Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Benefits of Favoritism

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?

Friday, January 30, 2009

The “Convenient Doctrines” of Preachers in Sin

Rich Vermillion at his Kenneth Copeland blog (which he calls a "loving rebuke", by the way) discusses some of my favorite topics in the Word of faith.

I am encouraged by the criticism and calls for reform that he and Mel Montgomery have made from within the WOF movement but we still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Excerpts from my list of Post-WOF do's and don'ts

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.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What Now?

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.

I heard a preacher once say....

Sin will take you further than you want to go,
Keep you longer than you want to stay,
And cost you more than you want to pay.

Jesus' method in forming disciples

Abu Daoud is a Middle Eastern Christian who write a blog called Islam and Christianity. He has a recent article called "Jesus' method in forming disciples."

Although the article is concerned with sharing Jesus with Muslims, the way Jesus made disciples stands in stark contrast to how it's done in a controlling church.

Actually disciples are not made in controlling churches, they are merely controlled and indoctrinated.

Borrowed Offence

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!"

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Be Silent No More

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

Matthew 18:6-7

The Word of Faith has a couple of teachings that I am offended by..

One is the teaching on Spiritual Fathers and the other is on Offence.

Both of these teachings have a common element:

In these teachings the pastor says that if you become offended at a preacher or if you break ties with your Spiritual Father you are in danger. During the sermon he cites various unnamed examples who "got offended because I got blessed." To him, "blessed" means he got money, a car, a house, or an airplane.

He claims that the offended ones eventually suffer various calamities: divorce, bankruptcy and even death. (Even though these very things happen to his own congregation.)
I have even heard a pastor explain how an individual can 'borrow' another person's offence, so a person shouldn't even talk to offended brethren.

You are taught that if you separate from him or church that you will lose your blessing (for laypeople, that means promotion at church). Don't get offended, he says. "God wants to promote you, just be mature and go on despite any offending behavior." He tells you that if you leave you could find yourself outside of God's plan for your life, as if to insinuate that serving the pastor is God's plan for your life.

You would think that your salvation rested on the one in the pulpit. It appears your life is in jeopardy without him.

That is intimidation and control.

How does this behavior reflect Jesus? He did not use intimidation tactics to maintain a following.

Good Christian people stay in these churches because they are afraid that what the pastor is saying is true.

If you go to a church where you hear this kind of talk regularly, you don't have to accept it.

It's not true.

People become offended in Word of Faith churches because the ministers are not accountable to anyone and behave offensively.

Churchgoers become 'offended' because of financial misconduct, immorality and just plain unkind behavior.

If this is your church, don't let intimidation silence you.

Do not accept unrighteous behaviour from your leaders.

Do not allow injustices to continue , do not be silent.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Matthew 18:15-17

Preacher, If You Have Faith...

In the Word of Faith, we were considered 'Word people.' That meant we were students of the Bible. We kept multiple translations of the Bible handy. We not only read the Bible often but we continually read books about the Bible. We even spent time making personal affirmations called 'confessions' (as in confessions of faith) that were comprised of Bible passages. We kept our nose in the Bible, we liked talking the Bible and we liked being identified as Bible-esteeming Christians whose faith dictated our behavior and lifestyle. We were born of the Word of God and wanted the word in our hearts. If there was a crisis, you wanted to have the word pouring out of you.

If the Bible has all the answers, wouldn't you want to get the Bible into the hands of others? If we are all about the Word, aren't we supposed to give the Word to the world since the whole world does not have free access to it?

With that in mind, here some statistics at

Xamtanga is a language of Ethiopia that was spoken by about 192,000 people in 1998.What access to the Bible do they have in any form?

Bible Translations: Not Available

Jesus Film: Not Available

Gospel Recordings: Not Available

Radio Broadcast: Not Available

Wagdi is a language of India that was spoken by about 1,621,000 people in 1997.

Bible Translations: Not Available

Jesus Film: Not Available

Gospel Recordings: Not Available

Radio Broadcast: Not Available

Choni is a language of Tibet spoken by 24,000 people in 2005. As you might guess, they have no Bible, no Jesus movie, no Bible recordings and no Bible on the radio. And there are many other languages lacking Bible translations.

My challenge to faith preachers is this: if you're so full of faith, use some of it to get the Word (that you say you love) into the hands of people who don’t have it in their language. Instead of stuffing preacher's pockets with money for new planes, even bigger houses or expenses to preach to the converted, why don't Word people pump money into organizations like the Wycliffe translators and others?

That way someone other than ourselves can be full of the Word.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's Too Real

Brant Hansen on his blog Letters from Kamp Krusty takes a few jabs at 'Leadership Training' in modern Christianity.

The problem is that I heard the exact same absurdities at my old church.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why did we do it?

