Sunday, September 23, 2007

When Good People Do Nothing

I heard from my good friend Lulu the other day. Well, of course her name isn’t Lulu. I have to change the names of this story to protect the innocent. As for the guilty, I have to change their names too, mostly so I don’t get hatemail. Let me give you a little background info, and then I’ll get back to Lulu.
Several years ago, my husband and I left the small church we were attending because we felt the environment to be toxic and cult-like. We had been asked to invest extraordinary amounts of time and energy into the pastor’s efforts, and when we wanted to step back from so much responsibility because we needed a break, we were told that our fatigue was an indication that we were “out of right relationship” with God. Our efforts to “minister” to others outside of that building were not validated whatsoever. I was told by the pastor that I had not ever truly been “discipled” as far as he could tell and that I was struggling with unresolved bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart. He explained that his wife, who had the gift of “discernment”, confirmed that these sins were hidden in my heart. As long as we were marching to the beat of his drum, the fruits of the Holy Spirit were evident in our lives. Any interruption in our efforts was interpreted by the pastor to be a slipping away from the will of God.
That’s one perspective. Another might be this, and this is pretty blatant:
This pastor seemed pretty cool at first. We started going and got sucked into the Bermuda Triangle of church work. We found our way in, but couldn’t find our way out. But that wasn’t the only issue. It was the fact that most Sundays we walked out the doors after the service shaking our heads and wondering what in the heck the sermon had been about. It was having to watch this guy lord over his wife. It was having to watch his wife disappear into no one--no voice, no opinion, and no identity apart from her husband’s voice. It was having to endure his attempts to control activities that he had no gifting in and not being able to say anything. It was having to deal with the frustrations of his futile attempts to answer the hard questions with formulated, pat answers and not being able to tell him that his answers just weren’t good enough. It was losing one potential leader after another because in that environment, there was only room enough for ONE leader, and that was the pastor. Eventually, people left. And so did we.
I know that when we left, I had such clarity! It’s amazing what getting outside of a situation can do for a person’s perspective. I look back and see how very controlling and cult-like that environment was. And how toxic. You gotta wonder how people even get involved in those crazy places. But you know, it’s not like this guy announced from the pulpit straight away that he had serious control issues, was misguided and manipulative, that he used people and that he blamed them thanklessly when they “abandoned” him. He never once indicated out loud that he would end up hurting people. It hasn’t occurred to him to this day, I would venture to say. He has no idea. So, how could we have known when we first started going and getting involved that it would end the way it did? We couldn’t smell the poison until it got right up on us. And in all honesty, I HAVE seen this pastor operate within the power of his compassion. When this occurs, he is unstoppable. Most effective, in fact. Unfortunately, most of what I observed was that too much of the time, he operated within the power of his position of authority, and frankly, it’s just not his best work.
When we left, he made sure to warn other people about us and, really, about me in particular. “Just be very cautious when it comes to Daisy. She’s a very strong woman.” Strong women, apparently, are a danger to the church. Or maybe just his church.
Lulu is a strong woman. She and her husband Bud left the church too. I do not assume to know why they left or the details of their departure, and I probably wouldn’t write about it if I did. Suffice to say, they started going to church somewhere else. However, one of Lulu’s relatives, LaLa, still goes to this church and is VERY involved! VERY! Did I mention, VERY? LaLa is a wonderful Christian lady. She started a women’s Bible study and invited Lulu to attend, even though Lulu no longer goes to church there. When Control Freak Pastor got wind of this, he told LaLa to inform Lulu that she could not return to the Bible study because she was not in a place to receive anything from that church. There was nothing the church could offer her. Furthermore, there were new members attending the Bible study, and it would not be good to have Lulu there with them. Instead of telling the pastor to get bent, LaLa sent her BLOOD RELATIVE up the river. With all her best wishes and prayers, of course.
I hope this guy doesn’t decide to move to Guyana and pass out poison Kool-aid. OK, I’ll concede that this guy is not really that kooky. But what side of the fence is all this on? Every single solitary person I’ve told this to has let out a mortified gasp. I’ve even told a couple pastors who just want to take the guy out back and pop him one. This situation of unhealth is crystal clear to EVERYBODY who is not in it. Lala doesn’t see it. Many others remain who don’t see it either. And what can we do about that?
Should we say something? Should we make some phone calls? Should we go on an anti-this-particular-pastor campaign? We’ve watched other people do it who are just as misguided as the enemy they believe they want to conquer. I, for one, want NO PART of that! You know what ends up happening? Most people just leave. And I go back and forth on this. I was one of those people who just left. I was one who didn’t say anything--I just disappeared. Even when given an opportunity to say something, I declined, believing that my words would go unheeded. Wasted. This pastor had never heard me before when I tried to explain to him how I felt. Why should I continue trying to make him realize what he never would? I was already detached at that point, and whatever would eventually happen to that church didn’t matter to me anymore. But my silence kept the door open for more people to get hurt the way that I was hurt.
Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And Dr. King said that, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Had I been appallingly silent? Do we inadvertently participate in harming others by simply walking away? It is, after all, the path of least resistance.
Even now, I am in the middle of a different organization that is divided with bullies and victims and bullies who think they’re victims. Loss has occurred and will continue to occur, and good people have and are leaving. No one is saying why. Hurt continues. Should we all just watch? Believe me, nothing repulses me more than the thought of jumping into the middle of it. And, truthfully, I probably never will. Is that wrong of me? Lulu’s situation has me thinking about it.
It hurts my heart to know that nothing much has changed in all the years it’s been since we, ourselves, moved on from that church. So, when Lulu asked me to post something on my blog about, “...crappy pastors who think they can rule the world,” I thought I’d give it a shot.
The pastor of that church would be hurt if he read this. So would LaLa. So would friends who remain. No one likes to hear that others think they’re in a bad situation. Certain people would not like to hear that I’ve actually prayed that God would “deliver” them out of that toxicity and bring them to a place of clarity and health.
I don’t want to hurt anyone. But in this case, hurting this pastor or hurting LaLa simply involves exposing what occurred. The fact that others outside of that place will KNOW what happened will be, in itself, hurtful to them. It means that they will be looked upon by others with disdain and disappointment, others who CAN see the forest for the trees. In their isolation, it all seems normal. But when somebody slaps it up on the Internet for the world to see, it suddenly seems twisted and wrong. That’s because it is. Now what do the rest of us do about it?

