Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Your Pastor Acting as Your Holy Spirit?

Someone referred to an article in the comment's section of this post:  You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up, Part 2.   As I read the original article, this paragraph struck me. 

From the article, 'Authoritarianism in The Church" by Steve Martin
Sadly, in too many congregations today, sheep are driven by a man more like a callous meat packer than a loving shepherd. Many modern shepherds don't even like sheep; its just their business. In fact, men are encouraged not to get too close to the sheep or emotionally involved in their lives and problems. So many pastors don't actually like (let alone love) their people. They promote witnessing and world evangelization, they just don't like to be around individual sinners. One need only read of our Lord's loving compassion for the sheep-like sinners of His earthly ministry (Matt. 9:36, 14:14; Mark 1:40-41, 10:21) and recognize how far removed that is from many pastoral examples today. Sacrificial shepherd-love which lays down its life for the sheep has been replaced by loveless sheep management by uncaring sheep ranchers.

There was a big emphasis on evangelism at BGBC.  "Grace Bible Institute" consisted of 2-hr teachings on Sunday afternoons and was devoted to the topic of evangelizing.   Additionally, Friday nights were designated as evangelism nights and small groups would go out and evangelize in neighborhoods, local malls, public areas, etc.  Car washing events were planned in the summer on Saturdays specifically for evangelizing.  The radio ministry, pastor's blog, and Sermon Audio sermons sometimes focused on evangelism.  One cannot miss the evangelism emphasis at this church.  That is all good.  However, if the sheep are hurting and are not being cared for, something has gone awry - the shepherd is out of focus of his primary responsibility - tending the flock.

Some may defend that the pastor did care for his sheep and their problems - that he did have meetings with people who were having issues.  Yes, he did have meetings, but were they done as a loving shepherd would tend wounded sheep?  We've discussed these meetings before - sometimes hours long, Bible verse after Bible verse read outloud, urging the sinner to repent, heavy-handedness, tears, etc.  (This type of control and authoritarianism exerted in meetings can have devastating results on sheep, but we'll touch on that topic later.)

One issue that hasn't been brought up is the congregant's personal files kept by the pastor.  The pastor confirmed with me that he kept files on congregants.  I'm aware that pastors have to deal with many people.  Even professional and licensed counselors maintain personal files on their clients in order to follow progress and help them remember details so they can best help their client.  I get that.  But how were those personal files used?  It is my experience that the personal files were not used in a gracious way for shepherding, but in a berating and authoritarian fashion which takes me back to the yesterday's quote:

3. Unbelief: many office holders do not believe the declarative statements and promises of God in the Scripture. They do not believe that Christ is Lord of His true church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. They do not believe that God the Holy Spirit is also Lord of the church, conforming God's people into His image. They do not believe God the Father will exercise His Fatherly love and discipline over the lives of His adopted children. In their unbelief, following hard on the heals of their own prayerlessness, authoritarian shepherds develop the mind-set, "If I don't make them do this, they won't!" or "If I don't make them do this, who will?" They really do not believe that the Holy Spirit will superintend His people and convict them of sin when away from the shepherd. Even as Christian parents must entrust their Christian teens unto the Lord as they drive the car down the driveway or leave for the university, so pastors must learn to trust God the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of His people when they are out from under the watchful gaze of their local under-shepherd. Sadly, such pastors create a "police state mentality" in their congregations where everyone's life is carefully monitored and scrutinized for any deviation, and "sins" are to be reported to the church leadership immediately."

2 Timothy 3:5
...having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Galations 5:1
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

Galations 5:16-18
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Part of the job of the shepherd is to lead the sheep to the true Shepherd and help them to hear His voice.  I did not see that happening.  There was an overemphasis on sin - not only the current sin issue, but old sins as well.  Bringing up old sin issues that have been completely dealt with, repented, forgiven from long ago is not beneficial.  There's no grace and love in that.  (Love keeps no record of wrongs.)  Sheep were beaten down emotionally and spiritually.  It was as though the pastor usurped the authority of God by coercing the flock to heed his voice  - Chuck's voice - instead of the voice of the Holy Spirit.   In this kind of "lording" environment, sheep will have difficulty hearing the Holy Spirit.   It is difficult to hear the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit over the lectures and never-ending rebuking sessions in the meetings.

We need to ask ourselves if there is an unbalanced focus on sin in our church?  Is there love and grace shown by the pastor?  Does our pastor gently guide us to God or do we primarily hear the pastor's voice?

John 10:27  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.


  1. Sickening. And those files probably contain records of congregants' giving.

    1. That's something that I've never thought about. Interesting.

    2. I think it's interesting that he kept files period. I had no idea. I have never heard such a thing. I bet mine's a dingy! I am hard pressed to imagine my current pastor keeping files on any of us - partially because he knows us - you know, like friends, fellow believers, sheep that he tends to regularly - partially because he prefers to let things go and never be mentioned again, and partially because he doesn't have time - he's too busy pastoring. I'm sure if he's doing serious counseling with someone he might keep a few notes, but for just lumps and bumps and day to day stuff that comes along I can't imagine it. Besides, wouldn't a pastor know who's growing, who's a trouble maker, who's trying but flailing, etc., without notes? I mean, unless your church was huge, which BGBC was not. Of course, I imagine it would help Chuck remember all our past failings and sins and troubles. I praise God for the church He has placed us in now. Not perfect, but full of people who love the God of the Bible and eachother.

