Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's Not Supposed To Be This Way

*Please understand that I am not lumping all ministers or churches into one category. I am referring to the experiences I have lived through and the experiences that have happened to people close to me. I know there are many, many loving men and women of God all over this world who are helping people to know God and His love. I am sharing these experiences in hopes that others will see that these types of situations are not the norm, but they are abusive and they will rob you of your relationship with God. I only wish someone would have directed me to this type of information years ago. (I promise that my next post will be happy and light.)

For years I was involved in a controlling church that can be described by these verses......

"Jesus said, The religious scholars are competent teachers in God's law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses, but be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. They don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious rules and demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. They wear robes with extra long tassels, and they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplace and to be called Rabbi. Don't let anyone call you Rabbi, for you have only one Teacher, the Messiah, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don't address anyone here on earth as Father, for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:2-12)

The leaders I was under in my former church placed unreasonable demands on people and never lifted a finger to help. People were expected to lay everything else aside to meet the needs of the pastor and his family. I saw staff members working around the clock, giving up time with their own families and the leaders never seemed to care. Men were expected to work many hours on projects, even to the point of being physically worn out. The physical health and emotional well being of people was never taken into consideration. The pastor preached on the importance of spending time with family and yet it didn't seem to apply to the ones that were doing work for him. I knew 2 ladies, who each had a small child, and they never had time to spend with their families. It always bothered me because I am a very family oriented person and I knew these children needed their mothers. But these ladies knew, just like everyone else, you didn't say "no." There was much teaching on the importance of taking vacations and the pastor would take 2 week vacations, but staff members weren't allowed to be gone on Sundays or Wednesdays, so we took 2 or 3 day vacations for many years.

I know a young man who recently left a staff position at a church just like my former church. This young man was treated terribly by the leaders and talked to in harsh, inappropriate ways. His privacy was violated and lies were told about him. Many people who have spent years in these types of churches have resolved themselves to believing this is just the way it is. Certain friends told him to stick it out because these things go on in every church. I can't help but think if people could just step away and see a church that is loving God and loving people and keeping it real, they would see how wrong this behavior is. I don't believe it's supposed to be that way in churches! God is all about love, not control and keeping someone under your thumb for your own personal gain. I have to believe there are leaders and ministers out there who operate in love and treat others right. I have to believe there are pastors who will provide pleasant work environments for the staff and will walk in God's love and gentleness. I realize it's not always going to be easy and perfect, but there should be many more good times than there are hard, harsh times. I have seen people in the secular workplace treat their employees much better than some pastors treat their staff. Leaders and managers all over the world keep their word and pay people what they are worth. They pay overtime when it's due and they provide insurance when they have already promised their employees that they would. Why should Christians who work in a church be treated with any less respect? When someone does a good job they should be rewarded for it.

I know of one pastor (in another state) who called a work day and several ladies showed up to help. He put them to work shoveling pine bark, while he stood to the side and pointed where he wanted it to go. I'm sure these ladies had good hearts and were glad to help, but what's wrong with this picture? First of all, why should holding the title of "pastor" mean that he no longer has to be a gentleman? A true gentleman steps in and does the hard work for a lady. And second, why does holding the title of "pastor" mean to some men that they no longer have to do any work at all? As the verse above says, it seems like some of these controlling pastors, never lift a finger to ease the burden, but they pour more work on everyone else. It's not right or fair for things to be required of people that the leaders are not willing to do themselves.

On the flip side, I know a pastor who goes to work days, rolls up his sleeves, and gets in there with the rest of the men and actually does work. He doesn't see himself as better or higher than others and he doesn't have an ounce of pride. He wouldn't ask anyone to do something that he wouldn't do himself. I can trust a man like that. I know another pastor who went to teach a Bible study in someones home and when the people tried to give him money for coming, he wouldn't take it. He knows the concept of giving and receiving, but he didn't go for the money. He went to love and share with the people. These are two examples of men who are in the ministry because they love God and love people. They are not in it for the money or for honor from men. They are not in it to have others serve them, but they are serving the body of Christ and being a true example of Jesus Christ.

