A Letter to the Leadership of the Church
July 25, 2008
To the Senior Pastor, Associate Pastors and Church Leadership,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter and I do not send it lightly. I spent a lot of time in thought and prayer deliberating about what I should say. When I sought the council of godly men and women, it was advised that I wait for a time to be sure that I was not reacting in haste or anger and so that I could be clear on what I felt the Lord wanted me to say. I heeded that advice and put the letter aside for a time to wait and see what the Lord would do and how events would unfold. In recent weeks the Spirit began to urge me to take up the letter I had begun and finish it.
WHY I AM WRITING
I write this letter because I care about the church and about the men, women and children who have invested their lives and their faith there. I write because I care about the leaders of the church and about the burden they carry as people who are directed to build up the church and guide people towards Christ. I write because I see so much heartache and pain in the lives of people that has occurred because of what has been happening at the church.
The Bible gives clear directives to the church regarding those things I need to address. 1st Corinthians 12 tells us that we are all members of the body of Christ and that no person/part of the body is above the others. Thus nobody is above reproach. Matthew 18 tells us to speak up when we see believers doing wrong and in Galatians 6 we are told to hold each other up and work to restore those who have fallen. Thus the choice of remaining silent when a brother has sinned is not an option. Hebrews 3 and Psalm 141 exhort us to both give and receive spiritual correction. Thus speaking and receiving truth and correction is of great importance to believers and to the life of this church.
I am also writing with the thought in mind of the hope that lies within each of us as followers of Christ. 1st Peter 3 tells us, “Christ died for sin once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” He did this to provide a way each of us to make our way to God. 1st Corinthians 1 reminds us of “the grace of God that was given to us in Christ Jesus.” So even though I am talking about difficult things, there is hope for us all in Christ. The Lord’s forgiveness, grace, mercy and love make the difference in any situation including this one.
TO BEGIN WITH
Because of our views concerning various decisions, actions and attitudes of the senior pastor and the “leadership team,” I and many others have been labeled as “unfaithful,” “disloyal,” “chaff,” “dross,” and even “unwitting tools of the devil” (all labels used by the senior pastor and the leadership). I also know that I have been labeled as part of a “faction” who was/is loyal to former staff members. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had my own concerns about things at the church for almost two years, and until the day he was fired the worship pastor was the biggest defender of -and- apologist for the philosophies and decision-making of the senior pastor. Many who have been fired or been forced to leave did the same â€“ encouraged those like me with questions and concerns to trust the senior pastor and his leadership. In the end, contrary to what the senior pastor might want to believe, there was no conspiracy and no faction. There were simply men and women who were determined to be faithful to the Lord and their pastor, even when their pastor’s behavior seemed erratic and his decision making to violate the core principles of the church.
For those who don’t know, I would like to recount my participation at the church to demonstrate that my concerns come from a place of longstanding participation and involvement, not from the position of an outside critic with no personal investment in the life of the church. Five years ago I moved my family into the area, in part so that we could join in the work that God was beginning to do through the church. Even before making the final move and becoming a full-time member/participant, I offered the use of several of my songs for a music project aimed at furthering the vision and reach of the church. Over the years I participated in the worship ministry and did my best to faithfully serve and support the church’s vision in that capacity. I participated in the D-Group process and then lead a couple’s D-Group for two years. Though we were extremely limited in funds, during the building project my family did what we could and gave over $20,000 to the church. I worked on the Creative Message Team along side the senior pastor, the worship pastor, the youth pastor and the media director. My contributions to the team included participating in general discussions, helping to plan the message calendar and various sermon series, and contributing to the creative process. At times I provided input to the worship pastor and media director on some of the messages they wrote for the senior pastor. I worked on the heroes series with the media director and wrote the bulk of the Batman/Grace message, worked with the worship pastor to develop a two-part Thanksgiving series (a series which I also helped present), and wrote the bulk of the four part Christmas series that was used this past December. I also worked with the media director on last year’s Halloween event, which included writing the story and doing the voice-over narration for the theme video.
All of that to say, if I was really serious about wanting to try and “bring down the church and the pastor” (as has been alleged by several of those in leadership) I certainly would not have spent time trying to make any sort of meaningful contribution to the life or success of the church. And the little that my family and I contributed does not even come close to describing the contributions of a great many others who dedicated years and years of service and sacrificed significant amounts of time, money and resources, but who have also been pushed aside and/or forced to leave the church. 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.
To be clear, I am talking about families and individuals such as…(Here I have removed the names of the individuals and families that were included in this paragraph, all told over 100+ people).
