Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity


“My Church Is Being Stolen!”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Where did it go?” You look for the church you used to have, where you felt excited and accepted, and it’s different in a way you don’t like. Wading, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

If you belong to a warm, embracing, encouraging and fun church congregation, today’s post is not for you. All I can advise is this: keep it that way, and you do this by limiting the size and power of leadership/management. When these people control as opposed to serve, you lose what you have.

We did, and so have many others: a long time ago, for a short time, we attended a quirky fun church that despite its informality, taught and empowered its members because much of the discipling came from the members themselves. For awhile it functioned, brilliantly, without a supreme leader.

And then the leader arrived. He spent the first year watching and laying plans (doesn’t this sound like what’s going on in many “free” governments today?), but once he moved, it was fast, and before the next year passed, all that was left of the church — our church — was its outer shell.

Incremental Changes

I didn’t begin to realize this until one day, at a “fun,” yet newly structured, family camping trip, a recent attender commented to me,

“This isn’t a particularly friendly church.”

I blamed her, because she was different, you know, not really upright in her life and with a sketchy past (you don’t have to slap me — I slap myself as I write that) — but she was right.

Our church had changed: it had been stolen.

Is this happening to you? It’s hard to tell, because like most takeovers, the really good ones are done slowly and subtly, but there are a few signs you can look for:

Take Me to Your Leader

1) New leadership. Any time there is a changing of the guards, be wary. I find it intriguing that in our churches, which are supposed to be intimate, communal, and embracing, we draw upon outsiders to lead.

And by leadership, I’m talking pastor, because rare is the good-sized church where the elder board makes the mandates. In small, very small, churches they can make life a nightmare for the pastor, but once the business gets bigger — with administrative staff and letterheads and podcasts — the pastor is the CEO, and the elders function as presidents and vice presidents. Yes men, I think they’re called.

You? You’re in the mail room.

Education, or Wisdom?

2) The pastor gets his PhD. I’ve seen a few thesis papers put out by Reverends who want to add Doctor to their titles: “Authentic Intentionality in a Communal Setting,”  or, “Creating and Empowering Leadership Skills within the Laity Class.”

As individual Christians, we are each called to shine our light from the hill. There are no Leadership Training Classes required to fulfill this. Autumn Moon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Wouldn’t it make sense for a doctoral candidate in theology to expound upon something from the Bible? Oh, yeah — that would be like a doctoral candidate in teaching — science, literature, art — researching something practical to do with his theoretical expertise, as opposed to the teaching of that expertise. Is your pastor getting his doctorate to learn more about the Bible, or techniques on how to run — and grow — a church?

You Are What You Read

3) Your Pastor’s library contains books especially written for pastors.  What’s he reading? Books on apologetics, archaeological finds proving Biblical historicity, the Bible itself? Or does he have volumes of the latest on discipling reluctant attendants, pumping up the worship team, and increasing community and religious volunteerism?

You can get a clue through the sermons: one leader we lived through for too long saturated his sermons with the word “community.” It sounded warm and fuzzy and full of grace, until we started mentally replacing the word “group think” with “community.” Then it all made sense.

Fast and Furious

4) Changes happen fast, and you have no say in them. We feel stupid now, but the Norwegian Artist and I attended a  “church  community meeting”  in which we were encouraged to “speak our minds about the proposed changes.” We did, but it would have been more profitable to head to the kitchen and eat stale doughnuts. The front runner speaker’s body language made it clear that the decision was already made (and it had been).

Looks Like Government

5) Bureaucracy increases. At one time, you, with your indifferent singing ability, were able to stand in front and lead songs. Now, all worship team leadership staff have to take classes and be approved by the board. “We need to exhibit a higher level of professionalism,” you are told. “We will review your gifts and skills and find an appropriate outlet for them.”

We knew we were in trouble at one church when the new leader arranged Leadership Seminar Training, complete with workbooks, multiple meetings, and tests. Within six months, the church had been divided into “leaders” and “non-leaders,”  or management and staff as we preferred to call it. And as with the cubicle corporations that churches increasingly mimic, there were way too many middle managers doing . . . what?

