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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

We are all sinners in church, so leaving a church because people in the congregation sin is stupid.  Seems stupid, right?  We left a church because of false teaching, but more than that, we left because we would likely have been asked to leave anyway.

Our church had become a Saddleback/Willow Creek/Spiritual Formation church.  The youth were involved in Youthfront, and yes, the leader of Youthfront (Mike King) does promote silence, breathing exercises and such for contemplative prayer.  (Cannot recall the web site, but there used to be one linked to the Youthfront website proper, and it’s been removed).  So, since many of the youth were sent to this camp, we knew that influence was beginning in the youth.  One dear friend and elder had this conversation with his boys (this is to illustrate the teachings and understandings in the church).  

son:  Dad, we learned that God is in everything right?  So that would mean God is in my butt.

dad:  Uhm….I guess you are right.

So, based on bad teachings and based especially on the fact that youth were being taught questionable things beyond just in house debate type stuff, we left.

But more than that, the church promoted books and other materials from horrible teachers.  I’ve written on this blog about a man who took the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and said we all had “grave clothes.”  He defined these as our problems.  His son was in the military and sent into combat, his fear for his son was a grave cloth.  Someone else had cancer, that fear of death, a grave cloth.  Another had an addiction, again, a grave cloth.  So, we are to be in small group because when Lazarus came out of the grave Jesus told them to remove his grave cloths.  Twist scripture to promote small groups, and of course, you could buy his book.  This man spoke from the pulpit, a place of authority.  We knew our church was then teaching clear false doctrines.  The words of Jesus were misused as a means to an end, an agenda.  When we asked about this we were told it was okay to use the events in Jesus’ life as an illustration or as a life lesson to apply to today.  Kind of like a parable but different.  Uh, and something about it not being propositional (or is it that it is propositional).  I don’t know exaclty, but all I know is that John’s gospel was written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that we may have eternal life.  Applications can be helpful, but not if scripture is misused and twisted in the process.

But further than the myriad of false teachings, we left because of one thing.  We knew nothing we would do would make any difference.  We were members, we were to submit to the authority of our pastor.  In the past we watched a couple argue, bring charges, and some division was caused.  Yes it was.  The man confronted false teachings in an angry way.  He was treated to one long process and was then cut off from the church.  He was to be treated as one released, not to be in fellowship until restoration.  We witnessed this, and knew our attempts to point to false teachings would end in a public vote for us to leave.  Every attempt we made to talk to anyone was met with doublespeak, was met with strange answers and ambiguity.  All exept one pastor who did encourage us to stay, who prayed with us, and asked us to at least write a letter stating our issues.  We only tackled a few of our issues, and we were met with anger.  We were pointed to as Sanballats and called “liars from the pit of hell.” 

We were treated like resisters.  You see, our former pastor has exchanged pulpits with Dan Southerland.  He’s chummy with him, they’ve spoken in each other’s churches.  Dan Southerland wrote a book called Transitioning, and it has a chapter all about resisters.  A church is to encourage them to leave, and if they do not leave, the church is then to boot them.

So, leaving a church may seem like a cop out, a whimpy thing to do.  Trust me, as a person who has left, it’s not easy.  It feels like divorce (as a child of divorce, I know it’s horrible).  It’s a death.  It was painful.  We did not want to do it.  We looked though at our options.  One option was to stop pointing out the errors in teaching and continue as we had been, with kids we needed to teach truth to, this was NOT a good option.  The next option was to stay and fight.  We had no outside help in this.  We were somewhat unsure as to the right way to proceed.  The pastor helping us was put in an awkward position, we were actually worried for him.  Then we also wondered, “was there a good cop/bad cop situation with the pastors?”  We didn’t know if we could trust him, which was sad.  We did learn though in the long run we could have trusted him.  He’s since been let go from our former church and is out of a job.   We had no real help from elders, they just denied the problems and deflected.  The lead pastor denied and then belittled us.  He was agressive in approach and intimidating.  Final option, leave and take our kids to a church that taught the bible plainly with no flash.  That’s the option we went for.

