Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse X

Tom came through the door from the office, at the normal time, 5:30. What wasn't typical was the fact that Sandy had dinner on the table.

He walked into the kitchen and gave her a peck on the cheek, "What's up. Are you going somewhere?"

"No. You are."

"I am?"

"Yes Tom, there's an emergency meeting of the board of elders at 6:30."

"Did Pete call?"

"Oh . . .no, he told me at church today. I think he called the other elders but asked me to pass it on to you."

The emergency meeting wasn't that unusual so Tom and Sandy sat down to eat. The boys were still at summer basketball practice . . . usually getting home at six, the expected time for dinner.

Tom made quick work of pork chops and broccoli, took one of famous power naps, was up and out the door to church arriving about 20 til seven. He didn't rush because Pete always came 15 minutes late.

He walked into the pastor's office and the other six elders were there drinking coffee and chit-chatting. Jeremy was sitting in the corner downing a Mountain Dew. He looked sweaty like he just came off the tennis court, which he probably had. He didn't make all the elder's meetings but his presence didn't surprise anyone. Tom didn't have time to say a word before the pastor came through the door. He had his typical beaming smile, "Good afternoon men. How's everyone tonight?"

There was a corporate mumbling of "fine" "good" or "great."

"I'm sorry to call you out on such short notice however, there's a lot to talk about. Our big fall kick off is just two weeks away and I wanted to build on our last meeting with some final details."

He opened up his briefcase and took out six packets of papers, each consisting of about 75 pages and started passing them around. "Here is our cell group syllabus for the fall. I have my sermons all planned out for the quarter so I created a lesson plan based on each sermon. Each lesson has seven dynamic questions for taking the sermon further. I would like for all of you to stick to this closely, then turn in each week, then about every other week we will meet and talk about them."

Tom's heart really started to sink. He was still hoping to start with the sermon review and quickly turn his cell group's discussion into a discussion about raising teens. Now this was so structured that it would be very difficult to waiver. He asked, "So pastor, do you really want us to follow this verbatim?"

He was a little surprised by Pete's cold look and sarcastic chuckle, "Yes Tom. That's why I've spent about 40 hours developing these packets."

Before anyone else had a word to say the pastor opened them in prayer. It was very intense, as most of his were. He was thanking God for choosing CBC to change the entire world and how humble he felt to lead that charge.

Then Pete looked over the group as he sat on the front of his desk. Oddly, Tom noticed that Jeremy seemed to be engrossed in a graphic novel, having put the syllabus under his chair.

"Men, I don't know if you've had any thoughts about what I said two weeks ago. But God has really been ministering to me in a very powerful way. I can say that I've never heard God speaking to me as clearly and loudly as He is right now. We all need to fasten our seat belts and hold on, God is preparing to do something here that this generation has never seen. All of us, I hope, are going to be part of that great work.

I was reading from Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship this morning and this quote seem to fit into what God is telling me,

Suffering then is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master… That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church… If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him. But if we lose our lives in His service and carry out cross, we shall find our lives again in the fellowship of the cross with Christ. The opposite of discipleship is to be ashamed of Christ and His cross and all the offense which the cross brings in its train.

So, I feel that I've failed you these few years as your pastor. I want to ask for your forgiveness and ask you to recommit yourselves to my leadership. We are called to sacrifice, which I haven't been doing nor asking you to. But that is all about to change.

I'm setting up a discipleship program. This is really neat how God works in the way He reaches the world. Jesus gave us the example of how He trained the three, they trained the other eight, who then in turn trained the multitudes."

Jim McLean seemed a little puzzled and asked, "So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying what God has said to me . . . His heart speaking to mine. We need to set up a true discipleship program. I'm going to disciple this group. I want you guys to pick out about two or three men in your cell and disciple them. In turn those two or three men, about this time next year, will be in the position to disciple the masses. In about three years, as I look down the road, CBC will be in the position, a church of true, Bonhoeffer-type men of God, poised to change this country from the liberal path it's on."

Tom was feeling overwhelmed as Pete added a few more caveats to his big plan. All the elders will meet with the pastor each morning at 6 Am for prayer. They will have a Bible study together each Saturday morning as well as lead their own cell groups on Thursday nights, plus, the pastor wanted them each to spend one hour a week with each of their cell group disciples.

