It seems that-try as they might-to get me to go to their church, some people are continually giving me reason upon reason to never darken the door of a church again. The following is a short-list of just what I'm experiencing:
1)Invite me to church telling me how wonderful certain people in the church are, who in fact I know personally to be some of the most untrustworthy people in the community.
2)Walk into Booksamillion only to be so unfortunate as to over hear one dear fellow telling another, "...Honestly, we have probably the best worship band in the country..."
3)Post "live action" photos of the praise and worship band on social networking sites.
4)Rave to people, telling them they are "awesome" just because they get up on stage to sing. (I mean really, if the praise & worship team sat in the back of the sanctuary where no one could see them, would the same people volunteer? Come on!)
5)My former fellow church members describing their new church in EXACTLY the same overly complimentary way they described our cult when we there.
6)Fellow Christians HIGHLY ESTEEMING things of little or no value at all, and at the same time, seeming totally callous to things that are of most importance.
7)Some of my former fellow church members assuming the very same roles they had in our word of faith church.(They see themselves as being to the local church what the Medici were to Florentine art.)
8)Former church family forgetting my name when they invite me to church(because they never knew it in the 10 yrs. we were there).
9)People placing such priority on the local church itself, they aren't able to actually HELP anybody. For example, "I heard that your car broke down on the side of the road on your way to church. I would've stopped to pick you up, but I had to be at the church early to entertain all the people's kids who were working in the morning service." Or, "I'm sorry to hear about the family crisis you had. I would've called, but I was just so busy getting ready for the women's conference...It was awesome, by the way!"
These are just a few, but I'm sure I could add to the list in the future...
"Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings— meetings, meetings, meetings—I can't stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you've been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don't have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. "
http://atheism.about.com/od/jehovahswitnesses/a/SocietyControl.htm I found an article by an atheist explaining the methods in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are controlled buy their leadership. There are curious parallels to the WOF, such as an exalted "anointed" leadership, although the origins as well as the overall personality of the groups are quite different. For example, I have never seen any WOF church to be anywhere close to the well-oiled recruitment machine that the JWs organization is.
One of my concerns is that such controlling methods have been filtering out into mainstream evangelicalism for a number of years via the Word of Faith movement. If a church is built up as one man's career vehicle, then the temptation to try to control people may be too hard to resist. It seems like a lot of guys leading mega-awesome mega-churches should just quit the ministry and be regular ol' CEOs instead of religious business philosophers.
I am re-reading The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn, a book I have not read since high school (not surprisingly, as this is not a book most people read more than once. It's about the the Soviet prison system and how it was used to terrify and controll the population....not a cheery topic). In the first chapter, he points out that when people were arrested, they were submissive and never cried out. They were being arrested without cause but they just accepted it in hopes that it would all be straightened out. After all, they had done nothing wrong. It reminds me of my Word of Faith experience. Because we were so afraid of being blackballed as "Offended" that no one drew attention to questionable situations or cried out that they were being mistreated.
So just a little reminder: If "they" are going to tell you that you're offended for asking questions or that you are disrespecting the man of God by doing so, how is it their right to set the rules? After all, anybody can say "God told me so." How is holding them accountable a right that they can give and take from you as they please?
There's a story about Bach -- or maybe it was Mozart -- and how, even as a little kid, he had to hear resolution. He was in bed, upstairs, and someone was playing the piano, and that someone got distracted and stopped, just before the last chord.
J.S. -- or W.A.? -- couldn't stand it. He tromped downstairs, pounded out the resolving chord, and then went back up to bed again, without a word. He just had to hear it.
We're all like that. I think about all the stories I've heard, and then all the ones I've lived, and there's the big difference: We get resolution in the former, but the other just...lay...out there, somewhere, and, much as we pretend, there are no finish lines, no final chords, no official victories, no ends-of-story. Not yet, anyway.
I took the yellow bus home from our country school in St. Berniece, Indiana. One day, I sat with my best friend's brother, Eric. He was in second grade, I was in third. We talked and joked about my lunchbox and a puppet I played with. Then we got off at the bus stop in front of his house.
I stepped to the right. But Eric ran alongside the bus, slipped, and fell under the wheel. Two weeks later, my mom suggested I go over to my friend's house, to visit him and his little sister. She told me they probably hadn't had any visitors since Eric was killed, and may be lonely. So I got on my bike.
Mark, my friend, and his little sister met me at the door, excited to see me -- or anyone, for that matter, I gathered. We laughed and played with a top on their hardwood floor. It was one of those that spins and makes noise and lights. I could see their mom in the back room, smoking a cigarette. Staring at me.
We played for an hour, until she came in the room, and started screaming at me. She said something about how all I was doing was reminding them of what happened to Eric, and I should get out, like, now. Her kids were stunned, and started crying, and so did I, and I ran out the door and got on my bike bawling with guilt.
I never went back. And we moved away. I don't know what happened to them. When I think about that day -- this is almost thirty years ago -- I still get a knot in my stomach. There's no ending to the story. So it's a story I've almost never told.
Most examples aren't this painful, but almost all the "great stories" of my life are this way. When I speak to people, try to motivate them, try to teach them, I pull a bit of a sleight-of-hand, presenting stories that are edited just-so. They're not "untrue", they're just dishonest, in a pedestrian way, I suppose, presenting real-life stories like Aesop's Fables, with certain resolution, as though the story were over.
(Maybe -- I don't know, I'm musing here -- this is a reason why Jesus's stories aren't specific "victory" testimonies, they're metaphors of the Kingdom. Maybe he didn't want a specific "Look-at-what-happened" story to ultimately get mis-used, or give the wrong impression.) I tell about a smashing, eye-opening missions trip for some high schoolers, but I don't include the boring stories, or the stories where some kids just really weren't impacted, how that one inspiring kid wound up getting some girl pregnant two months later. I tell -- and hear -- "and then he became a believer!"-type stories, but don't include, " -- and yeah, okay, he's still battling addictions."
I read "look what our church is doing" accounts in newsletters, but don't hear the invariably messy follow-ups. We get the "victory" stories over sin and depravity, but no one publishes books called, Wups, I'm Totally Messed Again. Yet, that's where the stories of my actual life are. We don't like our stories open-ended. So we clean up our stories, and act like they're finished.
I used to be a youth minister, and the conventions would feature one impressive guy after another, with remarkable stories about what happened in their youth groups. It was really amazing! Why was my youth group kind of a mess? Why wasn't I inspiring anyone like that? It was impressive!...until I realized I could pick and choose stories, make believe they were final, and, presto -- I'm awesome.
And that inspiring day when Big Joe the Football Lineman cried and prayed? Well, that was the end of the story! But in reality, it wasn't.
We like resolution. But we don't live in resolution-time. Forgive me for ever giving the impression otherwise, that I believe myself fully resolved, fully arrived, somehow finished. The story isn't over.
Not everything makes sense, not everything gets explained, not every story is inspiring and ready for Tony Campolo to tell it. Talk about "inconvenient truth": We're living in the in-between.
