How my childhood church drove out my family.
I went to one church growing up, an evangelical church with about 300 members at most. The church was small, and was a highly influential part of my childhood and highschool years. I was invested in several church activities, including running the soundboard for Sunday services and being a part of the youth group.
My family left that church after a period of church drama shattered their confidence in the church leadership. In this blog, I want to relate my experiences during this time period and provide a warning to Christians to be careful about who they select for church leadership.
The story of one corrupt elder’s ascension to pastor
2011 — Youth Pastor Fired
My youth pastor was a fixture to our churches community. He taught Sunday school for highschool students, ran two weekly youth groups, and provided pastoral support to the church. As a leader, he related very well to kids and always operated above board. As far as christian leaders I have met, this guy was about as good as it gets.
So imagine our surprise when one day, with no forewarning, our elders fired him. They gave him a good recommendation, so there wasn’t any misconduct to speak of. They said they fired him because he wasn’t working hard enough? This was odd to say the least, considering he seemed to do all the work he was assigned to. That said, I don’t know the inner workings of a day in the life of a youth pastor, nor do I have any intimate knowledge of why they were unhappy with his performance.
Many members of the church struggled with this decision, including many opinion leaders within the congregation. There were several church meetings scheduled for people to air their grieving hearts, and those were some of the heaviest days I witnessed for a church. The elders said that they did not warn our youth pastor about his job performance, yet they fired him anyway. Our church was hurt by the decision, but we trusted that they had acted in the best interest of our congregation.
2011/2012— Mr. Elder takes over youth group
An elder there “volunteered” to lead the youth group. I was familiar with the elder who volunteered to lead the youth group. I had worked with him on the AV team, and knew him as a pushy young earth creationist and bible scholar who claimed to have gone to seminary. Mr. Elder (not his real name) considered himself scholarly and he tried to focus our youth group meetings on primarily the study of the Bible.
By this time, I was a senior and not that interested in attending the youth group anyway, but this man always rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like he was using his power as an elder to gain more influence in the church, and he always struck me as kind of a jerk. During the youth groups I attended with him in charge, he was constantly lighting up students who he thought were theologically out of line. He also is a very boastful and prideful person, which isn’t particularly becoming for a leader.
I went to college and didn’t think much more about him.
2012 — Mr. Elder attacks other Christians; sells his own products to the church
When I returned from my first semester in college, Mr. Elder’s influence was everywhere. I was attending Cedarville University where I was taking Bible classes. I returned on break with a whole new set of ideas to discuss with the church. I first noticed something was wrong when I tried to talk about how great my Bible classes were at Cedarville. This elder immediately jutted his head out, and proclaimed Bible professors at Cedarville “hacks”. Stunned by the ridiculous claim, I asked him why he said that. He claimed that Bible professors at Cedarville held dangerous views, such as but not limited to, non-young earth creationist ideals, egalitarianism (something Cedarville professors no longer are allowed to support), and even biblical pacifism. He believed that these radical notions would destroy the church.
I noticed further that all of the curriculum in the Church Sunday school was replaced with Answers in Genesis products, including all of our Vacation Bible School packages. Even the adult Sunday school, which used to be run and written by our pastor, switched over to Answers in Genesis.
When I returned from college and went to Sunday school, they were discussing Genesis 1 from Answers in Genesis Perspective. I asked about the framework interpretation of Genesis 1, an alternative metaphorical reading of the 7 days of creation. I had not taken a position on this issue, but none-the-less Mr. elder yelled at me “Heretic!” in front of the entire Sunday school class.
Myself and my mother looked at the man incredulously. Firstly, I hadn’t even stated I agree with the interpretation, I just asked them to address it (its probably not heresy either). Secondly, asking questions should never be responded to with vitriol, and should always be accepted with grace. That’s not even a Christian thing, its a human thing. Thirdly, you shouldn’t call young Christians heretics in front of the whole church, and seek to humiliate them. Do you want apostates? Because that’s how you get apostates.
The elder, who yelled heretic at me, called Cedarville professors hacks, and was part of firing our youth pastor, also happened to be a marketing and sales person for Answer in Genesis. How odd that their products would become the exclusive purchases from our church. Was our elder using his power for personal gain? It certainly looks like it.
