August 11, 2013 is a date etched in my memory. I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but maybe the reason I have never been able to forget it is because it was perhaps the first time it became publicly clear that we had severe problems at our church.
The meeting was a regular quarterly members meeting. Six months earlier, at the first quarter meeting, I had presented to the congregation new bylaws and (according to those new bylaws were they to pass) the first set of elders and deacons. I told them at that meeting we would vote at the third quarter meeting. There were many conversations along the way, quite a few disagreements, but overall it seemed everything was headed in a good direction. I thought I had been as much of an open book about all the issues along the way, including revising the bylaws page by page and allowing the members feedback after each page was revised.
What also added to the drama of the afternoon was we had several new members join that year, Christians who had never been in a healthy church and I was eager for them to see what biblical, Reformed, healthy church life could look like at our church.
Three months leading up to the meeting we had our second quarter meeting. I again told everyone we were going to vote on the new bylaws and potential officers at the third quarter meeting. No real issues came up.
August 11, 2013. Third Quarter meeting. I opened by saying we were voting on the new bylaws and new officers (potentially). I handed out all the ballots. Then I asked if there were any final questions. And a long time member made her way immediately up to the front with papers in her hand.
It may have been one sheet of paper, I’m not sure. But she proceeded to read a letter to the members and stated that I had deviously changed the bylaws, that I did not give the members enough opportunity to give input, and that I was doing harm to the church by changing the leadership structure.
She probably spoke for about five minutes, but I had thousands of thoughts running through my mind all at once, and can’t remember much else of what she said or what I was thinking. All I remember at that point, when she got done, I asked if there were any members who wanted to respond to her statements.
One of the men I was recommending for eldership stood up immediately, and instead of addressing her concerns, he simply said, “we should submit to our pastor.”
Then another man stood up immediately and said, “I need to address that. If we just blindly follow our leaders, that’s how you become a cult…”
With the quick loss of control that I now had in my hands, and with that last offensive comment, I spoke up from up front–interrupting the last speaker!– “alright, brother, I gotta stop you there. That cult statement is simply offensive. We believe cults are going to hell. So you cannot compare us to a cult.”
I don’t remember what happened from there. There was probably about five more minutes of discussion and I tabled the vote. Many who were for the changes were surprised that I tabled it. But I simply did not want to “win” a vote with so much divisiveness in the room.
I totally believe it was right to table at that moment. I am not sure if I was right to interrupt the cult commentary the way I had (a move for which his wife never forgave me as far as I can tell). I am not sure if the process I went through to change the bylaws was correct. But this was where God had us providentially. And we clearly had some major problems on our hand.
Our new members were so confused. Our old members who were for the changes were so offended by the first woman’s comments. And lots of people were angry at me and each other for what transpired in that meeting.
I decided to go even slower than we had been going. We had more members meetings to talk about issues, attempt to reconcile relationships, while still trying to move toward biblical change. We eventually got around to creating a bylaws committee to work from scratch to re-write our bylaws.
I did learn that it is possible to look like things are going in the right direction, but unless you really get every member to buy in, every member to understand, every member to have affection for your teachings, you are just one meeting away from ecclesiological disaster.
I also learned that no matter how patient and loving you are toward the sheep, the reality is in a fallen world, on this side of the Second Coming, and in this world where “many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,” but not enter the kingdom– the reality is sometimes there are false sheep among the flock. Sometimes wolves. Sometimes simply false sheep. And one more terrible action by a false sheep awaited, which we found out when we received “The Shocking Letter.”