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On accountability in church leadership: don't leave your common sense at the door!

posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , , ,

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Since reading about some of the controversy that has plagued Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church recently, I have had a question gnawing at me and it won't let go.  I have asked this question before, in my own context of small church hurt.  This is so much bigger; yet the question is still the same.

How can people be so blind to the truth?  How can they carry on believing?  Why do they just accept the status quo?

In my local case, I know some of why the people keep believing.  They weren't told the truth and still aren't and it will be the Holy Spirit's job to present the truth to them as He did to me and to others.  Unlike the people speaking publicly about Mars Hill, I deliberately made a choice not to expose anyone or anything.  I put away my soap box.  I did not present the evidence I had in my possession.  I walked away and never looked back.  And I am okay with that, even seeing and admiring so many brave people who are speaking out about Mars Hill.  The difference is that Mars Hill is global and therefore has huge potential for influence--good or bad.  My local church...not so much.  I do not fear that the lies, control and manipulation going on locally will be much of a threat to evangelical Christianity although, yes, more people will be hurt.  As I am sure they already have.

There are a lot of issues surrounding Mark Driscoll's and Mars Hill's credibility.  There is only one that I will address here and to me it is the crux.  It's the clincher.  It's the thing that requires common sense to say:  "Get out!  Run for your lives!  Head for the hills and duck for cover!"

In a word:  accountability.  The Executive Elders refuse to disclose their salaries to the congregations of Mars Hill.

Now to me in my black and white world, that non-disclosure says a whole lot.  And the fact that Dalton Roraback was forced out of leadership shortly afterwards for asking the question, says a whole lot more.  Common sense says there must be a reason, something hiding in that non-disclosure.  Common sense says, stop believing. Stop following.  Get out.

And yet, there are many many many people across the United States still donating money to Mars Hill and believing in the institution.  

It's complicated I know that.  I am too black and white and coming from a very limited perspective.  I know that.

I also know that if it were their government spending their tax dollars, pretty much every American citizen would agree that it is their right to know how much their leaders and politicians are being paid.  If that information were not available, cries of corruption would erupt far and wide.  And rightly so.

But why isn't it the same in a church?  Why do so many people accept that it's okay not to be told?  It's okay.  We don't need to know.  We trust our God-appointed elders and it's okay.  We submit to their authority.  We trust them without question.  Yes Sir, no Sir, thank you very much Sir.

What are we afraid of?

Why do we lose all of our God-given common sense when it comes to church governance?

Because it is not okay, even in a church.  Because that God-appointed leader may be anointed, gifted, humble, spiritual, wonderful, amazing and all those things but he or she is still human.  They are not God.  They are fallible.

And believe me, the more powerful and influential they are, the more susceptible they are to greed and control and manipulation and the more in line they need to be with Jesus and His teachings.  It's human nature.  And it's a problem.  A problem that demands accountability.  

And so the original question plagued me:  why do people accept it?

And then I remembered a novel I used to teach at High School called The Wave by Morton Rhue.  In fact, I think I may have even studied it when I was in school.  The students in a history class ask the very same question to their teacher referring to Nazi Germany and millions of Jewish people killed.  Why didn't people stand up?  Why didn't they stop him?  How did they let it happen?

So history teacher Mr. Ross endeavours to answer the question through a social experiment.  He starts a group called the Wave.  At first the students are sceptical and think their teacher is loopy but eventually they join in.  They start chanting and marching.  They subscribe to Mr. Ross's principles of "Strength through Action, Strength through Community, Strength through Discipline" and everything improves.  No one is left out, even the former class reject Robert Billings and all their grades improve too.  Mr. Ross himself is amazed with his success until some of the group become violent with non-members.  He realises that his experiment worked dangerously well.  

The answer to the question, the students discover, is that they all long for something bigger than themselves to believe in and to be a part of.  This was especially true of the class clown who was suddenly accepted.  He was the one with the most to lose when it ends and who took the group most seriously, even volunteering to become the body-guard for Mr. Ross, the leader who had given him so much.  

People long to be accepted and they need to feel valued.   I have heard a church leader recently admit that church leaders can play on that need and he warned that some will.  People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves--a contributing part--which is why some churches are so successful at getting people to leave their common sense at the door.  Join us.  You are welcome here.  We value you.  Just don't ask any questions.

Christian:  You do not have to leave your common sense at the door of a church.  And those with discerning gifts need to trust that those questions you want answered come not just from common sense but from the Holy Spirit.  John 3:20 reminds us that "Everyone who does evil will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed."  If by asking a question or pointing out injustice you are shining a light on the situation but leaders refuse to allow it, thus insisting on hiding in the dark, then there is a problem.  And the problem is not you.