In reality, if we had no children, we might have stayed and fought.  We didn’t want to fight in our church, but that’s what we felt we would have had to do.  I realize there is another option.  Stay and pray.  Well, we decided to pray throughout our process, and we decided to leave and pray.  We were not sinless in this process, we were not perfect, but we had been under poor teaching and therefore, had little guidance as to the best course of action.  We didn’t know much in the way of dealing with false teaching and how to handle it in your church especially coming from the leaders.

So we did what we thought was best.  We left.

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A few months back a little church in our area was about to be absorbed by my former church.  I had friends who used to attend there, and they were saddened by this possibility.  Because meetings were recorded online, I was able to hear the dealings and felt very uneasy about it.

The church being overtaken was seeking “help” from my former church.  They were loosing attendance.  From those I spoke to, the attendance went down when a new pastor came in and changed things.  This pastor also asked my former church for help. 

The deal was sweet for my former church.  It would be elder control of the church being helped…including possible economic advantage and control of paid off property to my former church.  There were to be three pastors of this church.  One from my former church, one from somewhere else that the congregation did not know (who the heck found this guy and who chose him?), and the current pastor of the helpee church. 

One wrinkle, the helpee church also had a school.  They were very worried for their school.  My former church was going to make the school a non-profit organization and I’m not even really sure what was to become of the school. 

My concerns of course were that this church was being taken over and run over by my former church without an awareness of the dangers.  My former church had many doctrinal problems in teaching, and this new takeover was going to make the congregation accountable to outside elders.  The school was going to be in the hands of these elders.  The little helpee church voted against this.  Yeah!

I just found out great news.  It seems the little church has gone to a very conservative Presbyterian church in the area and is merging the school with the Presbyterian school.  The Presby church is Reformed and strong.  It also appears there is no economic gain for the Presby church, the merge seems like a good thing.  I’m very happy to see such an expansion/merge occur in an area where many churches are networking that are like my former church…into Purpose Driven/Spiritual Formation/Missional stuff.  Most new church plants are the same stuff.  It’s nice to see a needy church that was nearly swallowed by a Spiritual Formation church actually link arms with a Reformed church NOT into seeker friendly garbage.

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A local church was in the process of merging with my former church (this former church has used seeker friendly methods as well as seems to be going the way of spiritual formation).  The leadership of the little church “asked for help” according to the recorded meeting I heard online.  The little church actually is an older church, paid off property with a private school.  It’s an older church than my former church and has been declining sharply in attenders. 

The plan, as lined out in a meeting opened up to both the little church and my former church, was that the little church would combine with my former church (I’ll call it big church for simplicity).  Big church came in and said they offered to help financially and also would bring a group of people over to little church to attend.  They also were going to have their elder board take over decisions for little church.  Big church was bringing a pastor, and then little church was keeping a pastor.  Another pastor was also coming in.  Little church owned their property outright, and the deed of that property might go to big church…no one seemed to answer for sure. 

Little church would likely have new leadership, new people attending, but also would have a new name.  Things were going to change.  Eventually, big church was going to step back and let little church stand on it’s own (but not until it was successful on it’s corner…after it had been lead by big church elders with two pastors they had not hired themselves). 

The  question of what would happen to the school came up, and I’m not sure what the plan was.  The big church leadership mentioned the school becoming a non-profit seperate from the actual church.  This was complicating things for sure as the decisions about the school came from the little church.  Many in little church worked in the school. 

Well, I began praying for little church.  Other prayed as well.  Little church took a vote,  and it’s been announced on big church’s website that little church has “decided not to accept” help from big church.  Hopefully, little church can now find a way to sustain itself without giving themselves over to a big church with transformation on the brain, or even the latest seeker friendly trend.  I cannot assume that little church doesn’t believe in the same kind of things big church does.  It may have all been based on power and finances.  I can only hope though that little church saw through big church and discernment won out.

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I have speculated, even heard tell of people on staff or in leadership who have difficulties with things going on in our former church.  (A few have visited in our new church and it’s only speculation that they may be taking a break where they can be fed, so it’s unfair to assume they are actually having a problem with the former church).   When the focus gets off of Christ and on to seeker sensitive doctrines, or maybe veers into contemplative practices, or church is on a corporate style plan rather than into the bible, there may be staff/leadership disturbed by this problem.  What are they to do? 

