“Hey Doug, would you meet me this evening at the local coffee shop? I want to get an update on the recent events from Ana’s birthday.” This was the ask that got me to go out in the beginning of a February snowstorm and meet with the head of the elder board at our church. For the previous four years, I had served with him on this board. We didn’t always see eye to eye but I looked at our differences as a display of the power of the gospel to make straight the crooked paths. It seems I’m getting ahead of myself though. Perhaps I should back up and provide some context.
Four-ish years before, call it five, I was approached to candidate as an elder in the church. I would be reading a book and going through it with the existing elders. There was to be quite a bit of turnover as one was moving home to Canada and another was moving to the East Coast. A third had recently left to pastor a struggling church in the area. Our church wasn’t large, perhaps 120 people attending in an average week (including children), and the elder board was being tested with over a 50% turnover in a very short span of time.
Attaining an elder role had been one of my goals in life, though I thought that certain events in my past may have caused that role to be beyond my grasp. Through previous discipleship meetings with one of the elders as well as these meetings with each of the elders, these events were shown to be ones that were not insurmountable and they were later disclosed to the congregation before they voted me into the role. The denomination this church is in is the EFCA, which allows a wide berth for churches to be a part of the movement. There is no confession to define the EFCA, which is both a strength and also a weakness of the movement. Seriously, so long as you don’t profess heretical views your church can be in the EFCA. I don’t mean this as a knock against the organization either! My family is now attending an EFCA church, and it is theologically sound. I’m just saying that there are many possibilities allowed within the denomination, that’s all.
The elder board now consisted of the pastor and three lay elders, of which I was one. The other two were 1. a great Christian man who had a strong background in business and finance and 2. another man who was a member of the public school teacher’s union. The businessman was added to the team because the church tried to maintain one of the original church members on the board. I say this, not to imply that he didn’t belong, but to give the context. Because he was the accountant, he thought it best that he not serve as the chairman of the board, which is a shame. He was the best one out of all of us to fill that role.
Instead, we went with the high school teacher, since I was only newly installed.
This teacher had a different understanding of many gospel matters than I hold. He came from a more mainline protestant background, from one of the denominations that is fading away. You know, the ones who embrace all sorts of wickedness in the hope of gaining the trust of the world even as they lose the very thing that sets gospel believers apart from that same world. That was his background, and a unifying creed would have been nice to have in that instance. With his background, he was an Arminian while the others were all Calvinists, he was an outspoken Democrat while the others tried to keep political leanings to themselves. There were other signs of future contention, but those were overlooked in the name of making the gospel look good, which is what it means when you disregard clear biblical instruction for the sake of unity around secondary or tertiary matters, all to the glory of God of course.
There were several theological differences between him and the other elders, but I was the one most likely to “go there” to the theological places. After all, the first commandment of the Great Commission states that we are to operate in the understanding that all authority belongs to Jesus, therefore we ought to lead His church with His precepts. Seems pretty straightforward to me. I knew that this teacher had different leanings, and I was looking forward to demonstrating a graceful way of ministering together despite not always seeing things the same way. If the gospel wasn’t enough to look past how one lived their lives or the lifestyles they encouraged, after all, what was the point? Did I mention that I was so glad to finally be in a role where I could minister to the people in this church? The same people who had ministered me through an ugly divorce? My tongue is firmly embedded in my cheek here.
So that’s enough backstory for now. Four years of doing ministry with these men, using my voice to fine-tune the direction, backing up my opinions with scripture, backing down when asked, partnering with the other elders to bless the congregation, pointing the people to the supremacy of Christ in all things, seeking to live out this faith as an individual, an elder board and a church in such a way that God would be magnified, even over the State. In essence, following the lead of the pastor and using any differences as a springboard to make the gospel look good.
January 2020. My daughter had her annual birthday, this time turning 17. There was a sleepover, which means a house full of teenage girls, but one of the invited girls couldn’t get off work. Apparently, somebody had to scoop ice cream at the mall in the middle of winter, a noble pursuit for a teenage girl. What is not a noble pursuit, though, is when that girl gets bored because nobody wants ice cream in January, so she records herself using the N-word repeatedly, then sends that video to one of the girls at the birthday party. A girl who just so happens to have a higher melanin count than the others.
Feelings were hurt. Friendships were shattered. The girl in the video actually moved to a different school as a result of the backlash. Ana let this girl know that she needed to reach out to the black girl who was hurt through this in order to repair relationships, but that girl was unwilling to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
February 2020. A winter storm is coming and I am being called upon to give an update by the head of the church elder board, who also is a teacher in the school where all of the girls from the party attend. This could be an avenue for the gospel to be demonstrated in the community! I agreed to meet with him at the coffee shop. I gave him an update on the situation, along with how proud I was of Ana, sticking up for her friend who had been hurt by the racial slur. That was the reason for the visit, or so I thought, and it lasted five, maybe ten minutes. Then came the real reason I was summoned.
“I’ve seen some things on your Facebook. Things that are troubling.”The Member of the teacher’s union
Insert my shocked face. What was he talking about? I agreed four-plus years ago to avoid all political discussion online as a showing that I would be an elder who would be accessible to all of the people in the church. For four years my Facebook profile was almost entirely filled with dad jokes and family pictures. Rather than confront my accuser, I opened my Facebook app on my phone and spun it around to him, asking him to show me where I had shared anything that anyone would find controversial. Perhaps the meme about the next generation being unable to operate a manual transmission?
