Now we’re on a roll! I’m continuing to scour my archives in search of my favorite blog posts while I’m out of town through next week. Today, I’m bringing you the all-time most widely read posts I’ve ever written. And the thing is, I put off writing these posts for over a year! Originally a three part series back in July of 2009, today you get the condensed version.
What made it even more painful was that my family had planted the church. My Dad was the pastor.
Despite our best intentions, our plans, our prayers, the church did not just die, but was killed. It was as if no matter how many times we put Satan on notice to leave us alone, he kept sending the exact wrong people to our doorstep. The church wasn’t killed all at once one day, but over some years as each person came in, chipped away at us, and left.
Ten People Who Will Kill Your Church
I know there’s a lot of musicians who read this blog, so I’ll just ask you directly. Why are so many of you a bunch of whiny, insecure-yet-pretentious prima donnas? Honestly, we had a string of musicians all the way back to the beginning of the church who felt they were much more talented, worth more money, and more indispensable than they ever could hope to be. I’ll take an average musician with a good attitude any day over these characters.
The musicians killed the church because the church believed they were indispensable. Wrong. Try having worship without music. People did it for centuries, and still do it.
This is the only non-human that had a hand in killing the church. Our church had a rented space, then we bought a piece of land with a little house which we met in. We were living the dream, building a church! Our time in the “church house,” right before we achieved our dream of being a “real” church with a “real” building were the best couple of years of the church’s life.
You know how you always wanted a pony or an elephant when you were a kid? If you had actually gotten one, you’d be ecstatic! That would’ve been great until you realize how much animals eat and you’re the one filling up grocery bags with pony poops. Church buildings are the same way. Even if they have ribbons in their hair, they still poop.
We finally built our building. But the novelty wore off when the realization came that we had not grown into this large building, and maintenance and money were in short supply.
That building became our idol while it was still a drawing. Then it became our pet pony.
The New Recruit
New churches can have a particular eagerness about them. The people want to please others, do the things the “big” churches are doing. Sometimes that means getting ahead of themselves.
We were eager to hire a second pastor.
Here were his qualifications:
He answered our “want ad,” had not yet graduated seminary, was from a troubled past and still had emotional baggage, was willing to be paid poorly, and had visited our church twice.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet even “big boy” churches do the same thing. They don’t properly evaluate a new pastor, and the fit isn’t right. Well, this guy wasn’t just a bad fit, but a bad pastor, lacking in social skills, preaching ability, pastoral empathy, common sense, and the ability to not secretly solicit money from old ladies for personal use.
Let’s just say, a panda bear would’ve been a better pastor, and that’s saying a lot. Have you ever tried to get pastoral counsel from a panda? It’s even worse than having church in a pony.
Picture the perfect church visitor. He walks in, eager to meet people. He’s enthusiastic about your little church and wants to participate. He even has skills to contribute to your worship service! He seems mature and willing to serve.
Nothing makes a little church wet its pants faster than new visitors. And if the visitor actually wants to contribute? Let’s get you a nametag right now, new member!
Our hijacker fancied himself a musician. Like many, his skills did not match his ego. Strike one.
He was seminary trained, but not a minister. Strike two.
His family just couldn’t find a church like the one back home. Strike three.
He had designs on us. We were small and thus malleable enough, that he would’ve made short work of molding us into his image. He had the controlling personality of a minister but a weak stomach for the responsibility.
The Snake Oil Salesman
Pastor: “I think we need to expand our influence on our community beyond Sundays and Wednesdays…”
Elder: “I agree. We need to look more important than those Baptists down the street. But how?”
Deacon: “We don’t use our building more than twice a week. How do we put it to good use?
Enter: Snake Oil Salesman: “Friends, I couldn’t help noticing your empty building and monitoring your conversation from the bushes outside. The name’s Lanley. Lyle Lanley. And I come before you good people tonight with an idea. Probably the greatest… Aw, it’s not for you. It’s more of a First Baptist idea.”
Pastor: “Now just a minute. We’re twice as smart as those Baptists. Just tell us your idea, and we’ll vote for it.”
Snake Oil Salesman: “Okay, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You’ve got a building I want. I’ve got people you want. You open your building five nights a week to my non-church related community group. Why, I guarantee that this building itself will make strangers automatically convert and join your congregation! And it will cost you practically nothing, though we can’t pay you anything. It’s win-win!”
From the time you start a church, there will be people who want to use the church, the people, and the money for non-church purposes. Fact: anything the church sponsors that doesn’t directly relate to worship or missions will cost more than you think and probably yield almost nothing.
Every hero needs a villain. If you’re a pastor, you’re Batman. And your villain probably won’t be likable or charming like Catwoman…unless she’s that Catwoman that came out a few years ago, because that was the worst.
It will be the Usurper’s job to love the church more than anything else…and hate the pastor more than anything else. In fact, the Usurper will love the one and dislike the other so much, she’ll want the pastor’s job! Sure, she may not have seminary training, leadership skills, basic hygiene, or even a calling to the ministry. But an undying lust for power is enough qualification to run a church.
Everyone in your church may be ‘Christians,’ but that doesn’t mean a Christian can’t be an enemy who God will take away if you pray hard enough. Enemies who at think they’re saved fight to the bitter end.
The League of Rebels
Even the strongest villain needs an army of darkness, and it’s likely that your Usurper won’t be alone. Where you find one bug in the house, there’s bound to be more.
If you don’t take care of your Usurper right away (i.e. smack her with a newspaper), you’ll find she’s spawned, like a giant disgusting termite queen birthing tons of hungry little worker-Usurpers, all tearing down, causing disunity. They’ll be everywhere, sowing seeds of dissent against the pastor for any reason, real or imagined. Because when people are fighting for the church they love, it’s not just a fight, it’s a holy war.
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.
Churches of all sizes are great for a monster to hide in. One church may have a child abusing monster hiding in plain sight. Our monster happened to be a doctor who lost his license in 26 states and was the subject of a Dateline story because of the grotesque things he was doing. And once a monster 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.
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. 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 denomination didn’t back us up. So we endured more conflict than we would’ve as an independent church.
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.
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: 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.
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. And now, we have a “real” house church!
That’s it for my list. What other characters can you think of – people who can kill a church?