These people have been given the labels I referred to earlier â€“ “dross,” “chaff,” “unfaithful,” “disloyal,” “sifted,” and “unwitting tools of the devil.” According to the senior pastor, these people are all part of the useless/unusable stuff (the literal meaning of “dross” and “chaff”) that the Lord has cleared away from the church. These are the people who, it is claimed, have been “sifted” out of the church by God so the senior pastor can implement his vision to move the church forward. It is certainly easy to throw labels at a vague, nameless group but much more difficult when one remembers that there are names, faces, relationships and years of shoulder-to-shoulder worship and service attached to that supposedly subversive “faction.”
In the following pages I have attempted to present the concerns that I have and that I, to one degree or another, share with those people I mentioned above. With each of these concerns I could give many examples; however, I have chosen to give only a few as they are simply illustrative of patterns of behavior. There are many others who could fill in their own experiences and examples to a much greater extent.
CONCERN I: VIOLATION OF THE HEART ATTITUDES
This concern is the most critical because all the other concerns flow from it. For each heart attitude I have indicated which specific concerns in this letter address them more fully. For several years the church utilized an in-house discipleship program. One of the key components of the program and, indeed, one of the cornerstones of the church’s view of the faith, is rooted in several “heart attitudes.” Looking over these heart attitudes (which one learns about in the first module of the church’s now abandoned program) one can’t help but wonder how many of them have been broken by the church leadership over the last 12-18 months. Based on general public knowledge alone, the list of violated heart attitudes includes:
- LOOKING TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS: The senior pastor delayed the announcement of job terminations for the youth pastor and the worship pastor until it was more convenient for him and the leadership. Under the terms of the firings dictated by the senior pastor, both individuals were forced to be silent about their termination and for all intents and purposes to lie to most of those around them in order to conceal the details of the firings. Their family situations were put at risk, and their relationships in and around the church were damaged. Because of the way in which it was handled, some at the church were left with the impression that the worship pastor had been fired due to some sort of moral failure, which added to the confusion (CONCERN II). The senior pastor has had a track record, especially over the last two years, of demanding that staff and church members comply with his expectations and his timelines, irregardless of their opinions and beliefs (CONCERN II, III, VII & VIII).
- LIVING AN HONEST AND OPEN LIFE: The senior pastor and his leadership team have made a habit of spying on members and staff through reading personal correspondence, eavesdropping on private conversations, etc (CONCERN II). The senior pastor and the leadership have told half-truths and outright lies about many of those who have left or are in the process of leaving the church (CONCERN IV). Some of those in leadership have tried to claim that the worship pastor and youth pastor had not been fired and had actually quit (CONCERN IV). The senior pastor has claimed that the current lawsuit is completely without basis all-the-while failing to reveal the specific and incriminating details related to the role of the senior pastor and one of his “leadership team” members in the initial causes leading to the lawsuit (CONCERN I, IV & VI). The senior pastor continues to claim that nobody has ever written messages for him (CONCERN IV). The senior pastor and leadership continue to try and “pass the buck” and blame anyone they can in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own mistakes (CONCERN VIII). The senior pastor has expected that the church place his closest friends as members of the inner-circle of church leadership, failing to disclose to the church that these individuals have financial/business dealings with the church and stand to profit from their positions of leadership (CONCERN IV, VI & VII).
- CLEAR UP RELATIONSHIPS: The senior pastor and his leadership team have been reluctant and even unwilling to mend damaged or broken relationships with staff and church members (CONCERN II, III, IV & VIII). The senior pastor has admitted to having “issues” with the worship pastor, the youth pastor as well as with a variety of church members but has made little if any attempt to properly address those issues (CONFLICT II, III, IV & VIII). The senior pastor shouted at a church member in between services and never made an attempt to clear things up with that individual (CONCERN II & III). The senior pastor and his leadership team have aggressively and antagonistically dealt with other staff members, church members and missionaries, and yet have not tried to properly resolve those conflicts and/or tried to make things right with those individuals (CONCERN II, III, IV & VIII).
– PARTICIPATE IN THE WORK OF THE CHURCH: The senior pastor and the leadership have taken people who have voiced concerns and doubts and have pushed them out of the ministries where they served, even at times eliminated those ministries entirely, in an effort to silence them and/or remove them from positions of influence. In doing so they have stifled the gifts that the Spirit has given those people and have actively moved to restrict the workings of God in the church and in the community (CONCERN II, III, IV, V & VIII).
- GIVING AND RECEIVING SPIRITUAL CORRECTION: The senior pastor and his leadership team have been confronted by more than just a few people about their improper behaviors, their treatment of church members and staff, shading of the truth, lies and faulty scriptural interpretations. Yet at no time have they shown a willingness to repent, even though many of those who have expressed their concerns have been highly valued, greatly respected and intimately involved members and leaders within the church. When members of the leadership have been confronted about the misuse of and twisting of scripture, they have either acknowledged that what they did was improper but continued to do it -or- have just ignored the issue entirely (CONCERN II, III, V, VI & VIII).
