Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Pressure to Serve in a Controlling Church

A common trait of a controlling church is that you may be kept so busy, there is little time for anything outside of church.  I'm going to use SQ's comment below to springboard two posts.  This first post will discuss the pressure to serve.   The second will focus on the effects of relationships as a result of all of that serving.

SQJuly 17, 2012 1:08 PMI once read that it takes a new believer approximately 3 years before he or she pulls away from old friends and an old life and completely immerses in church--how wonderful and how very sad. When we die to our old life and ways, there are sometimes behaviors (and even people) who need to be pruned. But not always. 
We worked at a church for a few years. It was a wonderful body of believers with a pretty controlling pastor. We regularly put in 14-hour days and had to be at every event--no matter what--and something was going on every day. 
One event came up, and it was suggested that we all invite our neighbors. I thought to myself, "Neighbors? We don't have time even to speak to our neighbors because we're busy-busy-busy about 'God's work,' cleaning pews or attending meetings or mulching the flower beds or attending a spaghetti supper or whatever." 
Now, those things aren't bad. They also offered opportunity for fellowship with one another. However, the Bible calls us to be salt and light. If we pull away from everyone who isn't in our immediate body, just to whom are we salt and light? 
If someone counsels another believer to cut off a relationship, there had better be a situation where that relationship would compromise the believer's safety, integrity, or spiritual walk. It's should never be because tension might exist. And if someone counsels another believer to cut off all relationships outside the church--well, that sounds like the smoke of hell to me.

In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
    but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.  Proverbs 15:6

Pressure to Serve

"Broom and dustpan" drawn by 9-yr old Resident Artist

SQ brought up one of the traps of a controlling or perhaps abusive church.  In many controlling churches, there is a strong emphasis on serving in the church.  Yes, of course, churches need help to keep the church going, programs manned, facility kept in good repair, clean and tidy, etc.  But there needs to be balance.  Is service expected?  When there is a ministry or service need, how is it presented?   Is there so much pressure that you feel guilty for not helping out?   Have you had experiences like this?  I'd love to read your story.

After BGBC, we attended a nearby church for 2 years which I call my place of refuge.  I watched how the people served in the church.  I saw their attitudes, interactions with each other and how they lived their life.   Of course I cannot be completely sure, but in general, I saw that their acts of service did not hinder their relationships or that they were a burden to them.  In fact, I saw that their acts of service only benefitted them and those around them.   I wondered how this could be.  

In this refuge church, I eventually felt safe enough to get involved in music ministry.  When I began to venture into music ministry there, I was told very loudly and clearly that if for any reason I was not able to sing or play the piano, just say the word and I would be free - they would find someone to cover for me.  They wanted to be sure that my heart was right before the Lord and that serving didn't become a burden.  I so appreciated these words.   It didn't feel controlling at all.  They cared about my soul.

A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.  Proverbs 15:13

The difference in the attitudes, the heart, the level of joy in serving was profound.  If you belong to a controlling church, serving can become a strain, outside relationships can be hindered, it can become like a job - you do it because you have to or there is no one else.  If you are serving in a thriving church, there probably won't be the guilt, the huge sense of obligation.  There is a sense of responsibility that comes from the heart that wants to serve, but it's not burdensome.  It's a pleasure to be around these people and their joy can be contagious.

I haven't read anything specifically on this topic and this is only my observation, but I have a hunch that the reason why the refuge church was so healthy is because their first priority was my soul, not my works or service.  If my soul was fed, service would be a natural response.  Makes sense to me.  

All the days of the afflicted are evil,
    but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
 Proverbs 15:15


  1. same with the issue of overcoming sin—it’s not about following rules, beating your body into subjection, being accountable to someone else, and all those other means leveraged against the sins of the flesh. No, we become free from the sins of our flesh as we fully embrace our relationship with our Lover and Lord. It is our active love for Him that keeps us free. Nothing else will do.

    In a real sense we don’t directly combat the sins of the flesh, we only feed the flesh when we do. No, we become free from lust and pride and fear as we surrender our hearts and energies to loving and living for Jesus. There is no other way!

    Likewise, ja, it’s the joy of the LORD which empowers us to serve, to minister, to be powerful expressions of God’s good pleasure! Legalism kills, but the Spirit gives life! Our joy is perfected as we abide in Him (John 15:1-11).

    Your quoting of Proverbs 15:13, ‘ sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed’ reminds me of times ‘sitting under’ a teacher who was oppressively heavy, who was spirit-crushing in his condemnations, who was far from edifying to the soul.

    Some church people don’t get it. They seem angry and hateful, rather than peaceful and loving. In the presentation of their gospel they prefer the stick to the carrot—the prospect of hell fire and damnation to that of heaven and a blood-bought relationship with our Creator.

