Titanic Eisberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is part 3 of posts that I wrote for SGMSURVIVORS in 2008. You can read my previous posts here and here. As a reminder, I wrote these posts while still a Christian and have left them unedited. If you are interested in reading about how I put aside my Christian faith, you can read My De-conversion and When You Lose Your Faith
So back to the story….. after our fateful first meeting in a member’s home, we started settling into a routine and lowered our expectations from our outreaches. It’s hard for me to be exact and chronological after this point because so much happened in such a short time period (about 1 year). When I was discussing with my wife all that happened and could be written about-we laughed and shook our heads at how much crazy stuff happened.
Let me just comment-that even after such a crazy and disappointing start-my wife and I were still hopeful and very committed to trying to make a real go for helping to establish this new church.
As a church, we settled into our new rented building and began to learn all of the small details that go into the logistics of doing church. We set up chairs, sound equipment, made coffee, set up Sunday school rooms, practiced worship, hosted the actual service, greeted each other and visitors, and then cleaned up everything we had just set up a few hours earlier. It was very busy and at times we were very stressed and pressed for time to keep up with all the commitments to establish the church. I had a good friend from our sending church ask me what I was learning spiritually from being on the church plant. I told him that I learned that God is present at every church meeting, but that God won’t set up the chairs. Anyway, it was in the midst of doing church on Sunday, care group, and prayer night that things relationally, started to become strained with our Pastor and his wife.
In my last post, I mentioned how my wife had started to feel that her good friendship with the pastor’s wife had started to change for the worse. When we actually arrived to the plant-it went even further downhill. It seemed that the only time that she (the pastor’s wife) wanted to relate to my wife was if she was giving advice on how my wife was raising our 1 year old son. My wife tried telling this to her and that she wanted to still be friends and the PW told her flatly that she should expect not to be friends. She then went on to explain that the pastor’s from our sending church had counseled them about this and told her that to be in leadership (or in her case, married to a pastor) would mean that she should start relating more to those in leadership and less to others (even old friends). My wife was flabbergasted and hurt, but tried to express her hope to still spend some time together. Eventually the PW told my wife that she’d be willing to get together once a week to go thru a book on Child Discipline-because she was concerned about my wife and her parenting. My wife agreed to, not because she wanted to read this book, but because she still held out hope for the relationship. What was even weirder in all this, was that our Pastor often times would state in his sermons-that our new church was going to be built on close personal relationships with each other. This was confusing to us-how are we going to build relationally if we should expect to not be very good friends because they were now in leadership (?).
Other random memories form this first year-
The couple who was put under church discipline for not being able to sell their home and move out with the rest of the team to do the plant. I never figured out how that worked or how they were to be disciplined. But I was told by our pastor so I know it happened. They never did sell their house. Lucky them!
There was the time we exhausted our little church to put on a free concert with a major Christian musician. We drew over 500 people and the concert was great. We were certain that this event would cement us in the community and bring in more families to the church (1 person on the leadership team even commented that this event might increase our tithing base). To our dismay-only one family visited the week after the concert and they didn’t even stay for the whole service.
There was the prayer meeting that was hosted at our home-in which one of the church plant team members stormed out before we started. He was offended because I told him I believed that the Dow Jones was likely to reach 8,000 (this was back in early 1997) within the next couple years, based on some research I had done to counter Christian authors that were predicting a stock market crash. I thought we were having a friendly chat. He stormed off in a huff, because he had sold all his stocks because his prophetic gifting told him that a crash was imminent and therefore sold all his stock holdings. He insulted me and told me I couldn’t possibly know, because I didn’t own stocks and was in debt. Not a great way to start a prayer meeting.
There was the couple who started attending and would fight at the beginning of just about every church service. For some reason our pastor would greet them from the front with the microphone, just as worship was getting started. He’d ask them how they were doing and the wife would answer that she was doing horrible because of her husband and begin listing all the ways that she felt neglected by him. They’d begin to argue, our pastor would smile, and I’d start the worship set to the sound of bickering in the background.
There was the prophecy mic-our local school board member who felt led to hone his prophetic calling on us-would read entire chapters of prophetic judgment towards the ancient nations from the book of Isaiah. He not only read these often-but would annunciate them with great fervor and spit, about the impending doom that was to befall those woeful nations. Ah-good stuff.