Listen to Yourself

6) It just doesn’t feel right. When you say this, aloud, the general response is, “No church is perfect. You need to just be patient, and maybe be a bit more flexible in not wanting things all your own way.”

Trust your instincts — you’re not stupid.

So . . . what do you do if your beloved local church is slipping away from you? You either stay and try to make changes (good luck), give in and accept that this is how things will be, hop to another church and hope that the infection isn’t epidemic, or leave the system.

Because that’s what it’s becoming my friend, a system, and Christianity is not a system.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I still belong to the church. It’s just not in any building. It is a church of individual believers, pursuing a strong relationship with Christ, and some of the people are busy in building on Sundays, and others are sleeping in.

But when we get together — in person, online, over the phone, at a house, or meeting in the street — we grab onto one another and say (and truly mean) — “How are you? What do you need prayer for? What have you been learning? Do you have time to sit for tea?” Jesus talked to people, not at them.

Posts similar to this one are

What Kind of People Leave Church?

Four Lies Creeping into Today’s Church

The Misfit Christian — my book, written for people who don’t fit in, and are tired of feeling like spiritual apostates. Paperback and digital at Amazon.com.



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  • K Sean Proudler

    I kept on looking for bigger truths. Surely there is proof of God’s existence I said to myself. Over time, I found it. I found God’s signature encoded within the bible in numerous forms.

    See http://www.outersecrets.com/real/biblecode2a.htm and click on the flashing words yellow “Watch/Listen”. This takes you on a 10 minute tour showing you the non-coincidental proof.

    Being a truthful soul, I knew I would find it.

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    Michelle — I attend no group. My interaction with other believers is one on one — through the Internet, at work, in the street, on the phone, with my family, with my friends. God sends people our way. It’s unconventional, but so is He.

    I would say that, since you offered your gifts to an organization that could not be bothered to call you back, you have placed precious pearls in a pig pen. Have you approached God directly and asked Him where and how you can use your gifts? It’s surprisingly difficult to do, even though it involves nothing more than saying, “God, what do You want me to do?” and (this is the hard part), waiting for His answer.

    But if you have faith — in Him, in His goodness, in His love for you — you will see (unconventional) answers.

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    Your story reminds me of the hours I spent in a children’s mid-week ministry, in which we helped young children — 6, 7, 8 years old — memorize verses about their desperate state of wickedness. This was to be hammered in forcibly first, and then we could talk about God’s love. Is it any wonder that people mess Step 2 because we spend so much time in Step 1?

    We’re all sinners — some days, after we’ve said something hurtful to someone that we can’t take back, and see the pain on their face that we’ll never forget, we realize this, because most of the time we think, “I’m okay, really. I’m not an ax murderer or anything.” But the Christian establishment, in its effort to control, wants us to go around in a state of insecurity and humiliation (as opposed to humility), and forces confessions from us before we are ready to give, or understand them. Only God deserves the confessions of our soul.

    I hope that you have reconciled yourself with the absurdities of the demanded confession, and that you have found the God who walks beside you, every single step, and leads you to a place of mercy (because we need it), wisdom, teaching, and trust. In leaving man’s false teachings of God, we are in danger of leaving God altogether, not looking for Him when we discover that so much of what we have been taught is untrue.

  • K Sean Proudler

    Due to being an honest person, my church booted me out.

    Back when I was a kid, I attended a school which was of the same name as the church located just across the street. We grade school students were forced to attend the church once a week and so it seemed just like another study class in a way, just part of the weekly school activities.

    We also attended confession. But the funny part was that the teachers demanded that each of us attend confession, thus they demanded that we be sinful, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They demanded that we be sinners.

    Not sinning, thus not attending confession, was just not allowed, period.

