Catacomb Resident Blog

Can't Go Back

17 January 2023

He's the pastor of a monster evangelical church here in my area. Back when he was a rising staff member of that same church, he and I were close. We both had a military background and our habits and methods were similar on most things. I volunteered to support his ministry, helped him fulfill obligations that required extra hands. Eventually he trusted me enough to fill in for him on weeknight meetings with some of the men in our church.

Then the church suffered an attack of the Seeker Sensitive/Purchase Driven (did I spell that right?) stuff that had taken a bite out of so very many churches across America. The long time big name pastor had just resigned and moved on to greener pastures, and some bigshots in the state denominational offices began seizing control of things under the cover of helping the church find its next pastor.

During the process, certain stalwart staffers who resisted these machinations were essentially kicked out. One in particular was attacked and there was a sort of informal "trial" under some rather loose rules. My buddy had lied about this man in order to make it easier to get rid of him. The guy left and ended up pastoring another church about ten miles away, and making things there much better through his leadership.

For the few weeks leading up to this time, I had been trying to suggest some moral ideals and outreach actions that the remaining staff and these state bigshots must have felt were a threat to their program of hijacking the church. I was calling for more people to take up a sort of volunteer ministry action in the church's name, rather than being passive and comfortable "being ministered to". I was investing a lot of hours and writing stuff to sort of promote these ideas, alongside some other volunteers.

At one point, I was publishing a series that I handed out to key volunteers in connection with those previously mentioned week night meetings. I was careful not to waste program time on my stuff; I just handed out papers to those who wanted them and told them they could call me later if they wished.

At first my buddy was onboard with my papers and efforts to organize. Then suddenly, without any explanation at all, he ordered me to cut it out. Then he distanced himself from me. This was right about the time of the "trial" when he lied against that staff associate who was senior to him. There was also some fraudulent deacons' meetings and a church assembly to vote on things. You guessed: Only a minority saw through the lies. I passed out another paper on why I was voting all this stuff down. During the resulting hullabaloo, I left the church as part of a significant exodus and refused to help them any longer on the volunteer project.

At some point, I heard third hand that my former buddy wanted to make peace with the man about whom he lied. They met and things became less tense. My former buddy apologized. However, he had not changed his character, and it was readily apparent to anyone who knew him. When he tried to contact me, I sent him one a letter explaining that I forgave him, but I could never trust him again because he was devoted to the system, not the Lord. This is the kind of thing men learned in the military if they wanted to get promoted beyond middling enlisted ranks. They had to be loyal to the system to their own loss, and certainly never act in loyalty to any other service members or their families.

That church exodus was back before 2010. Later that year, they went through a really greedy pastor who stayed just long enough to find an even better offer. From what I understand, he pushed until the church was in debt from his pet projects. Then they had a decent guy who later died of cancer. Finally, the church had shrunk so much they couldn't get big name guys any more, so they promoted my former buddy to senior pastor.

So far as I can tell, that church has continued on the Seeker Sensitive/Purchase Driven path. They came up with trendy names for staff positions and began taking much tighter control over everything the volunteers do, down to the details of Sunday School curriculum and everything. No more teacher-led Bible study; they had to use a common curriculum. It's very much top-down management such as you find in any secular business. I haven't spoken to the pastor since the day I left the church.

My only regret is that I didn't know enough about the hijacked path they were on to articulate my objections. As I wrote to the pastor in that letter, I wasn't angry with him, just surprised and disappointed that something so exciting to the volunteers was being shot down when it meant no real threat to the staff. He was just like all the secretive NCO cabal in the Army, forcing men to betray everyone and every moral principle except the will of the bureaucracy, even when it was painfully obvious it was immoral.

This is the way evangelical churches are going. I have long believed in the actual meaning of the phrase "priesthood of the common believer". That church belonged to a denomination that once prided themselves on have a very equalitarian "cooperation" ethic between churches and members. I once heard that "pastors don't make sheep; sheep have sheep" as a metaphor for making room for members to serve as they felt led. After just a dozen years, I cannot recognize that denomination, nor that particular church. When I read church news sites, it sounds like this cancer has spread through most evangelical denominations, and is the foundation on which many new ones are formed.

I could never go back.

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