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And Now for the Rest of the Story…

Four weeks ago the pastor at my old church started a money series. I heard through the grapevine that toward the end of one of his messages he referenced some of the events that have taken place over the last 6-9 months. I’ve heard the comments myself now and have decided to respond. First, here’s a transcript of the relevant portion of his message:

So after we moved onto the property this last summer, I was ready for some risk-free years. I’d had enough happiness for a little while, enough of God’s happiness. But then God made it clear that a staffing change needed to be made in the area of music. And my thought at that point honestly was — no. I wrestled with God on this for months. Because I’ve been around churches long enough to know that, boy there is nothing riskier that you can do than make a staff change. But I became convinced together with the leadership of the church that it needed to be done. So once again we took everything that we’d built together as a church and risked it to do what God, the owner, wanted done. And as expected some good and long term friends decided to leave [church name] and be a part of other churches. Now God is bringing all kinds of new friends around but honestly I miss — I miss the old ones.

Also as we expected, any kind of unexpected or any kind of uncertainty and change or whatever causes the giving to go down in a church. And that’s been true for us. You know our monthly giving over the last four months has been on an average of $27,000 short each month. Now, we still have this unjust lawsuit hanging for us. Now again at this point if you want to bolt for the doors no one except for John — John get out of the way of that door, don’t be by the door — anyone can leave. I’m just sharing with you family stuff.

You know a building was purchased behind us by someone in the church a couple years ago. That building is for sale. If it sold, the proceeds would go to us and that would be a huge help. But it’s not selling. We do have some cash reserves, but we can’t go like this for long. You know to use the poker term, honestly here at [church name] we are all in. We’re all in. We are facing real risk and with real risk the price must be paid and we are paying it in terms of friendships sometimes, and in terms of money.

But again, the reason we have decided to risk it all, there’s really two reasons. We are convinced that the God we serve is good and he will take care of us. And we are convinced that there is no greater goal than doing whatever we can to see thousands of eternal friends in heaven. And we’ll do whatever it takes. Whatever God leads us to do.

I had put the pen away on this one. I wasn’t going to write about it anymore. It wasn’t because there wasn’t plenty more to say. I just didn’t want to reciprocate in kind. I didn’t want to provide a “villain” to a man who seems to be casting about for one.

But now that the pastor has actually retold the story of these events in an effort to raise money, I feel the need to set the record straight. So let’s go through what he said, word for word and I’ll add in what I know. I think the people who got this pitch for funds — many of whom may be new and unfamiliar with what happened — deserve to hear the whole story. Then they can decide how to proceed.

So after we moved onto the property this last summer, I was ready for some risk-free years. I’d had enough happiness for a little while, enough of God’s happiness. But then God made it clear that a staffing change needed to be made in the area of music.

God made it clear? When exactly did this happen? The pastor told me back in January that he’d first thought about this change while reading a business book in the Spring of ’07. But the first mention of anything to my friend (the one he eventually fired) was in September of ’07 and there was no mention of God wanting a staff change at that time. What he actually said was that there needed to be an attitude adjustment on the staff member’s part having to do with a perceived “lack of kindness” toward the Senior Pastor.

The Worship Pastor humbly submitted to that correction and committed himself to working it out. The senior pastor even commented on how relieved he was by the worship pastor’s response. But there was no mention that the staff member’s job was at risk – so I suppose God hadn’t made up his mind by that point.

Shorty thereafter, the Senior Pastor fired his long time office manager and told the Youth Pastor it was time to start looking for a new job. This all took place in Sept. – October ’07. Apparently God wanted to clean house.

And my thought at that point honestly was — no. I wrestled with God on this for months.

In November, the senior pastor told the worship pastor that he had been asking God for guidance for months but that God had been silent on the issue. His actual words were – “I’ve asked God during this past fall to correct me if I’m wrong…” So when he says that God made it clear, he means that God didn’t stop him.

Silence became divine approval.

