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Regarding the Implosion of a Church (Updated)

Scott on August 4, 2008 at 12:07 am

Implosion – a process in which objects are destroyed by collapsing in on themselves; the inward collapse of a structure that is being destroyed by the weakening and breaking of support pieces.

Few things have been as painful to me in recent memory as watching the implosion of the church where John and I attended with our families. I think that “implosion” is an apt word to describe what has been happening there. The church is collapsing in on itself due to weaknesses in the leadership structure and poor shepherding. Those things that are supposed to be there to provide internal support for the church are gone or severely weakened. Trust in the leadership and its vision is waning. Reliance on the wisdom and teaching of the senior pastor is fading by the week. Truthfulness has lost its value to be replaced by “controlling the flow of information.” Relationships within the church are fracturing and the leadership has begun to view people, not as individuals, but as commodities to be used or pushed aside based on whether they are in agreement with -and- lend themselves to supporting the existing power structure of the church.

The effects of this implosion are everywhere. The church moved onto a new property a year ago, and while it was expected that the move would give the church a significant bounce in attendance, instead attendance has dropped by 10-15% from where it was around this time last year. The giving is off on an average of $10,000 – $15,000 a week, leading the church to a nearly $150,000 budget deficit for the first six months of the year. At least 100-150 people have left or been forced to leave the church, the majority of those being members who were actively involved in most aspects of church life. Those who have left have been labeled as the chaff and dross of the church, useless stuff that God needed to get rid of in order to move the church forward; meanwhile, under the guise that they are being “protected” by having their access to information limited, those who remain at the church are kept in the dark by the senior pastor and the leadership about a whole host of issues.

Needless to say the results have been tragic. Unbelievers who had begun to open themselves up to their need for Christ have walked away from the church. New believers have been made to feel that if they question the senior pastor they are questioning God and are in danger of going to hell. Many who only knew this church as their home have been made to feel unwelcome and homeless. Dedicated and faithful servants of Christ have been treated as useless traitors.

Given the ongoing situation at the church, I felt lead to write a letter to the senior pastor and the leadership addressing many of the concerns that have arisen over these past several months. I sent the letter over a week ago and have not received any sort of official response. I ended it with a request for a meeting to discuss the issues I raised, suggesting that we bring in a third party intermediary to keep things on target and moving forward in a healthy fashion. Unfortunately, based on their silence I can only assume the leadership has decided to ignore my request. This saddens me as I had hoped that we would all be able to bring some closure out of this dark time and begin the process of healing.

Some have asked why I wrote the letter, why I haven’t just “moved on.” What I have told them is that while I have begun to attend a fantastic, vital, healthy church, it is the senior pastor and the leadership of the previous church that has not allowed John and me and a great many others to just “move on.” Each time they blame this blog for their troubles and claim that it only exists to “destroy the church,” each time they claim that various pastors quit and various members left freely when they were in fact fired and/or forced out, each time they freely lie about any number of different issues, each time they blame the church’s current financial crisis on those of us who were forced out (because our tithes are no longer there) each time they do all these things, they pull us all back in.

I am now making the contents of the letter available on a page here at the blog to allow others to see the concerns that I raised. At no point is the church identified by name, nor are the individuals discussed. If you have an interest in understanding just how quickly a church can become dysfunctional, I invite you to read the letter and learn from the mistakes that were made here. The letter is posted on a static page, so you cannot leave comments there. However, you are welcomed to return to this post and leave comments here. If you do want to comment, please keep them well reasoned and not “over the top.” Please, no references to Jim Jones and/or to drinking poisoned-laced Kool-aide! Our policy here at VS is to allow for the free exchange of ideas. However, in this case I retain the right to remove anything that is “snarky” and/or mean-spirited and/or that is just trying to be hurtful.

One last thing. Some of those who have read my letter are concerned with the position that I take regarding forgiveness. In the case of what happened at this church and in light of Luke 17:3-4, I offered my forgiveness to the senior pastor and his inner-circle of leaders after they demonstrated a willingness to repent for the wrongs they have done to me and my family. People I know and love as brothers and sisters in Christ raised this concern, and it has stimulated some good discussion. I am in the process of creating a post that works through those issues related to repentance and forgiveness. Hopefully I will be able to finish that this week. When I do I will post it and will create link for it here as well.

Update 8/5: John here. Scott is on vacation with his family this week. Apparently the leadership at the old church is busy calling people and suggesting that Scott has claimed everyone who has left the church is in complete agreement with everything Scott said in his letter (link above) and that he claims to speak for them. I can assure anyone who is interested that a) Scott doesn’t think this and b) Scott never claimed this. Here is what he actually said:

Pastors and office staff, ministry heads, small group and discipleship leaders, worship team members, basketball coaches and program coordinators, childcare providers and many others all, to one degree or another, expressed concerns that mirror my own and have been fired, forced to leave the church or (like me) been made to feel so unwelcomed that they had no choice but to leave.

Note that “concerns that mirror my own” is not the same as “people are in complete agreement with me on every point.” I do think it’s fair to say that everyone who left had “concerns.” As for them mirroring Scott’s own, I think his concerns are broad-based enough that there’s likely to be some significant overlap.

Now if there is someone out there who left the church for concerns that have nothing to do with the staff firings, the dishonesty, the poor financial decision making, etc — in that case what Scott said would be incorrect about that individual and I’m sure he’d be willing to apologize to them. For everyone else who is getting calls, please read the letter and make up your own mind if Scott is claiming your allegiance or merely noting that the church has suffered significantly as a result of leadership’s decisions.

I’m aware that many good people have been told this is all gossip. It is not. Gossip is defined as:

idle talk or rumor, esp. about the personal or private affairs of others

None of what I’ve posted on this site about the old church is idle talk. I was either there in the room or I spoke to the person who was. If I put a line in quotes, that’s what was actually said, not an invention or a guess. Furthermore, this is not a discussion of people’s private lives or personal affairs. This is a discussion of church leadership and the things they’ve said and done in their capacity as leaders. No one is talking about people’s families or personal history or anything like that.

The same can not be said for those in leadership at the church. As recently as a couple weeks ago, one of these leaders was telling someone I know that an individual had left the church not because he had a disagreement with their decision making but because of a drug problem. Now that is what a rumor sounds like. The information on this site is not of that character. Have the courage to read it yourself and, if you have a question or complaint, leave a comment or, if you must, call me. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve said here. And if I’ve made a mistake I’m willing to correct it and if necessary apologize for the error. Based on their response to Scott’s letter, I don’t think the church leadership can say the same.

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