CONCERN II: IMPROPER TREATMENT OF STAFF AND MEMBERS
The church leadership in general and the senior pastor in particular has, over the last 12-18 months, demonstrated a lack of sensitivity, caring and grace when it comes to dealing with church staff and church members. In the process of treating these people badly, the leadership has also moved to silence any sort of disagreement or dissent within the church. The senior pastor and church leadership have employed a variety of improper and even unbiblical tactics including: secrecy, verbal and emotional bullying, gossip, shading the truth, lying, manipulation and misrepresentation of information. The senior pastor has lost his temper, has shouted at, vilified and even lied about staff and church members. Other leaders have engaged in gossip, lying and a systematic attempt to shade the truth. Examples of this behavior are not difficult to find:
THE YOUTH PASTOR:
The senior pastor put the youth pastor on notice in October of 2007 that he was going to be let go in May of 2008, and then swore him to almost total secrecy for nearly five months before deciding it was the “proper time” to announce the youth pastor’s imminent departure. This delay forced the youth pastor to spend months hiding the truth from most of those he and his wife loved, cared for, worked with and ministered to in order to comply with the senior pastor’s demand for secrecy. It deprived them of seeking council and comfort from many of their closest friends and advisors as they moved to make some very important decisions. It also kept them from being able to build up a support team while sharing their vision with the rest of the church. During that same time, the youth pastor’s loyalty was questioned time and again while all the while he was subjected to demeaning treatment and distrust by the senior pastor and the leadership team. The youth pastor and his wife were shadowed by members of the leadership who watched over them at nearly every function. Towards the end, the senior pastor even pulled the youth pastor from delivering his final sermon to the congregation because, as the senior pastor told him, “I just don’t think I can trust you.” All of this disgraceful treatment took place, even though the youth pastor had never been anything but honorable and trustworthy during his years at the church. In the end, the senior pastor couldn’t even muster up a positive goodbye and/or good luck. It was up to the youth pastor and his wife to approach the senior pastor to say their goodbyes, to which the senior pastor had almost nothing to say.
THE WORSHIP PASTOR:
In the months leading up to the January 2008 firing of the worship pastor, it became apparent that the senior pastor was looking for opportunities to find fault with him. Staff members saw it. Church members saw it. The senior pastor shouted at him on more than one occasion at gatherings of leaders, but never apologized or tried to bring matters to a resolution. The senior pastor accused the worship pastor of disloyalty and assigned various negative motivations to his actions and attitudes, without grounds or proof but with the demand and expectation that the worship pastor change. To his credit, the worship pastor submitted to the senior pastor during this time without complaint, working to correct anything remotely within his behavior that might be upsetting to the senior pastor.
When the senior pastor finally fired the worship pastor in January 2008, he and his leadership team told a variety of stories to various people in order to justify the decision, stories that were half-truths and even outright falsehoods including: the worship pastor had been put on notice months earlier and had known the firing was coming; the worship pastor was unwilling to submit to the senior pastor’s leadership and authority; there was a power struggle between the senior pastor and the worship pastor; the worship pastor was unable and/or unwilling to perform the duties of the position of “Creative Arts Director;” the worship pastor was unwilling to delegate responsibility and become more of a ministry manager; the worship pastor was not actively working to raise up leaders under him. Unbelievably, some on leadership even tried to suggest that the worship pastor had actually quit!
In November of 2007, the senior pastor verbally confronted a particular church member, accused him of being bitter and demanded that this individual take immediate action to remedy a situation that upset him. This member had faithfully served in various capacities for several years and was an important asset to the church as a leader, a teacher, and a servant of the church. This member had proven himself trustworthy time and time again, and yet without hesitation the senior pastor raised his voice at this man after the morning worship services in the sanctuary and in front of witnesses, jabbed his finger at him, and made heated demands. At the end of the confrontation, the senior pastor told this member, “If you disagree with me about your bitterness and your attitude towards me then we can’t do church together.” The obvious implication being that this particular member needed to either agree with the senior pastor or leave and find another church home.
A member of the finance team who voiced concern over how finances were being handled in relation to the church building program was pressured off the finance team because he refused to be “easily convinced.” The senior pastor expressed that he was tired of this member’s willingness to voice disagreement about various financial matters and that he was tired of being questioned about his use of funds. Thus, he wanted this person gone. It is important to note that as of the writing of this letter, nearly everything that this person cautioned and warned the senior pastor about has come to pass to one degree or another.
Those who served on the initial building advisory committee, people who had years of experience in construction and finance, were talked down and ignored by the senior pastor and the leadership team until finally the building committee was disbanded, leaving the senior pastor and his “right hand man” to handle things. This led to a series of unfortunate blunders and debacles that cost the church a considerable amount of time and money and which lead, eventually, to the current lawsuit which the church will likely lose.