Most important, as Christians we need to remember that we already do belong to something bigger than ourselves, that is, we belong to God as His daughter or son and are a significant part of His universal plan.  Jesus Christ is your brother.  And you are valued and loved.  You do not need to find your value in a church by contributing or belonging there. You need to find your value in your relationship with Jesus Christ and know that you already have it.

You already belong.  You're already there.

An aside:  lest anyone should think my tone is haughty or arrogant...I too once left my common sense at the door.  I belonged to a church and I belonged to a team in that church.  And it felt good and it felt right.  So good and so right in fact, that I lost my sense of judgement and trusted those who shouldn't have been trusted.  Others had warned me but I didn't listen.  I should have pried myself away from that group and that church long before the decision was taken from me. Thankfully I woke up before much harm was done, or the Holy Spirit shook the sense back into me. Probably both.  The point is, I know.  I know. 

"So dawn goes down to day"

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Today I said good-bye to my nearly 13 year old slider rocking chair.  The age of the rocker is significant; it is also the age of my eldest baby.  My lanky, gangly, sleeping-in-to-all hours baby.  My boy-man.

We bought the slider rocker 13 years ago from The Baby Factory on Devon Street.   It was the first piece of furniture we had ever bought brand new and somehow it matched our second hand forest green 2 seater sofa perfectly. With no family nearby to hand down their baby things to us, we needed all the essentials:  crib, stroller, high chair, all-in-ones, diapers, bins, toys, singlets, cardigans.  All of it, brand new.  But the first thing we bought was the slider rocker.  The soon-to-be mama in me already had a picture of late night feeds and early morning settling, sitting in that rocker.

And I was not wrong.  It was well used. The arms of that rocker were the perfect height for cradling a baby whilst feeding or just rocking while singing a lullaby.  That rocker saw me through four babies and two houses.

Bit by bit we have sold all that baby furniture that we had to buy for our sprogs.   Saying good-bye to the white-washed crib that went through three babies and then was converted to a toddler bed from one of the twins--that was the hardest moment.  I loved that crib.  And I loved that rocker and because I am a hopeless romantic and because that chair held so many memories, I said I would never sell it, even though the matching 2 seater second hand sofa was long gone.  In fact, that slider rocker has not matched anything in my house for a very long time.  The cushion began to sag years ago and all the screws were loose.  It squeaked horribly when it rocked.

That slider rocker was only really used as a last resort for seating in my lounge, but there it remained, pushed into a corner between the stereo cabinet and the piano.  

And with another move in our future, I looked at the slider rocker one day.  The one in which I nursed and rocked my babies.  That terribly out of place and falling apart slider rocker.

It was time to go and so go it did.  To a young mum with her own wee bairns to feed.  

I saw it go, put the cash in my pocket, turned away and washed the dishes.

No tears, not even a choking at my throat.

It simply was time.

Time to move on.  Time to let go.  Time to smile and remember fondly.  But time for new memories. 

How glad I am for new memories!

Am I becoming less sentimental as I age?  Maybe I am.  I am certainly becoming less attached because I have learnt recently that nothing lasts forever.  But I already knew that.  Robert Frost and I both new that, that poem I studied back in Middle School simultaneously with our study of a classic novel, The Outsiders:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

(by Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay")

Nothing gold can stay.  Certainly the inevitable outcome for the leaf is to wither and die.  Clearly the rosy hues of dawn must fade to grey before they succumb to the blinding light of day.  And obviously, my golden time of raising babies is well and truly over.

But here's the thing:  there is always new gold to take its place.  And there is always more gold yet to be discovered for you.  There might be a lot of day to get through first...just ordinary grey, green, blue day before we see another golden dawn but we will see it again. There will always be another dawn, often bolder and more beautiful than the one we tried to hold on to, the one we dreaded to lose.  Be filled with joy as you anticipate the golden dawn ahead.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

God has plans for gold in my future.  Plans for gold in your future.  
It's not such a bad thing after all, saying good-bye to something old and rickety and worn.  

Not such a bad thing.

On Terry Fox and Canadian Courage...a contribution from Paul.

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"It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death ... We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity."   Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on the death of Terry Fox

Paul's Cross Country season came to a close last night as he celebrated with his team at the annual Marbles dinner.  Paul realised it was the 10th anniversary of this tradition and reminisced with me on how the dinner got started.  One of his first runners, when the team was only a handful, suggested a celebration-of-the-season dinner but it took a couple more years for it to get off the ground.  As the team grew and a culture took form, the dinner became a celebration of the year past as well as a presentation of trophies hard-fought for and well-earned.

Every year at this dinner, Paul presents a speech to his team.  He wraps up the year's achievements and fondly retells the in-jokes.  But in his speech he also hopes to inspire the boys, not only as runners but as maturing young men.