I think about Eric, his mom, or a thousand other people I've known, and I feel like I'm lying upstairs, and someone just left the piano bench, right before the C chord. I'd walk down and play it, if I could.
It's funny the things that remind you of the past. I happened to notice some green bananas on a table of fruit in our house and was reminded of Charles Capps coming to our church in the late 1990's. He was preaching from his then-recent book End Time Events. I remember that although he said he didn't want to set dates on Christ's return, he wouldn't be buying any green bananas. It was meant to be a humorous comment, even though he all but said that the year 2000 could see the return of Jesus based some kind of mathematics involving the Jewish calender. There was much "year 2000" speculation amongst WOFers during 1999. Kenneth Copeland and Capps were on Believer's Voice of Victory at length discussing the topic. Everytime the topic was preached on, everyone would say "Now, we aren't setting dates here..." and then make reference to the book that gave reasons why Christ would return in 1988. After that disclaimer, they would go on to speculate on what big thing could be coming in 2000 (apart from Y2K hysteria).
It makes me think of all the failed prophecies I heard in the WOF. Anyone remember Oral Robert's "Wake Up Call" discussed at length by the Copelands and Billye Brim on BVOV? Remember Jerry Savelle's interpretation of a prophecy given by Kenneth E. Hagin Sr. during a family holiday dinner regarding 1996 through 1999. It was the beginning of a trend of annoying rhyming prophecy slogans: "1996 The Year of the Fix, 1997 Will Be Like Heaven..." (He also said 2000 would see miracles like we've never seen. I thought 2000 was a big letdown.).
I also remember a prophecy our pastor gave that was printed in the church bulletin the year we left. It was all glory and money and heaven, nothing real specific. Funny enough, the only spectacular thing that happened at our church that year was the exposing of a scandal that caused most of the congregation to leave and has resulted in one prison sentence (so far).
For the past two years, I have heard one reoccurring theme regarding the "Father" of the Word of Faith movement, Bro. H. It is, "Dad H. never would have let anything happen in his family, ministry, or school that wasn't right." Or, "If Bro. H. were here, none of this[scandals in the Word of Faith] would have happened."
I cannot assert that I have personal knowledge of all the affairs of any one's life or ministry. But I will not apologize for observing the fruit from one's personal and/or public life. As for "Dad H.", he has affected my life. There were two churches affiliated with his school, both within 35 minutes of my home. Both had money and sex scandals.
I can look at his children and grandchildren and get some idea of what his family values really are. I can evaluate the ministries that have emerged from Bro. H.'s school. It is my hope that all those who call him "Dad" would also take an honest, unreserved look at what has followed this man.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. -Jesus(Matthew 7:18-20)
In light of my Word of Faith experience, The Message's paraphrase of Old Testament writings is right on target.
It's funny how well some of it matches not only the WOF but contemporary church as well.
It's also very disturbing.
(Speaking of Israel ) They buy and sell upstanding people. People for them are only things—ways of making money. They'd sell a poor man for a pair of shoes. They'd sell their own grandmother! They grind the penniless into the dirt, shove the luckless into the ditch.
Woe to you who think you live on easy street in Zion, who think Mount Samaria is the good life. You assume you're at the top of the heap, voted the number-one best place to live. Well, wake up and look around. Get off your pedestal. Take a look at Calneh. Go and visit Great Hamath. Look in on Gath of the Philistines. Doesn't that take you off your high horse? Compared to them, you're not much, are you?
Woe to you who are rushing headlong to disaster! Catastrophe is just around the corner! Woe to those who live in luxury and expect everyone else to serve them! Woe to those who live only for today, indifferent to the fate of others! Woe to the playboys, the playgirls, who think life is a party held just for them! Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain! those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles! They could not care less about their country going to ruin. But here's what's really coming: a forced march into exile. They'll leave the country whining, a rag-tag bunch of good-for-nothings.
And yet you've made a shambles of justice, a bloated corpse of righteousness, Bragging of your trivial pursuits, beating up on the weak and crowing, "Look what I've done!"
I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want. Amos 5:21-24
I was reading a Abu Dauod's blog who is a Christian of Arab background who lives in the Middle East (hope I have that right). He happened to bump into a mercenary named Steven and were discussing Steven's experiences as well as events in Iraq. As the conversation took on a more spiritual tone, he makes a simple and profound statement about Christianity.
Stephen said "he was in Nashville once, and had nothing to do, and the only book around the hotel was the Bible, so he started reading it and found many contradictions…
I said, traditionally, I would ask you what those contradictions were and try to explain each of them away. But let me tell you that my experience is that Christianity works because I lived it out. When I became a Christian, I just did what I was taught: respect your parents, or, be kind to those whom no one else likes or respect—the unpopular kids at school. So I started trying to live out these Christians teachings, and saw that they really worked. So, it’s kind of like a puzzle—you don’t need to solve the whole puzzle before you can understand what it portrays."
Can those of you who read The Autonomy of the Believer outside the United States recommend any blogs that deal with similar topics originating in your country? Even if they are not written in English, I would like to know about them in order to network with others, as you can translate web pages into English.
Also if there are bloggers in closed/restricted countries, I would love to know about them.
At the Word of Faith church we attended for 10 years, we were regularly encouraged by our pastor to read Kenneth E. Hagin’s books. Our pastor closely imitated Kenneth Hagin and continually sought to increase his stature within Hagin’s organization. The Word of Faith is big on the philosophy “Be a good leader by being a good follower” so we followed our pastor as he followed Brother Hagin.
We noticed early on that our pastor seldom mixed with the congregation. He had an engaging, folksy on-stage persona again similar to Hagin’s but was distant when it came to personal contact. I have commented before that my family had little contact with him during the 10 years we were there. The pastor even commented himself from the pulpit that people said he was aloof and untouchable. But he added that Hagin also endured such criticisms. The pastor usually drove up to the church either shortly before the service or had little contact with anyone if he was there early. And once his portion the service was over, he was out the back door with his usher escort and was gone in a flash.
The pastor was also famous for his disdain of personal counseling. It seemed like anything that looked remotely like contact with the people he avoided and disliked.
You can imagine our dismay when we read Hagin’s He Gave Gift Unto Men. In this book, Hagin explains various aspects of the “Five-fold ministry gifts” (well, four out of five: apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers). In chapter 12 Hagin discusses “the office of the pastor.” In the WOF ministers are held in great reverence. Yet, in this chapter, Hagin discusses at length how shepherds (pastors) needed to be among the sheep (congregants) and know them. He gave an example of how one pastor would leave church building just as soon as his services were over and would not spend time with his people. That sounded exactly like our pastor! Over a period of time, we would re-read that chapter and we’d listen to the pastor and observe his behaviour from our distant vantage point…and we couldn't explain it away. Our exalted pastor was not in line with the modern-day prophet Hagin! What would we do? Well, for a while....we did nothing. But this was where we began to entertain thoughts that maybe, just maybe the pastor was the problem with our church.
Once the extent of manipulation and sin that had taken place over the years at our church was exposed, there was much reading of the prophecy against the Shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, as our "Pastor" was no shepherd.