A member and long-time supporter of the senior pastor was told that her area of ministry (a weekly prayer gathering) was being eliminated because it was going to be a “distraction” from other things going on at the church. This occurred just one day after this member openly voiced her concern in a large leadership meeting about the fact that the senior pastor was shutting down all small groups. The senior pastor spoke rudely to her in a condescending manner in front of this large group of people and then, the next day, she received the call from a staff member to inform her that her area of ministry was being eliminated.
I myself experienced this behavior first hand back in February, both during and after church, as a member of the leadership verbally berated me in the middle of the worship service and tried to intimidate me into leaving the property, all the while demonstrating such an appalling lack of judgment (and couth for that matter) that it was obvious to the numerous people who observed him and who came to speak to me after the service. This person criticized me and tried to antagonize me, tried to surreptitiously peek at the notes I was writing, and even tried to use his PDA to take pictures and/or video of what I was doing. Later, people watched as this “leader” followed me around, injected himself into my private conversations, and then at times stood nearly back-to-back with me in order to listen in on what I was saying.
Numerous others have been told in one way or another that their services are no longer required in a variety of ministries including: buildings and grounds, worship, youth ministry, helps, divorce care, childcare. In all of these, the leadership’s view has been that since these people refuse to just agree with the senior pastor and be “easily convinced,” they are dangerous and need to be pushed to the side and even pushed out of the church.
CONCERN III: IMPROPER HANDLING OF RELATIONAL CONFLICTS
It is not difficult to find stories of relational conflict that have occurred between the senior pastor and people on staff and members of the church, especially over the last two years. The senior pastor has demonstrated an obvious deficit in “relational intelligence” and an ongoing problem with losing his temper, lashing out verbally at those over whom he has authority, impatience with people who disagree with him and who dare to offer alternate opinions, and basically behaving in such a way that could best be described as being emotionally abusive under the color of employment and/or spiritual authority. These instances have been experienced by and witnessed by office staff, ministry staff and church members. They are certainly not a secret. Unfortunately, the attitude of the senior pastor and the leadership seems to be that, even if the senior pastor has behaved improperly, good employees who are Christian should submit and endure the fits of temper because that is what a good Christian employee does. The thought that the senior pastor should be held to account for his actions and his unkind words is greeted as an attack on the pastor and his authority.
When the senior pastor has been bothered by things that church staff and members have said and/or done, he has gone so far as to verbally confront them at church in between and after worship services. No attempt is made to take time and calm down, or to give a little space to reflect, or to hear the other side. There is just an immediate desire on his part to confront and do battle, an immediate knee-jerk reaction demonstrated by hostile tactics, temper-driven tirades, and attempts to intimidate.
Matthew 18 is clear how interpersonal and/or relational conflict is to be dealt with â€“
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matt 18:15-17
And yet time and time again the senior pastor has ignored the specifics of Matthew 18. Examples of this are discussed elsewhere in this letter. The senior pastor has admitted to several individuals that a large part of the reason why he fired the worship pastor was due to personality conflicts and difficulties that he personally had with the worship pastor; however at no time did the senior pastor ever try fully comply with the Matthew 18 directives to resolve these conflicts. After meeting with the worship pastor individually and expressing his belief that there was a problem, he never attempted to meet again to indicate that he was not satisfied with how the matter was being resolved on the worship pastor’s end. He never met with the worship pastor and “one or two others” to establish the testimony of witnesses. He certainly never took his concerns about the worship pastor to the larger church body. Instead, after the initial meeting with the senior pastor, the next time the worship pastor heard about the situation was when he was called into a meeting with the senior pastor and members of the leadership. He was handed a separation agreement/severance contract and informed he was fired. The senior pastor short-circuited much of the process that Matthew 18 makes quite clear, of which this is just one example.
The senior pastor admitted that he had issues with the youth pastor, and yet in a situation similar to that of the worship pastor, he never addressed those issues as outlined in Matthew 18. He met privately with the youth pastor and made many accusations and he complained about the youth pastor to others, but again the steps of Matthew 18 were ignored. He has had issues with office staff, missionaries and various church members, and yet rarely has he demonstrated a willingness to deal with those issues in a proper, healthy, Biblical fashion. His typical response is to put the blame back on the other person and expect them to deal with it as though it was entirely their fault. It would appear that the senior pastor believes his position of “boss” and pastor supercedes the directives of Matthew 18. That is unfortunate, because in actuality the Matthew 18 model would serve to enhance the quality of leadership that a pastor brings to a church, not hinder or diminish it.
