Sunday, October 28, 2007

Churches with Issues

Spiritual abuse is anytime a person in a leadership position misuses that position to dictate the spiritual life of the follower.

I would also note that such an environment would necessarily have a lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit even to the point of virtually substituting the leader for the Holy Spirit. Because of this, personal sanctification is stunted or non-existent, being replaced with legalism. Legalism, as a wholly ineffective means of controlling the flesh, produces conceited individuals who keep the rules but lack any real fruit of the Spirit.

Because of this, when you examine any form of legalism you will be able to trace the specific legalistic teachings back to a specific man or group of men, who did not fully understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Legalistic leaders are not always spiritual abusers. It takes a certain psychological profile or personality to be an abuser, to insist on that level of control. So while legalism (and a general lack of the fruit of the Spirit) is one characteristic of a spiritually abusive leader, a personality marked by insecurity and/or arrogance is another. This insecurity or arrogance may be a result of childhood issues. Arrogance may also be the result of training at any number of far-right fundamentalist colleges which confuse conviction with stubbornness and passion with anger and aggressiveness.

So a simple checklist for determining a spiritual abuser would be:
Is he or are his people legalistic?
Does he expect people to let him make their life decisions or vice versa? If not, do the people give him "veto power?"
Does he and the congregation display the fruits of the Spirit in deed, word and attitude?
Does he or his people seem insecure or arrogant (a brusque and/or know-it-all attitude)?
Is he a product of a Bible college, or does the church associate with a Bible college or major national church, which is known to reflect any of the above characteristics?
Does the bookstore stock a good portion of its material from such men?

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That is not the only pitfall to watch out for when looking at a church. The other is when a church is not driven by people but programs. At a local church here in San Diego that I do not attend but have in the past, in this last week when the fires were raging throughout the county the music director complimented those who showed up for mid-week choir practice by saying they had the "character" to show up.

Now hold on. Homes are being destroyed, hundreds of thousands are being evacuated, families are coming together to help each other, and there is much in the way of human need and grief to think about. To insinuate that those who did not show up for choir practice during such a week did not have "character" is patently uncharitable, and therefore patently unchristian.

But it makes sense when church is about ministries and programs. When the church is not so much about the people but the organization. The Biblical "church" refers to people, not an organization. A new church starts out developing a fellowship of core people who support each other.

After a time, this core group decides they want to "do something for God" and start building the organization through increasing the number of ministries and programs, instead of committing themselves to one-on-one ministry to those around them. After a while, the organization takes preeminence and the people in the church find their spirituality measured by how active they are in the organization AKA the ministry. The pastor becomes a CEO and faithfulness to his "vision" also becomes another measurement of spirituality.

The church is thus hollowed out and made cold. The church is alive and yet dead. They are a great edifice of ministry and programs, but the community of believers is no longer an organic church- the organic church which existed at first has now been pressed into the service of the organization. This is the fate of the "successful American 'church'".

As the normal church constructs conform to the needs of the ever-expanding organization there is an inevitable increase in pure pragmatism. This manifests itself in preaching being less expository teaching to a more topical motivational style, even to the point of converting sermon time into a time for the pastor as CEO to "cast his vision" and promote a ministry. Easy-believism and legalism creep in as sound theological content no longer flows from the pulpit.

The lack of a true organic community apart from individual involvement in the organization combined with increasing pragmatism means Biblical church discipline is never practiced. This results in church members engaging in sins, sexual and otherwise, and not being dealt with, even when others in the congregation know. The only time such a church practices any form of discipline is when it threatens the organization and even then it is not Biblical... it is hush-hush behind closed doors with the pastor asking the person to quietly leave. As a result, you will see people get asked to leave for open disagreement with the pastor where another might sleep around and never be given any trouble for it.

So in spite of the "success" of the organization, drug use, suicide, sexual sin, and worldliness are to be found to an alarming degree especially among the young people. And people wonder why, since they have such a great "church" and dynamic ministries and a charismatic pastor. When really, the true Biblical church, the organic church, the community of believers, disbanded long ago- pressed into the service of the organization- a counterfeit church.

So a simple checklist for determining a organization "church" would be:
Is the church so large you can't shake the pastor's hand after the service?
Does sermon time get used frequently for "vision casting," ministry reports, and fundraising, especially around promotion Sundays?
Perhaps you have been going awhile... when you sit in the auditorium do you still feel disconnected or lost in the audience?
Do you feel like the only way you can really begin to form friendships is by getting involved in a ministry?
Are church promotions gimmicky?
Do they neglect to practice Biblical church discipline?
Does the church appear to revolve around programs, ministries, or promotional days?
Is there a lack of Biblical/theological substance from the pulpit? Not feeling fed?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Take Me Back: My history- in music!