Why did we do it? In the posts preceding this one, we describe an unflattering picture of the Word of faith church we attended faithfully for 10 years. What drew us there, and why did we stay so long?

There are several reasons why. The first being that there was nothing to keep us in our old churches. The churches we had grown up in seemed to be in a rut. Congregations had their local and denominational identities and for the most part, church seemed, ...well.... almost discouraging. In contrast what we heard in the Word of faith was an aggressive Christianity. God had not relegated his more overt activities to the past ages. Mark 16:15-20 was a reality. We heard messages about the blood of Jesus, spiritual gifts, miracles, about an active and aggressive faith. The Bible came alive to me at this time. The accounts told in it seemed real and vital.

One thing also to consider is that Christians believe what other Christians will tell them. They don't call us 'Believers' for nothing. When you think about it, it's a beautiful thing, to believe. Isn't that who we really are? Aren't we blessed for believing without any other evidence than on the basis that Jesus said so? But we are sometimes gullible, sometimes too quick to believe anything (anyone care to discuss chain e-mails that people forward?) without verifying. Then you begin believing wrong things.

We were looking for spiritual depth. In the old churches, you knew the history and you knew about the squabbles over petty issues. The pastors would gripe and moan from the pulpit about the church people, news headlines or hopeless negative societal trends. In contrast, the Faith churches emphasised growing up and being a mature Believer (although this got paired with authority and offence teaching). The way the prosperity message was administered to us was that Christians should prosper in order to send the gospel into the world (check up on your definition of 'Gospel').

So we went expecting to get direction from God in the church services. We were seeking to progress in spiritual things. We were not expecting to be taken advantage of. We were not expecting that strange things would be slid in doctrinally between familiar topics. I've recently watched DVDs of old church services. My wife and I have noticed things that we just did not see before: arrogance, doctrinally questionable statements, and just plain bad logic.

At least we know now. Never again!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Suffer the Little Children" not "Make the Little Children Suffer"

One of many disturbing things which I observed during my ten years at my old church was the attitude towards children. Whether it was church services or social functions there seemed to be an underlying disdain for kids. (I am automatically suspicious of someone who treats his pets better than he does his own children.)

The church had, what I like to refer to as, "baby police" patrolling the sanctuary looking for the ever offensive, gurgling, cooing, or crying of small ones. With these officers in control, we needn't worry about some unthoughtful baby destroying the anointing in the service by burping or laughing. What a relief that we could focus on the most important things in life(making more money or looking good to the world)! Countless times I thought to myself, "If only there were no children allowed in the church building at all, then we could really get serious in our worship." Fortunately for us, the baby police kept the disruptions to a minimum.

Then there were the social functions or "special meetings" where kids weren't allowed. If you really wanted to offend someone, just slip your child in the door with you. You'd be swiftly ushered right out the way you came. In one case a person asked a mom to bring her husband to sit in the car with her NEWBORN. Dad could "give him a bottle of water if he starts to cry"(since mom only nurses the baby). That way, no one at the meeting would have to even look at a kid while they were "being fed" The Word.

I understand now that this attitude came from the pastor and his wife. These are things which were important to them. No doubt that helped explain the behavior of the pastor's adult daughter. She became the teacher to the young kids. Many sweet children had the misfortune of being in her class only to be yelled at and intimidated. One mother described her son becoming very anxious every time he went to class. He refused to go to class without going to the restroom out of fear of angering the teacher and being embarrassed by her in front of the entire class. Another small child reported, "Mom, I don't want to go in there. She yells at everyone all the time." A certain lady helped teach the class on one occasion. She was appalled at how the children were spoken to. She said, "I wouldn't talk to my dog that way."

I believe now that the pastor's daughter was only imitating her father. I look back and marvel that some angry mother didn't set her straight.

In spite of the bad behavior of the pastor's family, many workers in all the children's classes were kind, gentle, and devoted to the kids. That would definitely be the character of Christ shining through those Christians. I am so thankful for those people.

It flows from the head

One of the things we noticed when began going to our Word of Faith church was the often disturbing character of the congregation. Although there were exceptions, our church was consistently unfriendly. A relative who also attended church there with us for a while maintains it was the most unfriendly church he's ever been in. When we began attending there, we felt as if people kept us at arm's length. At the time my wife and I were in our early to mid-twenties. I would introduce myself to people and have what I could only describe as comically bad experiences. This happened time and time again...the usher who looked past me the whole 5 minutes I tried to converse with him or the guy who didn't like what my infant son had on...after a while you are asking yourself if you are on Candid Camera. It was such a common occurrence that it became a running joke with my wife and me; we'd introduce ourselves just to see how bad it turned out.