10 comments:

lisa martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

WOW! I knew it and its now become clear as to why I feel like I'm really getting anything out of the sermons or why i feel so uncomfortable staying there. I do feel like I'm forced to be there. I'm very sad & disappointed that the Pastor of that church would turn away anybody from attending a life group there. My God! Will I be in trouble for attending a bible study at a different church? I don't go to their church but yet they still welcomed me to keep attending their bible study.
Thanks for your blog a lot has become clear as to why good families continue to leave that church with us as one of the families who were going to leave then got sucked in by telling us that relationships always take work and that relationships always need to be worked on. That is true when it comes from both sides and it's not one sided.

God Bless You and thanks again!

Spacey Lacey

Anonymous said...

Thank you !!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was glad to know I was not the only one who had those feelings. Thank you Daisy for validating my feelings, you have always been a good friend to our family.

Anonymous said...

I was saddened by your post Daisy, I guess because I was there with you and I did nothing to stop it either.I will stand in judgement on that day and that is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. I love this man very much and I don't see anyway I can change him[other than prayer,which is very powerful].
Let me tell you what I have taken with me from this experience.
I cannot promise you that I will not make mistakes in ministry again,because I know I will make more than my share. I will make this promise before the Lord Jesus Christ my sovreighn God,I will never sit and watch people be hurt over and over.Let me clarify my statement.People get hurt in churches,this cannot be helped. I will sacrifice my money,my time and even my own breath but never again,EVER!!!!!!!!
There is only one thing that the church must have every time,LOVE!!!
I now have a platform of leadership in Christ's church that He alone can remove from me and others like myself in leadership who stand with me in this area.
Love nailed Christ to the cross,Love drew us to Him and His pure, Holy and uncompromising Love is the only force that can keep us all Righteous and Holy.[1 Corinthians 13]
I encourage us all to pray for Christ's love to take over His church again

Anonymous said...

Daisy, thanks so much for taking the time to visit with Julie, Elder Woods, and myself. It was truly a treat to have a discussion that was very full of the spirit. Larry Woods (larrywoods@lycos.com)

RodDsm said...

Here’s my perspective. I’ve been in ministry, it seems like, my whole life. From an early age, I was teaching Children’s church when I should have been learning. My father was a minister and we did everything we could. The pastor and his family got “sucked in” to this lie that every ounce of breath we breathed had to be for the church.

Fast-forward MANY years later and I worked for a control freak pastor. I was his Music Pastor. He then changed my title to Director of Music because “…I am the only pastor here at FCOB.” Those were his words. He too had a god-complex. All of a sudden though, his popularity in the church faded and with other ministries flourishing, he got his panties all in a wad and decided that other “less-important-staff-pastors” were more popular than he was and he started firing every one of us, slowly but surely. The last Sunday he preached, he stood two feet in front of me, as if preaching directly to me, and talked about rebellion being the sin of witchcraft. He then used the “famous preacher’s sermon” of “…touching not God’s anointed.”

Needless to say, I was ultimately fired as well.

He had become just another person in the church and didn’t have the notoriety of being the “main man,” the “head honcho,” the “lead dog.” He ultimately had short man’s complex and had to compensate in other areas to make up for his own lack of esteem.

