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My husband asked an assistant pastor how to handle a suggested Nouwen book in our small group meeting.  One of the first questions I heard from him was, “was it an unqualified recommendation?”  In fairness, people do sometimes read and recommend books, but they don’t always agree with everything in the book or everything from that author.  Unfortunately, this was actually qualified in that the book was recommended excitedly and whole heartedly.  The man in our group shared several concepts openly and offered to let two women in the group be the next ones to read it after someone else outside the group finished his copy.  I believe he even suggested that Christians should read it, and I am sure he said it was his favorite book.  We shared some of our thoughts with the pastor, that the man seemed to really like the book and was sharing it. I did mention the comment the man made stating that the book opened an idea he hadn’t thought of, that Jesus himself was a “prodigal of the Father” because he left and came back. The pastor’s eyebrows twitched a little bit, and he shook his head, “no.”  

The pastor’s advice was not to go all out after this man.  He said that we should actually bring this to the attention of the small group leader.  He suggested we share why we see problems with the author and that it’s not someone we’d recommend reading.  He said that many don’t have the same level of discernment, and some don’t subscribe to the strange teachings but also don’t know the problems with an author’s entire body of work.  He said to assume the best about a person at first, and just trust the leadership.  However, he did say to keep paying attention and if this keeps coming up, to bring it back up again to the leader.  It can also be brought up to the pastors in leadership of the church.  He suggested further we truly befriend this man and if the opportunity arises, we can share with him carefully the problems with Nouwen and why we wouldn’t recommend it as a solid book for Christians to read.  

This is a very big difference than what happened at our former church when we brought up books and teachings that were questionable.  The pastor here acknowledged the teaching from Nouwen was bad (if it indeed was what we were saying it is…he’d never read it before).  He mentioned how many people read popular authors, he has been given books from church members of such authors.  He said how he has personally tactfully told people how the author is in error and he’d suggest they never recommend the book without some qualification.  He personally had quoted authors from the pulpit he doesn’t agree with, but he says he intends to always qualify those quotes as true as far as he sees it but the author has other comments or ideas that are not in line with scripture.  And reading works that are questionable can be a learning experience, but it must be qualified as such.  He says he’s sometimes shocked at what members in our church recommend for reading on facebook or in person, saying that he often wants to say, “What?  Haven’t you been hearing sound teaching in our church for years?  Why would you recommend that book?”  

At least he acknowledged us, and was kind.  He did seem to be bothered by this problem and suggested a way to deal with it and not ignore it.  He actually thinks the leader in our group likely hasn’t heard of Nouwen, and may have no clue about it.  I find this to be a very good thing.  It’s much different than the “oh, that author is recommended and used by many pastors…and we might not agree with everything he says but he has good intentions.”  That was our former church, and that was unacceptable squashing.  We weren’t told not to be divisive, but to proceed carefully.  

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Coming out of a non-denominational church caused us to look for something with accountability for pastors.  We joined a church that is connected to a denomination.  For all it’s imperfections, at least there is the structure of accountability, somewhere to write if the church isn’t dealing with itself correctly inside.  Sure, it might be bad to have an association with a denomination if things are bad in that denomination.  The local congregation might not act like the big denomination.  However, there is a someone beyond and a sense of church being bigger than just my little building with people in it here.