It was 9 PM and no one had gotten a word in side ways except to ask Pete for further explanations. Jeremy abruptly stood up and announced that he had to get home because Ann had text-ed that she needed him. As he said goodbye and walked out the door, Pete said, "Excuse me just a minute," and he raced out the door behind Jeremy. The men sat in silence as they heard a loud discussion coming from somewhere far away.

Finally Tom spoke, "Wow. Pete's asking for a lot of time commitment here."

Jim looked at him, and rather than agreeing, as Tom expected, said, "I think we have a special pastor here. We've never had a man with so much zeal for God. I know I for one am going to make Pete's vision a priority for my own life. After all he is my pastor."

To Tom's surprise, now that Jeremy was gone, all the men, but himself, seemed to be on the same page as Jim.

Pete returned and wrapped up the marathon meeting at 10 PM with the same amount of energy he had stared with. As they were walking out Tom asked Pete if he could have a word with him.

"What do you want?" Pete said in an surprisingly stern voice. "Are you going to try and derail God's will for this church again."

"Pete, I simply had some questions for you, and I need a few clarifications."

"Don't tell me that you still want to be the focus of your cell group."

"I never said that. Actually what I was saying two weeks ago was that I wanted the people to be the focus and the concerns they were dealing with on a daily basis. But that's not what I want to ask about tonight."

Another sarcastic smile came to Pete's face. "Fire away," but then he started collecting his papers off his desk like he was only half way listening to Tom.

"Pete, you are asking for about a twelve-hour a week time commitment from each of us for your plan. That just seems like a lot and I'm not sure that this is how we should be spending our time. The other thing, why do you see yourself has the one to disciple each of our elders."

"So you want to pour water on the fire that God is building here. There is always one, you know, the disciples had Judas."

Tom started looking really angry, "Pete, now stop with the name calling. Last time you called me Satan and tonight it is Judas. I just have some logical questions."

Pete grabbed on the choice of words, "Logic. That's the problem. We don't serve a logical God, we serve a God of power that defiles logic."

"Here is one point that I want to make. You feel that you must disciple us. Look at Larry. Here is a senior saint who spent forty years on the mission field in the jungles of Brazil. I know that he is slightly demented now that he is in his mid eighties, but do you really think he needs to be discipled by a man half his age and a quarter of his experiences? And, doesn't this church's charter say that it is the elders that should be overseers to the pastor, not the other way around?"

"Tom, I don't see Larry in here complaining. He seemed to have his heart in tune with what God is doing."

"Pete! For one he is so hard of hearing that he probably only heard 10% of what you were saying. Secondly, he is such a sweet man that he never objects to anything."

"Tom, God is doing a great work here. As Jesus said, either you are with him or against him."

"But you are Pete saying these things . . . not Jesus."

"Maybe Jesus is saying them, but you are so Tom-focused, that you are not hearing him. You and Jeremy, both seem to have no interest in what God wants to do in this ministry. You need to think deep and hard. If you don't want to make the commitment, then maybe we can find someone who can. We need an elder who has the respect of his pastor and his people and I'm not sure you have either. I'm not sure you even have your own wife's respect."

While Pete always showed a strong confidence and was able to manage his emotions carefully, Tom could not. His face became red in . . . lets call a spade a spade . . . rage. "Pete, now what the hell that suppose to mean?"

"Can you abstain from using such language in this sanctuary? I can tell that Sandy doesn't have the spiritual respect for you that a elder's wife should."

"Pete, if you really want to go there at this late hour we will. You're right, I don't think Sandy respects me. I don't measure up to her very fundamentalist parents. It is that simple."

"I'm afraid I will have to disagree with you. Respect is something we earn by our character."

"And Angie respects you I guess?"

Pete acts very surprised at the question. "Of course she does. I don't appreciate your mean-spirited attitude."

"Didn't you just make the same statement about my wife about ten seconds ago?"

Pete chuckles, "Totally different questions. I asked an honest question, and you confirmed the answer I had feared. You then turn around and pose the same question to me, not an honest question, but a vicious question that came out of your anger. Of course you know that Angie respects me and no one doubts that. If anything, I have to rebuke her at times for worshiping the ground I walk on."

Now Tom is smiling. "Really. Well she must be one lucky woman . . . or maybe you don't really know her so well after all.


NOTAL said...

