‘Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.
Your statutes have been my songs
in the house of my sojourning.
Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.’ –Ps. 119:49-50,54,66,103-4,111,130.
‘If one gives an answer before he hears, / it is his folly and shame.’ –Prov. 18:13
By mid-September, the stress had become overwhelming. I needed to get home to support my dad, and hear for myself what was going on at A. Between 7th and 13th of October 2015, I managed to arrange 4 different meetings with 6 people, plus one impromptu visit with a family friend. One meeting included two members of the council. Below are some summary comments from and on some of these conversations, written in mid-October. Some are direct quotes, some gists, juxtaposed with others (either comments made to me or to another witness, not necessarily at the time I was home); some are humorous exaggerations of remarks or conversations to illustrate the frustrations or absurd quality of some of these interactions. I was home over one Sunday—one of the council members, who was later admitted to have been among those clamouring for my dad’s removal, hugged me as if everything were normal and said he/they loved me.
I must say I was very grateful to those who agreed to meet with me. As I’m now perhaps in hot water (or no water?) with half of them, I’m grateful to God for these opportunities for information-gathering. Now, the tone is often very reactive and sarcastic, but where I note below, many of these points are direct quotes, which are valuable evidence and provide helpful insight. Also, there are memory-jogging references to a few events that took place around this time, including, for example, my dad’s unilateral ‘dismissal’ and exclusion from the youth Sunday School.
From October 2015. Contradictions, Ironies, and Confusion.
‘I don’t think the answer is to get a new pastor. I hope nobody’s thinking that.’ Vs. ‘He wants you gone. No question.’ Both direct quotes.
‘13 wants you gone. No question.’ Vs. ‘I know 13’s heart…13’s just trying to help and it’s not appreciated.’ Both direct quotes.
‘10’s trying to rein in 13.’ Vs. ‘13 just feels attacked for trying to help.’
On council meetings: ‘13 feels attacked.’ Vs. (pastor:)‘I go in there and I feel like it’s 6 against 1.’
(other council members) ‘We don’t get it. We know they’re wrong.’ Vs. (13)‘I’m not going to debate.’
Direct quotes from the same person, 8 months apart: ‘He’s such a great teacher, he’s been equipping the saints.’ Vs. ‘He’s a good Bible teacher, but he’s not a pastoral preacher.’
Direct quotes (different speakers): ‘He’s a good Bible teacher, but he’s not a pastoral preacher.’ Vs. ‘He’s probably the best pastor this church has ever had.’
Direct quotes (different speakers): ‘These are smart people…they need something relevant…they need triumph…they want to live the abundant life.’ Vs. ‘They aren’t that smart. They won’t rise to the challenge. They’re immature.’
Direct quotes (different speakers): ‘We’ve handed off suggestions to the minister.’ Vs. ‘I know we have people who are [part of the] problem. They bring negativity. I avoid them.’
Quotes from the same person, in the same conversation: ‘The council is supposed to lead this church… the men are stepping up.’ Vs. ‘That announcement was weird, I’m mystified. It raised questions rather than bring clarification.’
Quote compared to motivation behind community outreach event (which was advertised with an incomplete verse from Galatians which would have interesting application to the overall spiritual situation at the time): ‘This church is in so much pain. The congregation and the pastor need to be asked about this pain…I think our church is sick.’ Vs. ‘Let’s a have a fun fest and invite the whole neighborhood.’
Near-direct quotes (different speakers): ‘This church is loving and accepting and tolerant and like a tight-knit family.’ Vs. ‘Don’t you think the pastor should have to read the local paper so we’re not embarrassed if visitors come and he doesn’t know what’s going on? Shouldn’t the pastor come to the coffee shop and schmooze?’ (‘schmooze’ was not the term used, but I think it accurately represents the sentiment)
Near-direct quotes (essentially same speaker)‘The pastor should be more involved in the community and should be available for counseling.’ Vs. ‘Uh, it won’t be necessary for you to sit in on the youth Sunday School.’
Direct quote (by 13) v. book of church order: ‘Uh, it won’t be necessary for you to sit in on the youth Sunday School.’ Vs. ‘The pastor is to catechize the youth.’