1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel Prophesy and say to those shepherds, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?
3 "You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.
4 "Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.
5 "They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became (I)food for every beast of the field and were scattered.
6 "My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them."
7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
8 "As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock;
9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
10 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them."'" The Restoration of Israel
11 For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.
12 "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.
13 "I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land.
14 "I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel There they will lie down on good grazing ground and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
15 "I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD.
16 "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy I will feed them with judgment.
17 "As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats.
18 'Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures? Or that you should drink of the clear waters, that you must foul the rest with your feet?
19 'As for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet and drink what you foul with your feet!'"
20 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, "Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
21 "Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad,
22 therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.
23 "Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.
24 "And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken.
25 "I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.
26 "I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.
27 "Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them.
28 "They will no longer be a prey to the nations, and the beasts of the earth will not devour them; but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid.
29 "I will establish for them a renowned planting place, and they will not again be victims of famine in the land, and they will not (endure the insults of the nations anymore.
30 "Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people," declares the Lord GOD.
31 "As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men, and I am your God," declares the Lord GOD.
My family and I went this morning to the church we occasionally attend. It's part of a well-known denomination and they meet in an office space with about 25 people. This Sunday they had Communion. I haven't taken Communion in about a year. It was nice. No fanfare, no pre-offering sermon, no personal stories about the Richard Petty racing experience, hunting trips to the Yukon, McDonald's Fillet-O-Fish sandwiches or references to an airplane that the speaker did not actually own. There was just a sermon from Psalm 24 about God's holiness, our sin and God's mercy toward us.
I came out of the service today reminded how church is supposed to be a safe place, not a place to be preyed upon. At my old Word of Faith church they used to say "It's a matter of life and death where you go church." It's true. Because of the narcissistic and exploitative leadership, the sins that went on and the disturbing culture that was developed in the church, it was death to many people in many ways.
Anytime friends or family came to visit our WOF church it was always a disaster. It bordered on comical the way it ALWAYS worked out to be a negative experience for the visitor. For example, my sister-in-law came to church with us and lo and behold, there was a mean former co-worker of hers. This person didn’t just go to church with us but she had a coveted ‘servant’ position in the church caste system. This would be awkward enough as it is, but the mean former co-worker could only work up a brisk “Hi” as they passed by. Nice church P.R. move.
Then my wife’s parents came to visit. My father-in-law got a friendly reception from the man who tried to shaft him in business deals. The shifty businessman was far up in our church’s caste system, which explains why he never spoke a word to my wife or me the whole time we attended church together. I guess he saw potential dollar signs over my father-in-law’s head. But the fact that this man was looked up to at our church didn’t exactly leave a good impression on my father-in-law. He was already suspicious of the whole Word of faith movement as it was.
My parents had politely made it known that they did not agree with Word of Faith doctrine, as my dad was a pastor himself. Once my mother came to church with us (to see us, by the way, not to enjoy the “good teaching” that was supposedly taking place). She arrived shortly before the start of the service and was able to find a parking space right next to our church complex. However a parking attendant was going to have her move because the spot had been reserved for paid staff members. After he noticed she had a Tennesse license plate on her car, he told her it would be okay since she had driven a long way. My mother told me she thought it was a bit odd that they asked her to move since churches typically try to accommodate visitors as much as they can in order to make them feel welcome.
A friend of my wife’s visited one Sunday. She made the mistake of entering the domain of the always-crabby church bookstore lady. Our friend was promptly chewed out for entering through the exit of the tiny bookstore. A couple of other friends that visited with us were spared the worst of the typical gaffes that the others experienced. They were able to get through the entire visit without being spoken to. Then there were the times that friends or relatives got zinged by highly abrasive comments from the pulpit about particular doctrines or opinions.
If you add a few experiences like this to what I have already mentioned in the post called “It flows from the head” it gives you an idea of what kind of church culture the Word of Faith creates. I recall one of our upper caste member’s one and only conversations with my wife was “How long have you been going to church here?” The answer was “Two years.” Yeah, we went 3 times a week during those 2 years in a congregation of about 700 or so. And worked in "Helps Ministry."
I have made the point that the WOF creates an unhealthy church culture and brings out a lot of bad in people. But as I have has some contact with some former church people, I am wondering about some of the people the faith and prosperity message attracts in the first place. Some of the ones I’ve bumped into are just as unfriendly as they were in our old church. I think there is truth in what some have pointed out, that a “life enhancement” message will populate churches with people who are not actually saved. Also, a “life enhancement” gospel message can create “Christians” who are not actually saved because we are not putting emphasis on people’s need for a savior because of sin.
It’s all so weird…to quote Someone I Once Looked Up To “It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.”
It’s not unheard of to have a family that has several members who go in the ministry. Sometimes it takes place over several generations. But it seems over the last several years that some ministers view what they do as “the family business.” I have been involved with ministries that engage in nepotism, which is defined as “favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship.” In other words, they appoint their adult children or other relatives to positions in the church that that will secure the pastor’s power and cash flow in the organization. I can think of many Word of Faith ministries that are quick to show off how their whole family is in the ministry (this is not limited to WOF, by the way). Apparently one of the ways preachers measure their success in the current culture is establishing a ministry dynasty. Never mind that Junior or Sis have no fruit in their Christian lives whatsoever, just put them over the Youth, Children’s church or the Music, pay them a disproportionately large salary for a rookie minister and a preaching dynasty is created! In the controlling Word of Faith church we attended for 10 years, the behavior of the pastor’s adult kids got so bad that it was a major factor in destroying the church (along with the pastor’s cover-up of their behavior).
I recall that Paul’s advice was to avoid putting novices in positions within the church. Pastors, if your kid is inexperienced, they are a novice. If you’ll swallow your pride about it, it will help you in the long run. I know your kid has a good heart, but let them preach in prison for a while first. Let them work with people who have nothing to offer anyone except b.o.. Let them prove themselves before you start putting them on salary. I say this because I know of so many young men and women got into sin that had no place being in the ministry except that daddy had a church or a ministry that they were appointed into. Contrary to popular mythology, the kids are not anointed just because everybody thinks dad or mom is. But pride and preacher worship dictates that that a mighty man of God must have a preaching dynasty descending from him.
I hope some of you preachers out there will take heed of this admonition: ELI! Does anyone remember Samuel’s childhood prophecy Eli?
“Then the LORD said to Samuel, "Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, FOR THE INIQUITY THAT HE KNEW, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever."
Eli’s refusal to do anything to restrain or correct his sons didn’t just crash his “ministry” and damage him in the media. It killed him and his family. It can kill Christianity too.
Every new year at our church, our pastor would preach a sermon called, "Write the Vision". He read from Habakkuk chapter 2, encouraging each person to write down a list of goals or things he/she wanted to see happen in his/her life.
From the very first days at my Word of Faith church, I took to heart much of what I was learning and had a growing vision for my family that included homeschool, missions, and ministry in general. I was building my life on the hope that that vision would become a reality. Church wasn't just church for me. It was a new way of life and the start of my family embarking on God's calling on our lives. I had such confidence in the direction we were going. I felt such optimism. I believed that our lives were actually going to count and that not only could we raise children that would come to personally know Jesus as savior, but also that we could impact the world and change the course of history.