Because I’ve been around churches long enough to know that, boy there is nothing riskier that you can do than make a staff change.

This is nothing like what the senior pastor was saying at the time. I met with him just a week after the sudden announcement that the Worship Pastor had been fired. He blithely told me “I didn’t see any big reaction.” He told others around this same time that he expected to lose a few families who were close friends with the worship pastor (my family being one of those). But he was confident the losses would be minimal and things would be “back to normal” in no time at all.

It’s worth noting that while this storm was forming, dozens of people, myself included, tried to warn him this wasn’t the case. The Worship Pastor offered to take a transfer or a pay cut, anything to avoid being dismissed in a way he knew would spell disaster for the body. That wasn’t good enough.

Since then, more than 20 core families have left the church, amounting to perhaps 100 people [Correction: around 30 families amounting to well over 100 people]. Instead of admitting he was wrong about the outcome, the senior pastor and those around him have taken to blaming this blog for the losses! So first it was God’s will. Now it’s my fault. Or maybe it’s both. Strangely, it seems as if the senior pastor had no role whatsoever in these events.

But I became convinced together with the leadership of the church that it needed to be done.

So who exactly is the “leadership of the church?” The other pastors had zero say in these staffing decisions. In many cases, senior staff didn’t find out until after a decision had been made, sometimes months after.

What the senior pastor did do was consult his mentor in Texas, then reorganize the advisory team, removing anyone who had ever uttered a word of dissent and packing it with his three closest friends. The pastor himself later described his friends as “yes men” [Note: He did this at a church meeting with over 40 people in attendance, myself included] and made it clear to everyone that their primary purpose was to support his decisions (coincidentally, all of them also receive money from the church for various services). No surprise then that they went along with all of his plans and supported all of his decisions. Anyone who didn’t was told to find another church.

So once again we took everything that we’d built together as a church and risked it to do what God, the owner, wanted done.

Again, he’s stressing that all of this is on God. Only it’s not clear to anyone but him that God really demanded this be done. What is clear is that he wanted it done. In fact, he has since told other members of his staff that there was a “power struggle” taking place between himself and the worship pastor. It got so bad — he claims — that one of them had to go.

So which is it then? Was the pastor carrying out God’s clear will for a change or was he resolving a power struggle with his staff?

As already discussed, it wasn’t the former, not unless God’s silence constitutes his clear will. But it also certainly wasn’t that latter either. For one thing, there need to be at least two parties struggling to create a “power struggle.” In this case, the Worship Pastor had submitted to the correction and continually supported the Senior Pastor during the correction, both in public and in private. In short, there was only one party struggling and, as any staff member can tell you, only one person in that office has any power. This was an unjust firing backed up by an appeal to God’s will.

And as expected some good and long term friends decided to leave [church name] and be a part of other churches.

Hidden behind this warm remembrance of bygone days is a rather different reality. This pastor has referred to some of his “long term friends” as “back-stabbers.” He made it clear at a church gathering that those who left could become “unwitting tools of the devil,” not a phrase I usually use when talking about my pals. In addition, I know for a fact that both I and another ex-member were verbally berated in a staff meeting over which the pastor presided. And he was aware of the letter sent around stating that the Worship Pastor, Scott and I were “full of Satan.” So which “good friends” does he have in mind here?

Not the church’s missionaries it turns out. He and his team sent abusive and harassing letters to a long term missionary serving overseas demanding that he “repent” of his sin. What was his sin? He disagreed with the pastor’s decisions and stopped taking money from the church. After letting the pastor know of his decision he contacted his supporters to let them know as well, something he’s specifically indicated he would be doing in a phone call with the pastor.

Then, just two weeks ago, the pastor verbally browbeat another missionary couple in front of several witnesses. It got so ugly that those who overheard (this happened in the sanctuary following a service) crept away embarrassed. All told, the church has now lost three of its five long-term missionaries. So apparently God not only wanted a change in staff, he wanted to throw out most of the missionaries serving him as well. It doesn’t sound like something God would want to see happen, but since God clearly knew it would and since the pastor was only doing what he was told by God, the only conclusion is that God wanted the missionaries gone too. Does that sound right to you? Me either.

