note: this post contains some names that were changed to protect the people mentioned. Any name with an asterisk [*] next to it has been changed. This is part 2 in a series. You can find part 1 here.
I shared the gist of the letter with my family at a shared meal. They immediately defended the pastor and the church elders saying that perhaps it was simply how our denomination operated, and that I should check the book of church order to see what I could find there. So I went upstairs after lunch and did a google search and began skimming the book (which was online for easy access) to find anything relevant.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my sisters decided she would help me out by e-mailing the pastor my question. She carbon copied me in the e-mail. Below I have the entire e-mail history, only taking out things that would hurt the anonymity of my sister and family.
Hello Pastor John*, March 12, 2015 11:28 AM
I have a question for you.
When a member leaves the church (local church), is there a set protocol (from the Small Reformed Church* book of Church order) that the leadership takes in dealing with the member? Elizabeth has been looking for the answer in the book of Church order, but hasn’t found anything yet.
We are trying to understand why things happened the way they did with a lot of our friends who have left SRC, and wanted to see if we could find some answers.
Let me know your thoughts when you have a moment. 🙂
Meanwhile, I had found the answers I was searching for. Most of what was in the letter was called for as a part of our denominations rules. (if you want to read the specifics look here (sections 46.1-4 and 38.3b and 38.4).
March 12, 2015 12:48 PM
The quick answer (and I’d be happy to go through it more detailed in person if you like) is that the BCO (chap 37?) details how we should handle people leaving a local church.
If they a) go to another Bible believing, gospel preaching church we transfer them, if they b) go to an apostate or heretical church we call them back, or c) if they just stop coming to any church we call them back, and if they refuse, we warn them. In the last year (my tenure here), we’ve had people in all three categories.
Though we hate to see anyone leave, if people move to another church in situation A, we wish them well. If it is B or C, we have a duty to lovingly call them back, or urge them to A, because a person who moves to an apostate church, or breaks fellowship with the church permanently is a person who moves into a Matthew 18 category.
Again, I’m happy to talk to you, or your sister, about this in more detail in person, or Elizabeth can call me.
I may not be able to discuss every situation (as it wouldn’t be fair to the people involved) but I’m happy to speak as plainly and openly about any situation as I can.
See you soon.
John* Last Name
March 12, 2015 2:00 PM
I erred a moment ago because I was not at the office. I just looked up the appropriate chapters. Look at chapter 46.1-4 and chapter 38.3b and 38.4 for more.
Also, and I may be jumping the gun or getting this totally turned around, but in certain cases where people leave or break with a church, they may claim to have been mistreated, or may tell tales of woe. This may be the case. But, it may not. Often only portions of the truth are told.
Feel free to talk to me or the other elders if you or Elizabeth feel we have mistreated anyone. Though we are not perfect, in my time here, I’m happy to answer to you and ultimately to God for any action we’ve taken.
John* Last Name
March 12, 2015 3:49 PM
If you wanted to, another possible avenue would be for you to meet with the session if you have specific concerns. I would not want you or your sister or anyone at Small Reformed Church to feel we were hiding something from you.
Let me know if you or Elizabeth would be interested in that.
John* Last Name
During this time, I had spoken with two deacons’ wives and other families who had left. I was planning on speaking with the elders families when I came back home again for summer break (I was on my spring break at this point).
As part of one of my classes (Speech Communications), I was assigned to interview my home pastor over spring break on the topic of church communications (ironic, right??). My family was incredibly busy over my two-week spring break. I wrote the pastor this e-mail hoping to be able to ask him my interview questions via e-mail.
Dear Pastor John*, March 17, 2015 10:13 PM
I wanted to write you about two things. First, would you be willing to answer some questions for a school project I have? It’s for a group project in my speech class. My group choose to study and present on the topic of church communication. As a group we decided that we would all “interview” our home church pastor’s and ask them some specifics that they had seen in their experience to help us with the project. I would try to meet, but my break is almost over and it’s been crazy due to the play that Sister* and Sister* are in this weekend. Let me know! Thanks. 🙂
Also, would it be possible to get an electronic or paper copy of the letter sent out to the church at the end of last November regarding the Doe* family? I would really like to read it myself, and my parents no longer have their copy.
Thanks for your time,
He wrote me back within the hour, with this urgent response.
Elizabeth, March 17, 2015 11:02 PM
I’m happy to meet with you and, in fact, I ask you to please juggle things to meet with me while you’re still in town. I can make the time in the next 3 days to do that.
The reason I’d like so much to meet with you relates to what Sister* asked me last week on your behalf, and what I’ve learned about church communication. Things like this can go south quickly. I’m happy to meet and attempt to clear the air and hopefully avoid that outcome.