Of course, the plan majored on my children. I had an intense desire to homeschool them to be independent thinkers and have stellar character. This plan to homeschool was dependent upon the church to be our social outlet.
Another component of this vision was ministry, specifically missions. The plan was not just me and/or my husband but the entire family taking the Gospel to a lost and dying world. We would bring living bread to dying souls. The children could see how the rest of the world lives outside of the pop culture bubble that is America. It was a call my husband and I heard very clearly-on more than one occasion.
The calling was intertwined with our work in the church. We thought the mission opportunities would arise as we volunteered in various departments of ministry.
I had confidence that I could believe that God would bring all these things to pass. Every time I began to sense the slightest worry about what would become of my children, I would go back to the things I had written down. I would quote scriptures and pray. I was so thankful to have a hope and a future for my kids. But, gradually, my plans began to crumble.
The social network and support I had been counting never materialized. We didn't have a lot of money which meant the kids didn't "fit in". Camaraderie and emotional connections never grew. But, I thought, no worries! I'll try harder...but it was to no avail. Then the final and most devastating blow came.
We found out that our "pastor" was a covetous liar, hungry for money and covering up the truth. We left our "church".
We then set out on the intimidating task of finding a new church. After a year and a half, we think we have found one. The problem? It's tiny. There are no peers for my kids. So, I am going to have to abandon homeschooling and enroll them in public school.
The point of this post is try to communicate to people how someone can become invested in something so twisted as the Word of Faith and why the aftermath can be so devastating. Our entire life's plans fell when we discovered the truth about our "pastor".
So you have left a controlling church after months or years of soul-searching. And maybe it's been a while since you left. I'll bet I know what people are telling you: it's time to move on, get over it. You talk to Christian friends, ministers you feel you can trust or family friends and it seems like everybody is ready for you to get over it. Let me assure you, if you don't feel like you are going to get over it anytime soon, you are.....normal!
I have friends who have left controlling churches that have rebounded quickly. Others who were more deeply invested in our old church or in the faith movement had their lives turned upside down when they left and are still recovering.
I personally am still in recovery mode after 18 months. This experience has caused me to deeply question the church's ability to be a social institution and yet remain ethical and faithful to God at this point in history. I am also taking my sweet time committing to any particular doctrinal stances. I definitely believe we can know truth...but me being able to wrap my brain around it is another thing. And I do not want to just accept what anybody says as correct doctrine just because they say so, no matter how orthodox it all seems. That's partially how I got into this mess in the first place!
Despite it all, I am very glad to accept the responsibility of thinking for myself. I no longer feel like I have to see what Pastor So-and-so thinks...or Bishop Whats-his-face...or Rev. Dr. Dignified...or Brother Deep-fried.
So if it takes a long time to feel like you have come out the other side of this situation, that's okay. Some if it we should never "get over" because we are dealing with people's spiritual lives, which is no small matter. I believe it's indicative of the times we live in.
Romans 10:17 reads, So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
This is true, but I would add a word of caution. Note that another truth is brainwashing cometh by hearing and hearing. Be sure that as you are endeavoring to listen and study the word of God, that you aren't actually being brainwashed by men.
My husband and I have recently realized that we were willingly and actively being brainwashed by constantly listening to recorded sermons and also reading certain books over and over again. Imagine: No one came to our house and held us captive to brainwash us. We pursued the brainwashing!
By all means possible, seek truth, but under no circumstances, believe what a man tells you just because of whom he says he is.
(The following post was written as a response to mega-church culture.)
Jesus said you will know them by...
...their awesome music ministry
...how large their church is
...how humble their pastor says he is
...their conviction that church is God
...their performace art
...their cool hair and clothes
...their ability-in any context-to always direct attention to their lives to establish themselves as an example for others to follow
...their knowledge of self-improvement
...their ability to be follow the pack and implicitly trust everything they are investing themselves in
...their deep, thorough understanding of church culture
...their keen awareness of the world always applied in church to be relevant
This is just a short list of how Jesus said we'd know the greatest believers among us. Take note, and if your life doesn't mirror this list, you'd better evaluate your priorities. Church, it's time to take inventory of our lives. No more old fashioned church with the Sunday school classes and the archaic hymn books. No more senior citizens hanging about our churches, coming to services, trying to hold us back from going where God wants to take us! Because everyone knows he wants to take us places we've never been. There are careers paths we've never ventured into, houses we've never been successful enough to own, and coolness that we have never plumbed the depths of.
A perfect church for me would be a church in the small, rural community in which I live. It would be smaller groups of people going into the community with The Gospel, converting sinners, and disciplining them to form more groups of believers who would then do the same. The Body of Christ would grow exponentially.
The agenda of this church would be to AFFECT CHANGE LOCALLY, NATIONALLY, and GLOBALLY through getting people born again and discipleship. What kind of change? To raise up believers whose character mirrors the character and commitment of those who founded our great nation and those who are spoken of in Hebrews 11. That means if we were worth our salt, we would have FRUIT. The fruit of people living Godly lives and not giving one thought as to whether they were “relevant”, accepted by the world, or progressive.
I’m talking about the things we do actually mattering, actually changing the news headlines in the nation-where children aren’t abused, tortured, or murdered, where perversion isn’t exalted, where there are families intact and living SOBERLY in the fear of the Lord.
This church would have no huge building to support financially. Instead, money would be put to spreading the gospel. Small meetings could be done in homes, larger meetings could be held in modest structures.
And my children could discover how beautiful it is to hear God’s people sing, pray, and worship the Lord together, instead of some polished, professional stage show. They could learn the lessons of selflessness and sacrifice, thinking beyond where they live in the here and now, and being salt and light in a dark, perverse world. I would like them to know that when tragedies or crises come to our family, we have a local group of believers who will help us and love us.
The most important things for them to learn are not: “POSITIONED FOR GREATNESS”, “YOUR BEST LIFE NOW”, or “GOD WANTS TO GIVE YOU THINGS” (I shudder to think where our nation would be if our founders held any of those ideas dear.)
Of the many weird things about my Word of Faith experience, one thing that I often think about is the music. I noticed early on that our church placed little value on creativity. Anyone’s talents and abilities shining too brightly would threaten our controlling pastor. This was true in a variety of the church’s departments, but it was most noticeable in the church's music. We had a number of talented musicians and singers pass through our ranks over the years. There were presentations that were done from time to time by our music people that, to my ears, showed considerable musical ability. But if you heard something really good, you could count on SELDOM if EVER hearing it again thanks to our Reverend Pastor Narcissist. Nothing was going to take the spotlight off his “teaching gift” so the gifts in the congregants were suppressed. Their gifts were only to be used to further his "gift."
But what is really interesting is the subject matter of some of the songs. Since we emphasized “Positive Confessions”, much of our music were statements about "What I’m going to do" set to music. It seems so strange now, that we came to worship the God of all Creation by singing about what we were going to do.