So, what’s a pastor to do who has been kicked to the curb in a non-denominational church?  A few of our former pastors were let go.  What are they doing?  Creating their own “ministries.”  One is having meetings with Christians in other churches at times those churches aren’t meeting with their congregations.  The other started meeting in homes one night a week, and now has moved his family closer to the inner city and has started some sort of ministry and is soliciting prayer support and financial support.  (after all, he has no income even though he’s looked for a job…and I believe he’s looked hard).  But, I’m wondering if this is the best approach?  Should these men be forming “new churches” or new ministries at this time, or are they better served getting into a denomination and working through them to heal and build up again to be a pastor of a church there?  I just don’t know.  It seems to me that it could be a good thing to start a ministry if the pastor is solid in doctrine and solidly studying the bible.  But I wonder if there might be more of the same non-denominational mess being made out there?  What stops me from just going out and starting a ministry?  What about my husband?  Is there some qualification needed?  Some reason needed?  The pastors I’m speaking of do have degrees, there are not just out there without some sort of education.  To be fair, one of them was one we spoke to before leaving our former church.  He had the wisest advice, and was the one pastor we heard read scripture from the pulpit and seemed to always have a good commentary and teaching.  The other I’m not sure…but he was the one who presented the gospel during a week long VBS program where I was a “shepherd.”  His message was basic and clear, and it was the first time all week I felt anyone even made an attempt to teach scripture and how Christ saves sinners.  All week I would try to understand the content I was to teach, and had to revise the book we used because it was pretty fuzzy.  So both pastors were doing better in the church than some of the others.  But are they ready to launch a new ministry?  What would be the first steps for a pastor who leaves or is let go from a purpose driven/vision oriented/spiritual formation style church?

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Switching from a Purpose Driven church with entertainment to a bible teaching church may have a few effects, one of which initially is boredom.  This may seem unholy and wrong to admit, but it has happened.  We felt it in our house.  A dry feeling.  But like eating healthy food for once as a normal way of life rather than just once in a while, old habits are hard to break.

Exercise and eating healthy will be difficult for someone coming from terrible habits.  We want to drift back to the soda, we want to taste the sugary sweet candy.  We want to have french fries and greasy hamburgers with lots of cheese.  Why?  We’re addicted.  What do bad eating and exercise habits get us?  Diabetes, heart problems, early death.  We become fat and unable to enjoy life.

This is what happened to us at the previous church.  We enjoyed a LOT of cool programs.  Our kids were entertained.  We felt we were growing in the faith.  Yes, we did grow, but looking back, the times we did grow were when we insisted to study the bible verse by verse in small group.  There were some messages by the pastors that carried truth, so we did learn from those.  However, much was social, much was wrong teaching.  We ignored the problems for a while.  It caught up to us.  We began to see the problems.

When we opened our ears and looked around, we heard the pastors preaching things that were not biblical.  Suddenly, the candy coating didn’t feel good anymore.  We realized the illness in our faith.  We were not being fed often enough.  Yes, there was service, we were served in many ways.  But the teaching was in error just as often as it was in truth.  We allowed the error to go on when we were blind to it, but once we saw it we realized we had to escape.

We eventually landed in a church where the bible is preached verse by verse.  We started out with some initial joy, because our worries about the former church were confirmed.  Still, we missed some of the trappings.  We missed the social time, many people were new to us.  We missed the upbeat music a great deal.  Still, the true spiritual food was making us feel better because our spiritual bodies were getting the right nutrition.  Now my children recognize the former church for what it is, and they do not want to go back to the candy.  We don’t either. 

Of course, we listen and are very careful, we do not want to believe the pastor without checking things out.  It’s kind of like reading the labels.  We want to know what’s going on at the church, what they are truly about.  Is the spiritual food healthy and true?  If it is, then we will see growth and not experience the physical illness.  The hard work put in (not works for salvation mind you, but the study of God’s word and prayer, the service to the body, and the support of those who go out and preach to others…or even maybe us going out some day when we’re prepared…these things are the hard things), will result in a healthy Christian perspective.  Staying on guard is important, reading for ourselves.  After all, it’s supposed to be our faith we’re working out right?  And as time goes on, what was previously boring is actually very exciting.  Scriptural study is not some mundane thing, it’s a wonderful joy to hear and read truth.

note:  If I am saying something wrong by winging it, PLEASE let me know here.  I know these are my human thoughts, not God’s words.

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Just today I saw 5 people in our current church from our former church.  These are new this Sunday.  One man was a die hard “not going to leave” and his wife was pushing hard to leave.  Letting go of two pastors, especially since they are viewed as solid, really put it over.  I wonder how many more have jumped ship?  Where we live there are hundreds of church options close enough to drive comfortably, so I can imagine if there were 5 in our church there could be many who have left.  It will be interesting to see what happens in our former missional/spiritual formation/emergent youth focused/ purpose driven church.