Paul read his speech to me last night and I begged and pleaded with him to let me share some of it (in-jokes aside).  I think it's important because it demonstrates what running and Cross Country is all about to Paul.  And it also says a lot about what it means to be Canadian as it truly highlights a thing I call Canadian courage.  We are born with fire and ice in our blood.  It takes a lot to knock us down.  And even then, our inclination is to get right back up, no matter what adversity it is we face.  I feel that my friends and family in B.C. who are fighting for the right to good public education against the Liberal government, might need to be reminded of that Canadian spirit which urges them to keep going, to keep pressing on despite adversity.  

In sharing this, Paul has asked me to acknowledge and thank two of his friends in Canada, Ray and Doug.  They both have taken the time to get to know and understand him as well as his passion for running and young people. They both have loved him for it.  And thank you Ray and Anne, for taking us to Mile 0 on that cold December day.  For the memories and the walks and the seals and the fish and chips.

Paul's speech:

 ...Tonight I want to talk about an observation I’ve made which has interested me.  I have enjoyed seeing the number of boys who have updated their [facebook] profile pictures to ones of them running.  Now our identity that we choose to share with the world is personal and it should have some meaning.  Many of you here tonight and our old boys as well have profile pictures of you in full stride in some recent race.  I wonder if others have noticed that too?  Our own picture may just be a random choice or it might contain meaning and give some insight into our character.  Mine does.

That should have you thinking.  What is that little thumbnail beside Mr D’s posts?  No one has asked.  Well tonight I will tell you.  It is a picture of me standing beside the statue of Terry Fox at Mile Zero in Victoria, Canada.  When I set up my page (still with zero friends I might add) I took less than 10 seconds to decide upon my profile picture and I was delighted I had taken it just a few months before because Terry Fox is a hero of mine.

Now I won't put you on the spot or shame your ignorance for not knowing but Terry Fox is perhaps the most famous Canadian ever and it was his distance running that inspired a Nation in 1980.  Terry ran cross country at High School, but was a passionate basket baller of some renown.  In 1977 at the age of just 18, Fox was diagnosed with cancer in his right knee and had his lower leg amputated.  Learning to walk again with an artificial limb he was inspired himself to try to complete a marathon.  Fox had to develop a unique running style which required him to complete a small hop on his good leg to enable the springs in his artificial leg to reset. After 14 months of training Fox completed his marathon in last place but it was then he revealed his audacious plan to run from one side of Canada to the other to raise money for cancer research. 

No able-bodied person had ever completed the 8500km journey, but Terry Fox set off on his Marathon of Hope in April 1980 from the eastern-most point of Canada running a marathon every single day.  Terry never completed the journey, but ran a staggering 5373km over 143 days before the cancer spread to his lungs and he was forced to stop.  Fox was hospitalised and treated with more chemotherapy, but died a few months later.  Terry Fox raised tens of millions of dollars for cancer research and every Canadian kid and millions worldwide are still running and raising money for the cause that took the young life of Terry Fox.

When Terry Fox died, the nation stopped.  Flags were lowered and Prime Minister Trudeau said "It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death ... We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity."  This young athlete touched the lives of millions and used his running, slow and painful though it was, to help make the world a better place. 

So next time you see a post by Mr D on Facebook, have a look at my profile picture and think a moment over the statue I am leaning against on a cold winter's day in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria last Christmas.  Remember Terry Fox the athlete who lost his leg to cancer yet attempted the impossible with courage, determination and a level of commitment that inspired a nation and still inspires today.  Zoom in if you can on the inscription and quote that reads “Somewhere the hurting must end” and ponder its meaning for Terry and many others less fortunate than ourselves.
And then think about your own abilities and sporting prowess and ask why do we run or why do we learn or even why do we hope or why do we dream?  Surely it is because we can.  For most of us we will never know the suffering of cancer.  We will never know the pain of amputation and tragedy like that of Terry Fox.  So we run because we can.  Fleet footed and fast.  And the pain we suffer is temporary and is soon replaced with exhilaration.  The pain ends quickly for us but for many it is constant.  To be free of injury and running fast is one of the greatest feelings we can have and not one to take lightly or abuse.
But as we win a race or claim a medal or even just run a personal best or get selected for a team may we never forget the privilege it is to take part in the purest of all sports and to step outside our own selfish desires for a moment and ponder our role in life and the contributions that we can make in this world of ours.  Let us use our considerable giftings and abilities to push on to greater achievements, not just because we can.  But because we should.  And in doing so, perhaps we will inspire others to have the courage to fight their own battles whatever they may happen to be.