What I found though in that situation was that he was leading people to the Guyana juice that you referenced. When I “left” (or better yet was escorted out of the church never to say goodbye to my “faithful following’ – as he put it), he TOLD people that they could NEVER EVER associate with us ever again. He told them that I was in rebellion against him and against the church. He lied to them and told them falsehoods about me. THEN, he had the nerve to blackmail me. (Looking back, I now realize it was blackmail…at that time, I didn’t think of it that way.) He told me that if I “…kept my mouth shut about the things that I knew, then he would give me a severance package of two months pay.” I needed the money, I kept quiet.

He forced another family out too. He was the head Elder at the church for almost 40 years and he told the family that they needed to leave because they had remained friends with “former pastors” and that showed disloyalty to him.

Where do some pastors get off? Did God Himself come down and lay His hand on a man and tell him that he was the CHOSEN? I only read in the Bible about a dove descending from Heaven on Jesus? AM I wrong?

Where does this pastor you reference get off telling someone that they cannot attend a Bible Study? If Lulu didn’t leave in an inappropriate manner, which I cannot imagine happened, then why is she not allowed to attend the Bible Study in her own mother’s home?

In my years of experience in church, we have had people who have left the church and who have chosen to go elsewhere. Many were dissatisfied or displeased in some form or fashion, but we released them to go where they could be fed. Those who tried to defame our ministry, we left them in God’s hands, answered questions when it was necessary to defend our integrity, but pretty much left them alone.

If this so-called Pastor, “a leader of sheep”, didn’t have anything to worry about, why fight it. Were the allegations against him and his cult-like approach true? If so, telling others not to associate with certain people would sound like something right up his alley. If allegations weren’t true, why not take the Christ-like approach, dust your feet off, and move on in life.

Not sure if this makes any sense, but Daisy…I don’t think you or Lulu did anything wrong. I know of situations like this and it’s disturbing to say the least. Very disturbing.

My suggestion is to move on. Don’t give this pastor or any of “his” people the time of day. God has you on a mission. You know that. You have ministered to MORE people in more DIVERSE situations that the TUC (Toxic United Church).

You say things more loudly with your actions than with a phone call. Don’t waste your time calling people or alerting them or even feeling guilty that you didn’t warn them. People will choose to believe what they want and only when their eyes are opened by God will they do something about it. Until they grow up spiritually and make a change, they will consistently be doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Oh as an update to my TUC that I worked for…the pastor is still there, some of the same people who stabbed me in the back are still there and when we see them or talk to them now (time has a way of breaking down walls where people begin to talk), they say, “…well bless God, this was our church long before he came and when he decides to leave, we’ll still be here and we’ll deal with another pastor.” INSANITY!

Anonymous said...

I don't ever remember Jesus turning anyone away. This pastor sounds like a controll freak. I bet a lot of people come and go in that building. Some people can see these things and leave and then there are those who are too close to see who will get hurt.
Sooner or later his domain will crumble and so will he.

cat_m@cox.net said...

Thank you Daisy, for putting in to words what was a very difficult experience for my husband and me. We were hurt in a very similar way and were told very very similar things by that pastor. I can tell the readers here that you never gossiped or spoke against that pastor or shared about why you stepped back from some of your duties, or why you left the church. The things you say about that pastor are absolutely true in mine and my husbands' observation and personal experience. There is no need to feel guilty, in my opinion. Christ was not able to teach everything all at once when he ministered to others. Why do we feel we should be able to explain and help someone to understand something they aren't able to see right under their noses? It would have made you, us and others look spiteful if we tried to explain to others what we realized that pastor was doing. I truly agree that the thing to do is shake the sand from your feet and move on. Pray for that church, that pastor and the believers there. When you leave quietly and without any gossip, I think that is pleasing to the Lord. If you try to warn others, you end up being labeled or lied about. It has taken me many years to learn that you can't get misquoted if you keep your mouth shut. It was a very painful experience, but each family must choose for themselves in the right time. I pray the pastor will grow as we all must grow. Love and Hugs from our family to yours, it has been too long since we've seen you!

Felicia said...

I've left 3 churches in the past 6 years. Yeah... 3. The first church I left, my husband and I were craving a more intimate church experience. We wanted to know the people we sat in church with. We thought for 6 years that we had reached that point by joining a small group. But that small group was only made up of 8 people. 8 people out of 10,000 just wasn't cutting it for us. We also got tired of the recycled sermons. We figured out after 3 years at that church that the church really only had about 3 years of sermons. Hmmmm... coming from the Pentecostal tradition, I was longing for more... well... Holy Spirit stuff.