CONCERN IV: USE OF HALF-TRUTHS AND LIES
Since the first signs of trouble many months ago, the leadership of the church has actively worked to hide/obscure various decisions related to church finances, personnel changes, building and construction, financial expenditures, changes to and elimination of various church ministries, etc. Differing and even conflicting explanations have been provided for any number of decisions â€“ from the firing of the worship pastor and the firing of the youth pastor; to explaining why the media director left the church and explaining why various musicians are no longer a part of the worship ministry and/or attending the church; to urging people to leave their various areas of ministry and encouraging people to just leave the church entirely; to changes to the by-laws and changes to the voting requirements of the membership; to changes to the structure and responsibilities of the leadership teams and the elimination of various ministries and opportunities for service; to difficulties in the construction process and financing and the use of church funds to cover various questionable expense.
One of the most surprising examples of recent half-truths and lies involves the senior pastor’s sermons. For a few years, the senior pastor has benefited by having on staff a worship pastor and a media director who were both willing and able to assist with the preparation of messages. Contrary to what has been said by the senior pastor and members of his leadership team, these two men did more than just do “research.” They wrote entire sermons for the senior pastor. Some of these messages were used in their entirety and some were revised by the senior pastor before being delivered. But no matter how one views it, what these two staff members did was a lot more than just “research.”
As previously mentioned, I myself wrote four messages at Christmas time for the senior pastor based on an idea that I pitched at a Creative Message Team meeting. Each of the messages underwent various amounts of revision under the senior pastor’s pen but each sermon was delivered with entire sections intact from what I had written. It seems odd that the senior pastor and his leaders would call this “research.” More recently, the senior pastor delivered a series of sermons based on the 40 Days of Purpose, sermons that were actually prepared by Rick Warren and supplied to churches who use the 40 Days program. Granted that the senior pastor may have done some revision on the content, is it truthful/honest to describe Rick Warren as a “researcher” for the senior pastor? Even more recently it has come to light that the “green” series on giving that the senior pastor just finished was actually taken from/based on a series that was delivered at a church in Texas by his mentor. Would the senior pastor describe this other pastor as a “researcher” as well?
CONCERN V: IMPROPER TEACHING AND USE OF SCRIPTURE
Since October/November of 2007, the senior pastor and his leadership team have pushed a series of teachings during the Sunday services and at a variety of leadership gatherings. The underlying thought behind these teachings is that passages such as I Corinthians 1:10 and Hebrews 13:17 support an authoritarian, top-down structure.
I Corinthians 1:10 â€“ “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
According to this leadership model, it is the senior pastor whose job it is to “set the vision” while the subordinate staff and general church membership are to support the vision and follow it. According to the senior pastor (and in spite of a lack of biblical support for this), the central members of the leadership team serve as “defacto elders” (the senior pastor’s words) who are there to help the senior pastor implement his “vision.” Anyone who has a problem with the vision or with the decisions made while implementing it must “obey,” “submit” and be “easily convinced” to follow the pastor or leave the church. Any attempt to disagree with the senior pastor is viewed as an attack on God’s authority and is rebuffed immediately with a resounding rebuke and a warning to not stand in God’s way and not to be “tools of the devil.” One Christian woman (who has only been a Christian for a short while and has been having considerable doubts about the senior pastor) recently contacted someone who had left the church because she had been given the impression that to disagree with the senior pastor and his teaching was to disagree with God. She had been lead to believe that she had put herself in danger of going to hell.
However, contrary to what is being taught by the senior pastor and being pushed by the leadership, an authoritarian interpretation of these passages does not fit. While the senior pastor and his leaders have been using the phrase “easily convinced” like a mantra, this is not the case in the context of the Corinthians passage, which is clearly a reference to being in agreement with other believers about the nuts and bolts of the faith and what it means to be followers of Christ. There is nothing in this passage about being united behind the vision of a single leader. In fact, just two verses later, Paul makes it clear that being in agreement without division has nothing to do with following any single person:
I Corinthians 1: 12-13 â€“ One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
These verses clearly go against the senior pastor’s claim that people are to be “easily convinced” to follow him and his vision. In reality, this passage demonstrates that Christians are called to be “easily convinced” about what it means to be followers of Christ and not be bogged down in focusing on being loyal to individuals. And yet this is the senior pastor’s exact expectation, that staff and church members commit to following him (the senior pastor) and commit to being a part of his organization and his vision. In fact, one of the accusations made by the senior pastor against the worship pastor was that the worship pastor was more loyal to the church than he was to the senior pastor. The senior pastor’s expectation was that loyalty should go first to him and then to the church, which stands in direct contradiction to the larger context of 1 Corinthians 1.
As one of the memory verses from the discipleship group process, Hebrews 13:17 obviously deals with the idea of spiritual authority. Unfortunately, the senior pastor and his leaders have been trying to say that this verse is telling believers that they are to follow and agree with the vision and decisions being made by the senior pastor of the church. They are telling people that to question the decisions of the senior pastor and his leadership is to fail to submit to the God-appointed authority there. The senior pastor even went so far as to declare in at least one leadership meeting that I attended that those who disagree with the decisions/actions of the leadership and who vocalize their concerns are getting in God’s way and are actually being used as “unwitting tools of the devil” to thwart God’s will.