Paul Dominikovich
24 June, 2014

Have courage dear friends.  Canadian courage.  Let your spirit triumph over this present adversity.

In Support of the Teachers and Children of B.C.

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The Teacher's Creed:

I am a teacher.

I accept the challenge to be sagacious and tenacious in teaching every student because I believe that every child can learn. I accept the responsibility to create a learning environment conducive to optimum achievement academically, socially, and emotionally.  I actively pursue excellence for myself and for my students.  I provide a model of decorum and respect that guides my students as well as honours them.  I affirm superlative expectations for my students and myself.  I cherish every child.  I am a teacher. I change the world

one student at a time.

It's my birthday today.

It's my birthday today and I ought to be writing about all the love and warm fuzzies I have received on this my special day.  It truly has been a wonderful day.  As one of my Facebook friends put it, I am blessed among women.  I know I am.

I am blessed because I am surrounded by friends and family who love and appreciate me and want to make me feel special on this, my birthday.  

But I am blessed also because I am a teacher in New Zealand. Moreover, I am blessed because my children have the privilege of being educated in New Zealand.

And that means that I am valued.  Because so far at least, teachers in New Zealand are valued and treasured and respected.  Which means that the children we teach are also valued and treasured and respected.  Yes, we've had our pay disputes and contract collisions with government but in my time anyway, they have never gone too far.   In my time they have been resolved fairly and adequately.  And a couple of years ago, when the education minister Hekia Parata mooted a policy about increasing class sizes etc etc, THE WHOLE COUNTRY WENT TO THE FRONTLINES.  I wasn't the only one who wrote letters.  The letters came from EVERYWHERE and she very quickly (and graciously) backed down.  An entire nation could see and made sure she knew they saw, that it did not make sense.  We weren't about to have the wool pulled over our eyes.

And while I should continue to write about all the ways I am blessed as a teacher in New Zealand, I am actually writing because my heart hurts.

I am not a New Zealander by birth.

I am Canadian by birth, and lived most of my Canadian life in British Columbia.

My heart hurts because my colleagues, friends and family in the education sector of B.C. are fighting a battle which should not have to be fought.  They are fighting illogical government mandates such as lockouts at lunch and pay deductions based on these enforced lockouts.  And let's face it:  since they are fighting a government which defies the B. C. supreme court, they are fighting corruption at the highest level.  

So now the teachers federation is fighting fire with fire and will strike.  They are going to the very front of the front-lines and I support them in their strike.

But my heart hurts because it shouldn't have come to this.

The government of B.C. would stop immediately if there were enough public pressure.  The government would back track and lick their wounds and come to an agreeable resolution if the public said they should.

But the public is not saying that they should.  Yet.

It seems to me, over here across the ditch, that either the public of B.C. has had the wool pulled over their eyes, or they simply do not support the teachers in B. C.  From my perspective it looks as if the public thinks the teachers are greedy, are asking too much, and that the government should continue to hold out.


Who will ultimately lose in this battle?

I'll tell you will lose:  your children.  And your children's children. Generations of children who are getting a raw deal now because their classes are too large, their teachers are over-stretched with high needs and so the gap between rich and poor gets bigger. 

Is that really the price you want to pay, residents of B.C.?  Because what you are actually saying by your inertia, your apathy, or worse, your gregarious condemnation of supposedly greedy teachers is this:  "children, teenagers, next generation, we don't care about you; learn to sink or swim but work it out for yourselves."  

Really?  If that's not what you think, then you should be writing letters and sending emails.  Now.  No matter your age or stage, you should be standing up and joining the picket lines.  You should be visibly and actively supporting teachers in B.C.  Now.

Because if you don't, what you're saying to me and my husband and my family--two well educated and talented teachers with four bright and beautiful and promising children is this:  we don't want you.

So my heart hurts.

Because suddenly I have one less option.  I no longer have a choice to return home and invest in the country and province which once invested in me.  

I cannot in good conscience choose to raise my children in the province of B.C., let alone teach in it.

And that's just not right.

On Being Church: Part 3

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"A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Having taken the red pill, and having decided that there is so much I don't miss about "doing church,"  what am I left with?  What is my new church reality?

My new church reality lies in the complete and simple conviction that as those called by God, we are the Church.  Most people would agree that the original Greek word "ecclesia" is not a place, a structure or an institution.  Neither is it a verb.  It is not something we do, which is why I intentionally called my post "10 Things I don't miss about Doing Church."  Because we're not supposed to "do church."  But for some reason, that is what a lot of churches have become:  this is what we do and how we do it.  And if you don't agree with it, go do it somewhere else.

Our enforced break from "doing church" has made us all stop.  We just stopped.