There was the time the worship team got into a heated debate over whether or not there could be alien life in outerspace.
There was the time my pastor said he was concerned about my doctrine. When I asked him which doctrine, he couldn’t be specific. But he then said he was concerned about where I was getting my doctrine from. I was too busy to be doing any outside study apart from church-so I told him that the only doctrine I was getting was from him. He grew quiet and then changed the subject.
Not all that happened in this first year was bad-we did see a couple of new folks become Christians and it is always sweet to see a new creation in Christ come to be. One was an older Gentleman who was related to a couple I knew. Larry Tomzcak had come to our small church to encourage us, but he also did a small public outreach on a Saturday night, and this older man responded to the gospel and became a Christian. At first he was excited in his new faith and was at every church meeting for many months. After a few months, he would still attend church, but his Daughter in law commented at care group, that she was concerned for him. She said that she thought he was not growing spiritually and had stopped reading his Bible. When she asked him-he was evasive-and she asked us to pray for him because she was worried for him. About 1 month later, an editor/journalist for Soveregin Grace’s magazine called some of us to write about all that was going on at our church plant. When I read the article (it was short) I couldn’t believe it. The article was fairly non-descript, but at the end it included the story of this older gentleman, how he came to Christ (thru Larry), and then ended the article by saying he was now a regular part of our church (which was true) and that he was flourishing spiritually (which was not true). I asked his Daughter in law about it and she said she had told the editor exactly what she had told us as was just as confused as we were about the article and it’s misrepresentation.
Another nagging thought from this period in our lives-is just how much pressure we were under and just how exhausted we had become. The job I took to move for the church plant fell thru after 3 or 4 months. It was a small business and the owner’s wife had fallen ill and could no longer afford to keep my division open. No problem-I started working 2 full time jobs and parking cars on weekends at a Golf course to make ends meet. It was while I was working like a dog, that I had time to be apart from the church and all that went into running it, and actually think about what was going on. I was working at a restaurant and became a shift manager after a month. While running one of the shifts-I befriended on of the other cooks and he eventually found out about why I had moved and the new church I was part of. He showed some interest and we had a long conversation about faith (he had some Christian friends whom he respected) and music. I remember thinking to myself that I’d love to find a way to share my faith with him more…I thought about giving him some free music lessons, I began thinking about maybe starting a small Bible study to go thru the gospel of John and then it hit me, that the one place I did not want to take him, was to my church. Yes-the very church that I was straining to build up-was the last place I’d want to take him. It hit me hard-because it was the first time I admitted (at least to myself) that maybe this church planting thing was not all that it was cracked up to be. It also hit me how silly all the puffed up talk about our church really was-as I worked my jobs-I met hundreds of people who could’ve cared less about where I went to church. My only hope of sharing Christ, was to be available and open to them right there on the job-not with some crazy hope that they’d come to a church meeting first to meet Jesus and believe the good news. I did get to share Christ with some of my co-workers that I parked cars with-some were interested in what I shared, none were very interested in coming to church.
Other relational strains began to hit the fan. Because I was working so late-I was sometimes late for meetings and was occasionally reprimanded for being a poor example to the worship team. I accepted the reprimand and made extra effort to be on time for worship rehearsals before church. One Sunday morning, my wife and I were rushing to be there on time when our 1 year old wet thru his pants and needed to change his clothes. It caused us to be late and once again I was reprimanded, but not given the chance to explain. I stuffed it-but it really bothered me to be treated like a child. Another incident occurred soon after that floored me. Another church plant team member, took it upon himself to reprimand me about my commitment to the church. I was confused because the pastor had recently thanked my wife and I for our support on the plant. He said he could feel our support. I don’t remember all this other man said, but I’ll never forget that he kept raising his voice at me to the point of yelling at me about how I needed to be more committed to the church and to this man (referring to the pastor who was now sitting quietly not saying anything in my defense). What was worse was that he was yelling at me at a public food court in a busy shopping mall. My own Father (who could be a yeller) had never yelled at me like this, let alone in a mall-I think I said very little and maybe even started to cry. I don’t exactly remember-but I can still feel remember the absolute shock that I felt. He then proceed to yell at me some more and say that the only reason he was doing this was because he loved me. What? Love me. This is love? Publicly humiliating me by yelling at me because you don’t think I’m doing enough? This is love? I was truly hurt, confused, and maybe even depressed after this incident. What hurt the most was that my pastor said nothing in my defense. He actually seemed to approve of what was being said and made no comment about the delivery style. Why did I put up with this? I’ve asked myself this question many times and I still don’t know why I let someone treat me this way.