This narrative is getting more and more stressful to read.

jmj said...

Sorry. Next time I will start a narrative about something more positive. Yesterday I was talking to a pastor who was devastated by such spiritual abuse. He doesn't even go to church now. However, he was pointing out that there is this huge subculture of people hurt deeply by spiritual abuse, but they haven't given up. They, like him, don't all go to church anymore, but they all expect to return at point, rather than just remain bitter.

Recovering Alumni said...

Wow, that was almost hard to read! Which I guess means you hit the nail on the head.

Eagle said...

"Tom's heart really started to sink. He was still hoping to start with the sermon review and quickly turn his cell group's discussion into a discussion about raising teens"

Pete reminds me of a number of people I have met from 1999 to 2009 in evangelical Christianity. California, Wisconsin and the Washington, D.C. area they are out there and they do a large amount of harm.

I've seen pastors create agendas and expect people to jump on board. There is little discussion, little feedback, and little room to question. To question can show a lack of faith.

I like the comment that you had above. That is something I have noticed. There are seldom programs in many churches that are useful, or they will not go in the direction that will help people. As a guy I couldn't believe how hard it was to find a guys small group that would talk about lust related issues, or even day to day hard stuff about life. I was drowning in my job and so many people I knew had the rosy, everything is perfect mentalilty. But many church programs ignore people and many churches frankly dont give a shit about people.

When I attended McLean Bible I couldn't believe some of the stories I heard. As I became more in tune with the Washington, D.C. area I actually suggested ministries that would help people.

I suggested at one point the following ministries:

A. A Christian ministry that would help people who recently moved to the Washignton, D.C. area. Help them with housing, help them make friends, help them get connected, help them network with others in job like the ones they are in, and help them with adjusting to the difficulties of living in this area. This idea was born based on my difficulties that I had moving here. This idea hit a brick wall and died a quick death.

B. As I lived in the DC area I began to realize how many people in the US military live and work in the area. I proposed a ministry that would send care packages to those deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Adopt members in prayer, touch base with them and help them return and adjust to the DC area. Make sure that they could have someone who could show a genuine interest and love and help them in their needs. Again this also hit a brick wall.

In regards to your comment MJ...I've become quite bitter. I've had to wrestle and live with all the harm that evangelicalism has done. In the process I've also come to realize that evangelicalism hasn't just taken 10 years from my life, but it also robbed me of my future. Some of the evangelicals actions I knew deliberatly put a career in jeopardy all in the name of "discipline..."

Yes the church is abusive, yes its subtle, and yes sometimes its not. I feel lost and so disillusioned over what I've lived with and seen. 2 years ago in dispair I finally cut off many relationships, and burned some bridges. Telling God to fuck off was the easy part. I just don't want to be hurt again.

jmj said...

Eagle, I hope that I'm just not stirring up more painful thoughts for you, that wasn't my point. I know you've been hurt badly and I don't mean to grind salt in the wounds by talking about these things. I hope you can heal and move on and get joy back into your life (it may be there now for all I know) and not lest these SOBs hurt you anymore.

Anna A said...


I think that your ideas about ministries were good. I'm so sorry that they were rejected.

I wish that we all were closer geographically, so that we could get together and just be tangible friends, over coffee, beer or whatever beverage you want.

Anonymous said...

Wow -- heckuva cliffhanger! I'm reading this whole thing in one sitting, and I'm wondering if my perceptions of the situation is about to get flipped on its head ...

At first, Pastor Pete was reminding me of a leaking gas truck, in that I just wanted to be far, far away when he goes up in flames. And then I realized that I've done things like that when I was in (admittedly, low-level) positions of responsibility in institutional congregations. So it's me, standin' in the need of prayer ... just like all of us sinners.

Also, when you said above:
"... there is this huge subculture of people hurt deeply by spiritual abuse, but they haven't given up. They, like him, don't all go to church anymore, but they all expect to return at point, rather than just remain bitter."

... well, I'm one of those subculturals (is that a word? Well, it is now). I long to worship and contribute in a community of believers that resembles the New Testament more than it does an Herbalife meeting run by Vladimir Lenin. Haven't found one yet, but I haven't given up hope -- and I can't give up Jesus (or, mercifully, him me). So I keep waiting "outside the camp" (Heb. 13:13), and we'll see what God does ...