We stopped going to Sunday morning services and doing church with people there.  We didn't find another Sunday morning service so that we could do church with a new set of people.  We stopped.  We breathed, we rested, we sought God's voice, we re-grouped and we stopped.  And not once did we think we had done anything wrong by stopping.  In fact, we know in our hearts that God was and is pleased with us for stopping.

But we didn't stop being Church and that is the crucial difference.  We didn't stop being an assembly of called out ones.  We assemble often as a family, whether it's for bed-time prayers, formal Bible story and discussion times, spontaneous worship around the piano or stereo, meals with friends, late-night discussions about particular verses or God's purposes or Jesus' teachings in the Word of God.  Paul assembles with other called out ones at his school and teaches them and prays with them.  I assemble with a friend over a cuppa and we share our hearts.  We assemble with a small group of other called out ones in our home for fellowship, worship, teaching time and prayer, each of us using our gifts in a safe place.  And I meet with other called out ones in various on-line communities where we encourage and support one another.  In all of these areas of our lives, we are the Church.  We seek the authority of the Word of God together in different ways.  We are learning what it means to have Jesus live in and through us in every part of our lives and relationships.

We are the Church.

Yes, when we meet in our home with other called out ones, we are fairly regular and organised.  You might argue that we're doing church together here, just in a different way.  But that's not the point.  The point is, our meeting together is fluid and organic.  Our meeting together is not something we feel we must do, should do, ought to do, but something our spirits long for and greatly desire and there is no prescribed way for how we do it.  We seek to hear from God and the counsel of the Holy Spirit in all that we do in our daily lives and there is no difference on Sunday evenings.

There is one over-riding principle however to being the Church: "A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  (John 13:34-35 NIV).  We must love and in loving, we will point to Jesus.

If we do not love one another, we do not reflect Jesus Christ and therefore we cannot be the Church.

I haven't thrown the traditional Sunday morning service out the window.  I have not sworn that I will never cross the threshold of another church.  Neither am I an advocate for home church. I don't necessarily believe that one is a better model than the other, or that mega-church is all bad and tiny church is all good.  There are a lot of great people out there right now who are "re-thinking church" and I am encouraged by the dialogue, as long as their proposed new church reality doesn't just become a new prescription for how we do church. If the people are gathering, whether large or small, formally or informally, conservatively or charismatically, but loving one another and pointing to Jesus then that is an assembly of people who are the Church.  There will be fruit from such an assembly and Jesus will be evident.

And as for the argument which might suggest that without structure and organisation we must not be committed to the body of Christ, that we are just living in selfish indulgence, then I would gently suggest that you enquire of those in our community how much we are committed to loving them, to being loved by them, to seeing them grow and persevere along with us in our discipleship of Christ.  But in actual fact, I would not suggest any such thing at all because, God alone is my judge and He says, "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve." (Jeremiah 17:10)  I stand before Him and Him alone.  I should add with a sigh of resignation at this point that being judged by others is another thing I do not miss about "doing church."

Our family attends a Christian Family Camp every Easter.  We are loved there and we love.  We fellowship, receive teaching and we worship.  We are Church when we are at Easter Camp.

This year, we had a conversation with a member of the band at Easter Camp who sheepishly admitted, with nervous glances to the side, "actually, we don't, um, have a church right now...we're 'in between churches.'"  Finding ourselves in the same position we met their sheepishness with smiles and were able to offer, "oh phew...you too eh?"   I wish then I had the knowledge and conviction that I have now to be able to say, "hey you know what?  You're here.  We're here.  We are Church together right now.  You do have Church; we are your Church.  You're not missing anything."  We knew that he was embarrassed and possibly even ashamed of the fact that his family didn't go to church.  

Because it's a well known fact, that as Christians we ought to go to church and we ought to do church.


I rather think we ought to be the Church.  

10 Things I don't miss about "doing church"

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Yesterday I wrote about my new church reality and I compared it to taking the red pill, as in The Matrix.  I wrote that once I discovered some of the corruption that lay at the heart of some church institutions, my eyes were opened to the truth and there was no going back to see church as I had before.  I wrote that I took the red pill and I did not like what I saw.

One of my readers wrote to me and said she had been disillusioned by church too and that my analogy to taking the red pill was like becoming de-illusioned.

De-illusioned.  That's exactly right.  Because although I did not like what I saw, I am definitely very grateful and glad that we are no longer living in an illusion and I do not miss it.

Of course there are things I miss about my pre-red pill vision of church, and I know that if I really wanted to, I could find another place in which to fellowship and worship again.  And as I learn to trust wisely, I'm sure I could even find a safe place.  I'm just not convinced that I'm supposed to.

