation.

YP then approached me again.  He also lived 30 minutes west of town, near where the other youth lived.  He told me he wanted his daughter to start attending.  I wasn't keen on this because she was the same age as the girl he told me to no longer bring to the group.  I really didn't understand why it was OK for his daughter to come, and not that little girl.  I took a deep breath and told him OK, because there wasn't much else to tell him.  I knew enough to know that if he wanted his daughter to come, then his daughter was coming.  I was at least relieved that I would no longer have to drive out west to pick up the other youth.  I figured as long as he was bringing his daughter, they could at least pick up the other youth (who lived just down the road from him). Then he requested that I pick her up.

I took a deep breath and said "OK".  There was so much I wanted to say but didn't.  I knew if I did the result would simply be more berating and belittling. And I simply didn't want to open that can of worms.

After many tears and fights with myself - I had decided that if I was talking to a woman with an abusive father, I'd tell her she needed to get far faaaaar away.  While YP certainly wasn't an abusive father, it certainly wasn't a healthy mentor relationship either.  Anytime someone places themselves between you and God - it should be a red flag.  And so after many conversations with William, we determined step 1 was to step down.

We met with the 3 elders.  I told them I was stepping down and that we were considering attending a new church.  They did ask me why.  As I sat in the living room with all eyes on me, I thought about saying because of YP...but I had also learned enough to know that it wouldn't help and the result would be more berating.  The setup of the 3 elders really wasn't proper accountability.  YP and BD would completely disregard my dad's opinion and go about their business.  And two people "watching over each other" simply isn't going to work.  I took a deep breath and just said "Because this is what God wants."  It was enough of a reason for them that they moved on.  They even joked that maybe we'd find some awesome church that they would also want to attend.

William and I spent a lot of time looking for a new church.  We became so desperate that we questioned our decision and attended one service 2 years after we had left.  The only people to greet us were YP's kids.  They were elated to see us.  During greeting no one came and shook our hands (I felt like I had the plague), let alone tell us that they missed us.  YP preached something about how it was time to come home.  William and I just shook our heads.  It was a little too convenient. 

I'm sad to say that it has taken me years to really get past this.  To forgive without reconciliation is a tough thing to accomplish.  But forgiveness isn't about reconciliation.  It is just easier when it is present.  But somehow, probably with time, I was able too.  I do not feel bitter towards YP.  I feel sorry that he is so misguided.  I feel bad for the people that follow him and are under his pastoral leadership.  

This post has taken me about 1.5 wks to write due to my limited time.  And in the middle of writing it, I actually bumped into YP at a local burger joint.  My heart sank when I saw him, because all of my previous run-ins had been absolutely horrible.  The most positive ones he simply ignored my presence.  This day he waved at us and smiled.  We ordered our food and went over to say hello politely.  We chatted with them (his wife and youngest son were with him) until our food was done and then we sat down.  I just picked a table - but had to laugh when William pointed out it was on the opposite side of the restaurant. It was one of the more positive experiences I had, but it certainly wasn't enough to let someone who had made my life so miserable anywhere near my life.  One of my church family used to attend his church (well after I did), and while we have never spoken of the commonality...I know enough to know that YP has not changed one bit.  But the table choice was one of convenience.  It was next to the drink station. ;-)

I do have a part 5 in mind - to summarize and wrap all this up.  :)  I've already written a NOVEL but I wasn't sure how to split it up!  So next time I'll gather everything I've learned from all of these church experiences!  Hmm - and maybe a part 6.  I'd like to share how I found my current church home.  :-)  We've been attending there for 5 years.  We've been there long enough to know that this is our church home

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