Then there were the personality-cult aspects of the music. I remember a man who set Kenneth Hagin's sermons to music and sang them in Hagin’s meetings. What I heard was essentially this man sing-talking (Lou Reed?) the sermon bullet points with piano accompaniment. With that being said, occasionally someone would set our pastor’s latest slogan or sermon points to music.
Is that just me or does that sound like some kind of Communist dictator?
Let’s think this through….we sat and diligently took notes of the pastor’s sermons (they sold custom-made notebooks in the church bookstore and advertised them from the pulpit). We discussed the pastor’s wisdom that was captured on people’s notepads. Some of us had treasuries of Revered and Mrs. Pastor’s collected wit and wisdom. As if that was not enough, we sometimes heard songs and improvisations based on his sermons and slogans. All we needed was a little red book of his sayings like Mao Zedong (By the way, the pastor did get a book published just before we left, so I guess he got that covered). Brainwashing, anyone?
Some of the songs that made the rounds in the WOF are equally bizarre. I recall one song that was about being promoted by God and being moved up higher. We also tweaked lyrics to conform to WOF dogma. Even Amazing Grace had to tow the party line. We did not refer to ourselves as wretches, so Amazing Grace saved “someone” like me. If a song did not conform (or if he was just feeling moody) the pastor would interupt the song and explain why we did not need to be singing it. I recall Hillsongs’ OnEagles Wings got shot down in public like that. You can imagine how the threat of public rebuke made the music people feel, as the standards were inconsistently applied to boot. It also created room for someone to suck up to the pastor with their ability to discern bad song lyrics.
Like nearly every other aspect of our old church, music was just another tool to manipulate and control the congregation.
In my last post I made some observations contrasting Christians in closed countries and leaders in the Word of Faith movement. Christians in nations where their faith cannot be openly shared seem to have a much greater level of consecration to personal principles than their WOF counterparts in the West. This is in spite of the fact that the Word of Faith ministers are self-proclaimed experts on faith.
After thinking about it I realised something: Christians in these oppressive nations are willing to give their lives for the opportunity to share faith in Jesus as the only hope for every person. Compared to that, the prosperity gospel isn't a message worth dying for. Are you going to tell someone on their deathbed that God will prosper them? People don't need money after they die. People need to know that Jesus paid the price for their sins so that they will not have to pay for their sins themselves. To preach any other message is absurd.
If it's a message that's not worth dying for, you can bet it ain't worth living for, either.
The word Sacrifice sometimes strikes terror into the hearts of Christians. To be fair, it is understandable since the word “Sacrificial” is often followed by the word “Giving” which is followed by an appeal for funds.
Something that began to bother me during my WOF experience was the attitude toward a certain type of sacrifice. I began to do a lot of reading on missions and on the church in developing and closed nations. I heard it said that the reason Christians were persecuted and martyred overseas was that they did not know what we knew about faith. That did not seem to compute at the time I heard it. Over time, the more I studied the lives of Christians in closed countries, the more that statement disturbed me. Christians in countries where they are not free to own a Bible, much less assemble freely, often evangelize despite regularly being arrested and cruelly treated. The government, culture and even their families, reject them and yet they maintain their convictions as Christians above all else. They have CONVICTIONS and they live those convictions out. Meanwhile some guy in here in the States who travels the country collecting offerings and considers how much he rakes in as a mark of his ‘prosperity’ thinks he’s the one who has faith? It would seem to me that the prosperity preacher’s main conviction is money.
Meanwhile a well-known faith preacher said he’s willing go to jail...to avoid releasing a list of his financial contributors to a Senate investigation committee. And he expects me to “follow his faith?” I find the nobility in the sacrifice of countless men and women like Zhang to be far more worthy to aspire to than that of people whose gospel is the acquisition of money power. These persecuted Christians live out their faith and put their money where their mouth is, so to say, rather than putting your money in their pocket.
In my last post, there was something Wurmbrand said that I think about a lot. "Only saints can sanctify a society." I would think that if we have a large number of born again people who follow Jesus in America that it would have some positive effect on society. Now that I am free of the Word of Faith and all it's hyperbole, I have become more aware of the worsening state of morality and ethics in the Evangelical movement and society as a whole. I become somewhat annoyed when people comment how awesome their churches are. If everybody is so awesome, why can I go into the local Wal-Mart in my rural area and regularly see people with the tell-tale signs of methamphetamine abuse? We've also seen recent displays of immoral behaviour that I have never observed in public before out here in Podunk. We've also watched people we grew up with who were raised in "good Christian homes" live lives adrift from the foundation of their upbringing.
We must strive to convert not only the prostitute or drunkard, but prostitution, alcoholism, the prisons, man's exploitation of other people, war - all these things must be abolished, and this can only be done if the Christian fights his battles in the social as well as personal sphere. Evil has made great strides; there is a long line stretching from Cain, who killed a man with a staff, to the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the Communist extermination camps. the satanic powers have transferred their attack from the individual to an offensive on a large social front. the powers of good must do the same.
In the old days Paul could preach from the same pulpit as his enemies. We have a pulpit today, but our enemies have the schools, the press, large publishing concerns, the cinema, radio, television. We, too, have a right to all these things, and if we are to achieve them, then we must realize Daniel's prophecy that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High." (Daniel 7:27)
The conditions necessary for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth are now present; this was not possible when material conditions were so wretched. Modern means of communication could ensure that the gospel of Christ is disseminated throughout the world.
The coming into power of communism has meant prison, torture, and death for thousands of Christians, but it has helped our thinking enormously - Communists think on a global plane and in terms of future generations. The children of God, quite wrongly, have a reduced horizon. Often their thinking is narrow, and they look only one step a head. Was it for nothing that the leaders of the Church in the New Testament were called "presbyters," that is, people who see far ahead?
The Christian Jews, too, have learned to think on the universal plane, and to strive to achieve a distant goal. the Roman Empire threw Christians to the wild beasts, but it also taught them to think on an imperial scale. Christianity became the religion of the empire, instead of isolated individuals. Communism has played the same role for us.
...The evangelism of the individual still remains the priority. Only saints can sanctify a society. A social gospel preached to unregenerate men is a fake. But men who have been born again must bring their new life into society.
from the book Christ on the Jewish Road by Richard Wurmbrand pp 201-203 as published in The Voice of the Martyrs magazine Oct. 2008 issue.
I was recently reading some sermon notes I had by a well-known faith preacher. We will call him Someone I Once Followed. The notes were on the topic of Faith (surprise!). As I was reading, I was reminded of some things I liked about the Word of Faith. What I was reading expressed a lot of commitment to the Bible as God’s Word. I had not heard that kind commitment to the Word of God in the denominations that I was familiar with. We had all believed that the Bible was inspired and inerrant but these Faith guys expressed reliance and dependence on the Bible in unequivocal terms. Their attitude was “This is God’s Word and I’ll do whatever it says, even if it seems to my own hurt.” The Bible was also given as a basis for communion with God and as the only way to find fulfillment. I was not hearing these concepts expressed with such fire and enthusiasm until I encountered the WOF. That was part of the attraction for me. This was communicated very clearly in the Faith movement. It was a contrast to what I had been used to hearing. When I could find a clear point being communicated, it was something like “be committed and don’t get your hopes up.”