Now God is bringing all kinds of new friends around but honestly I miss — I miss the old ones.

If so, he’s kept it to himself pretty well thus far. Not one person who has left the church has gotten so much as a kind word from this man in six months. Personally, I’m still waiting for that letter of recommendation I was promised.

Also as we expected, any kind of unexpected or any kind of uncertainty and change or whatever causes the giving to go down in a church.

I love the “or whatever” at the end there. There’s been a lot of whatever these last months. All of it making about as much sense as this sentence does.

It’s true it was unexpected from the congregations point of view. But that was by design. One week the Worship Pastor was here, the next he was gone. No warning. Just gone.

In the case of the Youth Pastor, he was told in October of ’07 to find a new job and then immediately sworn to secrecy by the senior pastor. He was not allowed to tell his closest friends he’d been dismissed for nearly a month. He wasn’t given permission to tell the volunteers serving in his ministry until late March or April of ’08, about the time his house was going on the market. If it was unexpected that was because the Senior Pastor insisted it be that way.

And that’s been true for us. You know our monthly giving over the last four months has been on an average of $27,000 short each month.

Coincidentally, the shortfalls began the week they announced the Worship Pastor had been fired and haven’t let up since, with the exception of a couple weeks.

Now, we still have this unjust lawsuit hanging for us.

The “unjust lawsuit” may be just that (and it may not). But lots of people settle lawsuits to avoid the greater risk of an adverse judgment. I’m told the arbitrator in this case suggested the church split the difference and be done with it for just this reason. The senior pastor apparently passed on this offer. Regardless of the outcome, is this a risk to take with the church’s entire future? It sounds reckless to me. [See Matthew 5:25 for backup on that.]

Now again at this point if you want to bolt for the doors no one except for John — John get out of the way of that door, don’t be by the door — anyone can leave. I’m just sharing with you family stuff.

This line is getting old. But in all seriousness, people should consider taking this advice. Leave by the open door. Invest your time and money in a church that values loyalty to the kingdom above loyalty to one man. There are plenty of good churches in the area. I can personally recommend Rock Harbor and I have friends attending The Crossing, The Refuge and Calvary Chapel Beach Cities. You are not stuck with having to clean up this pastor’s mess. Don’t be drawn in and used up like so many of us were.

You know a building was purchased behind us by someone in the church a couple years ago.

This happened a few years ago when we all expected great growth in our future. The plan was to eventually buy the building from the individual who’d purchased it and expand into it. Instead, we got on site and the pastor announced a few months later that the church had entered a “season of sifting.” He then proceeded to fire/push out many of the people who’d served him faithfully through all those years of difficulty. And the result of all this is…

That building is for sale.

Which is another way of saying the church’s bright future is now, literally, on the block.

They can’t say they weren’t warned. A former member of the finance team was railroaded out of his position, in part, because he warned the Pastor publicly against the purchase of this building. (He also warned against getting into a lawsuit, recommending they settle. He was ignored that time as well). His advice was later turned against him as “evidence of his disloyalty to the team.” So given that the building is now for sale and the unjust lawsuit is hovering over the church like the sword of Damocles, do you think just maybe he was onto something and not being “disloyal”?

If it sold, the proceeds would go to us and that would be a huge help. But it’s not selling.

Using one failed decision to survive another one. That’s the current best case scenario.

Who knows. Maybe it will work out. Sooner or later the well is going to run dry. Speaking of which…

We do have some cash reserves…

Cash reserves…it sounds so responsible, so full of foresight.

Actually, he borrowed lots of money from some good friends of mine. Not money they had on hand mind you, but a loan taken from the equity in their home. This was last September, i.e. the last time he let people know the church was in financial trouble. This couple left soon after the deal was signed over disagreement with what was done to the Worship Pastor, the Youth Pastor, etc. Bottom line, the “cash reserves” are actually an ex-member’s primary residence. New members considering giving the church a big gift might want to let that one sink in a bit.