Why did we put up with it for so long? In our first months at the church we heard messages on avoiding offence that made an impression on us. We heard another from one minister how he stuck out seemingly bad treatment from famous preachers but was ultimately vindicated for his faithfulness. We felt that spiritually maturity was being emphasized. My wife and I had seen enough petty behavior in the churches we grew up in that these messages appealed to us. We wanted to do the right thing and take the high road in the way we conducted ourselves with people.

Something else that was hard to explain was some of the congregants that were embraced and held up as examples by the pastor. Some were people we knew of through family and they were, well, not very likable people. Actually some were just plain jerks. But we were going to be spiritual about it. After all, everybody puts their best face on at church.

When we first began attending the church, we had no contact with the pastor (Perhaps the presence of ushers who were more like personal bodyguards had something to do with it). But over the years as we were serving in various volunteer positions we had the opportunity to observe him and his family, particularly the adult children of the pastor. We had begun to wonder that maybe the aloof and distant personality of our church had to do with the staff ministers' influence on the pastor. Our church was comprised of several hundred people with several ministers on staff. Surely it was one of them. Then as the pastor's adult children began to be placed in prominent positions (read: nepotism), we saw occasions of nasty behavior in them. Maybe it's was the kids' influence on the pastor? After all they were at the top of the cast system. Then it began to dawn on us the last 3 years there that perhaps the pastor was the problem. The signs were there all along but we did not want to face up to it, although our families had seen it all along.

We were taught a lot about authority in the Word of Faith. It stemmed from the belief of the believer's delegated authority over the devil. It was said that if you were not under authority you didn't have any authority. People would say that 'authority flows from the head.' Apparently so did disdain, snobbery, meanness and manipulation. The pastor's behaviors were echoed in the behavior of some congregants. I learned as a parent that whatever behaviors the parent displays, they legitimize those same behaviors in their kids. It later became very plain that some of the behavior we witnessed at church echoed the behavior of the pastor.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Caste System

When I first became acquainted with the Word of Faith movement in the 1990s, the ministers were being called 'Faith preachers.' It was during the 10 years that we attended our Faith church that the ministers were being called 'Prosperity preachers' more and more frequently.

Our pastor fancied himself quite the prosperity preacher, too. He would tell stories from the pulpit of how well his prosperity messages were received at headquarters and his various speaking engagements. At this period of time in the late 90's, church services might culminate with a preacher's coat pockets literally being stuffed with money as the congregation spontaneously brought checks and cash to their feet en masse.

At the time I had no qualms about such behaviour. As a preacher's kid myself, I had seen family members treated poorly and taken advantage of. I knew some preachers who had sacrificed a lot and needed to have their coat pockets stuffed with money (still do).

In hindsight, it's hard to imagine that putting so much emphasis on money could ever have a positive outcome. It's almost funny the logic at work in our church: you have faith, you exercise your faith through words...confess what you want and you'll have it. What you do? Confess and believe yourself into a better financial position!

Then we make another assumption, that the people in our church who have more money got it by applying their faith (not by hard work, talent and life circumstances all possibly combined). So who are the most spiritual people in church? People who have money. And as your ministry grows, who becomes your high-value segment of the congregation? People with money.

Now no one in our church believed that money was a sign of spirituality. The pastor even decried such thinking from the pulpit. But in practice there was a caste system in place that became more obvious as our church grew out of it's old facilities into a shiny new building and campus. It was also obvious in the behavior of some (though not all) of the more exalted members of the congregation. At the top of the pyramid was the pastor and his family, then the people with money. The third group was those who worked the volunteer positions. At the bottom were the people who were poor or disadvantaged. Sounds mixed up? It is. If you were on the lower levels of the caste system, you were bound to feel inferior.

For years we could not believe that the caste system we saw in action was real. After all, we were hearing exciting things about faith, about the power of God, about the place God had for all of us at this church. Our pastor seemed to possess wisdom beyond his years. We thought maybe we are the ones who didn't get it. So we ignored a lot of things and carried the water for our church in order to be spiritually mature.

Eventually the love of money was one of the 2 things that was our old church's undoing (more on that later). What kind of Christian place of worship would encourage such thinking? I stopped inviting people to our church because of the treatment they would would likely receive. What kind of Christian leadership would exploit such a system for their own gain? My experience has been that the prosperity message breeds an attitude of inequality amongst congregants that only benefits those who promote this message.

Welcome my friends to the show that never ends....

This is the story of one family's 10+ years in the Word of Faith movement and subsequent departure from our 'Faith church.' Not only have we had to deal with leaving a controlling, manipulative church but we have arrived to see the strange state of Evangelical Christianity in America. These are our observations and comments on life during our time in the Word of Faith and since.

The blog title is a take on a Kenneth Hagin's book The Authority of the Believer. Coming from a controlling church, we place great value in a Christian's responsibility to not follow men or the crowd but to think for yourself.