And here's why:  since leaving the church, my family has grown from strength to strength, spiritually, physically and emotionally.  We have bonded and flourished in our new-found freedom and I use that word on purpose.  We are free where once we were bound.  And our relationships with others have grown too.  You might assume that having been hurt so badly we would put up thick impenetrable walls.  While tempting at times, we have never done that.  Instead, we have learnt (are still learning) to trust wisely and invest carefully, so that our community now is truly authentic and caring.

Here is what I don't miss about "doing church."

1.  I don't miss Christian pressure and manipulation.  There is a lot of do-ing in church today.  A flurry of activity under the guise of serving.  Yes we are called to serve; I do not argue with that.  But Jesus distinctly said, "come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  (Matthew 11:28 NKJV)  I didn't see a lot of rest in my church.  And the pressure to do as much as the do-ers was intense.  I had a friend who committed herself to this that and the other ministry because she felt she ought to. When I asked her about her God-given passions and shouldn't she instead be devoting her energy into those, she said she didn't feel she had that right.  That made me sad.  Leaders are very capable of manipulating members into doing what needs to be done.  And I won't go near the type of manipulation which creates guilt and oppression in its members so that they are then more easily controlled.  Although I have seen it, I hope it is not common in churches.

2.  I do not miss inauthentic community.  Think about it:  we gather on a Sunday morning because that's what we're supposed to do, all smiles and cups of tea.  Chit chat and pats on the back and then we go away again.  People wear their masks and then they feel good about doing the community thing.  I believe that churches with a good homegroup structure experience more authentic community together.  Our church never successfully maintained week-night home groups or life groups.  Whether that was a symptom of inauthenticity or the cause of it, I am not sure.  

3.  I don't miss the infallibility of leaders.  Of course they are fallible, but they pretend not to be, gloss over their mistakes or worse lie, and when questioned, they hit you with "submit to your leaders."  They conveniently ignore that the verse in its entirety says, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."  (Hebrews 13:17)  The implication here is that a leader's role is to shepherd, watch over the flock and care for them for their benefit.  If the leaders are not doing this well, then of course we would have no confidence in them and then it would be foolish to submit to their authority.

4.  I don't miss the constant pursuit of the next big thing in church.  I have heard a pastor say that we just need to try stuff and if it flies, great, if it doesn't, then we'll try something else.  I wondered at the time, where is the Holy Spirit in that?  Where is prayerful seeking and conviction in that?  I have sat in on meetings which discussed endless projects and strategies for reaching the lost.  I realised very quickly that I was a thorn in their side for suggesting to the leaders that actually, perhaps, if we focus on teaching and equipping each other what it means to live a Christ-filled life, that when we allow Jesus to live in and through us we become transformed, then these things that we are trying so hard to do will happen naturally, as we are going about our daily lives.  I was not a lone voice; but I was in a minority and  I remembered Major Ian telling us at Capernwray Bible School all those years ago, "you may have a hard time going back to your churches."   He knew about the red pill and he was warning us:  knowing the Truth won't make you popular.

5.  I don't miss Christian arrogance.  I'm speaking for myself here because I know how arrogant I was.  I'm a Christian; I know the Way, the Truth and the Light.  Pity you for not knowing.  I first started to see it when a friend of mine said he didn't have any non-Christian friends.  That phrase troubled me but I knew I would have used it too (except to say that I have several non-Christian friends).  WHAT?!  What on earth gives him or me the right to make such a distinction between people?  How do I know where the line is?  Why should there even be a line?  How dare I judge what someone elses faith may or may not be?  What right do I have to label anyone?  Above, I wrote about my relationships now and how strong my community is.  I purposely did not say my Christian community.  I know for a fact some of them do not believe in Jesus.  And that's okay.  It makes no difference to how valuable they are to me in my community and it makes no difference to how I look at them.  I no longer label my friends with anything.  I also remember one friend  from church saying, "isn't it great that people around us see us Christians having fun together?"  Some of us were together in the same swim club.  I looked at "us" very carefully--our sitting together every week and laughingly oblivious to those around us--and realised...no one appreciates us for having fun together.  They actually think we are an arrogant clique.  And shame on us, we were an arrogant clique.  Ugh.

Arrogance presented itself in other disturbing ways too.  We wanted to be the church with the best music, the biggest projects, the most externally focused, the most generous to missionaries.  None of these things are bad in themselves but when they become an ambition and a focus then the church has gone astray.  

Added later:  I also don't miss the arrogance amongst denominations. We agree to respect one another but then some people display an attitude that we in our denomination know best and our way is the right way.  I do not miss the jibes and jokes at another denomination's expense.  And I can't tell you how many times I have cringed upon hearing something aimed at Catholics.  I am not Catholic but my children are enrolled at a wonderful little Catholic School and we have attended Mass on numerous occasions.  Often I have found myself wishing I had the guts to stand up and say, 'hey, those "catholics" you're insulting with that joke?  They worship just down the road from here and you know what?  They are real people living out their faith just like you and me, the best they know how.'  Besides which, Mass on Palm Sunday has become my favourite time of year.  I have found it to be a truly Christ-centred and awe-inspiring service.  