I read on a blog yesterday that the SBC did a survey of "unchurched" Americans, which is about 61 million people. The survey found that 72% of the unchurched believe in God, but they complain that religious institutions are full of hypocrites. Over half said, "Christianity is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people." They said, "We want to love God and one another, but religion no longer seems to be the place where we learn how."

You can see from this survey that people are looking for the real love of God. It's no wonder people don't want to go to certain churches where people are treated in ways that I've described. They don't want another person telling them they don't measure up or they have to do "one more thing" to earn their right standing with God. When leaders and churches are doing it right, people can see the love. When I first walked into my new church all I could do was cry because I realized how starved I was for love, fellowship, and true worship. I finally felt loved and accepted. I finally heard a pastor teach the simple Word of God and give me things I could actually use during the week. I didn't fear that something harsh or inappropriate would be said because I could tell that the pastor had love and compassion for people. I knew he would not use his pulpit to criticize others, like some have. This incident happened right before I left my former church.....

My family always sat on the front row or near the front in our former church. About a year before we left, I started helping in a certain department. I was told by the person in charge of that department that I had to sit on the back row because I would have to leave the service early. I was perfectly okay with sitting on the back and I actually got use to it. I met a whole new group of people and made some good friends. I worked in that department for about 6 months and then the leadership brought someone else in to take over because I had other duties to do. We decided to continue to sit in the back because we didn't want to move back to the front and take someone elses seat. I also didn't want a certain friend we sat by every week to think we were being rude and deserting him.

One Saturday morning I got a phone call and I was asked to come and have a meeting. In this meeting I was questioned as to why I was not sitting on the front row any more. I thought I gave a perfectly reasonable explanation to this question by saying that I was told to move to the back when I started working in this certain department. I explained that after I stopped working, we stayed where we were because we didn't want to move back to the front and take someones seat. Even after my explanation, I was told that I needed to move back to the front row and I was told that I needed to "press in." I was puzzled by this meeting and I wondered what the reasoning was behind this request. I was very uncomfortable with the situation, but I "obeyed" and took my family back to the front row the next morning.

Would you like to take a guess at what the message was about that morning? He spent at least 10 minutes talking about where people sit in the church! Ummmm - coincidence? I don't think so. I had been an "obedient" church member, I did what I was told, and went back to the front, but I guess he felt like he needed to keep me in line by correcting me publicly. He talked about how the woman in the Bible with the issue of blood didn't make her way from the front row to the back, but she "pressed in" and made her way from the back row to the front. He said that when people go sit on the back row it's because the Word has leaked out of them and they are empty. It was obvious to everyone around that he was talking about me and my family because we had been sitting in the back for months and suddenly this one morning we appeared on the front row. I felt as though a red flashing light was over my head saying, "He's talking about me." He was wrong in his assumptions! I wasn't empty! I was sitting on the back because I had been told to sit there! I was embarrassed, hurt, and confused all at the same time. He was saying these things with such an attitude and he knew that I knew he was talking about me because of the meeting the day before. All I could do was ask myself the questions, "Would God do this to me? Would he embarrass me like this? Would He hurt me and make a mockery of me?" I didn't think so, but here is a man who was supposed to represent God and be an example of Him and he was doing this to me. I had my sights set on the door and I knew as soon as the amen was said I was making a run for it. But it didn't stop there. At the end of the service he came over and stood in front of me and my family and started saying, "Ha, ha, ha." I can't describe the feelings that were rising up inside of me. Why couldn't he have taken the approach of thanking me for all the years of service I had given to him and that church, instead of badgering me when I hadn't done anything wrong?! Why did he have to make such a big issue out of something that really didn't matter at all? There were much bigger issues that needed to be addressed in that church, rather than which seat I was sitting in! Besides that, does it really matter to God where people sit in the church building? Everyone can't sit on the front row, so is everyone from the 5th row and back empty and backslidden? I know that's not true!

I left there that day never wanting to step foot back in that place again, although I did. I had been treated like this before, but I had begun to see glimpses of truth and I decided I was not going to allow anyone to treat me like this any more. At some point you have to say enough is enough and after 22 years of being treated like this and watching others be mistreated, now was my time. Situations like this have caused people to question and become disillusioned about the very nature of God. I had been in a place of wondering if I wanted to trust the God these men had made Him out to be - a distant, uncaring God, but getting out from under the control, being around loving Christians, and reading about His love has caused me to have a totally renewed picture of God. I now know God is loving, gentle, kind, and compassionate. He has been misrepresented many times by selfish men and I know He would never do things like this to me. He is my loving Father that will take care of me - not throw me under the bus.