Music has always had the ability to take me back. We all can hear a certain pop song and have it bring up old, almost forgotten memories of the distant past. I decided to do a rundown of these "defining" points in my life, musically. Should be interesting!

Artist: UB40
Album: Labour of Love
Song: Red Red Wine
Year: 1983

When: 1987-88, Ages 9-10
Where: Imperial Beach, CA
Exposure: Radio- the station being played by the neighbors in the alley had this one in the rotation for a while.
Story: My mother has just gotten remarried and we had moved into a newly constructed apartment building just around the corner from my school, Bayside Elementary. Most of my fun was had in the alley way behind the apartment complex, where I made friends with some older kids who were into skateboarding. I used to sit there with them as they wore their Vans skater canvas shoes and read the skateboarding mags. It was in their company I said my first cuss word- one of the skateboarding parks reviewed was called S--t Ditch.
I also can't help but recall the redneck bare-chested dude who lived at the end of the street... I raced around the corner in my bicycle one day and smashed his tail light. He told me he wasn't going to do anything as long as I told my (newly adoptive) dad. I didn't even know my dad knew this guy. Of course I didn't tell!
Another interesting feature of this part of the neighborhood was that, opposite the redneck dude's house was the bayfront. Not a very glamorous stretch of bayfront, and obstructed by an industrial building, but bayfront nonetheless. As my elementary school was in line with this industrial building you could look through the playground fence and see the bay. Sometimes, the bay water would get close to the fence, and one time it trickled through. Us kids got in trouble for playing with the water.
That fence also was the site of the incident that got me pulled out of public school for good. Apparently one of the boys had found scraps of porno mags near the fence and the school did not handle the situation good enough for my parents. They couldn't afford to send me to private school so I home schooled the last half of 5th grade. By 6th grade we had moved to a new apartment.

Artist: Real McCoy
Album: Another Night
Song: Ooh Boy (you'll have to hit up to listen to this one)
Year: 1995

When: 1997?
Where: Chesapeake, VA
Exposure: Radio- I don't know where I first heard this song or exactly when. This was a tough one to look up since MANY other musicians have covered this song besides Real McCoy.
Story: From 1995-1998 I worked summers for my grandad's business- propeller repair. I didn't do the propeller repair but just worked in the office. There was a vacant storefront up in the front of the building which my grandad rented out for many years to an auto parts place. I remember when I was little helping one of his employees switch out a fuse in his car stereo system. He gave me a few dollars and asked me to go to the auto parts store and by him a certain amperage fuse, if they didn't have that, he said, get the next higher- it would just make the sound louder. Well he shouldn't have told me that! I wanted to see exactly how loud I could get his stereo to go so I ran over to the store and got a much higher fuse. He looked at it an asked me if I was sure this was all they had- I lied and told him yes. I don't remember if his stereo was damaged but he figured out what I had done later.
Anyway, by 1997 the auto parts store was long gone and the storefront was rented to a pawn shop. This was the perfect addition to the neighborhood- a nightclub named "Double Deuce" was across the street and a stripper joint was next door.
It was at this pawn shop I searched for a found, with much pleasure, the CD with this song on it. It was very catchy to me and I despaired of ever getting the CD. I bought the CD, listened to it a little, and then hid it in the business filing cabinets so my mom wouldn't know I had it. This was the first pop music CD I had ever bought- I was raised that "rock music" was bad and kept more or less shielded from the wicked "world", thus the fairly long interval between "Red Red Wine" and "Ooh Boy."
Unfortunately, the CD came up missing from the file cabinet. My best guess is that the main secretary found it and kept it.
I could tell stories all day long (quite literally) about that place. Like the guard dog that my grandad bought and fed hot Hardee's sausage biscuits to every morning. But I must move on...

