Our church dies.
Ten People Who Will Kill Your Church: 8-10
The Monster in the Closet
Monsters are everywhere, hiding in plain sight, like the one you thought was in your closet as a child. Churches can be perfect places to hide, because Christians are trusting, forgiving, and sometimes just oblivious.
My mother called me as I was walking around downtown Kansas City. She had become suspicious of a member who joined six months prior. Everything seemed normal to the unobservant person. He was a doctor; he was smart and friendly. But there were some…quirks. So she Googled his name.
The guy was infamous. He had lost his license in 26 states. Dateline had run an undercover story on him. I won’t even tell you what he was involved in, it’s too grotesque. It’s probably not what you first think. And we had been harboring him.
I believe what I blurted out to my mother was this:
“Of all the churches, how the hell does this guy find ours?”
Churches of all sizes are great for a monster to hide in. And once they’re found out, it can easily lead to a split. Doesn’t matter how you handle it, people will leave. Don’t be oblivious. Every employer does background checks, looks at internet profiles. At least do yourself the service of Googling someone’s name before you let them become members, so they can confess their sins and get it out of the way.
Three years after we threw him out (according to Paul’s standard of church discipline for unrepentant sinners), he’s bankrupt, divorced, and in jail. So, yeah…we were right.
Ah, you either love them or hate them. I’ve got nothing against denominations. But if you don’t have a stomach for politics in your local church, I don’t suggest getting too involved in your denomination.
Our situation was unique. We started an independent church, then we were ‘adopted’ by an association. It doesn’t matter which one it was, so I won’t mention it. From the beginning, we got the feeling that the denominational leadership was not on the same page as we were. We joined a group of people who didn’t fit our vision. We could overlook that though, because one thing did fit our vision:
Ah, the promise of a big fat bankroll. It was so much easier to build that building with a big organization paying for it! It was a strained relationship, greased by cash. However, that decision would haunt us.
When our Monster was outed, the denominational leadership was frightened by the prospect of a lawsuit from the Monster himself (who had a litigious reputation.) At the same time, our Usurper had found herself elected to some position of leadership in the denomination (and considered the Monster a friend, which figures.) A grand old church trial was put on, with our Usurper pulling the strings from backstage. The judgement was made that our church had acted wrongly in dismissing our Monster from our membership. Attempts were made at revoking the Pastor’s credentials, which didn’t succeed, but the damage was done.
You probably won’t encounter that situation. But be very particular about what sort of friends you allow your church to make. You may find yourself tied to an albatross, not a golden goose.
Three years after this incident, the state denomination is bankrupt due to a financial scandal…so, yeah…we were vindicated on that one too.
At this point, you might be shaking your heads, saying to yourself, “What was this pastor thinking?”
A lot of bad decisions were made, yes. And he takes his share of the responsibility. But consider this:
Our church began to die when the pastor was no longer free to be the pastor. That happened when the Usurper began running the committee, and the other laypeople were unprepared fight her. Christians can, surprisingly, be reluctant to fight sometimes. The most successful churches often have committees to keep the pastor accountable, but they are heavily guarded against Usurpers, and are led strongly by the pastor.
Also, once this much bad stuff starts happening, almost any pastor’s mental health and leadership will suffer. You can only be attacked so many times before you start living up to the problems you’re blamed for.
One decision that was not clouded by mental fatigue was his committment to God when our Monster was uncovered. He promised God he’d do the right thing, to stand up to an unrepantant victimizer, no matter what the cost. It ended up costing friends, reputations, health, money, jobs, years of work, and a church.
Sometimes, doing the right thing just sucks.
In a few years, we had gone from a vibrant little church in a house, to an absolutely miserable place. We were attacked repeatedly. We bought more than one bill of goods. We uncovered a terror, and were run over by our denomination and our own former members. Members and friends left without a word, run off by the constant problems. Our building felt empty. We were mentally and spiritually exhausted.
We looked back at the years we had spent together and realized that we had the time of our lives worshipping in the little house, before we had a building, before this story had even begun, being a church on a journey.
So we walked out of our church building after worship for the last time with nothing left to lose, and an invitation was given to the remnant that was left.
“Whoever wants to show up next Sunday, we’ll have church at our house.”
Best decision ever.
So in a stroke of irony, the founding pastor really was the one to pull the trigger and put the church out of its misery. We called the new church Levi’s House – from the story of Jesus eating with the sinners at the home of the tax collector, Levi (Matthew). Not everyone came. Another third of the group turned away to ‘real’ churches in buildings. That’s how most Americans react to house churches. Doesn’t matter. We’re having the time of our lives. I don’t know how long it will last, how long God will let us do this. But it’s a great thing that most Americans won’t ever experience.
God is good, all the time.