Controlling, abusive churches have caused many people to have the same stories as the one above. A church is supposed to be a place that builds you up and leaves you better off after being there. Many people who leave a controlling church feel down right beat up. If you find yourself in a situation that resembles anything like what I've written, you have to know that no good will come from it. I wish things could be different and I wish everyone would see the truth and walk in God's love, but it just doesn't seem like it's going to be that way. Don't fool yourself any more and stay in a hurtful situation. Jesus wants to set you free! When the leaders tell you that all the people who left are lying, you need to ask what it is they are lying about - (although you can't ask questions in controlling churches, so maybe you should ask the people who left.) Why would hundreds of people who are trying to move on with their lives and live for God, make up a bunch of lies and bring more hurt to themselves? Find out what the truth is - it will set you free!

I want to leave you with a quote that helped me to see another glimpse of God's unconditional love. It's not supposed to be any other way but this.....

"It is a joy to wake up confident about being loved by God every day, without having to earn it by any act of righteousness on your part. That is the secret of first love. Don't try to earn it. Know that you are accepted and loved, not for what you can do for God, or somehow hoping that you will be worthy of His acceptance, but because his greatest desire is to have you as one of His children. Jesus came to remove any obstacle that would prevent that from happening. There's not one thing you can do to make Him love you any more today; and there's not one thing you can do to make Him love you any less either." - Jake Colsen

22 comments :

Anonymous said...

All I can say is, "Unbelievable."

GF said...

So sad that all that you shared is so true. So sad that so many have been hurt while sitting in church. So sad that we were so blind to the abuse. So sad that so many are still being abused.

So glad that so many have seen the truth.

Maybe your best post yet. Thanks for sharing your story.

searching said...

How sad that this continues to run rampant in churches all over America.My most heartfelt prayer is that the body of Christ will all find true churches to attend with shepherds after God's own heart and not churches with pastors who have no business calling themselves pastors.

Anonymous said...

I agree with GF, this is possibly your best post yet. ALOT of people referred to the staff and some others as being a part of the "click" and many people were bothered by it. Many people were even jealous. Some people left years ago because they said the church was too "clickish." I think that most people didn't realize that this was an atmosphere the pastor created during that time and not the fault of church members.

There may not have been name tags on the first five rows, but I think most everyone knew those seats were occupied by the same people week after week and no one wanted to move up and take someone else's spot. He intentionally separated you guys from the rest of the church and caused many people from the 5th row back to feel less than because they were not part of the click or holy enough to sit up front. I remember him saying often that the anointing was stronger in the front. That left me to wonder why that was and I am sure others wandered the same thing. It made people feel like they weren't good enough, or holy enough to experience such a strong anointing.

Some might wander why would he want to create a "click?" It is human nature to want to feel like part of the group. This would make people want to serve him or give more to fit in. I wander how many people from the 5th row back, were his "money people." After all, the more blessed your were financially, the more God loved you. This would explain why the anointing was strongest in the front.

I don't think people realized how things really were for the staff. No one realized you weren't allowed to sit in the back or that he only gave you 2-3 day vacations. It disgusts me the way he manipulates God's children in order to serve himself. It's pathetic that he would get a bunch of ladies together to shovel pine but his family was too good to get their hands dirty. Jesus himself was not beneath serving others, what makes him think he is.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I think this transparency is what will make others realize what they have become a part of. This is the ugly truth, but people need to know. We've all been so scared to tell people what went on behind closed doors. I think that's what controlling pastors are scared of too. They want you to be so fearful, that you don't tell anyone the ridiculous things are says in private.

I cringed as I read your story. It brought back so many instances of times when I was called aside to be "instructed". I was told to "marry this person", and to "cut off this friend", and even told what activities my children should be involved in! And you're right, it doesn't stop there! He reinforces EVERYTHING with a "slap" from the pulpit so that everyone knows that you've been told what to do. Now everyone watches you to see if you "submit" to him or "rebel"...and you were treated accordingly. He even goes as far as to criticize members that have died! It's crazy!

