My friend wanted to see my face when I explained why we left Giant Church Inc. Why our youngest daughter quit the internship when she’d worked so hard. Why I quit the leadership program so close to graduation and why I couldn’t finish teaching the small group we were in together. It didn’t make sense to her and she wanted answers. We met at the park and sat in her SUV.
It had only been three days since we met with the pastors. The only thing I could tell her was what I understood at the time, and that was very little. We told her what we shared in our letter to the pastors, but she pressed me for more. She didn’t like that I wasn’t allowed to speak to the small group about why we left. Church leaders decided the person who replaced me would explain the situation to the group. I convinced her it was fine, and tried to convince myself.
When our eyes were finally opened to the dark side of what happens when church leaders in powerful positions abuse that power…..we knew we could no longer be part of it, but we didn’t have words to explain it. I’m three years out of it, and I’m still learning the language to name what happened.
I wanted my Giant Church Inc friends to talk to me about it. Like friends do when friends go through a difficult time. I wanted them to ask deep questions to help me understand and for us to process together. More than anything, I wanted them to see me, know me, and care about my relationship with Jesus.
Two years after our talk in her SUV, my friend asked me another face to face question. She was fighting for her life, but cared to know more about my experience at Giant Church Inc. It mattered to her. And it mattered to me that it mattered to her. I will never forget the deep love she showed me.
Cheers & Jeers
In my second post, I gave a lengthy description of Giant Church Inc. I’ve learned more since then and want to add that Giant Church Inc is any narcissistic system which claims Christian values, but is driven by worldly forms of power and success. It can be one church or a network, a church planting association, non-profit, or a business.
May God forgive us for building our church empires on the foundation of our own arrogance.Francis Chan, Letters to the Church
The series hit a nerve. I’ve encountered a variety of responses to Giant Church Inc. A few people disapproved, both privately and publicly. They defend the institution and the leadership. They refuse to see the harm or the abuse, and choose loyalty to Giant Church Inc. At one time, I didn’t see either. We ignored the red flags until we couldn’t any longer. Chuck DeGroat wrote, “Whole church systems and programs evolve within the waters of narcissism, and when it’s the water you swim in, it’s hard to see and even harder to confront.”
The second group gave support in the beginning, but became uncomfortable as more and more stories were shared and comments were made. The stories were hard to read. Stories of exploitation, arrogance, entitlement, manipulation, bullying, and deception……by church leaders. Some who initially supported the series were concerned that I was exposing issues that those outside church didn’t need to know.
We need to understand this: I’m not pointing out anything the world doesn’t already see about the church. They hear stories from their friends, see it played out in the news, and have experienced it first hand from those who claim to love God. We must stand against toxic leadership and embrace Jesus’ way of shepherding. Francis Chan put it this way, “It should not feel out of the ordinary, harsh, or inappropriate to call the Church to change. Nor should we imagine that our unique expression of Church is the only one God sanctions. Instead, we should be constantly seeking renewal, being ready at any moment to discard the elements of Church that lead us away from God’s heart rather than toward it.”
Most have given 100% support throughout the entire series, publicly and privately. Some who have experienced emotional and spiritual abuse found a place and the courage to tell their own stories. This caused an outpouring of support and prompted some to apologize for the part they played in the harm caused, either by not fully recognizing the spiritual abuse, turning away from it, or not speaking against it. Others simply acknowledged our stories and expressed their sorrow for what we experienced.
Others contacted me privately to tell me their own stories of spiritual abuse, extend gratitude for writing the series, and ask for prayer for family members who are part of Giant Church Inc. Many of them didn’t have a name for what they saw at Giant Church Inc until they read the stories. Some have found new church homes; others are searching. Others say they may never attend church again.
A colleague asked me recently, “Now what?” He’s reading the series and wants to know the solution. Don’t we all. Our hearts are broken for the church.
At the beginning of the series, I admitted I didn’t have the answers. I’ve learned that I’ve only scratched the surface of the problem. It’s more widespread and deeper than we know and want to believe.
The solution starts with me. And you. We begin by asking God to reveal our hearts and open our eyes. We ask Him to show us how we enable Giant Church Inc; how we choose power over love; where we’ve remained silent when we should speak up.
We should seek to understand what the Bible says about church leadership. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel ask these questions in their book, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. “What would it look like to embrace Jesus’ vision for leadership? What would it look like to put off the obsession with worldly value of power and prestige? What would it look like to have healthy leaders as opposed to toxic ones?”
They give these descriptions of a pastor who clings to Jesus and His way:
- The pastor gives their life for the sake of the church, regardless of what they gain.
- The pastor views ministry as an arena of love and service.
- The pastor embraces their congregation as people to know and love, not tools to use for other ends.
- The pastor views prayer and care as the centerpiece of their work, rather than an interruption.
- The pastor views other pastors not as competition, but as fellow shepherds on the journey whom they need for encouragement and wisdom, and who they are called to encourage and love.
This is drastically different than the high powered CEO pastors we see at some Giant Church Incs. Pastors are under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd and until we embrace His way, our churches will be filled with pastors who define the role based on gifts, charisma, desires and other worldly standards.
What Can We Do Today
I’m still learning how I can stop being part of the problem. Staying near to Jesus is most essential. He teaches us as we seek to know Him better and better.
I will be an agent of both justice and healing by continuing to learn about spiritual abuse, and writing about Giant Church Inc and its systems. I will keep looking out, reaching out, and speaking out.
We can ask questions and find the answers. We can pay attention to the stories we hear and read. We can step away from Giant Church Inc for a while to gain clarity. Good leaders will encourage this. For some of you, this will be easier since gatherings are restricted. For others, the pressure has intensified because Giant Church Inc takes drastic measures to keep the numbers up and giving stable. Part of the goal is to maintain control of the people and keep paying overhead. Still, step away from the anxious pressure to perform. Let this be a time of moving closer to Jesus and hearing His voice.
Take this opportunity to talk with friends outside Giant Church Inc and listen to sermons by pastors who are not within the system. Learn about spiritual abuse and narcissism within the church. I’ve shared numerous resources throughout the series. As God’s people, it is our duty to keep watch and make our churches a safe place for everyone. Narcissistic systems are not safe. Chuck DeGroat writes in When Narcissism Comes to Church, “I often recommend an organization called GRACE for church education and training, particularly for the sake of our children (see netgrace.org). It is vital that churches stand vigilant for children, especially in the wake of recent public scandals….”
This is for everyone in the church. Especially our leaders, but not just the leaders. We must follow Jesus and learn His way. He is our hope for change. Jesus is the Hope of the world.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” John 13:2-9 NIV
Wash us, Lord. Not just our feet, but our hands and heads as well.
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