Torn

What happens when a church tears itself apart?

Everyone loses.

In 16 years of vocational ministry I have witnessed crazy. Elders slamming their fists on a pulpit demanding congregational submission. One staff member saying a picture of a mix race couple can’t be used in church marketing. A church member calling the office to let staff know that if the pews are removed the tithing stops. Pastors who stopped believing in Jesus but stayed in their jobs. Church leaders denying the faith but refusing to leave their position. Affairs. Adultery. Theft. Addiction.

It’s been bumpy.

Now I sit 2,522 miles from my former church where I served as an associate pastor, and the calls are streaming to my phone about the church drama. A pastor, my friend, is being let go from his ministry because… well, that’s the catch, I can’t seem to uncover the official reason. I’ve heard some rumors. One involved the pastor being a bully and bullying me out, not true. One involved me being paid to leave, apparently someone owes me 50k (I’m still waiting for the check).

While none of these are true I have to say, my former church was not perfect, nor was the pastor. No church staff is. Did I see sin in others? Sure, just like I see it in my myself everyday. I repent of my sin, and I pray they repent of theirs. Unfortunately, it seems that repentance has become passé on many fronts at my old church. The church is dividing, and when churches divide something dies.

My first church division experience happened at a church that couldn’t agree on the hiring of a new senior pastor. The church went from 1200 to 900 t0 700 to 300 to less.

Painful.

Now another church is dividing. No one wins in this situation. There is no victory. Pastors are burned and run off. Church leadership reacts and finds a pastor that suits their needs. Then before we know it, the faith candle (a candle that is lit every time someone makes a first time decision to follow Christ) grows dusty and the wax that once ran down the sides of a vibrant ministry collects dust and sits in shadows. The mission of evangelism and discipleship flickers as it starves for oxygen, and I sit and listen to tear-filled pleas for prayer.

Sitting thousands of miles away puts me outside of any circle, but my heart can’t stop grieving because this church in Glendora, CA is my family, and they’re tearing themselves apart. It’s like they’re all in a snow globe being shaken; from their perspective it’s a massive storm. From 2,500 miles away I’m screaming, “Stop shaking the snow globe, it’s going to fall and shatter.”

No one can hear me. Why should they?

So I will pray this prayer:

Father, please intervene. Help my friend to repent of his sins and be filled with peace once again. Lead the elders turn from anger and malice to a place of tenderness and reconciliation. Please, let my church family run to you and turn their face from division and hate. There are people in Glendora dying and suffering apart from your grace, let the church be a beacon of hope and freedom that I have seen in the past. Unite the staff to fear your name and hold fast to your statutes. Put the cross of Christ at the center of every conversation. Let the faith candle burn bright with revival and make their baptismal overflow as captives are set free and the blind are given sight. God, please reach into my west coast family and bring a miracle. Whether my friend stays or goes, reach in, reach deep, and bring revival. Amen.

24 thoughts on “Torn

  1. I just found out about this situation & my heart hurts. I join Glenkirk because of you Ryan and have stayed because of Jim. The reason I’m hearing about Jms removal is asinine. He is a great pastor and has my support.

  2. Thank you for your words, Ryan. We are truly in a broken world as Pastor Jim has eloquently said so many times. Thank you for your prayers. We need them.

  3. Thank you for your loving perspective. Our hearts are hurting, especially at the hurt this is causing for so many. We want to be united as a body and pray that we will all come to see God’s will. We cannot seem to come together on a perspective because we all bring our own preconceptions and to the situation and have seen and experienced different things. I am sorry to see the session characterized as coming from a place of anger and malice. I have to publicly say that that is not true. In my conversations, with session members I have heard them agonizing about wanting to to the right thing before God and concerned about the welfare of the pastor. I recently spoke with one whom I highly respect and was told that reconciliation was the first goal, and in the end they just could not reach agreement. Agreement takes compromise on all sides. ECO came in to try to help solve the church problems. They are neutral and wanted reconciliation , but could not achieve it. No one is happy that our church is in this situation .