So glad to be out of that MESS!

Set Free said...

I have been very hesitant to give details of my own personal story. You dare not do it while you are there and then after you leave the fear still carries over a little.

For so long people have been afraid to talk, but that's why all this stuff has carried on. These controlling pastors KNOW if people start talking they would be found out. I believe that's why fellowship is not encouraged and that's why you are told who you can associate with.

I was actually told one time, "You better know who's side you are on," while being pitted against another staff member. I didn't think we were supposed to have sides. I thought we were all on the same team. The sad thing is, I went along with it, because I knew the consequences of not being on the "right side." I chose wrongly because I should have cared more of what God thought than what man thought. I should have chosen to be on the side of love.

Susan said...

The saddest of things is that some of the very people who know they have been personally attacked from "said pulpit" (or that friends and loved ones have) still sit there today.
WHAT is the draw to this abuse? WHAT does it speak of their character or self respect? WHAT are they saying to their children? (Children see and understand a lot and their lives are being affected.) WHERE is the wisdom?
Thank you for revealing your own experiences as a staff member and for the scripture you shared. It is quite obvious that this so-called leader likes to "put down" others. His leadership and shepherding abilities are "highly questionable", yet people follow.
One cannot truly understand the joy of being set free until you sever your tie from that ministry. Let me tell you, it's worth "getting understanding".
May God continue to lead and guide us all.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading various blogs for months and every time that I read something like this I am disgusted. I am curious if anyone knows if a pastor can be disbarred from pastoring?

I have read things, then prayed for people, prayed for the ones that were still there then reassured myself that God would sort it all out. But God uses his people. I don't think anyone would sit back, knowing that a child was being abused. I think it would be reported to the proper officials. I think spiritual abuse can be just as painful to adults as well as children. Is their anyone these pastors can be reported to?

I just think there should be certain consequences for all of these "men of God" around the country that hurt and manipulate their congregations. People leave, but new people come in because they preach a desirable message. And there are lots of people who stay, sometimes for 20-30 years because they are under such a strong influence. Meanwhile, the pastors are getting rich of of their tithes. Its not right and it hurts Gods people and the future of Christianity.

Wade said...

Sharing personal examples of the control and abuse takes courage; however they are most helpful to others. Sometimes people need to hear what has been done to others in order to realize that they themselves have been or are being abused. It's like diagnosing a disease; it helps to know the symptoms.

Keep up the transparency, it is a sure sign that you are continuing to be set free.

Anonymous said...

Very few can understand what it was like to be a staff member at that former church. People would not believe the things that were said behind closed doors.

Also, only those that have been the subject of an attack from his "bully pulpit" can know how horrible and belittling it can be.

It is hard to understand how people can continue to support a church like that. So many have been hurt, and more will be hurt in the future.

I guess that we stayed there so long because we forgot what really matters, and that is loving people.

TNM said...

As a former staff member I never felt pitted against anyone. Maybe I just refused to give in to such pettyness. I do know and did feel pressure applied for a certain outcome, but never stopped expressing my views or thoughts on any subject that really mattered.

I appreciate the years that others put in under the pastor. I appreciate the fact that they did it and have come through years of pain and hurt to arrive at healthy conclusions. Those conclusions are that they finally realized why they felt the way they did and really were seeing the things they thought they were seeing but wouldn't and couldn't admit them at the time.

There are those still on staff that see the same things and have admitted to me they felt the same as the flood who have left yet are still abiding in the unhealthy environment. All this dialog is very healthy and healing for so many of us who lost a church, a pastor and in some cases a people that we loved dearly.

Thanks, set free for helping those who may have wallowed in self pitty and bitterness to have a venue to express what had been, for many years, on their hearts.

To all those who are left behind at the former church, I love you and am praying for you. I hope you see what I saw and don't wait until the "church" completely dries up or you completely dry up, to be set free as so many have been.

The words that set me on a course of freedom were, "I am not going to change for anybody or anything."

I will never do ministry like I have seen it modeled by so many for so many years, ever again. I enjoy people and love to walk with the sheep and I don't mind getting a little on my feet. I have found the only way to avoid that is to separate yourself completely from them and I have refused to do that the last ten years of my pastorate and the year and a half I spent at our former church, even though there was pressure to do so.

