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Cultosaurus Ecclesiasticus

24 April 2007

This, friends, will be a living blog entry chronicling and documenting the tragic decline of my home church here in Amarillo, updated as the thoughts occur to me. At this point, we have established an interesting feature of our new church plant:

#1 — The Mantra.

We’re so sorry you don’t agree with the direction we’re going. Amarillo has many, many church options; why don’t you take advantage of them? We’ve just celebrated 50 baptisms, and we need to attend to them.

Our proud, new mantra is generally directed from the elders or staff to long-term members who have dared to dissent – the insolence! – from or question the church leadership.

Translation: “Don’t let the door hit you in the behind.” (Or, paraphrasing my beloved Aggieland, “Hillside Road runs both ways.”)

#2 — The Monarch.

If you’re going to work here for me, I expect 100%, unquestioning loyalty. And that goes for you elders, too.

I was on the search committee for our new Senior Minister back in the day (Jan-Oct 2005), a duty which included serving on the subcommittee charged with developing the job description based on guidelines given to us by the elders at that time. When our mandate came, the elders had prominently specified “CEO-level authority” as the organizing principle for the Senior Minister’s duties. Of course, I raised mild concern (that’s really quite an understatement) that we were heading down a road we had been before and that amounted to the Israelites’ demand for a king in I Samuel 8-9. I was assured, though, by the elders on the committee at that time, that there would be adequate oversight and checks on the Senior Minister’s authority on the part of the elders. Only one of those three elders is still on the board, and the one that remains does not appear overly concerned about executive accountability.

Historical Parenthesis. In fact, after we delivered the job description to the full committee, dutifully parroting the “CEO-level authority” phrase and incorporating its spirit into the rest of the text, I began to entertain the idea of applying for the job myself, more or less as a protest, but not without legitimate desire to do the job. I did not want – nor would I have accepted – CEO-level authority. Neither would I have accepted the well-into-6-figures salary package that the other subcommittee had developed to be competitive in the religious marketplace. (Does that very idea grate on you the way it grates on me?) In any event, I talked it over repeatedly with my wife, who ultimately said she would happily go along with whichever decision I made: to apply, or not to apply.

When it became clear that my interest in the position was getting serious, I took the committee chair and the chair of the elders to lunch at Zookini’s on a Monday and told them that I needed to step down from the committee because of a developing conflict of interest; I also told the committee chair that he should NOT give me copies of the application packages that had arrived by that time. The deadline for applications was that Friday afternoon. The two of them understood, agreed (duh!) and sent me on my way with their blessing.

After a long, arduous season of prayer on Thursday afternoon in our church building’s parlor, with the application halfway filled out, I finally decided that because I did not have either a Bible degree or a master’s from seminary, I would not be seriously considered; there was no point in complicating others’ lives and our own if I had no plausible shot in the first place. I immediately asked my wife what she thought about me pursuing a seminary degree at ACU, and she nearly pushed me out the door: “you must do it.” The ambition for the position at our church vanished, I enrolled in the Graduate School of Theology at ACU, and that was that. After calling the committee chair to let him know of my decision, he immediately reinstated me on the committee, and he and his wife brought the two complete application packages that he had received to me at our house.

This whole affair was later to come back to haunt me in a private meeting with the new Senior Minister (sometime in Mar-Apr 2006, as I recall), who had learned of it and saw fit to throw it in my face and accuse me of unethical behavior. After that meeting, I called the man who had been chairman of the elders at that time and asked him about it, and he disagreed strongly, defending both my actions and his own. I also brought it up with today’s board chairman just a few weeks ago – he was an elder at the time, too – and he told me he had no problem with what I had done. End Historical Parenthesis.

Well, our concern about the Senior Minister’s authority and lack of accountability has proven sadly prophetic. Late last year, at his prodding, the elders rammed through a major revision of the by-laws, which the congregation affirmed in a vote that was “nearly unanimous.” (I have heard that the tally was XYZ-to-1; you can probably guess who cast the lone dissenting vote.) I could see the handwriting on the wall, but the tide building toward Carver’s “policy governance” and the present authoritarian regime was ineluctable. The number of elders was slashed to a size that the Senior “Pastor” (as he now calls himself, ironically) deemed “more manageable” (what a telling phrase!), in which “consensus” can be more easily forged.

Much more could be said about all of this, but one thing is clear: this Senior “Pastor” does not brook any disagreement with his agenda, even if that disagreement is scripturally derived and biblically plausible. I can only imagine what it is like to be a member of the staff, because if you disagree with him, I have to believe your job is in jeopardy. Whatever the truth is about that, one remarkable feature of the current regime is that there is no discussion, no disagreement, no dissent – either among the elders or among staff members with whom I am acquainted.

So Samuel spoke all the words of the LORD to the people who had asked of him a king. He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” I Samuel 8:10-20

Who was it who said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it?”

Until the next update, sadly,


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