A fist fight broke out in the sanctuary while the pastor was trying to choose a side. I don’t remember what the fight was about as I was in wonderment of what was playing out before me. This was my first church business meeting. I was at this business meeting because I was now a part of the leadership of this church and having never attended a church business meeting I was curious as to what they were. Little did I know it involved two men leaping from their pew, with fists waving – actually landing a few blows upon the other, before being peeled apart by those who were also in attendance. Remarkably, the meeting continued after some vague reference to the recognition of sin and the need for forgiveness from the pastor.
A few years would go by before I would encounter that again, mostly because I kept to the peripheral. Ironically, it would be shortly after returning to this very same valley city, but in a different church, that the ugly head of church politics would pop up on my radar.
When my wife and I got married and settled into our new city we opted to go to the local Baptist church. We continued that trend when we returned to the valley city, going to a Baptist church, which met in a very small, old building, which hosted a fraction of people in comparison to the larger churches in this same city.
We started attending and enjoyed the preaching, although we missed on the singing part, it was the preaching and teaching that kept us going. Shortly after attending we found ourselves entering leadership, again as youth leaders, trying to revitalize the church’s youth group. At first we didn’t notice the mumbling going on in the corners after church, but it wouldn’t be long until we had our chance to find out.
A phone call invited us to a ‘church’ meeting at a congregant’s home. My wife and I attended, fully expecting to find everyone there. We did find everyone there. Everyone, that is, except for the pastor and his wife. This ‘church’ meeting was about the pastor, a delicate way of saying that the entire church was figuring out how to oust the pastor.
My wife and I didn’t stay long and we were not sure how to proceed with the situation, feeling very awkward that we were dragged into something that had obviously been brewing for some time. It quickly became obvious to the organizers that we were as not as convinced as they were about the decision to get rid of the pastor and consequently if you are not with someone you are very obviously against them. Within a few weeks of this meeting, a strange set of alliances were forming in the church, lines being drawn in the sand, cold shoulders offered at the door, and awkward seating arrangements in a very small meeting space.
A silent protest was unfolding before our eyes and I was not cluing in to what was going on as fast as I should have been. People were stopping participating with worship, leaving the entire service for the pastor to do. They were not providing ushering help or other support roles on a Sunday morning, leaving that for the pastor to do as well. The situation was growing more and more awkward.
In the midst of this, the pastor and I were having great talks outside of the Sunday morning service. I was too busy with my work and my family to realize what was happening in the church on a Sunday morning, and because I was getting along well with the pastor, it never occurred to me to question what and why these things were going on with the elders and the pastor.
An opportunity arose to attend a conference in a neighboring city and I went to it with the pastor. We spent a lot of time talking with one another and slowly his side of the story was emerging. I found myself becoming more and more sympathetic to the pastor’s cause, seeing how he was the victim in this whole situation.
At his encouragement I was going to share with the church on that next Sunday morning about my experience of attending this conference. I also felt inspired to speak to the church in regards to their relationship to the pastor, using myself as an example. Sunday morning came and at the pastor’s invitation I arose and walked to the front, said what I had to say and then sat down again. To my surprise, an elder got up right after I sat down, not by the pastor’s invitation, and addressed the church. He made it clear that what was just shared was not a reflection of how the church felt. I was shocked. As this elder left the platform and walked to the back of the church, he paused momentarily to place his hand on my shoulder and give me a smile.
During this turbulent time, and right around the time that my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second child, I met with my pastor at my workplace. During that conversation I asked if I could be accountable to him. I was longing for a deeper walk with God and as I enjoyed his preaching and teaching, not to mention our frequent conversations, it seemed like the right thing to do. He joyfully accepted.
The first test of this accountability relationship to him came shortly afterwards at a church business meeting. He presented what he called a ‘faith’ budget to the congregation. I grew quite agitated at what he was sharing and how he was admonishing the congregants so I left the meeting, carrying our daughter in my arms.
Apparently I was so mad when I was leaving that I hadn’t noticed the door had hit my daughter on her head, even though she was crying and trying to get my attention to tell me what had happened. The pastor noticed and the next day he was at our home to tell me about it and offer for me to make amends for my actions – given that I was now accountable to him.
Thus became the rhythm of our new relationship. Like a house guest who was really never invited over but the situation grows too awkward to deal with directly.
Nothing could illustrate this more then what happened next. Within a very short period of time after this business meeting, the pastor was asked to leave. My wife and I were shocked by the news and the suddenness of it. We invited the pastor and his wife over to our home to talk and pray about the situation. They accepted and came over on a Wednesday evening. We talked, we prayed, and then we talked some more. At the end of the evening as they were leaving the pastor said, “Goodnight! See you next week!”
We hadn’t planned another visit but somewhere in the communication it seemed to have been implied that this was now a weekly prayer meeting. My wife and I at the time laughed this off, as we weren’t opposed to meeting with them every week. After all, we did enjoy the preaching and teaching, and now that the church had asked the pastor to leave, that was our invitation to leave as well, leaving us without a place to attend.
Being oblivious to the clues, this all seemed innocent enough.