Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pastors

I’ve been thinking about the pastors I’ve known and worked for and kind of getting depressed about the whole mess… I feel a certain amount of frustration with churches and working with all us messed up people. I agree with a friend of mine when she said that she loves the church universal but feels disappointment and frustration with the church particular… I know it’s the way God has chosen to reach the rest of the world, but I’m just so tired of experiencing the pain and disappointment of trying to get along in a church. I always feel outside of it all, and always end up wishing that church could be more than it is… Although I guess it’s really the pastors that have been the huge disappointment.

My experience has taught me that pastors are either arrogant control freaks who have all “the answers” and will not listen to anyone around them or they are pushover peace-makers who let the church run itself into death and atrophy. It’s frustrating that my recent experience here in Fairbanks has re-confirmed that experience. I have come to a place where I have so little respect for most pastors that I really do not want to join yet another church and place myself under the authority of yet another man who thinks he has the only direct line to God. I know they are just men with sin in their life (like me), but I’m afraid their sins and mistakes have had so much impact on my life that I’d rather just avoid the whole mess. Right now, I'm wanting nothing to do with any church or pastor at all...

UBC, Alaska
The only pastor I have a lot of respect for was my pastor from high school. He had been at our church for a long time, probably 15 years, and he maintained this incredible balance of compassion and truth. He was able to preach sermons that reached baby Christians and mature Christians, and he had a willingness to listen to the youth in our church. He calmly handled the very strong personalities in our church and kept us on God’s path- I only know this ‘cuz my mom was the church clerk for years and years and witnessed the business meetings and most of the big decisions the church made. He encouraged the church body to speak up and give their say and then would set them all to working together on seeking God’s will for the church as a whole. He retired and I have to say he’s probably the only pastor I’ve really trusted. I still miss his calm presence and years of experience.

The pastor who took his place as I entered college was a seminary professor who demanded absolute silence during his sermons. I remember him yelling at the congregation when children would go to the bathroom, youth would whisper or adults would move around. “I’m preaching up here!” People left, as you can imagine… Other things were going on (his wife and son hated it here and he had to deal with those STRONG personalities I mentioned earlier) and I’m sure that impacted his feelings about being there… and the difficulty of maintaining his ministry…

FBFM, Texas
From there I went to seminary and got involved with three different churches. At the first one I was able to work with the youth group on this huge Wednesday night outreach and evangelism program. The church was in a rather wealthy area and very wish-washy, focused on being non-intrusive, comfortable and friendly. Sadly, they weren’t even culturally relevant. I got involved ‘cuz I went with my roommate and I could help with the youth program… The pastor and the youth guy were more interested in numbers and getting people in the door than in making an impact in their individual lives. I fell in love with these kids as I built relationships with them and I wanted to see them come to a deeper understanding of what being a Christ-one meant… I remember seeing girls in skirts so short they had to put sweaters over their laps when they sat down to cover their underwear… Sounds silly, but there was so little emphasis on discipleship and growing in a personal walk with Christ that these girls didn’t see the relationship between what they wore and their faith… I asked the youth guy if I could lead a discipleship group with the high school girls. My heart hurt when I thought about these girls out on their own starting college without a strong understanding of what it meant to live for Christ. He didn’t want to lose the numbers in his program and said no. Then my sister came to live with me and wasn’t willing to attend that church alone with me gone most weekends (traveling with my drama team).

NRH, Texas
So, we got involved with the church where my drama team director, wife, and kids were members. I’d been involved with a couple programs there through him, and come to respect the music minister. We visited during a time when the church was without a pastor and earnestly seeking God’s will. The music guy was heavily invested in this church- he’d been there twenty or so years, raised his kids there, and taught the congregation about worship. When the church hired a new pastor one of the pastor’s first moves was to get rid of the music guy- First he tried to get him to leave by making him very uncomfortable, removing any of his authority and requiring him to get approval for all music choices. When the music guy didn’t leave, he started monitoring his every move, picked apart some of his emails and put together a false picture of this guy and got him removed from the church. I couldn’t believe how many people in the church fell for the ridiculous picture the pastor painted... They knew him! Why did they fall for the lies of this brand new pastor?! I still can't believe how many people believed him...