He scrolled through for quite some time, finding nothing. Eventually, he returned my phone and said that he had seen that I had tried to attend an event where Donald Trump had come to visit Iowa. But here’s the deal. I hadn’t posted anything of the sort. In fact, I posted nothing about Donald Trump whatsoever. My wife did though, but she had never been asked to hide her political leanings the same way every right-leaning elder was. Which was all but the one elder. Hmm… Give up your rights for the good of others is how this church defined the Christian Life of Love, but only if your politics lean toward individual freedom and responsibility rather than collectivism.
I told him that I was not going to censor my wife. I asked him what sin either her or I had committed in attempting to hear the President of the United States speak. I also mentioned that I did not comment on her post, in keeping with my promise to appear politically neutral. I was innocent of any charge he had to bring against me, including the charge of sowing discord within the church. That is what I was accused of and it was a lie from the pit of hell. Why do I speak so strongly of this lie? Because God has things to say about anyone who would create divisions among the people of God. Strong things.
Titus 3:10-11 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
The accusation of sowing discord is serious. There are verses throughout the Bible regarding this sin. I was being accused of the sort of sin that marks a wolf among the sheep. For four years I had served as a shepherd, overseeing this flock on behalf of Jesus. I pointed to Him every chance I got, as I led the church in communion, as I oversaw the elderly Life Group, as I led the singing of hymns around the death bed in a dear member’s hospice room, as I sought to strengthen the bylaws of the church against future attacks from the Rainbow Jihad. And now I was being declared a wolf by the head of the elder board. We had a most unwelcome debate over whether or not it is OK for a church elder to hold right-leaning political opinions, regardless of whether he chooses to share them with others and this lasted at least forty-five minutes, all while the snow started to build up outside. And as the snow built up, so did the accusations. I was told that I was the chief rival of the head of the elder board at our church, and I told him that I never saw it that way.
This ambush bothered me for a few days. Finally, I called the pastor to let him know about the encounter and the accusation. The pastor let it be known that he was aware of the accusation prior to the meeting. The head of the elder board had approached him about his concerns over what I was posting and the pastor was too busy to look into it. We would need to work it out together. That led to the confrontation in a snowstorm at a coffee shop that has bad coffee over a Facebook post that I didn’t even interact with, let alone author.
1 Timothy 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
I told that pastor that I would face my accuser. No, I would face my accusers. Plural. Biblically, a charge of this magnitude requires witnesses. A special meeting was necessary with me, him and the teacher. If the remaining elder could attend, that would be good. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there. Was he notified of the meeting? I asked that he be invited. I have no evidence in either direction. I don’t think he was notified, otherwise, he would have been there. But I have no evidence, and I am not about to be a singular witness against a sitting elder in a church, even a church I no longer attend.
It was ugly. I looked my pastor in the eye and asked him if he was the second witness against me. He had no idea what I was talking about. I opened my Bible to 1 Timothy 5:19 and had him read it. I then asked again if he was serving as the second witness. His response was telling. He hadn’t even considered this principle that is found both in the Old and the New Testament. He said that he was not a witness and that he didn’t even look into the accusation. So I made that pivot and asked if I was being accused of sowing division in the church on the basis of one witness who was unable to produce any evidence. I was told that I was blowing things out of proportion.
Proverbs 18:17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Was I emotional? Yes I was. Did I allow that to cause an overreaction? I don’t believe I did. The pastor and the chairman of the board of elders for the past four years were both unaware that the charge of sowing discord was serious and that God requires two witnesses if one is to make an accusation against an elder. Yes, they discussed it beforehand, but the pastor was in the middle of a large personal project (building a new house) and didn’t have the energy to spare to intervene in a personal matter within the elder board.
There is forgiveness in all things, however. I was committed to the same reconciliation process that this very church had taught me. The one who is wronged is required to forgive. The one who wronged him or her is required to apologize and acknowledge their actions. Once both sides come together this way, healing can occur, and just as a bone is not easily broken in the same place twice, this relationship can end up stronger than before.
I forgave both of my accusers and asked that they apologize to me. The half-hearted “sorry” responses I got was quite telling, and I told each of them that they wouldn’t accept such pitiful acknowledgements of sin from their own children. They agreed to that, but never agreed that their actions against me went also against the precepts of scripture.
I had shown their accusations to be false, even if I had been the one to make the Facebook post it would have been within the bounds of the previous agreement. I had shown the pastor and the chairman of the board to be two men who are unwilling to allow biblical standards to preside over their lives. At least not when it was uncomfortable. In the months to come, I saw more examples of this. Whether it was a denial of truth in a racial case or a rejection of elder oversight in a book study the church was encouraged to go through, the examples continued on.
2020 was the perfect year for all of this. 20/20 is the eye prescription for ideal eyesight. It is the description of when things that may have looked fuzzy begin to firm into focus. You used to see dimly, now you see clearly. And just as soon as you see clearly you miss the days when everything was a bit more fuzzy. Because when things were fuzzy, you didn’t have to make the hard decisions.
I’m more than a year removed from this church now. I’m attending another church and having a difficult time connecting. In this year, I have met a man named Anthony. Anthony is a blog post all unto himself, but he is a true disciple of Jesus. His story is one where most Christians recoil, rather than engage. But Anthony is engaging with Jesus and Jesus is engaging with Anthony. He sits with my family each week, and my ministry is now my family and this man who is astonished to find acceptance from within the church. Please pray for him. His is the only real name that I have shared in these posts.
- All authority in Heaven and Earth belong to Jesus.
- Therefore, Go and make disciples.
- Remember that Jesus will be with you throughout the age.
2 comments on “The First Straw”
Your candor is appreciated. It is too common that elders cannot follow the simplest of precepts from God’s word. Indeed, may Heaven help us all.
Thank you. I had a lot to get off my chest in November and I almost managed to fit it all within that month. My primary spiritual gift is encouragement, so if you stick around that will be the way future posts here or on Gab will go.
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