    As we walk in the freedom of the Spirit the works of grace will follow. Some people put the cart before the horse, and beat the thing to death not knowing any other way.

    1. Yes, David - that "joy of the Lord". That was certainly missing - it's hard to find joy when you're sinning so badly and don't feel like there's a way you can ever measure up or get there. This is what happens when grace is left out of the equation. It's all about works/obedience.

  2. Julie Anne: This was my experience exactly! Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors (people, many who are non-believers who cross our path of life) We were so ridiculously busy at our SGM church, that there was NO TIME or EMOTION to be real friends with anyone. I liken it now to thousands of exhausted mice running on tiny, squeeky, metal exercise wheels! Our "refuge church" (love that term) also was such a joy to attend--no pressure--just a family of believers loving God together. Now I am learning slowly how to be really friends with other folks in and outside of my fellowship. P.S. Love the artwork you post of your Artist-in-residence!!!

    1. Muckraker - I'm so glad you're on the "other side". Isn't it refreshing? Now looking back, it felt like being held captive emotionally and spiritually (I suppose physically, too).

      I'll be sure to pass along your kind note to the resident artist. He gets a little excited when people comment on his artwork.

    2. what was that, a pencil drawing? i was admiring it too! nice work

    3. Yes, it's a pencil drawing using his special art pencils and he keeps his work in his sketch notebook. I lighten up the background using the "infrared film" photo editing feature in Picasa and then add the frame. The drawing is completely his.

      I tell him what I'd like him to draw and he looks it up on the iPad on Google Images. He takes a quick glance and then does his own thing. I cannot draw. If you could see my Pictionary drawings, you'd laugh. If someone gets one of my pictures it's probably because they got it more through my facial expressions than the actual picture - lol. I love it when he's on my team for Pictionary. His eyes see the details I don't see.

  3. Something has been in the back of my mind about "former church". It relates a bit to serving the church. When we started attending regularly, there arose a need for something to be done at the church during hours in which there was not normally someone there. We lived reasonably close to church so my husband was given a key and entrusted with the task. Along with the key, there was concern voiced about the return of the key should we leave the church. He was told that there had recently been an exodus of individuals who had not returned their key(s), the result being that the church had recently changed the locks. I have been thinking about how weird this was. If the people had left amicably, why would the leaders care that the key had not been returned? What could possibly have been in the church that someone would want to return and take? (My thoughts go to secret files, evidence of cover ups of illegal activity...)

    Yes, the service was compelled. It also added to the feelings of control and oppression I experienced there.

    1. That's interesting. There were a lot of people with keys. I always thought that was kind of weird. I'm glad I never got suckered into that job. Knowing me, I would have "just said NO" :) I have pretty good boundaries on stuff like that and I know that's not my giftedness. Trust me on THAT! :)

    2. It was also weird in the sense that we didn't really feel part of the church yet. I had definitely not committed to drinking the Kool-Aid in my mind. It was a like asking for a pre-nup after the second date. I think that giving responsibilities early on is another way abusers suck you in. They try to make you feel important by appearing to trust you when the truth is that they are not trust worthy.

    3. Oh, that is odd. I didn't realize you were so new when you were asked to do the job. You nailed it. It is just not good thinking to hand keys to a new family and give them that kind of a job. It served another purpose of sucking you in to keep you there. If you have a job and keys, your less likely to leave. Your last sentence is profound.

      I have to ask - did you return the keys?

    4. lol, I don't know! My DH had an unfortunate habit of losing his keys when we lived there. Something like 3 sets. It may be that the key disappeared with his other keys... Uh-oh they had better change the locks again. ;)

  4. Off Topic, but I am delighted that Brandon was able to post the super Carousel image by Anne Wipf of France on my Church Exiters website!

    Have a look!

    It is such a super image of spiritual abuse. I trust that it will leave a visual impression on all who come to my website.

  5. Hmm...Julie Anne, this is a tough one.

    For me, the abuses I survived growing up set me up for spiritual abuse. My mother trained me well to never be right and never say no.

    The abusive church I left 5 1/2 years ago preached regularly about the importance of the "Ministry of HELPS". I started on the "HELPS" team when I had been there about 2 years. 5 years later, when I walked, I was running three departments and spending an average of 65 hours a week on the church property (including never missing a service). I thought my focus was God - and it was to a degree - but my life became all about that church.

    The last year I was there, he required all his leaders to watch a video version of "Under Cover: The Protection Under His Authority" by John Bevere in which he talked about his time 'serving' under Benny Hinn when Hinn was a pastor in Orlando and how he learned to submit to Hinn's authority even when he disagreed with him. He also required us to read "In Search of Timothy" by Tony Cook that taught we were required to come up underneath and support our pastor/leader without causing grief. Both of these were heavily used by the pastor to leverage his 'right' to our service, though he was always so careful never to put things that bluntly.

