I ended my last post with more red flags.
Even after I resigned my position with the church. Even after God allowed me to love my pastors more than before. Before I knew what I knew.
The red flags did not go away.
I pushed them aside and focused on the good the church did in the city. I taught Bible studies, mentored others, and built the team who led small groups for women. I served on the prayer and next steps teams and was part of the core group of leaders building a freedom ministry. I prayed my one-on-one conversations with others pointed them to Jesus and gave them a hunger to study God’s Word. I told myself my work in the church made a difference. I journaled my prayers and thoughts, fears and frustrations.
February 9, 2015 Humble our church leaders, Father. Let them seek Your glory only. Let them never feel entitled to more money, more stuff, or more comfort. I pray the same for us. Oh God, protect us from greed and pride.
No One Else Said Anything
I didn’t talk to others about my concerns, but I prayed fervently for our church leaders. I didn’t tell Johnny because I didn’t know how, and I wanted to be wrong.
When people I trusted and respected, who loved Jesus, continued to attend, serve, and work for Giant Church Inc, I convinced myself my “rigid personality” caused me to see things that weren’t really there. I made myself believe the business office had changed their policies and procedures. No one else said anything.
“Everything must be fine,” I told myself.
In January 2016, I applied for an intense eighteen month church leadership class that promised to put me on the path to divine growth and help me be all God wanted me to be. I was excited to dive into Systematic Theology and be part of a group of others who wanted to grow.
Within days of the first leadership class, the old warnings came back and new ones emerged. I wasn’t wrong and everything was not fine.
Months went by and more people left the church. Several leaders and campus pastors who were part of the leadership class left abruptly in August 2016. High staff turnover plagued Giant Church Inc but this exodus was especially disconcerting. When I and a couple of others texted our class in the Group Me thread to ask what happened, we were told by other classmates not to question, not to talk about it, and wait until leadership informed us.
Church leaders called emergency meetings with the leadership class to explain away our concerns and doubts. Lead pastors made phone calls and team leaders sent emails. This flurry of activity is the norm at Giant Church Inc after an event like this.
I witnessed this in action at a Giant Church Inc staff meeting. Someone posted something negative on Facebook. I listened as the staff brain stormed how to take care of the problematic post. No one cared to understand why he posted it or how he felt. It didn’t matter. The staff meeting ended with a solid plan on how to take down the post or counter it with positive comments about Giant Church Inc.
It’s called impression management. It’s what institutions do to create and maintain a certain image. Impression management strategies are used in order to preserve a positive appearance, which includes controlling information, lying, and subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, discrediting those that might cause any damage to the image of the institution.
Giant Church Inc and its leaders are protected at all costs.
Wade Mullen researched impression management extensively and tweets descriptions of the tactics used by organizations. “Often Mullen’s Twitter feed is full of people recognizing the strategies that have been used against them—such as being told they were not good Christians for questioning the leadership—and finding some modicum of comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone,” writes D.L. Mayfield in her article for Sojourners titled This Is How We Let Abuse Thrive.
Meanwhile, more bizarre things happened in our leadership class. The teaching veered from lessons in Systematic Theology into whiteboard diagrams on why we should seek a second income and build a legacy, how to go to our next level, how social media can make or break a platform, and the four competencies of emotional intelligence.
One Sunday afternoon, our leadership class was given the task of putting up and decorating the Christmas tree in the lobby. Several of us rightly and quietly questioned among ourselves why the leaders had not better organized the long and tedious task. The scissor lift wasn’t in place. The greenery wasn’t gathered. We didn’t have enough spray paint. The ornaments were nowhere to be found. We wanted to do a good job, but we also wanted to be with our families.
Another staff member heard the questions and told other leaders and pastors the group was complaining. In the following week’s leadership class, the women were named and scolded by two male team leaders for dishonoring the pastors and church leadership. The accused tried several times to tell what really happened, but were cut off and told not to explain. I raised my hand to say I’d also questioned, but was ignored. The women would be expelled immediately from the leadership class if anything like it happened again.
Dissenting voices are not tolerated at Giant Church Inc. Even ones about decorating a Christmas tree.
I saw more and more of the dark underbelly of Giant Church Inc through the leadership class, through working closely with staff on special events, and through serving guests brought in from other churches and ministries.
By the time Johnny shared what he experienced at the men’s breakfast, I was beyond weary of holding it in.
Our eyes were fully opened to the truth once we allowed ourselves to talk freely and honestly about the issues with one another and consider all we knew, saw, and experienced. Our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ…the ones outside our church….the ones not within the system who could see clearly, confirmed it.
Quietly and Quickly
We could no longer support Giant Church Inc or be part of what was happening there. We left the way they taught us to leave: quietly and quickly.
The quickly part proved to be difficult because of our involvement in the church. My husband served on the security team and I served in several areas. I was close to graduating from the church leadership class and our youngest teen-aged daughter interned. One of us was at the church at least four days a week.
We waited to talk to our children about the troubling issues at Giant Church Inc until after I resigned my role with small groups for women in December 2016.
By the time we talked with them, our oldest daughter only attended sporadically. Our youngest saw problems within the intern program and endured spiritual bullying, and our son was only surprised how long it took us to see what he saw years before. We decided as a family to leave the church and discussed the quietest way to do it.
Because we left the way they taught us to leave, we thought we left on good terms. We found out, there is no good way to leave Giant Church Inc.
In upcoming posts, I’ll tell you how we ended up at Giant Church Inc and what happened after we left.
Do you feel harassed and helpless, rejected, lonely, angry or broken? Jesus sees you. And He cares about you.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Matthew 9:36 NIV