    Session is at a great disadvantage as legally and ethically they cannot disclose personnel issues discussed in private sessions. They cannot defend themselves or present the facts which led ti this decision, so look mean and vindictive to some in this situation. So, they are being judged when we as a congregation will never be able to know all of the information they, ECO, and the pastor based their decision on. Despite all of this, I hope and pray that God will redeem this situation and use it to the betterment of all involved. I come from a position of having dear pastor friends who were very badly hurt and almost destroyed and never want that to happen to anyone, yet know that as humans we cannot always agree. I accept the decision that was made, yet remain deeply concerned and grieved for our pastor and his family and pray God’s protection on them.

    1. If you ended the post thinking it was primarily an anti-session rant you brought a different lens to the post. I know and love many on session. I understand they have been in a difficult place.
      Regarding the latter part of your comment: I have no idea what the biblical grounds are for the secrecy in this situation. To the contrary, the Bible brings sin to light so that it can be dealt with at the cross not hidden behind polity; whether Jim’s, Session’s, or other’s. Hiding sin is a result of fear and shame not forgiveness and mercy. If policy hides and covers sin it is unbiblical and should be undone.

    2. “Session… cannot disclose personnel issues”, This is just rhetoric from Session. The relationship would have been terminated if there was just cause.

      Involving ECO is insightful…. thus an internal struggle within the church, ECO to mediate.
      Why would Session and Jim be having an internal struggle which could not be openly discussed….. tithes and offerings, senior members are unhappy regarding the church direction and contribute the greater of the monetary tithes and offerings.

      Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil

      Take pride in everything you do, If you cannot be proud of your actions, you should not be doing them. Shout it from the mountain for all to hear and rejoice in Gods glory of what you are doing.

      1. I agree that bringing things to light and dealing with them is best. I just know that I have been in work situations where California privacy laws prevented the board from disclosing info from private sessions. I do not knowing church boards are bound by the same laws. My husband and I have been urging session to bring thing to light for months

  4. Glenkirk has been torn and broken for many many years. When we moved to Glendora 35 years ago, we started attending the small Presbyterian church near our house. We made friends, went to summer camp, got involved with the youth groups and music ministries. My parents stopped attending when the new building program began and they were told your love for God was directly proportionate to your financial gift to the new building. When a Sunday service turned into a bidding war, my parents left and never returned. Even then there were adulterous affairs and backstabbing and posturing happening, but even a great cathedral could not cover the discord that had grown and festered under Gkenkirk’s roof for over 30 years. Even though my parents stopped attending, my sister and I remained active in the youth programs with our friends. One night during fellowship I was physically thrown into a hallway by a youth pastor for talking during a lesson and told I would “be dealt with later”. I walked home, never to return. Even to this day, I feel uncomfortable setting foot on the grounds. Yes, Glenkirk has been torn for a long time. Self righteousness is a powerful seduction and destructive force. But, it is the Glendora and the Glenkirk way to keep up appearances and never to admit to being wrong. I share your prayer for the church of my youth. I commend your courage for saying this out loud!

    1. I’m sorry that you guys went through that. I didn’t grow up in the Church, but I’ve been in vocational ministry for most of my adult life and I’ve seen quite a bit of crazy (probably the cause of some). I hope and pray you found a gospel-centered church along the way that lifts up Jesus all he has done for us on the cross. Thanks for the encouragement. Grace and Peace, RT

    2. I grew up in this congregation. This is perhaps the most insightful comment I have read, because it has memory. The recent turmoil is rooted in its history, as all decisions actually are. I had been the ONLY person to grow up in that church and attend seminary and plan a vocation of ministry. THE ONLY ONE. I am keenly aware of the leadership over the years, and why some ministerial staff left. The historical leadership married itself to an evangelicalism that had neat answers, and therefore, divorced itself from any historic orthodoxy and biblical narratives. They are reaping what they sowed, even as sad as that is.

