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Hypothetical Church- A story

Before we launched Focal Point I kept folders and files of notes and ideas I called "Hypothetical Church". Today I'm going to steal the name and share a story of a church I'm calling Hypothetical Church. This isn't our church but it is one in which I'm familiar.

Our Hypothetical Church (HC for short) is a church that was a church plant of over a dozen years. Like many churches of this era HC was doing alright but had settled in and after garnering the Holy Grail of building and land they started into somewhat of an average mentality. HC (knowing they wanted to "Reach people for Jesus") went and hired new staff. Everything was great. The new staff did their job and brought a new and exciting vibe to HC. HC hadn't had this type of energy in quite some time. Things were going good. A little too good.

You see, HC had grown on the back of the Pastor being a pushover. HC's Pastor was an unassuming smooth talker who spent over a dozen years trying to get everyone to get their way. If everyone got their way he thought, God would be glorified. After all, this is America and every voice (no matter how sinful) matters.

HC began to have some rocky times. HC's new staff who helped the church grow dramatically and started to see many come to Christ noticed some things about HC's Pastor. His leadership was suspect. He deceived people. He didn't show much of a backbone except to try and keep peace by telling the staff not to say anything to those doing wrong. As HC's staff understood the situation they uncovered years of HC's Pastor doing things that were blatantly unbibilical just to hold on to the "vision" of the church. Ironically when asked about the "vision" the HC Pastor wasn't able to articulate that.

One occasion of craziness came when due to the growth of HC, some older members decided they were going to play hardball. They had reason to. They weren't actually members, they were "stock-holders". You see... HC wasn't ready to take on a building and land when they did. But the Pastor did everything he could to succeed. Even if it meant borrowing half a million dollars from retirement and savings accounts of the parishioners. Not for free... at interest. So now that the older group was getting ticked off about 'all these new people' and 'loud music' they wanted to leverage their "stock". They demanded their finances.

HC's Pastor waffled. He called in mediators, he took advice from other leaders and he asked his staff for help. Some suggested that he acknowledge that it was a poor idea to even have borrowed money from church members, confront them on their behavior and use this time to get them in line spiritually. Instead HC's Pastor decided to ignore that advice and do whatever it took to satisfy the crowd. No matter how sinful their behavior. You see it wasn't just about the money. These folks were on a which hunt. Attacking the staff, calling for meetings and sending out mass emails. All because they weren't involved in as many decisions now that HC had grown and brought on some staff who were able to take more of the leadership roles. Did I mention that HC also had an un-biblical model of church governance? Yeah. Did I mention that the lessons found in Timothy and Titus weren't applied for those placed in leadership positions? Yeah. Do we wonder why things would get out of control when we ignore God's word? No, not me.

So HC which was blowing and going and had basically doubled their attendance in a short amount of time ended up giving in financially to the mob by taking out yet more debt against their building. Since some people weren't in power anymore however they decided to leave. Good? Yes. Problem solved? No.

The problem wasn't solved because HC's Pastor hadn't learned anything. In fact HC's Pastor tried over and over to get those same people to come back. Not get them to repent... no... get them to come back as they were before and ignore those little pesky sin issues.

More time goes by and HC faces troubles. While there are salvations and modest growth occuring HC wouldn't be the same. Their leadership had buckled under pressure. HC's Pastor couldn't articulate a direction for the church. HC's Pastor wasn't bold enough to call sin sin. HC's Pastor wasn't faithful enough to believe that God would replace those whom left... no... he said openly in leadership meetings that it was important to get those who had left to return.

For nearly two months or more the staff was put through countless meetings over countless emails. Staff were forced to come to meeting after meeting long into the night. Morale was beaten up and the Pastor couldn't see what was going on. The enemy had gotten in... the focus wasn't about souls anymore. It was about finances.

For most of the next 10 months HC was a shadow of it's glory the previous year. Meetings upon meetings... even meetings ABOUT meetings. HC's Pastor didn't even take the lead in these meetings... he just tried to get everyone to get along. By attempting to hold onto everything on his own power he had lost it all. After half a year with modest success and worries about money HC's Pastor thought "maybe those people who were angry are right. Maybe its my new staff that messed it all up." Division swept in. Money dominated conversation. HC's Pastor who was down to speaking on occasion and not providing any direction began to get paranoid. Finances were tough... he had to do something.

Staff morale was in the toilet. But that wouldn't be the worst of it.