6.  I don't miss the labels.  Perhaps this was unique to my church but the labels flew and they stuck.  It was very destructive and we challenged the leaders but still it happened.  Sadly.  And because they were leaders labelling others, we listened.  I will always regret having heard a label about someone else from a leader and believing it.  I didn't question the label or the fact they were telling me this about another person.  It wasn't until I learnt that I also had a label that I started to see how wrong it was and how ingrained the sin of gossip, assumption and labels was in in our church.

7.  So I also don't miss the gossip and the assumptions made about others.  Gossip in church is rife.  It is also damaging and painful.  I have learnt the hard way that I have a responsibility as a listener of gossip as well as a speaker.  I need to be ready to say to someone, "actually, you don't know their story; you haven't walked in their shoes."  

8.  I don't miss having my gifts squashed.  Our experience in a pentecostal church was no different from that in a mainstream church with regards to gift squashing; in fact it was even worse.  We are all members of the body and we all bring our God-given gifts to contribute to the wholeness of the body.  But most churches don't practise this because they know if they do, they will struggle with control.  When I was asked to stand down from the music team by my leader, I protested and discussed it with one of the elders, making it very clear that there was no reason for me to step down.  I had done nothing wrong and everyone (the pastor and his wife included) had said that God's ministry through me was powerful and valuable.  I asked the elder what I was supposed to do if I couldn't use my gifts.  He suggested I come to church, sit and receive.  Hmmm.  Yes, that's a healthy church, where we all become pew-sitters.  Ironically, the pastor preached on using our gifts the very next Sunday. 

9.  Which leads to, I don't miss the hypocrisy.  The leaders put on their "up front" faces and then we saw something very different behind closed doors.  We knew some of what was going on behind those closed doors and it was very hard, in fact impossible to swallow the lies and set-smiling faces on a Sunday morning. Image was increasingly important.  It seemed to us that it was more important to maintain the image that everything was okay than it was to truthfully and honestly deal with sin and corruption in the church.  

10.  More than anything, I don't miss being spiritually bound and under attack.  I still shudder to think of it.  The little yeast was spreading and infecting the whole loaf. We could see it and feel it and we would come away from a service feeling absolutely deflated.  It began to affect our health.  It should never have been that way.  It shouldn't have been a battlefield; we had our own armour on, but the shield of faith should have been so firmly in place amongst the people that the flaming arrows could not penetrate.  Somewhere there was a breach, a chink in the armour.  Not only were the arrows penetrating, they were burning and maiming the flock.  It was terrible and frightening and no place in which to raise our family. 

So I think you'll understand my reluctance to "do church" again after reading through the list above.  If that were your recent experience of church, then I think you would run a thousand miles in the other direction too.  (Note:  it is not my only experience of church.  It is my recent experience.  I have experienced very loving and safe and worhsipful churches in the past.  But I believe everything has a purpose and this recent experience has made us take stock, ask questions, seek answers and go back to basics.)

But I know that's not really Church.  Lest you think I am wallowing in a pit of negativity here, I am actually really excited and hopeful about Church.  Tomorrow I plan to write more about my new Church reality.

Until then, let us "encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."  (1 Thess 5:11 NIV) 

On Taking the Red Pill and my New Church Reality

posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , , , ,


"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."  (Galatians 1:10)

If you are a Matrix fan, you'll understand what I mean when I say, I took the red pill.

The main character Neo has a choice to make. He can take the blue pill and go back to blissful ignorance, living in a world as it appeared to be.  Or he can take the red pill and see the world as it really is.

Neo takes the red pill and stops living in a false reality.

I took the red pill.

My false reality was church.

Before any of my readers decide to throw the book at me, please note:  I acknowledge that there are churches who understand the Biblical mandate that our purpose is to bring glory to Jesus Christ and Him alone.  And in doing that, they are equipping the saints, loving one another and making disciples, as commanded in Matthew 28:19.  I know there are churches doing this well and they are in God's favour and are blessing many. This gives me hope. If that is your church, then know that I am not writing about you or yours so there is no need to be offended.  

But there are also a great number of churches who proclaim the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and behave very differently or worse, don't even point to Jesus at all.  As Jamie Brown in Worthily Magnify last week pointed out, "the gospel assumed is the gospel omitted."  These church leaders, pastors and elders are building a kingdom: their own.  Their vision is for greater numbers and for more church plants, rather than for growth in disciples.