A look at this Hebrews passage in the larger context, however, demonstrates that once again an authoritarian interpretation is ill considered. Hebrews 13:17 is preceded by an earlier verse which says â€“ “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” So before being told to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority,” the writer of Hebrews actually establishes general criteria to use when deciding who should be obeyed and submitted to. We are told to observe our leaders and to watch for the outcome of how those leaders live their lives and how they live out their faith. Obviously, if leaders live their lives in such a way that demonstrates weaknesses in character, personality, theology, decision-making, etc, then those leaders disqualify themselves and the members of the body should look elsewhere for leadership and guidance. Such is the case at this time at the church.
One member of the leadership team in particular has demonstrated an almost total lack of ability when it comes to proper uses of scripture and, indeed, proper Biblical perspectives in general. Over the last several months it has become painfully obvious that he has very little concept of proper Biblical exegeses, spending much of his time in misapplication and eisegesis of Scripture. He has made a habit of using verses out of context both in conversations he has had with members as well as in correspondence that he has helped to draft on behalf of the senior pastor and the leadership. Perhaps if he had spent time in the 5 modules of the discipleship program of the church, he would have been better versed in the proper understanding of and application of Biblical truths. This person’s apparent lack of credible Biblical knowledge has led him to demonstrate numerous examples of improper and/or even unbiblical attitudes and behaviors. On this leader’s own blog he has bemoaned how inconvenient it is when nonbelievers and “two-timers” (those who come to church twice a year at Christmas and Easter) take up room in the auditorium, drink all the coffee and use up all the good parking. This most certainly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the heart and soul of the Christian faith, especially coming from a “leader” in the church.
CONCERN VI: IMPROPER METHODS FOR CHOOSING LEADERS
The senior pastor has pushed the idea that he should be the one to appoint those on the leadership teams because, according to his statements at leadership and finance meetings, he is the senior pastor and so he needs people that he can get along with and trust. According to him, only the senior pastor would really know their qualifications to serve in leadership capacities. In the senior pastor’s own words, the members of the leadership team are equivalent to elders. If that is the case, then these “elders” should be vetted as recommended in the New Testament to ensure they are truly qualified to be leaders within the Body. I Timothy 3 and other passages lay out clear qualifications and methods for evaluating elders and leaders in the church, and none of those methods include simply taking the word of a single person no matter who they are.
In 1st Timothy we are given a variety of measures by which to evaluate these pseudo-elders including: being above reproach, being temperate and self-controlled, being respectable, being hospitable, able to teach, not violent, being gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, having a good reputation, deserving of respect, being sincere, being honest/not dishonest, being holders of the deep truths of the faith. One of the last pieces of instruction given is in verse 10 â€“ “They must first be tested and then, if nothing is found against them, they should be allowed to serve the church as leaders.” The senior pastor is promoting the idea that his personal opinion equates to the “testing” of these individuals to determine whether or not they are qualified. In light of this passage and others, that idea is obviously false. The 1st Timothy directives are obviously there to provide criteria for evaluation that eliminates the chance for a single person to substitute their own preferences in making these types of decisions. In fact, if the New Testament model were actually being used one would wonder if all of the members of the leadership team would qualify to stand and function as elders. Why is it that at least one member of the current leadership team was never even required to go through the church’s own “vetting process” (namely the discipleship modules) as was required for all other leaders of the church, regardless of their church experience and background? Why it is that this “leader” has been allowed to continue to serve in that capacity even though he has, time and again, demonstrated poor judgment, a lack of character and a willingness to act dishonestly, which are all violations of the 1st Timothy directive?
CONCERN VII: FAILURE TO DISCLOSE CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
It is disturbing to hear that to one degree or another, the primary members of the church leadership team benefit financially from outside business contracts with the church. If church members are asked to place people in positions of influence and authority, it is common sense that they should be given the whole picture including the fact that the people in whom they are being asked to place their trust have a monetary stake in the operations and financial decisions of the church. Failure to disclose this information puts the church in a very difficult position when it needs to make difficult decisions related to these business relationships.
Over the last year there has been more than one occasion when there were “difficulties” with the church insurance (failure to add dependents and/or change the status of a policy). One or more of the leadership team members is responsible wholly or in part for this insurance contract and is thus wholly or in part responsible for these insurance “gaffs.” In the business world, such gaffs on the part of an insurance provider would result in some sort of immediate action â€“ the cancellation of the contract, a demand for immediate restitution, a letter of complaint to the state insurance commission. But in this case, nothing was done. Was this because of the undisclosed financial connections between the leadership team member(s) and the church? One might wonder if the senior pastor would be so quick to let things go if it had been his own insurance that had been affected.