I respect you as an adult member of our church, I love you as a sister in Christ and I want to communicate with you as seamlessly, clearly, and honestly as possible.
As we don’t know each other that well, I would understand if you wanted another woman there. My wife, Elder 1’s Wife*, or Elder 2’s Wife* might be available to meet with us.
Let’s find a time to meet.
John* Last Name
During January, my counselor had recommended I read the book, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This letter was one of my first attempts to set my own boundaries with a person in authority.
March 18, 2015 1:17 PM
Thank you for your quick response. I am actually only interested in meeting to do the interview for my class at this time. For spring break I just need to talk about the class assignment and get your thoughts on specific questions that my group came up with.
I recognize the importance of talking about other things. My mom and I don’t have a lot of time, but if you wanted to share anything about the church I would be willing to listen. I do not have any specific questions for you at this time (regarding church things), but I would be happy to listen and not say or ask anything. So if you wanted to speak to anything you feel is an issue I would be okay listening, but I will not take questions or speak from my perspective right now. I am at an information gathering point right now. So, if you want to share your story of any of the church things I will gladly listen and take note. I would also like a copy of the letter that was sent to all of the church members. I was 19 at the time, and separate from my family (away at college). So I’d like a copy if you still have it anywhere on file, which should be easy enough. If you’ve changed anything in the letter you’re more than welcome to speak to me about that when we meet, but I still want to see it for myself.
That paragraph was way too long, haha. 😀 Basically, my mom can meet anytime tonight after 6:05pm. I realize this is not even in your regular office hours and it would take away time from your family. But that is the only time she is able to meet and I’d like to meet with you with her there (as you mentioned yourself, it would be good to have someone else around). We could meet for up to an hour of time if you’re available.
I’ll be checking my e-mail all throughout the day, so just let me know whenever you receive this and if you still want to meet and are available at the unusual time. Oh, mom said we can meet anywhere in Small Town* that you’d like to meet.
In summary (if the above is too long to read): I’d love to interview you tonight at 6:05 (or later) and after the interview if you want to talk about any Small Reformed Church* stuff that has happened since you’ve been here, you’re welcome to share your perspective and I will listen. I won’t talk about my perspective or answer questions, just listen. We could meet for up to an hour for the interview and anything else. I also want a copy of the letter sent to the church in November/December. If we don’t meet today (due to it being a crazy time or other circumstance) I would still appreciate a copy of the letter on Sunday, when I come to church. And thank you for answering Sister’s* e-mails.
Thank you for your time,
This was his response.
Elizabeth, March 18, 2015 2:43 PM
I will not be meeting with you tonight. I can’t agree to the terms you are setting out. Quite simply, it ignores our call to love one another and be in relationship.
I’m not sure where all of this is coming from, but your response seems to be extremely disrespectful and accusatory. I’m not sure what I’ve done to warrant that tone, and you say you are unwilling to speak to it. I’ve tried to invite you in to discuss whatever concerns you have adult to adult, but you are unwilling. If at a later point you would like to speak adult to adult, please let me know. Adults in loving Christian relationship have dialogue. They ask and answer questions. They disagree and discuss. When you’re ready for that, please let me know. I’d welcome it.
The best I can do at this point is get you a copy of the letter as you’ve requested that the session sent to the congregation. Send me your school address and I will be sure a copy is mailed to you. I’ll make sure your info is included in the next directory.
No matter what, I hope and pray that the Lord will bless you in every way.
John* Last Name
Let’s just breathe for a second before we process this letter.
He told me that, “I respect you as an adult member of our church,” and then one e-mail letter, when I no longer met his requirements for how adults communicate, he was no longer willing to speak to me “adult to adult”. He also became hyper defensive and blamed me of being extremely disrespectful and accusatory. I’ll grant that my letter was poorly written, and quite wordy.
Sometimes adults also listen to other people (who says this is only for adults? children are people too) and don’t give their opinions right then and there. Sometimes we give people space to share. Sometimes we dialogue. Sometimes we debate. Sometimes we sit silently together. There are many forms of “adult” (really, all people) communication. What do you think we did every Sunday at your church, pastor John??? You stand up front and talk to us, and we do not respond (verbally) at all. We sit quietly and usually listen and take notes.
I’m sorry that you did not think I was worth being in a loving relationship with (does that sound creepy to you at all?!) because I wasn’t ready to state my own thoughts on the church secrets. Well, now I am. More on this later, but I will now be seen as someone who is gossiping and destroying the “purity” of the church.
My question is this: If the church is actually pure, why do we hide in the shadows and the darkness? Why do we threaten people? Why do we force our own definitions of things onto them? Where is the love that is talked about so much?