  5. Hello Ryan…..As a long time member I have witnesses the church eb and flow of senior pastors since Walter’s retirement. We went through a few before we found the perfect fit. Jim came to us at the perfect time. We continue to embrace his sermons for he brings a contemporary message with the biblical passages. He is a man of huge vision, which may be part of the conflict, but certainly the church has tried to stay relevant. I have been completely out of any drama that has been brewing and do not try to stick my business in anyone elses so I was a bit surprised. In the end we are losing a good guy…..a guy that will land on his feet and continue he pursuit of bringing the word of God to others. Don’t get me wrong there have been changes in the last year that I found unnecessary and I miss some of the traditional worship methods. In the end we have to decide for ourselves if Glenkirk is still our church home, one that we love and support. Time will tell and Thank You Ryan for your service while here…

    1. Thank you Virgil. I trust God’s plan in all this. It is heart breaking, but I know and believe that God’s plan to bring glory to Christ will not be thwarted.

  6. Glenkirk broke my heart when they removed Al Clifft as our beloved choir director. They never gave a reason. I felt like a knife had cut the soul out of my church family. Things were never the same. I feel for you now and what you are going through. For me, at least, choral worship has always been the most spiritual and meaningful expression of my love of Jesus and my faith.

  7. Thank you for publishing this kind post! This is my first year with Glenkirk and I can only attest for the integrity of Jim and his family and for the general tone of the congregation when he is around. He is truly a vessel! Quiet and humble, when he stands in that podium, the Holy Spirit pours out like burning lava… The character asessination and rumors, truly Break my heart. True followers are known by their fruit… Wasn’t a thriving and loving congregation proof enough of his clean intentions? Thank you so very much for helping clear rumors. God bless you!

  8. I was a former member for 10 yrs at Glenkirk and left soon after Walter Ray left. Glenkirk and the members there loved me when I couldn’t love myself going through divorce. Walter’s sermons just bathed me in the love of God coming from a fundamentalist upbringing. My heart aches for all the chaos that is happening although I don’t know much about it. I was saddened to hear the choir disbanded which was one of the many reasons I joined the church being a vocalist myself. The faithful older members of the choir had a place to minister but without one only the younger generations are welcome which really is ageism. I am concerned that Glenkirk is becoming more rigidly conservative. In other words, somewhat legalistic. I pray that God will heal Glenkirk staff and parishioners from the inside out.

  9. This off of the Glenkirk topic. When I was in 8th or 9th grade I had a friend whose name I think was Suzanna Turner. Our grandmothers were friends and I went to Arrow Highway Weslyan. We moved from the area and I lost track of her. I have no idea if this is you or your age group. I graduated from high school in 1965 and was Susan Trayer then.

      1. Thanks. I always wondered what happened to the Suzanna I knew. You left GK at about the time we came. I also hate auto correct and end up with dome weird things in my texts and emails

  10. Ryan thank you for your insight. My husband and I are furious, upset, disheartened, and discouraged over all of this! I’ve sent emails back and forth to Session, Eco, Betsey, Jim and Bonnie Carr trying to find out the truth. Staying in the dark only brings out the gossip. We came to Glenkirk the first Sunday Jim did and we knew it was the one for us. Now we question the leadership (the Session) because we saw Jim bring Glenkirk into a more evangelical church. Souls coming to Jesus, missionaries represented, Spirit filled music, great children’s church and youth ministry. Some people never want change. They want things to stay the same but as Christians we should always growing and changing. We need a miracle!

  11. I’m sorry to hear about what happened at your former church.

    I became a member of a NeoCalvinist/9Marks/John MacArthur-ite church. I thought I was getting something Biblically solid. Instead it was authoritarianism, legalism, nepotism,
    elder-rule, ‘obey and submit’ orders, and no respect for the priesthood of all believers.
    There were excommunications and shunnings ordered of dear, sweet saints for ANY dissent. It was Salem Witch Trials II at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley (California).

    1. I understand. There is a lot of abuse across the Church. Each tribe has unique strengths and weaknesses. Have you heard of Jeff Vanderstelt? He planted Soma Tacoma and is now the pastor at Doxa Church, and he part of the Verge group. I found this group to strike a beautiful pursuit of theology, Spirit led, and mission.

      1. Spot on, RC. I haven’t heard of Jeff V. I will look it up. I’ve also heard good things about Bent Tree church in Texas with Pete Briscoe. Conservative church yet sane, including having women use their gifts. NeoCalvinism is destroying churches in my neck of the woods and across U.S.

  12. Interesting to come across this months later with a baby church growing strong, So while, yes, both sides “lost” initially, God can bring beauty from ashes.

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