CC, Texas
I left the church (my sister had already moved back up to Fairbanks), and for the last 6 months or so of my time in Fort Worth I attended church with a friend from Company at a good church out in Arlington. They used drama and had a great worship team. We got involved in an artist’s group there, and I got to be really involved in my own church, which was difficult during my traveling days… The pastor was distant & fairly cool and pretty removed from the church body, but preached excellent sermons. They had a teaching pastor, and a senior pastor who interacted with the members and did the counseling type stuff. I really liked the way this church reached their decisions and focused on utilizing people in their strengths…

FHBC, Washington
Then I graduated and started searching for the place where God wanted me. I visited this church start out in Seattle and knew this was where God wanted me. I’ve only had the experience of knowing exactly what God wanted me to do a few times in my life- when He called me into ministry, when he told me to go to seminary, and when I went out to Seattle… I knew when he sent me out to Texas that it was going to be HARD, and I knew when he sent me to Seattle that it was going to be HARD, but I had high hopes… I was so excited about going to a church where I could use my gifts and glorify God with music and drama and the arts! I thought this was going to be great and it was AWFUL. The pastor had been a music leader for his dad, the “great pastor”, and knew exactly how my job should be done, what music should be chosen, how I should pray in public, what I should say to every person I met, what relationships I should develop and how I should comport myself in every situation…

I was so naïve! I just didn’t know the right questions to ask when I went out to visit- After I got there, I found out that he’d gone through 6 worship leaders in the 2 years he’d been at the church, and I honestly think he hired me partly because I was a woman and he thought I’d be more ‘submissive’ than the guys he’d worked with before… (boy, did he get the wrong woman if that’s what he thought!) When Jake & I started hanging out and getting involved, he tried to get me to stop seeing him, not because I shouldn’t be dating anyone as the music minister, but because he didn’t think Jake was an ‘appropriate choice’… Things just kept getting worse and worse and worse, and finally I was asked to leave. At the time, I was heartbroken, but after getting out from under his dictatorship (which extended to every area of the church- finances, you name it…) I realized God was releasing me and was able to rejoice in leaving the church, but oh, how it hurt. Sadly, the church failed about six months after we left... I honestly believe God had brought me out there in the hopes of causing some changes which would have kept this church growing. I failed. I don't know what I should have done, or how I missed out. I have re-examined and re-examined my time there and haven't come up with any answers... I wish I could go back and do it all again...

RHBC, Washington
Jake & I visited about two churches after that and immediately found a church that obviously needed our assistance. They were a congregation of about 20 people made up entirely of people over 45. Their music guy could barely carry a tune, the piano sounded awful, and the pianist struck wrong notes the entire morning. We thought we had found a place where we could really be of help… Yet again, we were too naïve. The church had two deacons who had been there since the 60’s and wanted to keep the church back in “the good old days”. The pastor was this sweet older gentleman who just tried to keep everybody happy, who loved Jesus and people, and really didn’t know how to stand up to these deacons. They would rather watch their church die than change what they were doing. Jake and I taught the youth SS class (2-3 kids) and we led music every once in a while… They hated the keyboard Jake brought in… We would bring in one or two choruses each Sunday (I’m not talking really rocking stuff here either, “As the Deer panteth for the water”, “I love you, Lord”, stuff we thought the congregation would like), and those two deacons had words with the pastor, who didn’t know what to do ‘cuz he liked the songs and so many other people did… Also, I stood and sung while Jake sat and played the keyboard, and they wanted me to “wave my arm around”, which I can do, but it’s not like they were a choir… or even reminiscent of a choir… Of course, the deacons won.

CC, Washington
Right about then, we got called to lead music for another church (isn’t God good? He released us from there right as it looked like we couldn’t do any more…) . We started leading worship at this great church in south Seattle where we got to do drama and work with the youth group, and they knew how to worship, and we got to do great music and we loved it. We really couldn’t understand why the church wasn’t growing. After we’d been there for a little over a year we got wind that the pastor’s wife was leaving him. We met with her to encourage her to stay and found out he was into HEAVY porn, and had been since before they’d been married- (on their honeymoon he called an 888 number. Talk about killing the romance.) We’re talking XXX phone calls every day, XXX movies, internet stuff… Their two boys had each walked in on it at different times when he was supposed to be babysitting… Even though he had two jobs they were in pretty heavy debt because of his porn bills… They’d been to different counselors and he really didn’t see any need to stop or any way for him to give it up. Finally, we knew why the church wasn’t growing & what was wrong… The sick part is that the deacons wouldn’t tell the church body what was really going on so everyone blamed the wife for leaving him and supported the pastor and blamed her for all his problems… We stuck it out and Jake was part of the church pastor search committee and we saw them hire a great new pastor. We've visited since then and seen the church grow and change. God is doing a good thing there.