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There are two places I can see where a toxic church (abusive or has wrong teachings…or both can be outed.  First to others in the church through interaction between a person who realizes the church is toxic, and then in public through media or online. 

Most people, I believe, do not out a toxic church.  They may stay for family or for social reasons and not say anything to keep the peace.  Others do out the church to friends or family, but keep it pretty quiet.  Then there is someone like me, I’ve told some people that are not just family and close friends as time has gone on and am writing an anonymous blog.  Some friends who still attend my former church know my feelings and some of my reasons, but for the most part, people don’t know much about why we left that church.

Then there’s another group of people, bold people or maybe unwise, not sure.  They openly write the toxic church’s name out there in the public.  They name names not just situations.  They share it all.  Am I ready to do this?  I am not sure.

First, I must pray.  I must read scripture. I must seek counsel.  I must see what my husband thinks.  I must get organized.  I must decide.  Do I want to openly name our former church?  I’ve named a few associations, but not named them directly.  Do I want to name pastors?  I know my motives must not be for revenge or self promotion.  I also do not want to hurt someone (the pastor has a family and children…and the pastor need only to be accountable for what he’s done not smeared for assumptions or unfair conclusions). 

If I can help teach others without naming names, it may be better.  This church is likely similar in nature to a lot of churches.  I’ve had some people write me thinking I might be from their area after reading my posts, or they say their story is similar.  So the point can be made without bringing someone into the spot light of critique.

I just wonder when it’s time to be specific?

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Ever get the feeling someone has a button that makes this invisible hood around their head soundproofed?  I see it when I try to explain to someone the problems with Spiritual Formation style churches.  I also see it when I speak about problems with Rick Warren’s teachings.  Even if I’m sharing with someone who knows me, knows I left my former church, and begin to point out issues…I get the glazed over look and the sudden comment that they need to wash their cat.  I’m trying to decide which is scarier, a person who won’t see what’s right in front of them and avoids hearing anything critical OR a person who attacks you when you’re speaking the truth. 

People tend to do strange things in churches.  They let a lot of things slide.  Because a pastor preaches about unity, people will try to get along with severe error.  They will take a “wait and see” approach to something that is going on.  A pastor can say a situation calls for a halt on gossip, so then people are afraid to speak to each other about it.  They don’t seek counsel of other believers for fear of breaking confidentiality.  A culture of silence is created.  So when someone speaks boldly and tries to point directly to the problems, the sound proof hoods come out. 

When it happens to me, when someone puts on the hood I sigh.  I sigh and try my best to move on.  You cannot force someone to hear the truth.  I wait for a better opportunity with the person, wait a while to restate myself.  Maybe later a person will be ready to hear the truth.  I can only hope.

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We had a sporting event to attend today and we saw a couple who still attends our former church.  Immediately, we were asked if we heard about the pastors who have been let go.  We explained that we had (by social network no less…so many people have commented).  We don’t really know details, though we have picked up on some (see previous post).   We learned that people in the church, at least some of them, were given an email and told the pastors did not fit with the rest of the staff.  There had apparently been some sort of “communication difficulty.” 

What struck me immediately was the confusion and hurt expressed by our friends.  They were completely shocked and couldn’t understand why this had happened.  Why would a pastor of about 20 years suddenly not fit with the staff?  Why would a popular pastor who has been there for over 6 years be dropped for communication difficulties?  There is no moral failure, no sin issues on the part of the pastors let go.  No power plays.  I guess the email had a quote in it pertaining to the split between Paul and Barnabas.  Somewhere there was a fight, and our former church claims it to be biblical. 

What of the hurt of it’s members?  What of the issues in this church?   How can these leaders request everyone to not be divisive when they have forced two pastors out based on division? 

I pray for people who are still in my former church, may they open their eyes!  I pray for those who have been hurt by decisions of leadership in this church.    I think something stinks.

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