I stood there in the door of the ER room after a nurse led me to it, and reintroduced myself before I walked in. On the way to the hospital, I imagined it to be as awkward as it turned out to be. This woman, in a new town far from all she knew, in the ER with her young son days after their move, needed to see a familiar face. Instead, she got me. Someone she’d met only one time, a year earlier.
I’d been told by her friend, one of the pastors at Giant Church Inc, to go pray with her at the hospital. “But wouldn’t she feel better with someone she knows? A friend who is close to her and her family? Or another leader from Giant Church Inc since they moved to serve and eventually work there?”
My questions were dismissed and I was pressured to go anyway. I was uncomfortable with it, but was reminded that God’s work is rarely comfortable. My thoughts or feelings about it didn’t matter.
Down to the River
Years later, the woman in the ER, now a dear friend, experienced her own “prove your loyalty” story. She and her husband were on staff at Giant Church Inc. On a particular team building outing, the staff were asked to swim in the river. My friend did not want to swim in the river, but was told that fear could not rule her. My friend is not fearful of water. She swims in pools, the ocean, and other clear waters; but this river is especially murky and filled with snapping turtles, snakes, and other wildlife.
Her refusal to swim in the river was unacceptable to the pastors. She understood that if she was to continue to be on staff at Giant Church Inc, she had to press through her reservations and swim in the river. Her husband finished his laps, then put her on his back and led her to the deeper waters. She swam in the river. She proved her loyalty. The leaders at Giant Church Inc successfully coerced another one.
Staff and lay leaders were and are required to show that they are growing. Growing closer to Jesus is a good and necessary work for Christ followers. What is not good and necessary is when Giant Church Inc measures spiritual growth by man-made evaluations. Especially when increased loyalty to Giant Church Inc is considered growth, maturity, or a mark of closeness to Jesus.
Making loyal followers seems to be a common strategy of Giant Church Inc. While the leaders of Giant Church Inc claim they want their staff and lay leaders to grow closer to Jesus, they actually want loyal followers, devoted to them and Giant Church Inc.
Another experience in a different church in another state, from someone who has studied spiritual abuse for over 20 years, describes it well:
It seems to be a hallmark of pathological leaders to get people to act in ways that violate their normal standards and values — even if it’s a seemingly small action. If they can get you to open the gate on your norms, they’ll keep pushing and grooming for increasing loyalty and activity.Brad Sargent (Check out his blog)
I realized in retrospect how a church planter seminary student who passed the assessment clinic with relatively high scores ended up doing this to a pool of other male students. The action he used to get the guys to raise their middle finger as “the sign of blessing at XYZ Church.” He laughed and most guys followed his lead, even though some obviously were uncomfortable about it.
The planter treated it like this was all a big joke. But in reality, it was a doorway decision for many guys there to act the rebel … and with one extended finger play right into that church planter’s hands.
There are several ways leaders will get people to violate their standards and values. You may be:
- Told to ask a young mother to leave the sanctuary because her newborn will distract the pastor.
- Coerced to stay overnight in a cabin alone because you’re anxious about doing so.
- Forced to listen to private and personal information about others you don’t want to know.
- Asked to divulge private and personal information about yourself or friends.
- Pressured to make uneasy or unwise business decisions.
- Call a friend to tell her she can no longer work out with the church group.
The list could go and on. I’m now certain the leadership classes at Giant Church Inc are a more intense and intrusive way of making devoted Giant Church Inc followers. From the very beginning we were asked to go against our normal standards. If we pushed back, we were told to stop putting God in a box. When our thoughts, feelings, standards, and values do not matter……they are demanding blind loyalty.
Are we required to be loyal to Giant Church Inc? What does the Bible say about loyalty to a religious institution? What did Jesus teach about it?
Fellow blogger, Rebecca Davis, posted an insightful article about the distinction between loyalty and faithfulness on her website, Here’s the Joy. She wrote this: “True faithfulness is willing to question authority. True faithfulness won’t turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to those who say, “There is a problem.” True faithfulness knows that when those who work in an institution are promoting to the public a presence of peace and joy but behind the scenes are living in fear of the senior pastor, there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.“
I encourage you to read the entire article and study the story of Nathan and King David she references (2 Samuel 12). Nathan was faithful to God when he questioned King David.
Paul listed faithfulness, not loyalty, when he wrote to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
From the Inside Out
Jesus had this to say about the religious leaders and their laws and traditions in Matthew 23.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.Matthew 23:25-28 CSB
Have we replaced faithfulness to Jesus with loyalty to Giant Church Inc? Do we have the fear of the Lord or fear of Giant Church Inc and its leaders? Do we enjoy our status and position in Giant Church Inc?
Has Giant Church Inc stolen the place of God in our lives?
In addition to the story of Nathan and King David in 2 Samuel 12, I urge you to read Matthew chapter 23 and the entire book of Galatians. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart, open your eyes, and show you the truth. Make us willing, Father, make us willing.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”