We suspect two staff members and maybe a few in leadership positions are unhappy with things at our former church based on a few clues.  First, support when we were starting the process of questioning.  This/these people listened in a different way.  One even addressed our issues directly (not at the church but with an organization our former church is still involved in).  Change did occur because of this person’s actions.  We believe this person is stuck.  There’s family to think of, uprooting kids.  In some cases, people in leadership are paid (a minister or some other type person like church administrator, accountant, etc) and have issues with how things are going.  They may confront elders/pastors directly or show strong support for the ordinary members who express frustration with teachings and influences being brought into the church.  This alone can be risky.

Stay or go?  People in leadership/staff positions have much to think about when the church starts to get toxic.  Should they stay and continue to provide for their family if paid by the church?    Sometimes a person who serves in children’s ministry or in adult bible study…or especially a pastor, can teach truth in a bad environment.  Though they may not intend to be “warriors” they may in fact be used to protect and train some of the sheep who find themselves seeking for some spiritual truth in a bad environment. 

Also, the staff/leader may need to confirm what is really going on before deciding to take a stand and step out.  It’s not something to be taken lightly if their role is visible in the church.  It’s easy to fall into tempation, easy to assume too much, easy to leave in a way that does not honor Christ.  There are ways to leave without causing more harm than good.  I believe each situation is unique and requires much prayer and discussion/counsel.  Some may slip quietly out the back door of the church, others may resign and make an announcement at the pulpit (especially asking for forgiveness if they were involved in introducing bad teaching initially).  It all depends on God’s will what would be best to do.

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I feel I should be praying for my former church, the leadership is in error.  What to pray? God’s will.  I pray God’s will.   My hope is that things can be turned around there, that the leadership will see it’s errors and repent…truly repent. 

I also pray for myself.  I pray I get my nose in the bible and my focus on Christ.  Period.