Artist: TLC
Album: Crazysexycool
Song: Waterfalls
Year: 1994

When: 1997
Where: Bethel, Alaska
Exposure: CD player at work
Story: After completing a year and a half of Bible college (which my mother pushed me into) I ended my last semester with the Sunday School bus captain (of the route I helped run) throwing me out on my ear, so to speak, for criticizing the pastor of the church.
This incident caused my mom to forbid me from going back, so, off to Alaska I went. My adoptive father had just spent time at a faith-based drug addiction home in Corpus Christi, TX during the time I was in college, and my mom was ready for them both to move on.
Originally I wanted to go back to college, even attempting to secretly wire money from my account in Virginia so I could buy plane tickets to run off. But, alas, I did not specify the proper bank branch for it to go to and so that didn't work. I settled in to life in Bethel, Alaska- in the tundra- in the great Western half of the state you will never see in the tour guides. The half of the state that isn't all about great forests and bears... just flat, mucky, wind-swept tundra.
I started work at a local grocery store as a stocker. The cashier played TLC all the time.
I remember walking home many times with a native Eskimo lady who was a single parent. She told me her story of how the father was a truck driver who left her once she got pregnant.
Then there was the mysterious bagged powder we started selling that I was sure was illegal drugs- then found out it was some kind of filler the native Eskimo people used when rolling cigarettes.
I guess I was sort of sensitive to that as I had my first drug offer while working there. The dealer told me that wanting the drug is like wanting a Coca-Cola. I didn't buy it. I had watched my adoptive father struggle with drugs too much to get wrapped up in that.

Artist: Blessid Union of Souls
Album: Home
Song: I Believe
Year: 1995

When: 1997-1998
Where: Bethel, AK
Exposure: CD player at work
Story: The grocery store job wasn't cutting it for me. They were working me during church and I hated stocking. So I went to the cafe in town and found a job. Now this place wasn't the best place in town but it was the place in town where EVERYONE came through... characters reputable and disputable. You see, "downtown" Bethel was a huge grocery store next to the post office next to the bank. And when I say "the" I mean THE. The one and only post office and bank in this tundra outpost of several thousand residents. The cafe was at a perfect spot- at the entrance to the grocery store just down from THE post office and bank. I was in there before when I was still working at the grocery store and my manager walked by, drunk, publically exclaiming what a s--tty job I did on the floors. Hmph.
Being a small town, we also sold cakes and the woman of the guy who owned this cafe also ran a flower shop. They were both Christian (Assembly of God) and made sure I had Sundays off since they knew I went to church.
A girl by the name of Jessie came to work there. She happened to be a vegetarian and when she found out I hated coffee we made a deal: she would eat a burger if I drank a cup of coffee. She was rather sick afterwards and that coffee was absolutely disgusting!
The owner bought a full-service restaurant down the street and I was called on to work down there sometimes. Some weeks I put in over 40 hours between both places but because they were separate businesses I wasn't entitled to overtime. Grrr. The cake operation, along with the cake decorator, moved down to the new place. The Blessid Union of Souls CD was his. He and his wife made a great couple and I was sorry to see him quit for a grocery store bakery across town.
The owner and his wife were very nice to me... when my adoptive father left my mom for the town whore and I quit to leave Alaska she gave me an extra couple hundred bucks as a gift.

Artist: Goo Goo Dolls
Album: A Boy Named Goo
Song: Name
Year: 1995

When: 1999
Where: Virginia Beach, VA
Exposure: Radio- Got played alot. Or else it just stuck in my brain.
Story: After leaving Alaska and not finding a job in San Diego my mom and I moved to Virginia. For a number of previous summers while in Virginia we went to a church and so we decided to start going there. I asked for a volunteer ministry position and got put on a bus route with someone who was to become an extremely close friend, Andy. We not only worked the bus route but we hung out together. A new family came to our church and he started a relationship with their daughter. On Sunday afternoons after bus route Andy and I would go over to this family's house for lunch and I would chill while he spent time with his girl. I remember one Saturday night we were over there and I slept on a couch in another room until 1 or 2 in the morning while he was spending time with her.
Every Sunday morning he would get up early and drive 15 miles to pick me up for the bus route. Some mornings I was just getting up as he was arriving but he never got mad at me just sat there and talked to my grandmother, who we were staying with at the time.
His girl's family got crosswise with the pastor over the balance of authority between church and home and as a result the preacher tried to get Andy to give up his relationship with this girl, ultimately bringing an accusation of improper touching, which I could not believe. When he wouldn't budge, he was kicked off the bus route and out of the church. I got placed on a new route.

Artist: Phil Collins
Album: Hits
Song: True Colors
Year: 1998

When: 1999-early 2000
Where: Virginia Beach, VA
Exposure: Radio, then bought the CD
Story: I was working at Gateway in technical support. I absolutely hated the job. I hated dealing with frustrated customers all day long. I was on the verge of quitting and going to work at a fast food place. In addition, my mom had been saying she wanted to move back to California. Now, I liked Virginia, I never wanted to move. But, mom really wanted to move on and I wanted out of my job and so I took a transfer to a service center in Palmdale, CA. I remember the rainy day I thought about this song and felt rather sad because I knew I was leaving and I didn't really want to move.