    Since I had nothing to confess, I had to make something up. But I was so bad at it since lying was not included in my daily things to do list. Thus the priest would slide the small window open and look at me with a puzzled look on his face, since what I said did not I suppose comply to that standard demanded weekly sinfulness. We were to be sinful outside the confessional booth, yet be truthful when within the confessional booth.

    In my case it turned out to be the other way around.

    It all seemed so confusing.

    “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”
    And then there is the obvious opposite of this……..
    “Condemn me Father, for I have not sinned.”

    Oh so confusing it was indeed.

    With church attendance being part of weekly school activities, it seemed like just another class, thus graduation would eventually come about. But others were attending church on Sunday’s, back to confession again and again, and continuing this for a life time, thus they never graduated.

    This seemed like sheer madness to me. What was wrong with them is what crossed my mind time and time again for years on end.

  • Michelle Laughlin Mitchell

    Thank you. I will keep these things in mind. We definitely left the Methodist Church altogether. We have found a Church and have been very impressed with the weekly message. Unfortunately, when we tried to join a particular ministry (our whole family had different talents to offer), we were never even contacted. Even after going to the orientation. The reason likely had to do with the fact that they were looking for people to commit to far more hours per week than we could offer. Still, with all that has happened, it knocked us on our behind and I guess we really haven’t gotten back up. :) This new Church is a church for the unchurched and my husband and I don’t fit that description, plus, we are a little old to be “hip” like the majority of members. Sooo, we are back out visiting the brick and mortar churches and being underwhelmed and tired of being invisible.
    It would be nice to know more about your Christian group. Are they all not currently attending a brick and mortar church?
    I have always felt that it would be appropriate for a Church to focus it’s ministry on those who have been hurt by the Church (it’s leaders and it’s members). If they could do it successfully, they couldn’t build a building big enough to house everyone. I know this from years of inviting friends and neighbors to church and seeing the large numbers of people leave are old Methodist Church. Anyway, thanks fore the prayers. I really appreciate that.

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    MIchelle — it’s not a matter of finding the right church if you realize that you’re already in it: the church of God is God’s people, and it is not embraced in a building or denomination. We found success, in our initial days of extreme frustration with the brick and mortar church, by taking a sabbatical — at first it was for three months, then it extended to six, and then we just never ended it. However, the interesting thing about our sabbatical period from church is that we discovered how many of our Christian brethren were truly friends, and if not friends, then acquaintances of a level of depth beyond Facebook shallowness.

    How many? It was at that point that we realized we had based our entire social life around the church, and if we weren’t going to be playing the weekly game, then we had no social life, because nobody called, wanted to get together, asked about us or communicated — and it’s not as if we sat on our hands, waiting. Some of these people — the ones we thought were friends, we tried to get together with, but it never worked out, because they were too busy, doing church-y things when they weren’t working.

    God introduced us to people we didn’t know existed, and would never have met if we had stayed complacent in our idea that we were in a warm embracing fellowship of caring believers. Leaving may not be for you, but if staying is causing damage, that’s something to think about. As always, I encourage you to strengthen your relationship with Christ on an individual basis through prayer and Bible reading, drowning out all the voices telling you how to interpret passages and think about God.

    I pray for you — and for your son. The frustration you’re may well be because you are earnestly and diligently seeking the truth, and you’re not finding it.

  • Michelle Laughlin Mitchell

    We went through this very thing with our local Methodist church. They used to move our pastors around every few years “so the Church would rely on each other and not the Pastor”. We were told that this encouraged Pastors to not resolve their problems and wait for re-appointment, so all Pastors would now stay where they were. We got burned by a Pastor who runs his own fiefdom AND won’t be leaving. It has been so hard, but it has completely turned my teenage son against “religious people”. He used to teach VBS, Sunday School and preach on Youth Sunday. Now he just occupies the seat on Sunday morning and we have yet to find the right Church. It’s just so much easier to jump in to a Church when you are naive or looking for a position of control. The faces of our Church have completely changed except for those “in control”. I guess at least now I know we are not alone. No wonder there is so much animosity towards “Christians”. -_-

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