When we had trouble with our church last year and didn't know where to turn, we sought the advice of another pastor in the area.  We explained everything and he left us with no hope because ultimately, he said, the survival of the church as an institution was more important than the well-being of the individual.  More important than who is right and who is wrong.  More important than truth or justice.  So I would easily become a casualty.  Translation:  I was not important and neither was my family.

Really?  Is that really what the Bible says?

Actually, Jesus Himself says, "A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  (John 13:34-35).  And again He says, "My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."  (John 14:12-13)

Excuse my cynicism but I guess I just have a different definition of love than some churches.

The church as an institution didn't exist in the Bible as it does now so our model is quite simple.  The church in Acts was a gathering of people who fellowshiped together, met one another's needs, broke bread, praised God, prayed and heard the Word. (see Acts 2:42-47).  Size didn't matter, and where they met didn't matter.  Financial remuneration didn't matter either although gifts were given to Paul and the Apostles for their travel expenses.  And when the church strayed from this model or made it more complicated than it should be, or brought in other practises from their cultural context, they were reprimanded.

No one was reprimanded in my situation.  No one was held accountable for some very bad behaviour which was also very unloving.  Neither was the situation handled scripturally; rather it was hushed up and swept under the carpet.  Instead of graciously admitting they had made a mistake and that things like pride and ego had got in the way, the leadership put a thick protective hedge around someone who should never have been given so much power and authority and so I became a casualty.  I was struck off.

At that moment, I took the red pill.  And I did not like what I saw.

I saw the reality of church, the institution versus what I had always believed it to be.  I saw the reality of some Christians versus what I had always believed them to be.  I saw that agenda and ego and power and expansion and bullying was at the helm and making decisions on behalf of the flock which had little to do with love or discipleship making and everything to do with protecting themselves.  And sadly, I heard and read from others that I was not alone in discovering this reality.

There is a global problem in the church today; the church is far more focused on self than on Jesus.

A question has plagued me ever since I took that pill: what do I do about it?  What now?  Do I wrap myself up in my disillusionment and abandon any thought of "doing church" (institution or otherwise) ever again?  Do I find allies and fight for true Church as I believe it to be (Neo-style)?  

Neither of those solutions are satisfactory.  I refuse to become disillusioned.  I am not much of a fighter. 

And then a couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a discussion on-line, raised by a fairly anonymous blogger.  Jamie Brown at Worthily Magnify wrote about performancism in worship leading.  The discussion went viral.  His original post had thousands of hits and I found myself fist-pumping on more than one occasion as I read through the post and all of the sundry comments which followed.  Brown wrote a few more add-ons afterwards, receiving almost as much attention.  His main premise is that as worship leaders, we have a responsibility to point to Jesus, not to ourselves in all that we do with whatever we use.  He asks that leaders very graciously get out of the way.

And most of his readers (not all of them) agreed.

{Cue fist pumping.}

You see it sounds straight-forward and it sounds obvious, this pointing to Jesus, but it just wasn't happening in my church, nor is it happening in many others.  And I believe if it's a problem with your worship leader, it's a problem with your pastors and leadership team.  Too many leaders have gone down the path of more hype, more events, more service, more colour, more noise, more youthfulness, more this that and the other thing in order to be more attractive.  Sure, it might mean they get more bums on seats...until another church becomes more colourful, more noisy, more this, more that...

Ultimately the question needs to be asked of these church leaders:  what is that you are attracting people to? What exactly is your gospel message? Because it's supposed to be the person of Jesus.  No more, no less.  Paul writes in Galatians, "As we have already said, so now I say again; if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!  Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."  (Galatians 1:9-10)

I do wonder what some church leaders do with that verse, but that's for them to work out when God presses it upon their hearts.

For now, for me, I am excited!  I realise what I am supposed to do and the discussion which ensued from Jamie's posts has helped no end.

I am supposed to PROCLAIM the gospel of Jesus Christ in my worship and life, as I have always sought to do.  I am to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of church, as I am going about the every day of my life.  That is my purpose.  The reality of church may have changed forever, but the reality of Christ in my life is still the same.  No more, no less.  I'm not supposed to do anything but that.  Let God sort it out.

Except I am supposed to BELIEVE EXPECTANTLY and PRAY.  Because as Jamie Brown points out in his Final Thoughts on the issue, "If a post written by an unknown worship leader at an Anglican church in Northern Virgian can reverberate on the Christian blogosphere like mine did, then I think God is up to something."

God is up to something.  He is sorting it out.  If I am unhappy with the current state of the evangelical church, then how much more so is He?  He won't let us go too far down this road of kingdom-building.  

Thank God for that.