Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Adventures in Charismania: "Your loyalty is in question."

The first fifteen years or so that I was a Christian, I was part of a Charismatic, Fundamentalist denomination which had risen to prominence during the "Charismatic renewal" of the late 70's and early 80's. Their emphasis on the practice of spiritual gifts (such as healing, casting out demons, "words of knowledge", prophetic utterance, speaking in tongues, etc.) coupled with a savvy church-planting methodology had resulted in dynamic growth. Later, as the excitement (and manifestation) of the spiritual gifts began to wane, the church embraced a nascent prophetic movement. Certain individuals, recognized as Prophets, traveled throughout the denomination giving "prophetic words" to congregations and lucky individuals.

One such prophetic word had a sweeping and profound impact: According to the vision, times were about to get very hard in America and people were going to turn to music for comfort. A tremendous revival and outpouring of the Holy Spirit--the likes of which had never been seen before--would be ushered in by "anointed" musicians taking worship "to the streets". This particular denomination had many musicians and was known for its great worship music, which to this day is sung in churches of all types all around the world.

My wife and I were part of a large church (roughly 1,500 adult members) within this denomination. We were in rotation on the "worship team" and had wonderful times playing with a variety of talented musicians. The Senior Pastor, who had founded the church, played piano and had been a music producer during the "Jesus Movement" of the 70's. Well-known Christian musicians would often visit our church when they passed through town and they sometimes "sat in" on the worship set, which was quite a treat.

As this new prophecy about music-induced global revival rippled through the denomination, our Senior Pastor decided he needed to start a record label and, using church funds, begin building an infrastructure to support what was about to happen. In order to concentrate on this "ministry", he hired a surrogate Senior Pastor. The surrogate Senior Pastor would take over the pastoral duties--freeing up the founding Senior Pastor to focus on the production and business of music. A recording studio was setup, top-notch session musicians were hired and relocated from L.A., "anointed" talent was scouted and production began.

Unlike the founding Senior Pastor who, though a gifted teacher, was somewhat aloof and autocratic, the newly hired surrogate Senior Pastor was a very open, sincere and humble man who had a true pastor's heart for the congregation. He had been recruited and relocated from a small town out of state, in part because of his good Charismatic credentials (his parents had written some influential books). He was also a musician, though not of the caliber to be considered for the church record label. He formed his own "worship team" with second-string musicians, which included my wife and I. We became friends. He became, for all intents and purposes, our pastor.

Eventually, the excitement about the great prophetic vision subsided. The revival was a bust. A couple of very mediocre albums had been made, selling a few hundred copies, primarily to church members. The pro musicians gradually drifted away to other gigs.

The surrogate pastor was notified that he was going to be let go, as the Senior Pastor was going to resume his previous responsibilities. The surrogate accepted the decision gracefully. Word of his impending dismissal leaked out to the congregation. Someone started a petition, intended to be given to the surrogate pastor to show him how many people considered him to be their pastor and didn't want him to leave. The Senior Pastor and his administrative hierarchy got wind of the petition. The surrogate pastor was immediately removed and a series of fiery sermons were delivered by the Senior Pastor on topics of authority, discord and loyalty. In one sermon, I remember him railing against the "sons of Absalom" who were trying to divide and destroy what God had set in place.

Those who had been close to the surrogate pastor, including my wife and I, were telephoned by church staff and informed that their loyalty was in question. We were asked to come in for a meeting to clarify where we stood. I calmly explained that we had faithfully served, three services each Sunday plus mid-week service, for several years and if that wasn't enough evidence of our faithfulness then we were done.

The next Sunday at church, a most amazing thing happened. People who had been our friends for years suddenly wouldn't talk to us or make eye contact. Apparently word had gotten out about our refusal to comply and, in the midst of a congregation of hundreds, we felt ostracized and isolated. After the service we went, as always, to the restaurant nearby which, as always, was filled with friends from the church. Only, again no one would speak to us or make eye contact and there were no seats for us at the tables. One friend, a guitarist who we had often played with, began to wave and smile, but his wife shot him a fierce look and he quickly bowed his head.

We never returned to that church.


Anonymous Stephen said...

Ah yes, "anointed" talent. That word is used just a little too loosely in those circles. :)

I left a non-denom Word of Faith church about 2 years ago after being on staff for 5 years. They had an "anointing" music as well. They cut a couple albums that had similar success to your old church before they announced, "we just aren't a record making church." In reality, the pastor's wife and daughter who headed up the music ministry just weren't that talented.

Meanwhile, 2 young people left the church and went on to sign major record deals...young people who got rejected from the music ministry for their "unwillingness to submit." The real problem was that the leadership was unwilling to love these people despite their flaws and didn't have time to lovingly disciple them with any degree of longsuffering.

It's stories like these that get swept under the rug in charismatic megachurches in our country on a regular basis. "Men of God" build these kingdoms and dynasties that are breeding grounds for hypocrites. Vulnerable baby Christians are taught that submitting to the "man of God" is more important to submitting to the Word of God (they'd never say that happens, but it most certainly does).

Most of us get the courage to leave BECAUSE we finally take the time to read our Bibles and are brave enough to actually begin living what it says despite what our "leaders" and "brothers/sisters in Christ" tell us we have to do to be "blessed."

I'm sorry you had to go through this, but I'm sure you, like me, can look back on it with gratitude. After all, we learned what NOT to do when it comes to church leadership. Thanks for your blog.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Danny Coleman said...

Great comment Stephen, thanks for posting it!

7:48 AM  

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