The “cash reserves” should have been repayed to the people who offered it the moment they left. It’s their nest egg, not the senior pastor’s. What possible justification can he have for holding onto it, besides desperation that is. In any case, that bill will come due in a little over a year. Expect another series on giving around then. Maybe…

but we can’t go like this for long.

Which explains why this four week series on money just cropped up.

This is a significant admission. When I last met with the senior pastor he told me that someone would be blessed and someone would suffer as a result of his decisions. He clearly meant that he would be blessed and I (and others who left) would suffer. That would — he explained — be confirmation that he was right and all of us who had decided to leave were wrong.

Five months later he’s surviving on money borrowed from ex-members and has admitted publicly that it can’t go on like this much longer. Does that sound like blessing to you?

I may soon be getting a great ministry job paying double what I made at the old church. The Worship Pastor received a job at a much larger church with eight people working under him. The Youth Pastor, who just boarded an airplane for the East Coast today, will spend two years working on an advanced degree before heading overseas to do missions work. Sound like suffering to you?

The truth is, it’s never that simple. All of us have suffered because of this. One way or another, we’re all paying a price, though it’s possible some will pay a higher one than others.

You know to use the poker term, honestly here at [church name] we are all in. We’re all in.

That sounds courageous, doesn’t it? But in poker the guy who holds the cards is usually betting his own money. In this case, the senior pastor went “all in” with everyone’s money based on cards that no one else has ever seen. He didn’t even bother letting the senior staff know his plans — much less the congregation — until he’d shoved it all out there. Surprise! The Worship Pastor is gone. Surprise! The Youth Pastor is gone. Surprise! Most of our missionaries are gone. Surprise! We’re strapped and facing financial ruin.

We are facing real risk and with real risk the price must be paid…

You don’t pay a price in poker unless you lose.

we are paying it in terms of friendships sometimes, and in terms of money.

And I’d add, in terms of weekly attendance, in terms of commitment to missions, in terms of honesty with the congregation…Hmm. So where’s the upside to this exactly?

But again, the reason we have decided to risk it all, there’s really two reasons.

When he says “we” remember that he means himself and his three friends on the advisory team. That’s it. In fact, he recently told someone that the Kids Pastor “isn’t leadership.” For those who don’t know the history, the Kids pastor has been at the church longer than the senior pastor, doing everything under the sun for this body. If he’s not part of the “we” — and he’s not — it’s a pretty good sign they’ve completely lost their bearings.

We are convinced that the God we serve is good and he will take care of us.

He is and, speaking for myself, he has.

And we are convinced that there is no greater goal than doing whatever we can to see thousands of eternal friends in heaven.

A noble goal, one that won’t be achieved by deceit and bullying.

And we’ll do whatever it takes.

They have so far.

Whatever God leads us to do.

More to the point, whatever God doesn’t explicitly stop them from doing with a big neon sign. Many, many people warned the pastor not to head down this road for exactly these reasons. One by one, he told them all to find another church. It’s probably very good advice at this point.

That’s it for me. I let this whole thing drop once before. I was silent as friends of mine were threatened by bullies in the church’s leadership. But I won’t sit by quietly while the story of my own betrayal (and that of my close friends) is used to raise cash from people who don’t know the truth. It’s beyond the pale, as they say.

If you know people at this church, send them a link to this page. You can copy this one: http://www.verumserum.com/?page_id=1981

They should have all the information before handing over a big wad of hard earned cash. I wish someone had warned me what to expect before I did.

Finally, no comments on this because I don’t have time to moderate it, but if you’re interested in reading lots more on this topic go here and read all the comments. Someone told me yesterday it took 3 hours to get through it in one sitting. Also, check this post for some comments on what Biblical leadership is supposed to look like.

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