Direct quotes (different speakers—second set of quotes actually by a husband and wife who expressed this independent of one another on two different days!):‘13’s an attorney. He’s good at listening to people and finding out the facts.’ Vs. ‘We know 13 likes to talk… 13 doesn’t listen real well.’
Gist v. direct quote, from two different people but in the same conversation: ‘This church is so loving and accepting.’ Vs. ‘If we said that about evil spirits, we’d be taken out in the parking lot and skinned alive.’
Direct quotes (different speakers): ‘I feel like there needs to be this out-loud command to Satan to get out.’ Vs. ‘If we said that about evil spirits, we’d be taken out in the parking lot and skinned alive.’
Gists, different speakers: ‘Our church is so loving and accepting.’ Vs. ‘I’m not going to be on the worship committee if she’s on it.’
Gist of my interaction with council members on the preaching: ‘Everyone agrees that what he preaches is absolutely biblical…All pastors have a theme…They want the abundant life. They want Christ’s compassion.’
‘Okay. If he thinks he’s already given them the balanced word, and preaches the love of Christ, what does it look like to give them what they want? Examples? Preachers who should be emulated?’
‘We don’t know.’
Gist of conversation with older woman in church on the preaching: ‘He was grieving and the whole church was grieving with him, over the cancer and your mom. It was time to stop. It was time to have some joy.’
ekkles: ‘If he was grieving, it wasn’t over that, and no one ever asked him. People are ‘diagnosing’ from a distance—his heart was burdened over what was happening in the church. This and this happened and it wasn’t good; there’s a spiritual issue.’
‘We just felt he was grieving over the cancer and your mom. It was time for some joy.’
ekkles: ‘I just told you that isn’t the issue.’
‘He was grieving. We need some joy.’
ekkles: ‘I just told you he wasn’t grieving. The roof is falling in.’
‘We need some joy.’
ekkles: ‘He’s already preaching God’s word. That in itself should be an encouragement to God’s people.’
‘It’s just so depressing. He even makes the Beatitudes depressing.’
ekkles: ‘I was there for those sermons. They weren’t depressing.’
‘We need some joy. I know how I feel.’
ekkles: ‘But what about specific example, specific example, specific example, all evidence to the contrary?’
‘I’m not going to debate it. I know how I feel. I don’t want to dwell on it because it makes me upset.’
[Author’s note: this mention of a ‘new term’ is a reference to the fact that the ‘No joy’ faction had a certain shared vocabulary, some of which are referenced in the first letter to the church visitors, and can be seen in the documents produced by the ‘council’. 25 March 2016.] New term as of October 2015: judgmental. ‘PT was being judgmental. I don’t want to be judgmental. But don’t you think he should read the paper and get out more? Shouldn’t he come to the coffee shop and talk to people? I don’t want to be judgmental, but I do want to demand these changes, with no discussion, no questions asked. I don’t want to be a judge, it’s my job to love them and God’s job to change them, but I will join in a coup to strong-arm the minister into giving us what we want based on our feelings while everyone admits his preaching is biblical. I don’t want to be judgmental, it’s not my job to change anybody, but he doesn’t know people have died and it’s so embarrassing.’
13 is blocking him from being in the Sunday School, for crying out loud!!
There’s all these unbiblical (or abiblical) expectations for this pastor (hang out in coffee shops, read the local obits instead of pastoral blogs, go to school board meetings), which, unmet, people have held against him for years (3, 4, even 7!)—and he never even knew about them! And there are things which he should do, per church order, the Bible and common sense, which he is being prevented or discouraged from doing. SO IRRATIONAL.
More than one person knows that several folks in the congregation are problems. And one person (the speaker of much of the content in the above section) even said back in February  that it’s not a praying church. Now that same person talks like everything is PT’s fault—when he’s preached on prayer!! Somehow if the people are unhearing, rebellious or cold, it’s his fault, even if he addresses all these issues in his preaching. WTF.
The truth is, people in A. are upset by the truth. That’s why they can’t abide sound doctrine (which they admit is sound doctrine) at any depth, and that’s why ‘a lot’ of people were ‘upset’ by my sister’s Facebook posts.
