Over the past 5 years of blogging I have made many new friends who have followed our story on the blog, and have contributed to the blog's success in helping shine a light on misbehaving pastors and churches. I thought this Thanksgiving week would be a perfect time to share the testimony from one of the Watchdog readers I have corresponded with via email and telephone over the past few years as he and his family endured the antics of a spiritually abusive pastor who arrived at their church some years ago. I asked him to put in writing his testimony for my readers, and today I am sharing his story with you.
There is so much of his story that I can relate to. But if you read his entire story, you'll see it is one of hope: that even after you and your family have been hurt by arrogant and abusive clergy and their enabling lay leaders, you can find a new church where the leadership are transparent, loving, and seek to minister to you and your family.
Thank you to my friend for sharing this testimony with all of us. Please read it to the end, he has some very wise advice for all of us in his concluding paragraph.
So enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
---------------------------------Dear Tom: I have been a follower of your website for a number of years, having discovered it after my wife and I and many friends experienced firsthand a “pastor” who came into and church who was totally void of the fruits of the spirit; who autocratically ruled with a heavy hand, and who practiced spiritual abuse upon the members of the church who did not obey his directions.
Disagreement with him was labeled of the devil. Those who disagreed were referred to as “Satan’s Agents”. Deacons and Sunday School teachers were removed, or not asked to come back to serve when their terms ended if they did not agree to everything the “pastor” wanted to do. Loyalty oaths to the Pastor were required to be signed to remain a deacon and Sunday School teacher. All transparency with finances was removed. Those who disagreed were “bitter, angry and selfish”, disobedient to God; “kinks in the hose – squelching God’s work”, “snakes in the garden”. (Actual sermon titles!). Long time staff members were run off by the pastor, on trumped up charges of sinful lifestyles and impure hearts. (Based upon his sole declaration, without any evidence).
Unbridled anger was exhibited by the Pastor in sermons, and in meetings with members, when he did not get his way. With amazement many of us watched as our fellow members seemed not to be bothered in the least by such behavior. Lives of Godly men and their families were ravaged. Unfounded charges were relentlessly made by this person, without any hesitation or guilt as to the lives he destroyed. So convinced of his own Godliness, there was no limit to his actions.
Those who stayed “went along”, for fear that they might displease God if they “don’t obey their pastor” as the pastor tells them the Bible requires of them. He analogized himself to Moses who was leading the Israelites through the wilderness; he claimed to be leading the “dead” church that he came to pastor through a desert – a city under the “grips of Satan”. (We are a small Texas town, with lots of good people; it is truly hilarious at some point). He claimed to be a “Prophet”. He and his followers justified anything and everything they did by claiming it was of God. Over the 8-9 years he has been at this Church, there has been an almost complete turnover of membership. As I read about the things you have related from your experiences, I can only think the man must be reading and operating from the same playbook as your previous pastor. (I’m pretty sure they know each other).
However, God has provided an oasis for us. My family and I left, without looking back. In the last year and a half my wife and I have joined another church in our town. It is quite a refuge for many hurting people in our city. Many from our former church attend there, and many have moved to other wonderful congregations in our town. The pastor of our new church family is wonderful. Get this – he is kind, outgoing, fun, friendly, loving and a great communicator and student of the Bible. He does not seek the limelight or notoriety or fame. He merely seeks to love and care for those who attend.
Since I was ordained as a deacon many years ago at my former church I was asked to be deacons at our new church. We had our first deacons meeting two weeks ago. Our new pastor visited with us and advised of how "things are handled at our new church". He informed us that we were not his rubber stamp, not his yes men, and that he did not "run" the church. He told us that the congregation did. He told us that he would never check giving records, so to not be influenced by persons who did or did not give money to the Church.
He asked us to let him know immediately if we sensed any un-Christlike attitude or spirit from him and to schedule a time to visit with him and let him know our concerns if we did. And he really meant it! He told us that he only wanted to love and minister to the body. He has no goals of mega growth, no agendas for fame, no desire to be well known. He also told us that we would never be asked to sign a covenant or loyalty oath to him or the church. He said he trusted that through our personal relationship with Jesus Christ that we would be right with God and therefore we would all treat each other and himself as Christ directs - and therefore all things will work in accordance with God's will. He truly believes in the Priesthood of the Believers and the personal relationship one can have with Christ. He trusts us to allow Christ to lead our lives, even if it means that we might have a disagreement with him as to what God wants for us as a group. He is confident in Christ’s ability to move the group as Christ sees fit, not as he (the pastor) plans, desires, or directs.
It is telling that when the pastor of our new church arrived as a bi-vocational pastor over 8 years ago, there were 35 people who regularly attended. He is now full time. That number in attendance is now close to 400 on Sundays, and growing. New Christians, the un-churched, and many others in our community are now in attendance. Our church continues to grow. More people are attending each Sunday. We are about to exceed the capacity of the sanctuary. No surprise! The one common comment that is always heard from those who visit and who join is “we love the loving feeling of the congregation”.
It is so refreshing and I though you and other readers would like to hear about a healthy body of believers and a loving pastor. I just wanted to encourage others in our world who may read your website and who have been exposed to unloving and unkind leadership. There are very wonderful congregations for them to attend. We have found one, and pray and hope for the best for those who have suffered at the hands of similar men.
If I may add my advice to those who may be dealing with similar situations, don’t try to wait such people out – it is a waste of your time and a loss of opportunities for peace and worship with God. Find a place where you can worship God without the distraction of men who try to get in between you and God. Such “pastors” (so-called) are in reality a barrier between you and God; they seek to squelch the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life because they seek to be a God-like figure who you must spend time following, listening to, and obeying. They must act this way to control you; they only need to control you because they have earthly desires at heart. It is selfish and un-Christlike. Please run from it and find peace.
Keep up the good work Tom. You have been a blessing to me.