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Yesterday, I shared the a comment that I had posted on SharperIron.org forum. From my limited times there, I gather there are quite a few pastors. We were discussing 9Marks practices. Chip asked me to elaborate after reading my comment:
I’ve read some of the 9Marks writings and some of these ideas are troublesome to me. I am concerned that while the basic principles may seem to work as a guideline for good and decent shepherds, they also may give license to those pastors who are heavy-handed in authority and ruling over their congregants. We need to be wise in turning to core values in the Bible, not core values of Dever and 9Marks – just sayin’.
I explained one bothersome aspect in yesterday’s article, 9Marks: Church Authority over Church Members.
Below is the second part of my response to Chip. Instead of answering his question with a short logical answer, I wanted him and other readers to have an understanding of what some of us have gone through, to have the eyes to see through a personal story (even if it is made up). This story is a combination of my story and many stories I read. It’s not a profound, in fact, it was typed up quickly as a comment and so is not “polished.” You might find parts of your story tucked in there. I didn’t get much of a response from this story at the site, but at least it’s giving these folks something to think about regarding spiritual abuse.
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So now, let me explain why I have problems with the 9Marks brand of church membership, discipline, changing churches. I’d like to explain in story form.
Patty is a single, middle-aged woman going to a church with a bona fide spiritually abusive pastor. She had difficulty with some of the teachings at church and questioned an elder. The elder told the pastor about it (elders are instructed to tell the pastor of any kind of ‘dissension” among the ranks).
Patty’s church is an independent church. Her church is connected with 9Marks. Her pastor has two elders, but they are yes-men (truth be told, they are afraid of the pastor). They have never questioned him or challenged him on anything they have seen over the many years they have served as elders. They remain silent on any issues of concern.
The pastor has no one over him to hold him accountable. He is spiritually abusive, twists scripture in order to gain more authority over members, and uses his authority in ways that are intrusive in the private lives of church members. Patty decides that she must leave and so she quietly leaves Grace Church and finds Pastor Nate’s church.
Pastor Nate’s church is part of 9Marks and knowing the guidelines set up by 9Marks, he appropriately asks Patty which church she recently left. She tells Nate, “Grace Church, from across town.” Nate knows the pastor of Grace Church. He’s a likable guy. Pastor Nate has run into him at various events in town and knows him by name. He had recently seen him at his son’s soccer game, but they were supporting opposing teams, so they waved to each other as they passed the concession stand.
When Patty tells Pastor Nate that she left Grace Church, Pastor Nate tells her she must go back and tie up loose ends at Grace Church before he will allow her to stay at his church. Patty then reluctantly tells Pastor Nate that her pastor from Grace Church was spiritually abusive. She really had hoped to not bring that subject up.
Pastor Nate doesn’t know Patty, but he’s known the Grace Church pastor casually for 5 years. Surely this could not be. This pastor couldn’t be spiritually abusive. There surely is a misunderstanding.
Who is Pastor Nate going to believe? Patty, whom he doesn’t know from Adam, or the pastor whom Pastor Nate has known casually for 5 years? Most likely Pastor Nate will believe the pastor, after all, both churches are connected and committed to the 9Marks practices, so the Grace Church pastor can’t be that bad, right?
What does Patty do now? Patty is having a hard time trusting anyone in church authority at this point, but she knows the Bible tells her she needs to be meeting regularly. She likes Pastor Nate and his church. It is solid biblically and it feels safe to her. She wants to stay there, but Pastor Nate says she must go back to Grace Church.
Patty thinks to herself that maybe the spiritual abuse was in her head (spiritual abuse victims often justify the abuser’s behavior – similar to a domestic violence victim). She convinces herself that maybe she does need to repent of her sins with the pastor at Grace Church (Patty hasn’t sinned, she’s been spiritually abused. Victims often unknowingly set themselves up to re-victimize themselves.)
She goes back to Grace Church. Now, because the pastor found out that she left his church and went to Pastor Nate’s church, she is put into church discipline for not following the proper membership rules (sanctioned by 9Marks). She is excommunicated and shunned by the church members (the pastor sometimes stretches the rules)- and all of her friends she has had for the last 8 years abandon her. She is completely alone.
Where can Patty go now? If she goes back to see Pastor Nate, he will tell her he cannot receive her because she is in church discipline from Grace Church and needs to repent. The pastor from Grace Church called Pastor Nate. They at first made some small talk about common connections, but then he told Pastor Nate the story of Patty’s divisive behavior. The story was compelling to Pastor Nate. How could Patty have been so dishonest with him? (She was completely honest. The wolf was pulling the wool over Pastor Nate’s eyes. Honing in on their mutual connections and experiences, the wolf built a level of intimacy and trust, and Patty’s “divisive character” was an easy sell.).
Chip, this is not a far-fetched story when it comes to spiritual abuse. This is the type of story that I get in my blog’s e-mail. Even you (and any pastor reading here) are not exempt from being fooled by a wolf. Unless you personally know what is going on in someone’s church (you won’t know that unless you are part of it intimately), if you go by 9Marks guidelines of connecting with pastors of previous churches, you may mistakenly align yourself with a wolf and inflict harm on people by adhering to those guidelines.
Chip, I’d be happy if my blog could shut down. It’s only been growing and it’s because of stories similar to this. People want to be in church, but church leaders are sometimes unknowingly working alongside a spiritual wolf who is destroying lives. I get some of those broken pieces of people saying: what next? where can I go? who can I trust?
I know this comment is very long, but I hope I have shown you a different side worth considering as you consider aligning with some kind of 9Marks system where precious sheep can slip through the cracks and be left abandoned and shattered like Patty.
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For extra bonus points: Using the above photo, can you find any significance with the picture and Patty’s story? Any hidden parallels, ideas, thoughts come to mind?
Here is the link where you may read the entire discourse. However, per Summer’s suggestion, I’m issuing a medical alert warning. Reading it may cause your blood pressure to rise.
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