When I asked around about this elder, I learned some more information. Apparently I was not the only young christian he sought to humiliate. In fact, young members were being driven out of that church body by this exact elder. One of my friends was mocked and derided for 30 minutes after asking some questions during the men’s Bible study. Apparently they thought his questions were stupid and soon after my friend left that church body. Many other young people in the church felt like he was a poor influence and left.
2012 — Mr. Elder is nominated to be a pastor
So imagine the surprise of all the myself and others who had been attacked by Mr. Elder, when he was nominated to be our associate pastor. I for one was upset. He was taking the job and salary of the man he was part of firing? That seems shady, does it not? Further, this is a man who called me a heretic and mocked young Christians.
My parents were concerned about Mr. Elder because he attacked me, their son, and they didn’t trust him. They also found it odd that the entire church was suddenly a propaganda machine for Answers in Genesis, and they agree with young earth creationism.
So they spoke up. They were not alone. Other people, especially the young Christians, spoke about their bad experiences with this elder. It was at this time that we found out that he didn’t go to seminary. The dude just lied about it. He attended seminary for a limited time before dropping out. That should disqualify him because:
- He lied
- He didn’t go to Bible school
The same man who called PhD’s in Biblical Studies hacks was literally a hack. My parents disagreement with Mr. Elders nomination was met with chilling responses from the congregation. A few stood with them, like I said, but the leadership the church was furious with them. This isn’t a congregation who argues with authority.
My parents were approached by our pastor who told them that they were living in sin because they resisted the appointment of Mr. Elder who has been described to you. The pastor who represented the church told my parents that their resistance was against God’s will. This is a church who claims to operate democratically through its by-laws, but when push comes to shove, they do not.
Qualifications for being an elder
Were my parents wrong to resist his appointment? Well, the Bible lays out the qualifications to be a church leader. So lets look at the qualifications for being an elder and ask he should even have that job.
- He is not above reproach
He is not above reproach, considering he was part of the group who fired the pastor that he was trying to replace. He also sold the church all its materials, something he directly financially benefited from. Dude was not above reproach.
- He is not respectable
He was not respectable. For young adults on their Christian walk he was aggressive, he was offensive, and he was dead set on driving each and every one of us from his church body. That’s not respectable. He lied and mislead people for years about his Bible education, not something that a pastor candidate should do.
- He is not hospitable
I didn’t feel welcomed by him. It always felt like he was trying to sell you something, whether it was a weird interpretation of the Bible or his companies stuff. He literally made fun of young Christians questions, as if trying to know more was a sin in itself.
- He is not patient and gentle
He is not patient, and he is far from gentle in his approach to doctrine and relationships. As previously discussed, he called me a heretic after asking a simple question about a widely accepted interpretation of scripture. His teaching is heavy handed and one sided, attacking other Christians as if he is anxious about his own beliefs.
- He is greedy
Selling your companies materials to a church where you control the curriculum is the definition of greed. Demanding a leadership role by pushing out the former pastor and lying about your credentials is the definition of greed.
- Good reputation with outsiders
If he was driving out people who grew up in that church, it is highly unlikely that he was particularly good for outsiders.
My parents left that church soon after and I never returned. After being attacked and derided by an unconscionably power corrupt and deceptive pastor, I went through a identity crisis. So much of my beliefs had been formed by a church who had rejected my family.
Other Christian leaders have fallen in the past few years. Paige Patterson, key member of the Southern Baptist Convention and trustee of Cedarville, was exposed for covering up spousal abuse and misconduct at a seminary. Doug Phillips, the founder of Vision Forum, was exposed for cheating on his wife with his significantly younger baby sitter. Joshua Harris has rejected his previous beliefs and left the church entirely, like many people his age are increasingly doing. Church leadership, if you haven’t noticed, is in crisis.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing are infiltrating churches, Christian academies, and especially Christian politics. Its up to the church to stand up for itself and its principles. Putting people like this in power harms the testimony of your church, its important to select accountable and transparent leaders.