Over the last several years the church staff has been forced to deal with computers and network systems that have been less than satisfactory. And yet, since a member of the leadership team owns the business that supplies the church with its IT requirements, the church has been forced to just accept whatever it was given. This fact is more troubling when one considers that at one point the church had hardware, software and I.T. professionals as active members who freely volunteered to give their time and services to manage all of the church’s I.T. needs free of charge. And yet, without consulting anyone the senior pastor chose to award an IT contract to one of his friends who also ended up on the church’s “leadership team.” If the senior pastor was spending his own money on substandard service, would he be so quick to look the other way?
CONCERN VIII: BLAME SHIFTING
The senior pastor and the leadership have taken to directing the blame for the ongoing troubles of the church in any and all directions except back at themselves.
The senior pastor and his leaders have blamed a particular blog for any number of things, from the continued flight of members away from the church, to the precipitous drop in financial giving, to drop in active participants, to people questioning the motivations and decisions of the leadership. Within the last week, one prominent church leader told a church member that this blog “exists solely to destroy the church.” The same or similar things have been declared by the senior pastor and other members of the leadership for the last several months. Of course, this ignores the fact that this particular blog existed for nearly three years before things began to go bad at the church. It also ignores the fact that out of the 1500+ posts on this particular blog, only 3 or 4 could be said to deal with church-related issues, and even at that neither the church nor the senior pastor have ever been mentioned by name. Some of the leaders have come to the blog and left anonymous comments, believing that they would not be found out, but they have never approached this blog in the open and asked to defend, clarify or deny anything that has been said there.
Besides this blog, the senior pastor and his leaders have blamed the current financial crisis at the church on those who decided to leave, even though over the past 12-18 months they have been quite happy to declare that anyone who disagrees with the leadership should go. It is as though they expected that those who would not be “easily convinced” would leave but would keep tithing to the church.
The senor pastor and leadership have tried to blame former staff and church members for speaking out and creating discontent within the church, even though most have remained silent these past months. As I mentioned previously, the senior pastor and his leaders have even gone so far as to declare that those who have who have spoken up and/or been resistant are “unwitting tools of the devil.”
THE IMPLICATIONS OF IT ALL
As followers of Christ we are exhorted to utilize the critical thinking abilities that the Lord gave us. 1st Thessalonians 5:21 tells us, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” In Acts 17, we are told, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” In Acts the Bereans are commended because they did not even trust the words of Paul himself until they tested them against the light of scripture, and then in 1st Thessalonians Paul tells the church of Thessalonica that they are to test everything. Yet at the church, when members move to be imitators of this model of Christianity they are viewed by the senior pastor and church leadership as a threat that must be silenced and/or eliminated. At one point the senior pastor became angry and took offense when he saw materials on the worship pastor’s desk that indicated that the worship pastor had been studying through the content of a handout that the senior pastor had created and used at a leadership meeting. He became even angrier when he found out that a copy of this same handout had been given to a former church attendee who had done his own study of the contents of the handout. Unfortunately the senior pastor blamed the worship pastor for giving this copy to the former church member, when in reality I was the one who was responsible for making the copy. So rather than people being commended for their diligence, study and adherence to the principles found in Acts and 1st Thessalonians, the senior pastor and the leadership take offense at it.
I have no doubt that the Lord we serve is the God of Mercy and Miracles who is able to intervene at any time in the life of this church. Many of us are praying that in His mercy the Lord will do just that. But for that to happen, the senior pastor and the leadership will be called to account for what they have said and done. Staff and members alike have been treated horribly. Financially imprudent decisions have been made against the advice and wisdom of those who were in a position to know better. Sincere and well-intentioned questions have been asked and words of caution shared, only to be met with derision and animosity. Pride and insecurity have choked out love and compassion. Spiteful words have been spoken while half-truths and lies are spread. The senior pastor and leadership have demonstrated the classic signs of spiritual abusers: over-emphasis on authority; intimidating followers with vague ominous threats; creating an “us -vs- them” mentality; excluding outsiders and those who have been pushed out of the church; discouraging the practice of asking questions; the vilification of those who express doubt and that question decisions/actions. For the church to continue onward in a healthy, positive direction, these unchristian attitudes and behaviors will have to be dealt with. God will not honor an organization that harbors roots of darkness within itself. The leaders need to be prepared for what is coming. The writing on the wall has been written large by the hand of God, and the time is fast approaching for a time of accountability.
On several occasions, the senior pastor has been asked how he would know if the decisions he has been making are the right ones. For months the senior pastor’s answer was the same – If God blessed him and the church, then he was right. Of course, what the senior pastor left unsaid is that the opposite is also true. If God withdraws His blessings from the church and its leadership, then it is obvious that the senior pastor has been wrong. Thus far, as I have discussed at length in this letter, the evidence is overwhelming that the senior pastor and his leaders have been wrong. The church is suffering by every measure â€“ financially, spiritually, socially. Its reputation in the community has been damaged. Its staff is disheartened. The leadership is in shambles. Its senior pastor is showing all the signs of burn out.