SPBC, Alaska
Then I lost my job ‘cuz of a rough pregnancy, and we decided for Jake to go to school, ‘cuz he couldn’t support us on the jobs he’d had so far plus he'd hated the jobs he'd had so far... We ended up moving to Fairbanks to live with my family while he went to UAF. We visited around a couple Sundays and the pastor at the 2nd or 3rd church got really excited about us. He started actively pursuing us, praying for us, figuring out ways we could be involved in the church. Although, we weren’t too sure about the church- not very many college students, very traditional, and the music was kind of blah-blah- we ended up joining mostly because he could really see how God could use us there. He developed a plan for me to be hired as the Director of Children’s Activities and Jake could be hired as the janitor. We got involved in the music ministry team, and were able to sub for the music minister when he needed it. I was hired and directed the children’s SS program, VBS, the children’s choir, the children’s church program, a children’s Wed night discipleship program, and began heavily participating in the women’s ministry. I taught every one of the kids SS classes at some point and knew all of the kids at the church. Since this was a military church we had 30-50 kids associated with the church even though it was a 100-120 member church… Most of the church membership was in the 25-40 age range, and most of them had kids…

After Abigail was born I was leading a women’s monthly prayer meeting, and the children’s choir. The music minister asked us to lead the music for the Sunday evening service. Jake was kind of mentoring some young musicians and after he withdrew from school he was hired as the secretary. About then I started writing the church newsletter, ‘cuz Jake wasn't sure about it and didn’t want to spend the time doing it. Then we hired a new pastor.

Everything came crashing down… He doesn’t believe women should have leadership roles, and certainly not ones that have them speaking in the main meeting of the congregation. He doesn’t believe persons who’ve been divorced have any business being in leadership positions. He believes rap music is of the devil, and that music with strong rhythm is worldly and stirs up worldly desires… He wants control over most of the decisions the church makes and intends to have a very tight reign on things. His wife took over the women’s ministry and began teaching that women must submit in all things and should be at home.

We've been badly burned at this point. I can tell that I'm recovering, but I'm not sure about Jake... I think he really doesn't want anything to do with church at all... We've visited a couple but are not regularly attending and are kind of just sleeping a lot on Sunday...

God, heal our hearts. Show the truth in this situation. Please draw us back to church. Even if we don't want to go, our girls need to be in church. Please point us in the right direction. Give us a new vision for what you want from us. Give us a new hope. Heal our hearts, Jesus.

1 comment:

sarahjanesina said...

Wow. Y'all have been through a lot. It makes my heart ache. I fell "out of favor" at my old church, it was quite shocking, since I was quite "in favor" before. (Leading the drama team, leading in prayer, altar ministry, serving in children's church, teaching at the school, housesitting for the senior pastors... I was up to my EYEBALLS) The turning point came when I found myself decorating the church for Christmas instead of attending my grandmother's funeral, which was the last time my family was all together. How ridiculous is that? And the attitude from the leadership was, "Oh, that's too bad. We're sorry, but the church needs to be decorated by Sunday." It was never verbalized, but it was there. That's when I noticed things in my bright and shiny world were a tad out of whack. Over the next few years, God began to show me how out of whack my thoughts and priorities about church were. So, since I've been in Seattle, I am having to relearn what church really is (I have no idea) how to deal with a bunch of sinful, imperfect people (myself included) and a Bride who is less than beautiful for her Groom. I am constantly amazed that God still loves the church- especially since we have made such a mess of it. I pray that y'all find the peace and grace you need, and God leads you, in His timing, to a place where He can restore your love for His Bride again. It's a difficult thing. Thanks for being so transparent in your journey.