HC's Pastor needed money and quick. He decided he would build a building.... well sort of. HC's Pastor decided he'd meet with a fund raising guru and as money came in for this new 'building' he would use the funds to pay off old debt (remember those pesky sinners who were actually stockholders?). Sure the church would push some dirt around and make the site look busy but they'd "Believe God" to bring about the funding for the actual building... they'd just use their fund raising to keep out of the current mess. Ahh... the wisdom of man when his focus isn't Christ.

"Well that idea was struck down. I got it... how about we just quit posting the dollar amounts of giving... I mean our people are getting discouraged. Let's just tell the people that we actually need less than we do for old debt. Then it won't look as bad. If we reduce what our people think we owe then they will be confident in their giving." Sad. More deception.

"I know... what we can do is sit our staff down and tell one of them in front of the other that if things get bad we're going to fire YOU first." Yeah. That's how you lead a team.

"Well, maybe I can just liquidate my life's savings and dump it into the church budget. That should hold us over... for a few months." Wow. Desperate men with no faith really will do anything.

Then it all hit the fan. Some meetings took place with trustees and elders plotting to get rid of staff in an effort to cut funding. At the top of the list was a part time staff member who made all of $100/wk. Yeah... way to cut the budget. Another staff member was one of two secretaries who would get canned only to tell the other secretary to do 200% of the work for the same pay. Then... since one staff member could handle the music.... we'll just have that person cover two jobs for the same pay as well. We'll keep the Pastor who only speaks twice a month and provides no leadership but we'll undercut basically everyone else who's done anything positive over the last two years. Now THAT's a plan.

On and on the schemes kept coming. It got so bad at HC that a part-time staff member resigned. This staff member didn't want to rock the boat though. Being the good soldier, this person resigned and refused to talk about the problem.

Another staff member began openly looking to walk away. Visiting other churches and actively looking to find a better gig. Being a good soldier this person also just wanted to keep a low profile and let the ship sink on its own.

Another member of HC's staff began to be asked by many people in the congregation what was going on. Being a good soldier.... got this person fired.

If the writing hadn't been on the wall before... it now had neon arrows pointing to it.

Ultimately the situation isn't fully resolved at HC but I can hear the fat lady coughing in the green room.

This is just a short hand version of the HC story. Sadly it's a deadly cycle. Churches all over our country fall apart this way.

You know what hurts me about this situation? Not only all of the problems that lead up to now. Not only the terrible leadership and wimpy Pastor who lives life as a people pleaser... what honestly troubles me most is that some great people refused along the way to stand up for truth.

We are supposed to be representatives of a Living God. I read so today in 1 Timothy 4.

So if we are to be leaders in the church of the Living God and if that Church is supposed to Re-Present Christ in this world... why then do so many "godly" leaders keep silent when lies, deception, dishonesty, malice and all sorts of ungodliness invades the church? Why do so many leaders believe the best thing to do is to ignore the problem and just look out for their own interests? Why is it a more honorable thing to cover your own rear instead of standing up for truth regardless of the consequences. Why do we propagate a gospel of comfort as if comfort is the chief end of God's people on this planet?

HC has some leaders making choices right now. To my knowledge some quit a long time ago but are just drawing a check. Yeah they perform their duties but they quit on the church. Somehow that's admirable. Somehow it's admirable to look at leaders who are living in sin and manipulating people, decieving and lying without doing anything about it.

I know... some reading this will feel that it's better for good men and women to walk away quietly even if they know that the church is being led by blatantly dysfunctional and disqualified leadership because "At least I won't be the one who destroys the church." Can someone help me here.... What would YOU be able to destroy again? And would that be the goal? Isn't that a defeated mentality? What happened to the idea that if something wasn't biblical we address it and sought scripture together WITH A GOAL OF RECONCILIATION? We have a generation that doesn't know how to stand up for anything.

God isn't powerful enough to work the situation out? Is HC the entirety of what we know as the "church"? Does the church of the living God not need men and women full of integrity to make a stand and make the truth known? Have we lost our footing? What are we in this for?

What do we build our churches on? For some the church seems to be as good as the paycheck. It's not something worth fighting for. It's easier to quit and run away. Standing up for the cause of Christ to rescue a city goes only so long as one can draw a check and get insurance.

I'm also concerned that at HC the person fired will have to make the terrible decision of keeping silent for the sake of money and health insurance or standing up.

If things were above board what do I think would happen? I think this church would realize their leadership hasn't been relying on Jesus instead plotting and scheming in his own power to keep things under control. I believe God was doing a great work but when man takes credit for it and compromises for the sake of harmony... we get this. I also believe if people who are led by the Spirit would let the truth be known... this story would end differently.

Sadly it probably won't. It will end like many churches end. And the world will look at us as fools. Of course all of this is hypothetical.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Thursday, October 11, 2007

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