(A little footnote: I know people have itching ears to hear convenient messages but of those of us with orthodox doctrine fail to clearly and aggressively articulate the basic messages of Christianity backed with moral character, we are going to continue to face problems like this in the Evangelical movement.)
Anyway these faith preachers were inspiring because of their example of commitment to God’s Word. While reflecting on the notes I was reading, I was reminded of one of the many disappointments I’ve had with the WOF: there was something that the leaders and preachers ultimately had a greater commitment to than faith.
That something was money.
I have observed symptoms of the Faith movement’s love affair with money. The church I attended for years usually gave a mini-sermon before tithes were taken up. I had friends who were going through a severe financial crisis and stopped tithing. The pastor told them that failing to tithe was the biggest mistake they could have made. This from a guy who was famous for preaching that if people gave money to him, they would be blessed and have what amounted to good luck. This was back when Leroy Thompson’s “Money Cometh” message was hot and people were stuffing the preacher’s coat pocket with cash. If it was going to damage this couple so bad, why didn’t he give them money to tithe from? It wasn’t like he didn’t have the money. We could also talk a long time about WOF ministries being investigated for inappropriate use of non-profit money. Financial transparency is unheard of in Faith churches because the leader has final say on all church matters.
I don’t see how a minister can be “A man of the Word” and ignore Biblical admonitions to ethical behavior. I guess they really are “favorite Word people.”
Controlling churches often have unspoken codes of conduct. In the Word of Faith we had a "code of silence" which was the result of some doctrinal combinations: faith, positive confession and submission to authority. Exercising faith through words is an important component of the WOF. We wanted to plant God's Word in our hearts and "have what we say." To stay strong in faith, we avoided talking in a way that could be construed as unbelief or doubt of God's Word or what we believed His promises were. We did not want to have an attitude of disrespect or harbor grudges against other Christians (a.k.a."Walk in love"). Not only did we believe it would have an adverse effect on your faith, but also it was implied that it could cause a person to fail in life or even die.
The end result was that there were a whole lot of things that we did not talk about. If you felt sick, you were experiencing "symptoms" (but you were NOT going to admit you were sick). If you were broke you found some way to infer that you were low on cash besides saying "I can't afford it."
You can imagine the disaster that awaits someone who needs serious medical treatment that is trying to fight "symptoms". It was okay to use doctors and medicine, just take your healing confessions with you to read while you are in the waiting room. But what if someone is afraid to go to the doctor? They might put off medical attention with "faith" alone as their excuse only to find themselves in a terrible situation (We didn't confess fear, by the way). We could also do a separate post on people in desperate financial straits giving money into offerings that can't afford while making their prosperity confessions. You can see that there could be a variety of unexpected consequences from this faith teaching.
But one truly unexpected consequence (for me, anyway) is the culture that is created in a church where these teachings are the norm: If there is a problem that reflects poorly on the leadership, you can't talk about it! The way we treated ministers and leaders in our old church seems based on the assumption that leaders do not err. So if there is, for example, a serious question about how church finances are handled, you are not being submissive to God's appointed leader by bringing it up. Not only are you rebelling if you persist with such questions, you are harming your faith by failing to "walk in love"! This would probably play out differently if there was transparency in the church power structure. However, the pastor is presented as the visionary of the church and the pinnacle of the power structure. If there are moral issues or financial questions, or problems that stem from nepotism, you are just supposed to tolerate it. You might even find yourself blackballed by the leadership and some congregants for speaking out.
The code of silence is widespread. There are many ministers in the WOF that understand there is a problem but most don't "rock the boat". I understand now why the prophets and Jesus himself had to continually confront the error of the religious establishment.
Looking back, it was really more like the cone of silence for the program Get Smart. We were in our little cones of silence as if we were in our own worlds...with Charles Capps minibooks in our pockets.
The folks over at A Former Leader's Journey have been seeking feedback on the subject of Evangelism so I thought I'd add my comments. Read the comments preceding mine on their blog to get a feel for how the conversation has flowed. It will give some context to my comment.
I am going to give this a shot, been trying to comment here for days…I would agree after my own Word of Faith experience that “life enhancing” perks are used all over the evangelical spectrum (and beyond) to draw the unchurched to a relationship with Christ, or at least to get them attending a church.
I agree also that we too often we put pressure on ourselves to ‘win’ non-Christians to Christianity. We all recognize that we should be doing something, but as is typical for the time we live in, no body is sure what that something is.
Although the religious pressure is off my life, I must still consider what happens when a person dies. No matter how much phoniness and corruption takes place in church or in society, nothing changes death. So is it true that Jesus was sent to save us from our sins? Has He called all men to repent? What is the fate those who do not believe? We Christians act like we have all the answers, why wouldn’t we be proactive to share that message in society…by “society,” I mean with people…people who may or may not want to think about it.
We should be honest, real and moral (what a concept). We should also mindful that we are only delivering the information and not the ones doing the saving. And speaking of being uncomfortable, we should also be glad that no one is trying to stone us like Paul. I think this is an important point that cannot be overlooked. If we plan on sharing Christianity with non-Christians, expect resistance. Christianity challenges every person; it challenges a person’s world view, it challenges self righteousness. Everyone is right and clean in their own eyes. To introduce people to a line of linking that might challenge their own goodness, it will be uncomfortable and they might not like you. But what are we to do? Should we be like someone who sees a house that’s on fire and say “Oh, they will get out in time.” Does a doctor fail to tell a patient about his cancer because he’s afraid he will loose the patient’s friendship? Hopefully we are not in such a state of Jesus-follower bliss that we ignore the spiritual condition of those around us. We can ask thought provoking questions to see how far we can go with people and demonstrate that we aren’t trying to get something out of them.
My last thought is this: At times I have been engaged in,…..yes,…. door-to-door witnessing! The reason I did was because of a co-worker who was a Jehovah’s Witness. He told me the reason he started going to the Kingdom Hall was that someone paid his family an unexpected visit and shared their beliefs and poof! He’s been a JW ever since. Meanwhile churches with more orthodox doctrinal positions can’t be bothered and when they do they try to ‘win’ people over to evangelical church culture rather than Jesus.
A doctrine that we heard regularly in our controlling Word of Faith church was regarding "Spiritual Fathers." This is based on Second Corinthians 4:15. What appears to be an admonishment to follow sound doctrine from the Apostle Paul is a pyramid scheme in the Word of Faith that encourages preacher worship.
For laypeople, the pastor is their spiritual father. This means that you, the laypeople, need to be at every church service to hear from the one God placed in spiritual authority in your life. Is it just me or does this sound like a way to develop the people's dependency on the leader? Don't we have the Bible? Doesn't God communicate with the rest us too? With this in mind, I often heard ministers complain about people who missed a service or were "Sunday morning only" attendees. You need to be there as often as possible and tithe (if you didn't tithe, you were in terrible danger). You could miss church a lot of you were gone earning large tithes, by the way.