Artist: The Offspring
Album: Americana
Song: Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)
Year: 1998

When: 2000
Where: Palmdale, CA
Exposure: Movie Trailer
Story: The move to Palmdale was fun! Cross country trip all by myself- woo hoo big boy now!!! New place, new faces, new church. The new church was a place where my old high school friend William was finishing up his Bible college so I got to go out with him again. Sweet!
Now I had become a Christian as 5, professing faith in Christ. Then, I doubted when I was 7, so I professed again, and have never doubted since. It was at this time I felt convicted to be baptized... if I was truly saved at 7, my baptism didn't count, as I was baptized a few weeks after my profession at 5. So I went forward and was baptized.
I always pretty much made my friends at church. However, this church had a policy that you have to be there a year before you can volunteer for work. So I spent my time with my co workers from the Gateway store. I went to a lot more movies too, and this is where I saw the trailer for the movie "Loser", which featured the song from Offspring. I liked the sound so much I went to see the movie only to be disappointed to find the song wasn't in the movie, only the trailer.
And this was the official start of my attachment to rock music. I count Offspring's "Pretty Fly" as the first song I didn't feel bad about deciding I liked. My co workers introduced me to Creed and Lifehouse and many more.
I did make friends with three people at the church, but they happened to be involved in ministry so I only saw them occasionally. I remember buying lunch for one of them once when they were unemployed.
My mother had just undergone surgery and didn't move out with me until the week before I lost my job and, moved back to Virginia. I must've spent 10 mo in California. She came out to visit me around thanksgiving of 2000 and we decided I would just quit and go back to Virginia given the my inability to assimilate into the church, but she chickened out on that plan.
If you were involved in the church, you were incredibly busy from what I could tell. One disheartening moment came while I was out on church-wide visitation and we met a newer member who wanted to see if the church could spare a bus to pick up people from old folks homes to bring them in for special Christmas services. It never happened; according to the staff all our resources were tied up or they couldn't afford it or whatever.

Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Everyday
Song: The Space Between
Year: 2001

When: 2001-2002
Where: Chesapeake, VA
Exposure: CD player at work
Story: After moving back to Virginia I immediately took a job at a local pizza chain as a delivery driver, to offset my bills. We went back to the church where my friend was thrown out- why we did that I do not know. But we did. I found a new IT job which afforded me a lot of free time and it gave me the chance to search out some things. So from the comfort of my desk I dropped my King-James-only viewpoint, my no-pants-on-women viewpoint, and, while I had given in to rock already I justified my abandonment of music "standards" fully and completely. Interestingly, getting past what I had been brought up with on music was harder than the rest.
The brouhaha concerning the family who got crosswise with the pastor spilled over into condemnation and outright persecution of home schoolers in the church. We happened to be friends with a family in the middle of this- can you say deja vu?
Work became a place to me where I could get away from church, and all the crap.
My introduction to the DMB was courtesy of the guys at the pizza place who were big fans of his. They went to all the concerts and what not. I didn't join them the time they watched "Orgasmo" in the stock room, though!

Artist: Pat McGee Band
Album: Beautiful Ways
Song: Beautiful Ways
Year: 2004

When: 2004
Where: San Diego, CA
Exposure: Heard over the radio at a store
Story: I moved back to San Diego after hearing about a job opening where a friend of mine, Conan, worked. It took me 2 months to get the job after I moved out there due to the incompetence of the HR department.
For the first few months I rode the trolley and bus to work. It was pretty fun I guess. You get to see a lot of different people. But mostly you are interested in not having to stand and being able to find a seat.
After those first initial months I moved in next door to Conan and rode with him to work every day. We always had thoughtful discussions while riding around, and I would often accompany him on errands. One errand involved buying a special ice cream scooper for his wife at a Bed Bath & Beyond, and that's where I heard this song. His wife was big on ice cream!
It was nice living next door to him. I could help him with his computer and we could hang out often. I was also right across the street from the church which made it easy to get to things there. I dragged my laundry to the laundromat across the street which was next to a small grocery store. I got hooked on a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place there called La Canada. You buy a burger from this place, it comes with lettuce and salsa! Sounds gross but it is actually good.