No one is asking, ‘What does God want? Is He on one side of this?’ He’s on His own side, of course [like Aslan], but… And the other questions: what is a pastor’s job? What is an elder’s job? What is a sheep’s job? What is the church for? Would people go to the Bible first to answer these questions?
And now. Spirit-filled people tackling the problems of enmity, gossip, division, sub-biblical thinking, rebellion and false testimony with, ‘Just love (on) ‘em!’ Would they tell Paul he ought to have just loved on Hymenaeus, or the Judaizers? Or should Paul have told the Corinthians to just love (on) the man sleeping with his stepmother? Some of these were professing Christians! And their sins (and names in some cases) have been a matter of church record for over 2000 years. ‘Just love ‘em. God will change ‘em.’ This is ignoring Jesus, and it can’t be found in the Bible at all. Whence came this saccharin approach? And to how many sins, and to what kind, in the church does it apply?
–‘He works for you.’ The thoughtless mouth that spoke this dangerous soundbyte should countered and chided for giving the enemy an extra belt of ammo!
–the treatment of my sister. Is 15 (the person who, it is assumed, is one of those who asked for my sister to be blackballed from committees) being called to serve on the worship committee? Is this why the council is willing to throw my sister under the bus for 15’s benefit? Because God wants 15 there, and/or because she’s more valuable there than my sister is? And 13 thinks he’s unappreciated!
You’re complaining because your pastor doesn’t read the obituaries? What if he proves he ‘cares’ in more significant (and sacrificial) ways? And…do you know what’s going on the wider world, or in the church universal? LAME. Besides, he didn’t come to pastor the ‘community’. He came to pastor A.. What does that mean? What would Jesus say about this carping?
And let’s face it, if people have grown so critical and judgmental that that (reading the newspaper) is a major issue, he could acquiesce to it, and it would just be something else that isn’t acknowledged—something else would be found to criticize. Two of the elders on the council testify to that. And yet he is judgmental because he addresses sin, REAL SIN, the way the Bible does! People care more about conformation and keeping up appearances (even of being caring or involved) than real issues of holiness, or the kind of relationships that allow Christians to sharpen, challenge and edify one another. ‘Backwards’ isn’t strong enough.
The ‘event’ that never was: the non-confrontation of 72 [this is a reference to a person who has chronically exhibited rude, antisocial, bullying, unChristian behavior toward authority figures, including pastors and those in the wider community; the person’s behavior is a known quantity. S/he is a long-time member at A., a big ‘supporter’ of the ‘Christian’ school, and a professing Christian. People recognize his/her behavior for what it is; some judge it by Christ’s standards. Other people, professing believers who grew up with him/her, bend over backwards to make excuses for him/her. Such people attacked and blamed my dad for ‘rocking the boat’ when after three years of trying to kill him/her with kindness and pray away the bullying and contempt, he decided to call him/her on it in a very civil way—with a letter, which he tried to keep discreet and subtle, and asked him/her to keep confidential. This was not respected. But that’s a story for another time. The ‘story’, ‘everyone’ at A. knows: ‘he/she rolled her eyes at my dad one time, and he wrote him/her a letter.’ (author’s note: Pff! That makes a lot of sense, but apparently people believe it! Or at least, they don’t nip it in the bud, but instead allow it to circulate and do harm, 19 April 16) And the elders who were called upon to do their jobs, church discipline, one of the three marks of the true church, held the controversy and discomfort against my dad for noticing the problem, ever after.]
We’re so accepting—not judgmental—get outta my Sunday School, ya big dope! [This is a reference to the fact that my dad, who had been co-teaching the youth Sunday school for years, was unilaterally banned from it by 13, with no discussion, because one of the students (who could never be bothered to prepare for it anyway) had learned the lesson of the power of extortion well from some of the adults in the church: I’m not coming if he (the pastor) is going to be there. Apparently what counts are numbers, no matter what. Pastor gets blocked by elder from doing his biblical duty because a young person—well, what was the problem? Wouldn’t the elder’s duty have been to help get this sorted out rather than furthering the rift and potentially enabling a bad attitude on the part of this student?]
This just in: the pastor is being told to change because people don’t like being told they need to change.