No, fellowship with other christians is such a joy. As a pastor I could never again refuse to walk with the very people, whom God has given me oversight.
Vulnerability is a great thing, because it breeds trust and when there is trust you can work together to do great things for God.

All who have been set free, Lets move forward and do great things that bless our God and His kingdom.

Anonymous said...

This post is very alarming! I have heard stories of the way the pastor and his family treated people, and then the victim just seemed to "get over it" and so we all did the same. We either chose not to believe that the things ever happened, or we just swept them "under the rug". It seems that as we share our stories and people start asking questions, there is a bit of housecleaning going on! I'm glad people are catching on to the truth and are actually thinking for themselves. I know I am! I don't depend on a mere man to "interpret" things for me or tell me right from wrong. The Word of GOD does that for me!

Get the word out! That man is NOT who you think he is! He is manipulating people and using them and their finances for his own pleasure. He preaches an appealing message and flatters the "money people", but behind closed doors he is talking negatively about the "flock". People need to know the truth. Thank you for putting it out there!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 11:40

I wish there was a way to "disbar" a pastor.

The fact that certain pastors have not been removed from organizations that license or sponsor them, proves to me that certain organizations agree with or sanction what is going on in those ministries. That leads me to believe the whole bunch is rotten.

The only way the government can step in and stop any organization (religious or otherwise) is if a law has been broken. And the government is very reluctant to step in religious organizations because of separation of church and state. The government does not want to be seen as persecuting the church. (For more info on one such investigation,
just google Charles Grassley and see the what he is trying to do.)

Meanwhile, the best thing is to keep talking. There are so many people with stories like SetFree's. Get the information about these "ministries" out there. Let people know. Pray for the truth to be revealed.
God said there would wolves in sheep's clothing so let's expose the wolves for what they are, killing the flock for their own gain.
Let love for God's people be our motivation. Be strong in the Lord.

My Girls said...

This is amazing! Its so true and every time I read your blog, it reassures me that we made the right decision in escaping the manipulation and control that we were in the midst of.

p.c. said...

I found your blog while researching cultic behavior. I would like to know if you and the commentors on this blog think there is some form of brainwashing or mind control that goes on in these types of churches? Do you think that your situation resembles a cult in some ways?

Anonymous said...

This situation resembles a cult in every way

Set Free said...

P.C.,
I do think there is a form of mind control or brainwashing that goes on in these types of controlling churches. It is very subtle and I believe it happens over a long period of time. When the church members are in the middle of it, they don't see it. I had a friend who told me we were all brainwashed and I thought that was that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. Now that I am out from under it and I see the truth, I am embarrassed at how much control the leaders of the church had over me.

I don't think my situation just resembles a cult - I think it is a cult! In our culture, when a person says "cult" they automatically think of Jim Jones, but in all of my studies, my former church has all the characteristics of what a cult is. In one of my posts I stated that I would have never thought my former church was a cult because of the big name ministers who had preached there. The church seemed to be well respected so I trusted it, but now that I'm away from the situation I see that not too many people have ever even heard of the church. When I first started questioning and looking up things on the Internet, I saw that I was in a very unhealthy situation and now I want to help as many people as I can see the truth and get out of these churches that are really cults.

tnm said...

Just to clarify, I am not a "victim" because I choose not to be. I have been damaged and even hurt by these events during the short time I was on staff, however I refuse to consider myself a victim today. I have "gotten over it" for the most part. I do however, enjoy reading the entries from people, some known to me and some not. I appreciate the forum and do feel that any minister, pastor or other that abuses people needs to be exposed for who they are. I will continue to read and occasionally comment, but I refuse to remain a "victim" of any mans offense toward me. I refuse to take the offense. It will eventually only hinder me.

Anonymous said...

Cult? YES!!!

Anonymous said...

You're right. It's not supposed to be this way!

Anonymous said...

I just read this post and I can't believe what was done to you in that service? How could anyone do that? It's wrong, wrong, wrong!!! I would have run for the door too and never went back. He can't keep treating people like that and get away with it.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous Oct. 3 at 5:05,
What you said is true! He does talk about the people of the church behind closed doors. You would not believe some of the things he says about his people.