    3. If your focus is on sin, then it makes sense that files would be kept and filled, doesn't it? If your focus is on grace, I suspect there would be little need for files.

      It sounds like you're in a great church! :)

  2. "God rescues and saves people and does mighty miracles in heaven and earth. He is the one who saved Daniel from the lions." Daniel 6:27
    I am grateful to see God work in your life and the lives of those who have been torn to shards, emotionally and spiritually betrayed from one who was trusted with very personal information~I am amazed everyday to the great blessings God brings to those who love Him and trust in His ways, even when it seems we are going to be devoured.
    This last weekend I received some information about the three and a half year defaming and hateful onslaught from one whom I had trusted very intimate information about myself...however I see the miracle of sanctification and refining of my soul. That is as I trust God, He protects me and gives me hope of eternal life, not only in heaven, but here on earth. He loves me and protects his children beyond what is even thought possible. I love this blog and the opportunity to come together and heal as God takes care of all the details. To Him be the glory, great things He has done, and is doing.
    When others punish you for being faithful to Him, He does astounding things to help you-even saving you from the jaws of lions.

    1. That is beautiful, Meaghan. That is the whole purpose of this blog - to provide a place of information and encouragement for those who have experienced spiritual abuse.

      It's great that we have the freedom to express our experiences here and can learn from each other. I rely heavily on God's grace and protection as we deal with this very difficult situation.

  3. While I was there I heard a lot about "building up the saints for the work of the ministry" but I saw tearing down believers for the inflation of egos. If the "church" wins this suit how will it use the money? Is it honorable and useful to God to sue people that you have hurt so badly that they cry out in pain (via social media)? I get that attendance and giving are probably down. Do they really trust God so little to provide for their needs?

    1. So you're thinking the suit is about money because the attendance and giving is down? Interesting. I hadn't thought of that, yet pretty much every person I have spoken to has commented that the dollar amount of $500K is ridiculous. Of course when you are on the recipient side of the summons, any amount amount seems ridiculous - especially when you have stated the truth.

      And another thought: who decided that the church would be named as plaintiff on the suit (in addition to Chuck O'Neal)? Was there a church-wide vote? I wonder how that works. That thought came to mind after reading a review on Google from a current congregant who apparently isn't thrilled with the idea of the lawsuit.

    2. It certainly is a threat to his family if he doesn't get paid because they don't have the funds. There probably was no church-wide vote, those in charge don't want all attenders to know the details if they are even aware. Wonder if they've run through the money they got for the sale of land...

    3. Let me tell you, if I were a current congregant, I would ask to see an accounting of the church finances. Every solid and healthy church we have attended has gladly given us the financial statement if asked. The congregation also has a right to know how much money is left from the sale of the land or how the investments are doing (if there are still investments).

      We also cannot minimize the cost of attorney fees for the lawsuit. They do not come cheap. Most attorneys expect thousands down for a retainer fee and then an hourly rate on top of that. Who knows where that money is coming from?

    4. Do you really think the congregants have any say so in the lawsuit? For the most part they will do as they are told.

    5. I imagine a compelling case is presented and they probably go along with it because deep down most everyone knows you cannot question the authority.

  4. As a former pastor, it is not uncommon to keep files on congregants. Not for every person but for those you've had ongoing counsel with. This is to remind of past meetings and, in today's climate, to cover yourself legally. As far as giving goes, obviously churches track this for tax purposes. As a pastor all I ever saw was an anonymous number with an amount. Names were never associated with the numbers. Honestly, even at that I did not necessarily feel comfortable with that information. I hope my comments add something to this discussion. I feel some non-issues are being bashed and hope I can provide some clarity having been on both sides of the pulpit and having grown up at what was WRGBC to me. Chuck was only an attendee when I was there and I was against his nomination to be the pastor there.

    1. DS - I greatly appreciate your comments here. I alluded in my original post above that I understood why files were kept and don't have a problem with that in general, however, these notes were highly detailed - names/dates used in the "counseling" office for accusations, etc. It wasn't done in the spirit of counseling as a shepherd would, but in an authoritarian fashion, lacking grace, etc. These meetings were hours long.

      Can you please identify what you see as non-issues? It would be very helpful to hear from your perspective, especially as a former pastor. I would be happy "put it on the table" as a post for discussion, too.

      Unfortunately, the blog is going to be a little "unbalanced" so to speak - because the church was unbalanced. This may be the first place people are reading stories that match their own because they were shunned. I want to reveal the truth, but do want to be careful not to exaggerate, keeping in mind that each person has their unique story and it really might be as difficult as they say.

      I would also be very interested to read why you were against his nomination so many years ago. What specifically did you see? I've heard this from others and it would be interesting to understand what was going on at the time. I'm wondering if there was any sort of trial period or authority structure in place in his first year? Chuck became the pastor around 7 years before we arrived.


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