Meanwhile, while the senior pastor and the leadership have acted so dishonorably, God has chosen to honor and bless those whom they have dishonored. The worship pastor was offered a job at a larger church supervising a large staff and doing precisely what the senior pastor and his leaders claimed he was unwilling/unable to do. The youth pastor has been accepted into a highly respected missions program and has been positively acknowledged by numerous individuals who have pledged to support he and his wife both now and once they head out onto the mission field. Many people from the youth program (youth, their parents and most of the youth workers) are still in regular contact with him and his wife and look to him for guidance and wisdom. The church member who was confronted by the senior pastor after worship services was recently asked to participate in helping to teach a theology track at one of the largest, most respected churches in SoCal. The list could go on and on of those who were fired or pushed out of the church and who have gone on to be blessed in a variety of ways.
And so, by the senior pastor’s own rubric it is obvious that he and the leadership have lead the church down an incorrect path. God has not, by any means, blessed them or their decisions. Their actions and attitudes have caused hurt and pain. They have pushed souls away from the church. Their leadership model is flawed, resulting in a desire to maintain power and control as opposed to building up a community of believers and encouraging the growth of God’s Kingdom. But rather than repent and turn from this course of action, the senior pastor is even now trying to change his evaluation criteria, ignoring the idea of “who is blessed” and instead turning to the age-old method of simply blaming everyone else.
The senior pastor and leadership have even now begun to play games with semantics. They claim that they never demanded that individuals leave. They will say that they never used the words, “You have to leave the church.” And it may be true that those specific words were not used, but there is very little difference between that -and- telling a member, “You should find someplace else to go to church” or “We can’t do church together any more.” There is very little difference between telling someone to leave -and- giving them an ultimatum that they need to be in step with the pastor’s vision or face the possibility of being a tool of the devil. There is very little difference between overtly telling people to stop attending the church -and- following them around harassing them, eavesdropping on their conversations and telling them that they are no longer needed in various ministries. There are many ways to manipulate a situation to force someone to leave the church, and the senior pastor and leadership have proven very adept at doing just that.
SO WHAT NOW
The verses I mentioned at the beginning of this letter lay out a clear expectation of how we are to treat others as we call them to accountability for their actions and attitudes. As the church continues to decline and as the senior pastor and leadership struggle to keep things afloat while blaming anyone they can for the failings of the church, I can no longer be silent. I must defend myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ who are being defamed and damaged by the senior pastor and the leadership. And I must speak up knowing that even now there are those at the church who have been kept in the dark and who have no idea of the dangerous path the senior pastor has placed them on.
As Christians we are called to forgive those who wrong us. Jesus gave us the model of what that forgiveness is to look like â€“ first repentance then forgiveness.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Though it is not my place to offer forgiveness for the wrongs done to the church as a whole or for wrongs done to other individuals, for my part I am willing to forgive the senior pastor and the members of the leadership for the wrongs they have done to me and my family â€“ for the lies and half-truths, for the gossip and insinuations, for the antagonism and accusations, and for the eavesdropping and spying. I am willing to forgive for the emotional and spiritual pain they have caused my family, for the hours of heartache and the tears we have shed dealing with this ordeal. The senior pastor and the members of the leadership team simply need to follow the model of Luke 17 and repent. Once they take this first step, I will gladly and enthusiastically give them my forgiveness, and I will encourage others to do the same.
I want to extend an offer to the senior pastor and the leadership, an opportunity to meet in person about these issues. I am more than willing to be a part of such a meeting, as I believe that an open, honest and frank discussion about the concerns in this letter would be a fantastic step towards healing, both for those who left the church and those who remain behind. Many (if not most) who have left would welcome the opportunity as well. There are individuals that could shed a lot of light on things and help us to clarify and understand much of what has been said and done these past many months. I am sure that a representative from the Southern Baptist Association or some other outside/neutral third party would be happy to come in as well and help us to make the time more beneficial. In the end, I think such a meeting would help us all to move closer toward reconciliation, closure and true healing.
One last thing. The senior pastor and his leadership team have claimed that people are attacking the church anonymously. I have no idea who might be doing such a thing. To the best of my knowledge, nobody I know has tried to act/speak anonymously in regards to this situation. Personally I do not feel the need to whisper things in the dark as though I am afraid to say them in the light. I openly sign my name to this letter in sorrow but also in the knowledge that the Lord we serve sees the truth of what I have said and even now is able to intervene by His grace.
May the Lord’s love and mercy continue to reign over us all.
Grace and Peace,