If you were a full-time minister, you were encouraged to mimic your spiritual father. I heard story after story from the pulpit about how a preacher stuck with their spiritual father despite being rejected, ignored and pushed aside. Then at last, as the story went along, they were finally recognized as a loyal and awesome Timothy-like figure to their leader. Incidentally, this was a large component of what kept us in our church: spiritual people hang in there and don't give up under pressure or misunderstandings. It later dawned on me that we were being told (in not so many words) was that we could expect the same treatment as the protagonists in those stories.
It was said that spiritual fathers retrieve "lost ax heads" (like Elisha), recover lost anointings and help you get your edge back. That sounds very lofty but what was in reality what took place were preachers carnally competing with each other to achieve some sort of status in their cliques. When someone advocates that a fellow Christian is your "supply of the Spirit," it provokes a lot of serious questions? Why put so much weight on the role of a minister? What is the motive for doing so? All this teaching is good for is to build up the public profile of the "Spiritual Father." It makes possible the collection of tithes from entire churches whose pastors are following the "Father" figure. There was NEVER any explanation of what you did if your spiritual father became corrupt in some way. If your spiritual father is insulted at the very suggestion of financial transparency and practices nepotism, are you just supposed to shrug your shoulders? What if he gets into immorality? Go find yourself another “dad” who expects your worship and veneration? Sure, give them free reign to what they want because they will never do anything wrong.
If you are in a church where you hear this or similar teachings, realize that you don’t have to sit there and accept unscriptural doctrines. Take responsibility for your Christian life rather than have it dictated to you. You will be glad you did!
A few more of Jesus' saying modified for the Word of Faith:
"Follow me and I will confirm your awesomeness before men."
"Blessed are the wealthy shepards, for they have bought the right to do as they please."
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you but don't be nice to those who leave your church. That's an entirely different topic. You may have to spend a lot of time explaining just how bad those people really are."
It used to gripe me that the Word of Faith was referred to as a "different gospel" in the book of the same name. However if you deviate a little bit from Jesus' words, the result becomes a very weird Jesus. To legitimize some of the things we did in the WOF, Jesus would have to say some strange things.
For example: "To be my follower, you need to get a lot of cash. That way people will know you have faith."
"Verily I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. So lord over people as much as possible if you are in the 5-fold ministry."
"Call no man father, unless he's the preacher you copy for ministry purposes. In that case, call him Dad and send him a father's day card with a check in it. He's the only way you can get to me or know my will for your life."
"Have faith in God and your man of God. For verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall write on an index card things that he wants and says it over and over and over, regardless of that person's ethics or moral conduct, will have whatsoever.....because he says so."
"Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and give and give and give without question into the pockets of a minister who says he is good ground."
"Go ye into all the world and build churches larger than the next guy and take up large offerings."
"Peter, when I said 'Feed my sheep' I meant from the pulpit. I wasn't expecting you to spend a lot of time on people or do counseling. Just spend time with your key people and your large contributors."
"Arise and go thy way. Thy faith has made thee whole. Now be careful where you go church from here on. It can be life or death where you go to church."
"The Good Shepard stayed with the 99 and shunned the one who left because the shepard did not want its offence, doubt and unbelief to rub off on the others. And if any of the 99 sheep ran into the one sheep or his family in the grocery store, they acted like they didn't see him."
"Simon, make sure that in the ages to come they preach tithing hard and strong. It's the most important message. If they don't tithe they are under a curse."
The Power 2 Serve website has a great article on Narcissistic Personality Disorder called Narcissism In The Pulpit. The details of the article may remind you of the pastor of a controlling church you have attended.
He keeps reminding you from the pulpit what a good teacher/leader he is....but nobody has heard of him.
When faced with a personal problem that you need his council on, he snaps "What do you want me to do about it!?"
He removes associate ministers from the church that become popular with the church family.
He does not conduct funerals unless he absolutely cannot get out of it.
He thinks people will lose their blessing if they don't get a chance to donate to his ministry.
He only accepts correction from ministers of equal anointing or higher, so don't even think about it.
He doesn't visit people in the hospital unless he absolutely can't get out of it or God tells him to go, which is not often.
He tells stories from the pulpit of people who were healed through his prayers and none of them go to his church.
He removes associate ministers who can preach as well as he does.
He is rarely seen in the company of low-income congregants.
He believes you should compete against each other to 'get around his anointing.'
He feels his adult children are owed big church salaries despite their lack of experience at, well.....everything
He returns from headquarters and hints how he corrected their doctrine, taught the leaders back their own sermons to them and was generally Joe Cool when he was there.
He becomes VERY upset if you don't call him by his title.
He tells you that as your pastor he is your 'anointing connection.'
He thinks sneering at pastors of smaller churches is acceptable.
He hints that higher profile ministers come to him for advice.
He tells you outright that all his peers come to him for advice.
He maintains he is the one that God sent to preach his favorite doctrines to the area: he's God's man for your town. Someone preaching a similar message in the area is not God's man for the area.
He competes with other ministers to be top dog in the eyes of those he admires and imitates.
He believes the type of ministry he does (teacher, prophet, etc.) is the most important.
You may NOT ask how money is spent in the church.
He regularly suggests there are other preachers/congregants trying to undermine him.
Congregants are charged for copies of his Sunday sermons.
He cannot take a joke. And if you try to tease him, he MUST retaliate.
He feels that the church is riding the coattails of his faith.
Match each of the above examples with the characteristics taken from Narcissism In The Pulpit below. There are no wrong answers.
You are welcome to post comments of other examples of "Your pastor might be a narcissist if..."
1. Feels grandiose and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements & talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion.
3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique &, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention & affirmation - or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).
5. Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special & favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations.
6. Is "interpersonally exploitative", I.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends.
7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others.
8. Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her.
9. Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.”
A common feature of controlling Word of faith churches I have observed is nepotism. Nepotism is defined as favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship. They really seem to go all the way with it too. The pastor makes his son the worship or youth leader, a daughter or daughter-in-law oversees the kids, the wife co-pastors and everyone is on full time payroll somewhere somehow. I know of cases where a pastor's family members replaced more qualified staff members or volunteers, which shores up the pastor's control in the church.
As a PK myself I certainly could not recommend a minister putting their 20-something aged kids on a paid ministry position just because of their relation, no matter how good every one's intentions are. Even when there is not an expectation to meet from parents, minister’s children can struggle with their own sense of personal identity. This is largely due their lives being in the context of church and the potentially confining attitudes of congregants. I would not want to put pressure on a young person to lead teens when there are still personal convictions and chooses to be borne out in their lives.
These are the pressures normal people in church deal with. In the Twilight Zone atmosphere of a controlling church, the minister usually holds his family up as a model of faith and virtue. Reinforced by preacher-exalting doctrines about authority, personal anointing and prosperity, the pastor and his family are celebrities in their own church. I don't think any reasonable person would think that this is a healthy emotional environment for the pastor's kids to grow up in. Yet they have jobs there, in some cases, being payed a disproportionately high salary for the position they occupy.