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Before we left our former church I began to feel frozen.  I learned all this information about spiritual formation, emergent, purpose driven and the P.E.A.C.E. plan (which was presented to our congregation several times).  I began to understand all the things we did in our church that we felt good for doing were related to some author’s plans.  Every philosophy, the way we taught our children on Sunday mornings, the way we studied in small groups, the service projects we did, the way scriptures had been presented and often interpreted, were run through a filter of the strategies/plans/vision of our former church.  Our thinking on missions, service to others, finances, parenting, had all been shaped by this church.  We also had been big supporters of groups such as Focus on the Family which has since been stepping into “spiritual formation.”  I thought at first that our former church had “just changed.”  Because they have sermon notes saved online, I realized that this was not the case.  The changes have been in place at least since 2002.  We’ve only been there since 2000, but the sermons are not recorded online, so I’m not sure how much deviation there is from those first days.  At any rate, we didn’t notice issues until 2008.  That’s 7 years at least of this spiritual formation/purpose driven/seeker friendly/tip toe emergent stuff getting on us.  Rubbing this stink off has been a challenge.  It’s got to be in our thinking, in our reasons why.  So now, I am frozen.  Christians are to share the gospel, make disciples.  But how?  Even before I went to our former church, I learned the “quick and dirty” gospel.  “All have sinned” and “for God so loved the World” and “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and recieve him (because  a gift cannot be opened until recieved) and pray for forgiveness.  Say this prayer and boom, you are saved.  So now, I have to reevaluate.  I actually think my salvation wasn’t based on this, I did have an understanding that I was chosen by God and grace and mercy had nothing to do with a scripted prayer.  I’m confident in my salvation, sure of my guilt of sin, and know that I am only saved by the grace and mercy of Christ who died for me.  I really have always loved to read and dig into my bible, and loved to figure out exactly what scripture truly says and means.  This hasn’t changed, so reading my bible still gives me comfort.  Praying has been difficult for me lately though, knowing talk and teaching had been leading to possible contemplative style in our former church.  I talk to God directly, always  have.  I do not use any techniques like Lectio Divina as we hadn’t been lead through that yet.  Still, I struggle.  I have always thought that going off by myself and writing in a prayer journal is good (I would just write requests mostly in the journal, who I was praying for).  I would read scripture and summarize a bit for my own recall, then list my requests and people I’m praying for.  I also used to walk the neighborhood praying for people in the homes, for God to work in our city and eventually our nation.  I do long to be alone when praying, to be in nature, do actually find quiet to help out sometimes when I pray.  I do NOT empty my mind, believe you have to have solitude as a discipline.  But who hasn’t enjoyed praying outside in the early morning all alone while looking at something spectacular God has created?  Iwould not mistake this “feeling” for closeness to God or purity in Christian life, however, there is something nice about it.  However, I have been very cautious about what I do in prayer.   I no longer feel comfortable just praying.  I have to stop and think, “am I doing this wrong?”  Doing prayer wrong?  Yes, it’s possible to pray incorrectly, very possible.  Still, before I was just praying and not worrying about it all the time.  Same with service.  Before, I felt great helping clean up a school yard as part of a church project, or filling a box of toys for a child’s Christmas gift.  I realized that some service projects would not really be directly presenting the gospel, but it didn’t seem so bad.  Now, I wonder how much I would be part of some big agenda to “be a change agent.”  I don’t want to just sign up and have a wrong motive or give in the way God doesn’t prescribe.  So, I am frozen.  Which organizations aren’t tainted with the current emergent/new age/change the world through good works teachings?  Bell ringing for the Salvation Army?  Maybe not so good…they have some contemplative stuff on their web page.  Many old trusted places to serve or give seem to be turning contemplative.  What organizations can I have my children involved in?  We did Awana this year, and yet I saw some of their training for parents is “spiritual formation” style.  Though my kids have learned the verses, I fear eventually the teaching may grow suspect.  I have listened to the Cubbies teaching week after week, and so far have no problems with it.  Still, we’re thinking of stopping Awana.  We’d like to be involved in the church we choose to join, and are likely to find ways to teach verses without all that Awana brings (busy time).  Everywhere I go in Christian life, I feel frozen.  At least I know one thing, if I crack open my bible, I can trust scripture.  It’s the commentaries I worry about…

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We have realized many people in the church we now attend used to go to our former church.  One such family attended when some of my little ones were in Awana at the former church.  L was the Cubbies game time leader, and he always made it fun for my children.  J was the song leader (I don’t remember if she was in Cubbies, but she did it with older kids).  J also helped with children’s choirs and likely in other areas.  Both are serious about their faith in Christ and about raising their children in a Christian environment.  They left a few years ago.  I have since learned some of the issues for them involved their children.  They wanted a sound Biblical foundation and it just wasn’t quite there at the former church.  You have to actually go to a church with a good Biblical teaching sometimes to see the difference, and they say they have.  J is not only a servant to children in the church, she also is a public school teacher.  The children adore her, she’s a wonderful teacher.  

 J has leukemia.  It’s been a battle, and L says J hasn’t been able to attend church since Mother’s Day last year.  She’s had ups and downs, and the doctors have fought for her.  The family has gone out of it’s way to also not expose her to germs, sometimes not visiting her for fear of making her ill.  They have taken every precaution possible.  Now J is loosing her battle and has been given a few weeks to a few months to live.  Her body is fighting with host cells, and it’s caused damage to her bowels.  They stopped treatment, and of course the cancer cells are showing in tests.  The doctors are now at “we cannot do anything but keep her comfortable.”

The family has been visiting J and spending all the time with her they can.  So far she is actually feeling a bit better given that treatments have stopped, but this will not be for long and better is relative to how terrible she felt before.  The prayer L passed on is for the girls, that they will not weaken in their faith in the Lord because of this.  I have no doubt actually that they will be okay, but it’s his prayer.  I also pray for the family that they will have great times in the last weeks ahead.  If God would provide a miracle, wonderful!  We can pray for that.  However, if He decides to go ahead and allow J to die, I pray for her family and their adjustment to seperation from such a great mother and Christian woman.

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