So we went to a MUCH smaller church. I got heavily involved in the music ministry. I got so involved in the music ministry that I really didn't have time to get involved in the lives of those not in the music ministry of this very small church. Then there was a showdown between the pastor and the music minister. We didn't agree with some of the decisions the pastor was making and wanted to talk in person with him about it in case we weren't hearing the correct story through the music minister. Well, the pastor refused to meet with us. In fact, he even refused to talk on the phone to me. His wife relayed the message that he was not interested in talking to us.

We were very hurt. The ironic thing was that a day or two after the pastor refused to talk to me, he called me up to ask if I could lead the worship for the church since the music minister was gone. Uhmmmm, no. I could not.

My husband and I determined that we were not going to be talking to anyone from the church about why were had left. Folks did call me up and ask, but my response was, "Sorry, you have no way of fixing the problem. So, telling you why we left won't really do you and good."

Thank God, in spite of being hurt by the pastor, I determined to always respond in love. The pastor emailed me apologizing for hurting us. I said, "We forgive you. We love you. We will continue praying for you and the church." Three years later, when that pastor died, I went to his memorial service, walked up to his widow and told her how much I loved them and how much I would miss the dead pastor. She wasn't terribly warm in her response to me, but that's okay. I stayed true to my commitment to always respond in love.

When we left that very small church, we started visiting all kinds of churches. It was very illuminating! We had heard great things about a church 1 hour's drive away from us in LA and just HAD to visit it. We fell in love! I mean, we REALLY fell in love! We loved the atmosphere of the services. We loved the people. We loved the vision of the pastor. We loved the church's track record. We loved the church so much that we willingly drove 1 hour each way each Sunday. My husband even went out of his comfort zone and began teaching bible study classes before the Sunday church service. That means we had to leave the house by 8:00am every Sunday morning and didn't make it back home until around 3:00pm. We didn't mind that much. We REALLY loved the church!

Oddly enough, because of the commute and being a parent to 2 small children, I had to decline the invitation to participate in the music ministry. That was hard. But I could handle it because I LOVED the church.

Then I got pregnant and got put on bed rest for 2 months. We couldn't go to church as easily. We didn't really see our church friends that much. They didn't really call us, either to see how we were doing. We realized that while we LOVED the church, well, the church members really weren't that jazzed about us. We just lived too far away. While we attended church on the weekends, if we weren't there, out of sight out of mind. That hurt.

After 3 1/2 years of commuting an hour each way, we began to hear Holy Spirit telling us to move closer to home. That also really hurt. I didn't want to leave my dream church. Even though the church quickly forgot about us, I loved just being associated with that church I loved it so much.

But we were obedient to Holy Spirit and wrote a good-bye love letter to our pastor. It was so hard to write the letter that I cried as I wrote it. I cried as I printed it out. I cried as I folded it up. I cried as I put it in the envelope. I cried as I put the stamp on the letter, and I cried as I put it in the mailbox. Then when I went back to re-read the letter in my computer, I cried again. I'll still tear up a bit whenever I see the file title in my letters file.

We have since been grounded in a church just 10 minutes away from us. And I'm once again leading worship about once a month and singing on the worship team every 2 weeks. For a while there, I was being used up a little too much. So I told the Music Minister that I had to step back to only every other week. He kindly understood and adjusted the schedule for me.

We have since had some people leave the church. One of those people is one of my best friends. She was frustrated with the leadership of the church feeling that folks are not professional enough. It was hard for me to see her go. I really miss sitting next to her and cutting up with her during the service. Thank God I still get to see her during the week, but I do miss her.

Ironically, the day the 3 families left the church happened to be one of the days I was leading worship. It was one of the worst days I've ever had leading worship. Yet, in spite of all that, Holy Spirit moved. At the end of the service we were all worshiping God on our knees and 3 people made decisions to follow Jesus.

Since those families have left, we have been experiencing a revival. My close friend who left keeps asking about the church, and when I tell her the good news, she seems a little perplexed. Apparently, she expected the church to collapse because she didn't have confidence in the church leadership. I keep going over in my mind wondering if the revival is a by-product of people leaving? Or perhaps if the people who left would have hung in just a little longer, they would have experienced the revival with the rest of the church. I guess I'll never know.

I've also kept in touch with another one of the families who left. The wife of that family was on staff and from what I understand left in a very unpleasant and angry way. I wrote her an email saying how much I missed them and was praying that they would be planted in just the right church. I also gave her my parting words, "No matter what happens, respond in love."

Leaving churches is hard. Sometimes we need to leave churches. Sometimes we need to stay at churches that are going through hard times. Jesus' Church is a big family made up of damaged people He's in the process of healing.

In answer to your question, Daisy, I say don't talk to people about why you left. Just leave and pray for those who remain and pray for the nutty Control Freak Pastor. Because in the end, it's not about being "right." It's about LOVE. And LOVE conquers all.

-Felicia