Later, this same man interrupted me mid sentence, as I tried to offer an opinion on an upcoming event the church was planning. Again, the pastor I was speaking with just started talking to this man and never finished our conversation. Later that morning, the whole worship team (which included our pastor and his teenage child) were back stage to pray for the upcoming service. It was very apparent that there was some tension between the pastor and his teenager. Both seemed visibly upset and agitated. One of the sweetest women on the worship team, graciously asked if there was something wrong. Our pastor said no. She graciously asked again, because his teenager ducked out right after we started praying. He said that there was something going on-but that he couldn’t say. It was frustrating to see him be so evasive. Here was a man who had allowed me to be raked over the coals and yelled at in a mall and he couldn’t even be honest about a family fight or whatever it was that occurred that was disrupting his Sunday morning. I actually snapped at that moment-I couldn’t even pray as the rest of the team tried to pray for him in a nondescript way for ”whatever” was going on. I actually huffed and I thought my stomach would explode because I was so frustrated and angry. He looked up at me during prayer and grabbed me to stay after everyone had left. I was so mad at him that we started to argue harshly. I remember flailing my arms in disgust and telling him “how could he lead us when he can’t even be honest about his own life?”. He gave me some hairbrained answer about how it wouldn’t be appropriate for him as pastor to do such a thing. The church service was now 5 minutes behind schedule because the worship leader (me) and the pastor were verbally fighting backstage behind a curtain. Somehow-we managed to tone it down and go out and pull off the church service. We did manage to talk after the service and we forgave each other for the argument that we had backstage. I never did learn what had caused all the fuss between him and his kid, but I felt guilty for expressing myself in such anger and never pursued it or about the recent incident in the mall.
The hardest part was still yet to come- my wife decided that she needed to confront my pastor’s wife about their relationship and the way she seemed to be judgmental towards us and our parenting choices. I called our pastor and he and his wife agreed to come over. I took some time off work and the 4 of us sat down and had a very long and emotional conversation. My wife expressed her feelings and gave specific examples of how she felt her friend had wronged my wife or simply been judgmental in things she said about us. We had prayed ahead of time and were committed to trying to follow Matthew 18 in hopes of being heard and working through these things. I still believed that we would be a part of this church for many years to come and we wanted to be right with these folks. The best way to typify what happened is to tell you what happened at the end of our time together. After hours of us being as honest as we could -about how we felt wronged -and trying to be clear and gracious so that forgiveness could occur. Our pastor’s wife ended the meeting by saying she really wasn’t sure if she agreed with us and that she’d have to pray about and get back to us. She then got up and left our apartment. After saying goodbye to our pastor I closed the door and actually felt like we might get thru this and see our relationships grow. A week or so went by and no follow up occurred. We didn’t press it at first because we were trying to respect their wishes to pray and think about what we said. Another week and a couple more awkward church services-I decided to call our pastor. I asked him about the conversation and asked him if we needed to talk. I apologized for maybe pushing, but we didn’t want to pretend everything was fine-if in reality- we had made his wife mad or bitter or if she felt we were mistaken. He said he didn’t think she was mad and he never really answered me about getting back to us. We eventually left the church plant a few months later, not because of all that had happened but because my employment situation was putting us deeper in debt. My parents offered to let us stay with them rent free so we could get back on our feet. We felt bad for leaving the church plant after only a year, but saw little option because of our financial crisis.
We talked to our pastor and his wife-they understood our situation and since we were moving near CJ’s church-we agreed to get together when they were in town for leadership training. We then moved and started attending CLC. A few months later, we heard that our pastor and his wife were going to be at a pastors’ conference, so we called and left 2 or 3 messages saying that we’d really like to get together and work things out. They did attend the conference, but they never called us back. Later that year, I landed employment back at my old job before the church plant-so we moved and started attending the church that had sent us out to plant. It was here that I approached our pastor to see if he would help us reconcile with our now former pastor and his wife. He seemed eager and we arranged to meet that week. When I laid out all that had happened and how we had tried following Matt 18 as we had been taught-he seemed like he wanted to help. I expected that he would call our old pastor and arrange a time to meet and work it thru. Instead, he told me to write out all the ways I had sinned against this pastor and his wife. Then I should call my former pastor and confess my sin to him. Then once that was out of the way-then he could help me work thru our issues. I was confused as to why I needed to do this-but in the interest in trying to reconcile I agreed to do this. It wasn’t hard to think of ways I had sinned so I wrote them down-but what was hard, was that I had already confessed these things to this man and his wife at our meeting. I hemmed at calling him and put it off for a while. I did call and leave a voice mail and said I wanted to talk-he didn’t call back.