    I remember working on a project he wanted done "right now" and staying at the church all night trying to get it done. I was exhausted and had to be at a 9 am meeting that next day. I went and when he found out what I had done, he was annoyed that I hadn't finished. The last few months I was there, I would come in at 7 - 7:30 am and leave around 11 pm - M-F. I was averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night and remember driving back to the church one night and falling asleep at a stoplight.

    Yeah, service.....I think that is part of why I am so reluctant to attend a church much. I'm afraid I'll let myself get pulled in again. I very nearly lost myself in that church.

    1. Oh, wow, Jeannette, here's that covering garbage and I'll bet Hinn and Cook's favorite verse is Heb 13:7 - "Remember those who RULE over you". But they seem to forget the "considering the outcome of THEIR CONDUCT". Oh my, Jeannette. When I read your post, my blood pressure rises and I get grumpy. No, I get angry.

      I get why you are reluctant to attend a church. If I were your new pastor, I would probably see what you'd think about kicking back and not committing to anything - no strings attached to anything. I don't know how you survived that ordeal. It sounds like you had 2 full-time jobs. And it sure doesn't sound anything like real church. Wow. ::::::sigh::::::

    2. Hmm... I forgot to mention. It was all volunteer....until the very end, when they kicked my closest friend out (because she was his latest victim that the wife 'uncovered'). She had been the paid manager of the church bookstore - they offered to pay me what they had paid her if I would take over that position, too.... there are so many levels of how wrong that was. It was 2 weeks after that, when they told me I had to quit talking to her, that finally walked...

    3. Yes - he definitely took advantage of you. Poor thing, what is he doing now? I wonder how many "Jeannettes" he'd have to hire to equal one of you?!!!

    4. I hears it took 4 people to do what I had been doing. And they closed the bookstore. When I tell people what I did.... I was completely in charge of the publications department (as much as anyone could be 'in charge' under him). I did all the print advertising (newspaper, posters, postcard) - design and getting to printers, etc. I was in charge of making sure every sermon was recorded, edited, mastered and mass produced in both audio & video formats. I was in charge of the video projection, which included everything from projecting lyrics during worship to running the equipment for live video feeds from the celeb pastor du jour. I was also (and be he begrudged this one) a backup member of the praise team (bass player). I trained people how to run the equipment I picked and set up. If I hadn't trained a few people, he would have been really screwed when I walked.

      As to a new pastor letting me kick back....I tried with a little fellowship last year (into this year) of people who were all victims of spiritual abuse. Sadly, the leaders tried to guilt me into volunteering. They couldn't understand why I was so resistant when they needed my gifts so bad - they took my refusal personally. Sigh....I don't even want to risk it at this point.

    5. Jeannette,
      Our experiences are very similar. Starting with the training in unquestioned obedience to my mother,all the way through the church taking her place as I grew up. After all these years we have survived. God bless all who post. Your sharing how you have come out on the other side is so healing to me. The church has not protrayed a very loving father to women. According to the church leaders we will never measure up. I know God does not view us this way. Thank you.

    6. Watch and Pray - I love hearing how this place is helping people. Jeannette's story is raw and powerful. I'm so glad she has shared here. I wonder how many people she has helped by her words.

  6. When the Spirit of God moves a born again believer to minister to the flock, it is done unto the Lord.....the joy it brings my Savior blesses both the giver and reciever and Him. Many times I was blessed to help others. Upon leaving from 'former church' a couple of men told my husband I was a busybody and gossip. Who did they hear this from? My 'former pastor'. This was over a 6 month period and 2 communion services-if 'he' truly felt this way, why did he not bring it to my attention even refusing me the bread and juice? Instead character assinates me behind my back, offers no correction to me ....really not the heart of a shepherd.
    The next church I went to, I continued to serve my Lord and Savior by loving on believers in action and truth, faith without works is dead. Praying for 'former paster' tat God's grace would permeate this mans hardness and bring joy of the Lord to him.

    1. Yea, Meaghan, I know what kind of busy body you were. You came over and busied yourself by helping me paint my house. You babysat children so that moms could get a break. You also busied yourself by being the only one in the church who sent Hannah a Starbucks card and a sweet note when everyone else didn't want to give her the time of day. You are also the one who visited many older ladies from church - some with physical challenges. Yea, you are a busy body alright. Shame on you! Oh, and no, you didn't do anything to help your husband at his business. No way, not you.

      Now who is the busy body and gossip? Someone needs to look up the word "projection" from his psych class. Seriously.

  7. Hahaha. Laughter is the best medicine.

    1. It's taken me a lot of laughter, sarcasm, and snarkiness to keep me sane these past months, Meaghan. Fo sho!


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