Several strangers came over to our table to eat breakfast with us. They weren’t strangers to my brother-in-law. He knew them from the previous year’s conference, and by the end of our breakfast, they were no longer strangers to me and my sister either. These new friends were an editor, one of the conference keynote speakers, and one of the leaders and organizers of the three-day Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Everyone was friendly and mutually encouraging. The leaders, speakers, agents, and authors mingled with attendees. As I prepared for bed the night of our first full day there, I understood what I was feeling. Peace. Safety. Authenticity. Care.
Four months before the conference, my family and I left Giant Church Inc. The difference between the two was stark. Giant Church Inc is an anxious, reactive, and overbearing system pushing its people beyond their limits. Their forced positivity masks fear and weariness.
The conference was organized with care, executed with grace, and accomplished even more than promised. After my experience at Giant Church Inc, I needed to remember how church felt. I needed to see humble leaders who honor God and others above themselves. I needed to be pointed to Jesus and hear the Word. Speak Up did that for me in 2017. My soul soaked up the encouragement, care, and love poured out there.
The Starting Point
Without knowing it, I started toward healing from something I couldn’t name. I talked about my Giant Church Inc experience with very few people the first couple of years. Thankfully two of them, who’d left the same place, were intentional about getting together regularly and talking it through. That’s exactly what Giant Church Inc didn’t want us to do. Thinking and talking about our experiences, prayerfully processing them….gave us a clearer view. A better perspective. We heard other stories and shared them with one another. We read articles about other places like Giant Church Inc. We started to name what happened to us.
I’ll always remember the first time I said it out loud to someone else. A friend from Giant Church Inc, who left before I did, was greeting at a church we visited. We hugged and she told me she was glad we were there. I looked her in the eyes and said, “It was spiritual abuse. That’s what happened to us.” She nodded in agreement.
I researched spiritual abuse, read news articles, and heard personal stories. My friends didn’t know what was happening to them. Some were from the same Giant Church Inc I left, some from other ones. I kept most of my thoughts to myself or wrote them in my prayer journal. I collected resources and wrote out my personal stories, believing I could never be brave enough to share them.
All the while, I wondered how my close friends from Giant Church Inc would feel if I shared my story. Would they try to understand? Would it hurt them? Would they believe me, or the narrative the church leaders want them to believe?
Because the leaders do create false narratives, shape thoughts, and cause division among friends.
It was a cold, windy day at the park when I got the call about the accounting job with Giant Church Inc. The co-pastor asked if I was still interested. She told me it was best the bookkeeper (a mutual close friend) resigned. “She asked a lot of questions, didn’t understand some things, and was jealous. We need someone with a better attitude in that position.”
I was surprised by the comment. Our friend was not that way. With those statements, the co-pastor created a false narrative and shaped my thoughts. Or tried to. The false narrative was that all the questions asked by our friend were invalid because of her lack of understanding, jealousy, and less than good attitude. The co-pastor wanted me to doubt myself when I had questions. She wanted me to fear being called jealous and to know a good attitude meant no questions.
Giant Church Inc creates doubt and confusion in several ways. Near the end of our time at Giant Church Inc the pastors stood on stage and announced they were switching the roles of most of the staff people. The business pastor would be over small groups, and one of the small groups pastors would step in as the business pastor. The other small groups pastor would serve as the secretary to the co-pastor. The lead pastor said, “No one owns a seat on this bus! When you work for Giant Church Inc you work where we put you.”
This happened often. The worship pastor was suddenly named the creative pastor. The pastor over communications was switched to associate pastor.
It’s always a new vision. New plan. New campus. New role. New way to make money. New product to sell. It’s chaotic confusion for the staff and congregation, but a power move for the leaders.
Because narcissistic leaders prefer power over empowerment, they do not provide staff with clarity of vision or job description. They’re constantly shifting expectations and changing roles/structures to achieve their impossible dream of control.Chuck DeGroat in When Narcissism Comes To Church
Over and Over
Another way the leaders exert power and authority is causing people to doubt their salvation and the validity of their baptisms. One night in leadership class, the lead pastor told us to ask God to confirm our salvation. He urged us to listen for God to say, “Yes.” We should hear or feel the yes if we’re saved. He asked the same question the following Sunday during each service.
These “new” salvations mean another full baptism roster. Even more will step out of the audience for a spontaneous baptism because they’re convinced their last one was out of order. Or maybe last time they were still struggling with the drugs, or lust, or bitterness and they need to be baptized again, because they feel something wasn’t right with the last one. It’s a common event at Giant Church Inc for people to be baptized over and over, and for pastors who’ve been saved and served the Church for decades to decide they need to be re-baptized.
The list of confusion causing teachings or sayings is a long one:
- The higher you lift your hands and the more you move during worship, the more free you are in Christ.
- The more you’re willing to sacrifice your time, talent, and treasure for Giant Church Inc, the more you love God.
- The more faith you have, the more favored by God you will be: with health and wealth and prosperity.
- You’re a true and loyal servant, if you obey your church leaders and trust them, no questions asked.
- Those on the outside or who’ve left Giant Church Inc are bitter or don’t understand the common vision shared by the tribe.
- You must be under the authority of a church leader.
These aren’t only confusing – they are false. Church, prayerfully study the Bible and let the Holy Spirit guide you into the truth. Study for yourself or with people outside of the Giant Church Inc culture.
Most of us know the story of the rich, young ruler. How many of us dismiss it because, well…..we’re not rich and some of us are no longer young? Rich and young or not, Jesus words are for all of us.
As he (Jesus) was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.”
He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.”
Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. Mark 10:17-22 CSB
When Jesus called this young man to give up his money, the man started to grieve, because money was for him what the Father was for Jesus. It was the center of his identity. To lose his money would have been to lose himself….. It’s one thing to have God as a boss, an example, a mentor; but if you want God to be your Savior, you have to replace what you’re already looking to as a savior. Everybody’s got something. What is it for you?Timothy Keller in King’s Cross
Father, what’s my one thing? What is it for me?
Next in the series is When Narcissism Come to Church: A Book Review.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
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