So you have family members employed in positions they might otherwise not have the inclination or desire to do. They are really just in the family business. And the family business is riding the prosperity gravy train, exhorting people to give while they live the extravagant lifestyle of the nouveau rich. And I hear story after story of the adult children or family members in these churches falling in to sin (in some cases staying there). Leaders in a controlling church must be confronted over such issues. It seems like I remember Jesus rebuking the religious crowd far more often than the sinners because of their corruption and pride.
People get upset (or should) when politicians pack appointed positions of grant contracts to their cronies and family.
Why accept any lower standards from church leaders?
During my post-Word of Faith church-search, I have devised a handy list of do's and don'ts to guide myself through churchy waters:
1) I don't do awesome.
Awesome is an overworked word in the Christian lexicon.
It gets tossed around quite bit, e.g., we have an awesome church...the worship time was awesome...awesome youth group. You get the idea.
With that in mind, I have sworn off all things awesome, since that's usually a sign that the object in question is not awesome.
The awesome comes from the word awe. Awe is defined as "an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime." I have a hard time seeing myself feel that way about the youth group.
2) I don't do 'vision.'
At our old Word of Faith church, we started each year writing our "Vision list" (also called a to-do-list). The pastor was renowned for his teaching on vision (even though nobody had heard of him). He would exhort us to raise our sights regarding our vision on essential spiritual issues: more money, bigger house. What lowered my enthusiasm about 'vision' was how our vision list was mostly comprised of suggestions that came from the pastor or his family.
Once I got out of the WOF, I realized how much talk there was amongst Christians about vision, such as "finding your place in your pastor's vision." Huh? Why, does he wear glasses?
Right, I'm sure Jesus will be quizzing me about how well I executed my pastor's vision in heaven, or ask for my tithing record and did I appropriately shun offended ex-church members.
3) I don't listen to 'life coaches.'
I don't know if they dress like high school football coaches but it just sounds cheesy.
4) Partial Contemporary Christian music ban
There is a worship song about being free to dance that sounds like U2's Where The Streets Have No Name. I am free of being required to like to contemporary Christian music just because I am a Christian. In some quarters it appears mandatory, no matter how atrocious the music is. Whoo!! Freedom!!
It's not that I absolutely don't accept 'contemporary' worship anymore. But for my vantage point contemporary worship looks a lot like karaoke and I can do karaoke at home. And when I do, I can karaoke to songs I actually like.
Incidentally, am I the only one who is burnt out on the Jesus-love-song format?
Also, when does singing along with a band magically become worship? Didn't I do that when I saw U2 or R.E.M.? Well, I was singing then but I wasn't longing and straining like I was at church.
Hope I'm not sounding too abrasive here but if I'm free to dance, I'm also free to ask questions. Who knows, I could eventually come around and decide that awesome is pretty awesome after all. But I am free to ask questions, something you cannot do in a controlling church environment.
We have been out of the Word of faith for over a year. What now? After we left the church we visited nearby churches for over 3 months (we live in a rural area, by the way.). I would suggest everyone give that a shot for a while. I had not gone visiting like that in 11 years. It was quite an eye opener.
I could have a lot of fun describing what we saw at these 100-person-or-less churches. I have a sardonic sense of humor anyway and the church search was not helping. We laughed at some absurdities we saw and cried at the same time wondering "Is this it? Are we just out of luck?"
As we left one church, our kids complained that they couldn't figure out what the minister was talking about. This was understandable because my wife and I were having the same problem. It was the ol' spit-cotton lose-sermon-notes ploy, as Inspector Clouseau might say.
Then there were the churches that freaked because strangers showed up. For some it was bewilderment mixed with slight annoyance that strangers broke in. There was also the other extreme: they were so welcoming and READY for you to join the family that it was too awkward.
There was the church that we joked must be where you go if you plan to run for local political office. Having said that, a few days after our visit, someone from that church had a photo on the front page of the local paper promoting their latest civic service.
One church was relaxed beyond all comprehension. The 20 or so people there were so relaxed they were numb. Maybe that's why one really large person was sitting in a recliner. It was too odd to sit through so we tried to leave as discreetly as we could in a crowd of 20. (Fortunately, the noise the recliner made as the lady kept getting up and "plopping" down to fetch her toddler helped distract the congregants as we slipped out the door.)
We visited a church in our area of a denomination that has a very 'soulwinning' reputation. We came into weeknight service and nobody knew where our kids were supposed to go, including the teachers. So do outsiders really never show up there unannounced?
One of the first churches we visited in the area was a 'Mega-Church Lite.' It had the megachurch identity without megachurch numbers (we are in the country, remember). The main auditorium was darkened (for recording television broadcasts) and they had the praise band that played the current popular songs. I also sensed the ambitiousness of the pastors. Their overall presentation was just right for getting larger crows. There were references in the service we attended about how much the pastors were in demand as speakers across the country. This was too much deja-vu from what we had just left in the Word of Faith. Everyone was captivated by their own awesomeness.
We did attend a small church for several months hoping for a little down-home reality and honesty. Nothing spectacular, just a dose of real-life. It was then that we got a taste of how much church has become an odd combination of tradition, self-help and pop culture Christianity. We even saw troubling aspects of the Word of Faith creeping in, which caused us to jump ship immediately.
So for the time being, I'm cooling my jets on church. I'm not even getting to the questions of why do we do church the way we do (I have a lot of those.) At this point I'm just asking the basic question of 'Why am I sitting through this?' I wish we'd taken a break like this a while back. There is not a clear way out on this topic but that's were I am.
The Offence teaching is one way that people are controlled in WOF churches. This teaching also causes people to stay in the churches for fear of the disasters that might follow them.
I can recall asking about people who I had not seen in church for a while. The response was whispered, “They were offended.” Uh-oh. That was as good as saying they were backslidden and in a perilous spiritual position.
Visiting ministers would come to our old church and tell horror stories of those who became offended. I’m thinking of one in particular who told stories of disease, car accidents and death as the result of being offended at a pastor. Our own pastor told a story about a man who “borrowed’ the offence of another man and nearly died. He went on to say offence was like the flu, that you could catch it from others. The pastor was keen to point out that unlike a flu patient, offended people want to spread their offence and share it with others. As a result, if you left our church, you were usually shunned if you met congregants away from there.
The strange thing is, when groups of people would leave the church, the pastor would let everyone know his displeasure. They would become a cautionary tale for the rest of us. When a large number of people began to leave, the pastor heaped disdain and scorn upon them from the pulpit for many weeks. They became responsible for every problem the pastor had (funny how such Stalinist moves never caused them to come back or draw new people).
Sounds to me like the pastor was offended! Didn't he realise the peril he put his congregation in?
I have a hard time understanding how you could have bad luck if you got mad at a preacher but if a preacher got mad at a lay person, he was perfectly within his rights to chew them out from the pulpit. How is it okay for him to share his offence with the congregation?
I guess he misunderstood what the expression "bully pulpit" means. It's not "be a bully in the pulpit!"