We were drawn to our next church home because of the senior pastor. As it turns out, he was also my head professor. We started attending on a regular basis and within a couple of months my past head professor – now turned pastor, met me for coffee to talk about having me step onto the elder’s board. My response – having past experience with such things – was that I was not going to consider anything like that until I have been there for a year. I went on to explain that the year was not for my sake but for the church’s sake. It gave them a year to figure out if they still wanted me to participate in some leadership role like that. In retrospect I should have said no, paid for the coffees, and went on my way. I suppose just enough of my ego was stroked to keep me interested in such things.
A year went by quite quickly. We were now settled into our new home and enjoying the neighborhood. As it turned out the church was close enough to our home that it could be walked, which allowed the children to attend the growing youth group. During that first year that we were attending, the church had brought on a youth pastor and we were generally excited with the growth and increased programming that the church was offering. This wasn’t an ordinary youth pastor, however, as he had just finished his doctorate degree and had no formal ministry training at all. Instead, he had been in school for the last seven years or so and was now looking for a teaching job in some seminary or university somewhere. But a quick conversation with the senior pastor and the church scooped him up – at a bargain they told us.
They should have read the fine print.
Like clockwork I stepped onto the elder’s board in early winter, just as we were going into our second year at the church. I stepped onto the board, along with one other person. Just as we were settling into our new roles, we immediately found ourselves immersed in a volatile situation involving a person who attended the church. There had been some meetings with this person prior to our involvement and the escalating story was not entirely clear. What was clear to me, however, was that there were some serious issues with the board – and in particular with communication between the senior pastor and the new youth pastor, along with the head elder.
Letters were written, emails exchanged, secret meetings were held and it was all a whirlwind happening so fast around myself and the other new elder. My call out to the elders to focus first on our internal communication issues and obvious personality conflicts fell on deaf ears. In the end the decision was made to ask the attendee to leave the church. This was followed by the very public and immediate resignation of the senior pastor, which was then followed by the very public and immediate resignation of the other new elder, who was also the church’s worship leader. Coincidentally, the end of another elder’s renewable term was up but he opted to not renew, citing the health concerns of his wife. Another elder up and moved to another province. When the dust settled there was three elders – I was one of them, and the youth pastor.
By the time fall came the church had split. Not only had the church split but the youth pastor had now aligned himself with the head of the elders and they began a campaign against those who were leaving, sending them nasty letters and emails, contacting other churches to speak against them and continuing to divide the church. You were either for them or against them. It then became very clear that I had outworn my welcome and so I resigned from the elder’s board and consequently stopped attending all together. Their power-hungry obsession with control followed me for a bit – trying strategies that a past cult-leader had tried, until they turned their attention against my oldest daughter and her fiancee.
For the next year and a half I had been called upon by various people who were involved in the nastiness, both in church leadership or those who supported what was going on. They wanted to know and understand my side of things. At the end of those conversations they apologized and shared their stories. Many lives were impacted in horrendous ways. The last elder who was also the chairman representative for the church – and in fact who was a founding member of the church – a church that was established almost forty years earlier – he left. All of the founding families left. They only ones who stayed were a few party faithfuls and the influx of new families to the neighborhood looking for a nice happy church to be a part of.
And they were. They would shake your hand every Sunday morning to prove it.