After a month or so-I finally made up my mind that I would try again to call this man, way my pastor suggested. Later that day-another strange twist in the saga-the same man on the church plant team that had yelled at me, walked thru the door at the retail store I was now managing. It had been almost a year since we had left and he told me that he had left the church plant as well. I told him this didn’t surprise me because of the tension I had seen in his relationship with the pastor. We stepped into a back room and he began to tell me some of the details of why they had left, in particular the major problems he and his wife had in relating to the pastor’s wife. I told him that I understood what he meant. He asked me for more details and I rebuffed-saying that I didn’t want to say because I was in the middle of trying to reconcile with these folks and had sought help from our sending church. He kept asking for details-I again explained that I didn’t want to get into it and jeopardize the process. He then swore to me that he didn’t even see our old pastor anymore and that he could be trusted. I then chose to confide in him-I explained some of what had gone on and he confirmed some of the things that my wife and I had tried to work out. It felt good to feel like I wasn’t crazy-and even wondered if maybe I had misjudged this fellow because of his harsh tone in the mall. He shared some more of his trials and decision to leave the church and then he went on his merry way to a business meeting. My conversation with this old church plant member encouraged me to call our old pastor and stand firm.
The next day I began to worry about whether I should have trusted this man and given in to his questions. I didn’t want to be accused of gossip. So I took my afternoon break and decided to make the phone call to confess my sins and to try and re-open lines of communication before any damage could be done.
With many butterflies in my stomach, I dialed my pastor’s office number and he answered. I mumbled a hello and started, in a semi scripted fashion, to explain why I was calling and that I wanted to confess some things to him. He interrupted me and told me that, while he wanted to do this, he couldn’t because he was aware of my conversation with this other former church plant member and that he was afraid I had gossiped. I was floored-that man had lied to me-he still got together for breakfast once a week with our old pastor. He had flown home the night of our conversation and had spilled the beans the next morning at breakfast. My heart sank and I was speechless at first. My old pastor started to give me a mini sermon on gossip and bitterness. But I couldn’t say anything-I was shell shocked. I did manage to say that I couldn’t believe this…he was perturbed because I hadn’t answered his question related to his mini sermon. He angrily asked me what I couldn’t believe, I told him I couldn’t believe all that had happened in the last 2 years and how terrible the whole thing had been. I then found my courage and told him that I thought he had gossiped by listening to this man tell things I told him in confidence and that was going to hang up and call the other pastor involved and tell him the whole deal. I slammed down the phone and did just that… but to no avail. This other pastor didn’t seem to know what to do-he promised to talk to this other pastor and get back to me. He never really did get back to me, and despite living less than a mile from our apartment-he consistently put me off for over 4 months. By then we decided that there was little else we could do-to either reconcile with our old pastor or to have our current pastor help us either… I informed our pastor that we were leaving the church. We did talk for hours about many issues, including theological that had been born out of our troubles-but in the end he “released” to go and prayed with me.
I feel sad as I write this-because it has now been 10 years since trying to reconcile with people we loved, and had committed our loves to serve with-only to be turned out with silence and basic indifference. And in leaving SG-we essentially lost all of our friends. Some who had been in our wedding-one whom I considered the brother I never had. This is too painful to recount-needles to say-he hasn’t returned my phone calls in a while.
So why write all this-why not forgive and forget? Well I do forgive them and I actually pray for the many folks I know who are still in the movement. But I write it for those who are going through some of these same types of situations-so that they know
hat they aren’t crazy. So that they know that SG and their theology of leadership leads to these types of outcomes.
“Nothing matters except faith, expressing itself thru love”
- Musicman Part 2-The Church Plant Years (christianagnostic.wordpress.com)
- Musicman’s Story Part 1 (christianagnostic.wordpress.com)