Guest post by Dude Behind the Curtain
(Note: Dude is still a Christian, but he is distancing himself from the institutional church.) Dude has just started a blog. Please check it out and leave a comment if you are so inclined.
I didn’t grow up in church. In fact, for my childhood and most of my adult life I never crossed the threshold of any house of worship. I would be in my late 30s before Christianity came into my life. Often the peculiarities of “church life” confused and frustrated me. I didn’t know the song lyrics, how to navigate through a Bible or understand all the rituals and regalia of Christian culture. However overwhelmed I was by day-to-day life as a man in the pew, nothing prepared me for taking the step from the pew to behind the pulpit. Once I accepted the mantle of ministry and leadership, a whole new underbelly of church revealed itself to me, and reviled me at the same time.
I have many stories, many experiences, many heartaches and heart breaks and an ample supply of disillusionment and discontent with the status quo of what passes as church today. But I must start somewhere. I’ll begin with my first true position in church leadership.
As a fairly novice Christian I became an ordained deacon. I was a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, newly minted zealous Christian crusader looking to serve and follow my Lord and Savior any way I could. I already had time behind me as a Sunday School teacher for children and youth and experience with our Men’s Ministry. I felt privileged and honored when asked to accept the position of deacon in my church. I had no idea that the true definition of deacon meant “Pastor’s Yes-Man” or “Pastor’s Whipping Boy” or “Pastor’s Lackey” or some other derivative thereof. I’m sure you get the idea.
This particular incident occurred after I’d been in my position for quite a few months. All of my fellow deacons were older than me, many of them in their 50s and 60s with me in my mid-30s. All of them had spent most of their lives in church, whereas I was still learning the ropes. Our church had been experiencing some strife and unrest. Our pastor had called a special Monday night meeting of all the deacons. We all wondered what it would be about — the most common guess or fear was he might be resigning.
A nasty cold had me in it’s merciless grasp as I headed out on a dark, chilly, damp evening. I wanted to be home in bed under a warm blanket instead of braving the elements for a mysterious meeting with the pastor. As we all gathered around a table, wondering about the purpose of our meeting, the pastor explained why he had called the meeting.
A particular church member and her family had become a thorn in his side. He named them, defamed their character, and accused them of being behind the problems the church was facing. I expected one of my more experienced fellow deacons to reprimand him for his negative rant. Instead, they joined in. They talked about all the problems the person and their family had caused in church and in other churches. Viciously and methodically the woman who played the organ every Sunday morning, the woman who was mother of a foreign missionary, the woman who was the wife of a teacher and active member of the men’s ministry was voraciously vilified.
I felt my heart pounding and my head thudding and could not bring myself to say anything. I wanted to shout at them to stop. I loved this woman and her family. She had been one of the first people in the church to befriend me and my family. And now because she dared to question some of the leadership decisions of the pastor she had become persona non grata.
I walked away with regret that night. I regretted witnessing such behavior from men I had grown to respect and admire. I regretted not opening my mouth and saying something. I felt sicker as I drove home. A few days later I told one of my friends and fellow deacons, “I thought that meeting was wrong. I wanted to say something, but all of you are older and have more experience than me.” He said, “You should have spoken up. We respect you and your opinion.”
I cannot turn the clock back and interject my feelings. Not long after, the woman and her family left the church. She was the first of several to do so. Eventually, I had to walk away from that particular church as well as I saw continued acts of spiritual abuse occurring — especially from the pastor.
I learned a hard lesson. Despite the smiles from the pulpit, or the handshakes at the sanctuary door, or the laughter around a fellowship meal, it’s an extremely different story behind closed doors at church. It was my first such experience, but would be far from my last.