Thursday, August 02, 2007

In Repair (pt. 1): what happened?

EDIT: I have changed my description referenced below... It used to read: I'm in repair..I'm not together but I'm getting there. --John Mayer  I hope this clears up any confusion.  Thanks, -j

As some may notice, I have changed the description of my blog (under the title on the left) to a quote from a John Mayer Song. I know that the quote is completely out of the context of the song's meaning, but the line kept playing over and over in my head. I think that it has meaning to me for 2 reasons. 1) because of my philosophy of ministry (that the goal of Christianity is to become the person into whom God is making us (See previous post that outlines this idea better). In essence, to become more human: meaning working towards the reconciliation with what it means (from God/Christ's standpoint) to be human.

2) The second reason the quote has held tight with me will be the purpose of this blog post. To tell the story that has in fact broken our (my wife and I) hearts and spirit. i have agonized over the posting of this story for many reasons, but the time has come upon request of several people. My disclaimer before reading forward is this: I mean no ill will towards anyone. All parties have been forgiven and are still loved. All I am concerned with is moving on and sharing my story with any that might benefit. Names have been changed, and the last thing that i wish is for harm to come upon the church in question, note that the majority of the people knew, and to my knowledge still do not know, what has happened. I will tell the story from my point of view (for it is the only point of view with which i can be accurate). And I will try to keep my conjectures to a minimum or at least warn you when we leave the area of fact and explore the desert of guesswork!

As many who know me know that i was recently the Associate Pastor and Minister of Youth at a local Baptist Church. I had been there 9 months when things fell apart. The story that follows occurred in four days! ____________________________________________________________________________________________ Day 1: Wed. June 20th
The shortened version of the story is that 1 person (Terry) decided to call a youth advisory council meeting (the adults of youth council) for June 20th and decided that he would formally attack me in front of my youth ad. Comm. (I add in here that that morning I had staff review with my pastor and he had 5 very positive points of review, and five areas to work on (which he admitted that he knew i was already improving those areas, as well as admitted that I had not been there long and how tough he realized the transition from part-time to full time, small church to med. church, and a single job description to a split job description must be.) None of which were formal complaints, but simply positive goals that we set! In no way do i claim in this situation that there were not areas that improvement could occur. I knew those areas and was already in the process of making those areas better. I do not want to send the implication that I believe myself a PERFECT minister!)

Terry had written and passed out a very harsh letter which personally blamed me for no growth at all in our youth program. The truth is that he has been to wed. night once in my 9 months there, and neither of his children have come with the exception of the eldest coming twice to help with preparation for a mission event and all three of them coming the last Wed. Night i taught in order to get their medical release forms notarized for our upcoming mission camp. Terry is a youth Sunday School teacher, but only teaches perhaps 3 times in 3 months due to the 3 person monthly rotation we were on. I sat and took notes as he berated me in front of his audience. I did cut in once or twice for explanation, but was quite angry with the way I was being humiliated and talked down to. I did not want to do or say anything that was not loving in its response! When he finished his inquisition, before i was able to calmly respond to his accusations, he called it a night and broke up the meeting. All of the complaints individually could fall under the headings of ambiguous and petty. That's not to say that they didn't warrant a response, but most came in the form of ignorance to what the youth program's purpose was (even though it is posted on line, was on the youth room wall, was spoken about in a moment for ministry from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, and was present for at LEAST one of the meetings that the youth and I spent working on putting together this missions statement), and in his understanding of growth (growth in numbers coming and number of salvations/conversions/rededications). This is not how i measure spiritual growth within a youth group.

His biggest complaint (and the one that ultimately played the biggest role) was that someone had told him that I had a gay friend on myspace. The only way to know this person was gay was to go to that person's myspace account and look at his personal page of which i have no control. Note that i was neither advocating nor advertising my position on the issue, i simply had a friend and if you clicked on his myspace page you could see that he was openly gay. I was told by Terry that, "that needs to be deleted, and I mean tonight!" AI went home and deleted my entire myspace account that same night out of respect for both the friend and Terry, although I did not agree with this ultimatum.

Day 2: Thurs. June 21st
On Thurs morn. I had a meeting with the pastor (Brad) about what had happened the night before without Brad being present. I gave him a copy of the letter from Terry, as well as my word for word notations i had made of statements that Terry had said. I had already made up my mind on how I was going to move forward with this when the pastor proceeded to give me 2 options: 1) "as the pastor and your supervisor i would tell you to make this negative into a positive. call Terry and talk with him, stick close to him and make him your best friend. Since he is a chaperoning your mission trip next week I would be by his side everywhere but the bathroom and then i would be talking to him through the door." This is in fact the decision i had already made. However, i was curious to the second option that I had not thought about. His statement confounded me: 2) "If I were a friend that you called up 5 years from now and you were in this situation and I were somewhere else and new who the people were, I would probably tell you to put out your Resume ."
I thought this strange advice, but he kept pushing me towards the first option which i was more interested in because i don't give up easily and am able to take criticism well. My response to both the pastor and terry about having a Gay friend was simply that we were to love everyone no matter what! I chose option #1 (although I have to admit that option number 2 was lurking since I was starting to see some inconstancies in how the pastor and the church were both presented to me in my interview process. There had been several times where I had been disappointed in the way things were handled and decisions that were made for various reasons, but none major enough to leave over.)

I immediately left the pastor's office and went into my own to call Terry. I told him that even though i did not agree with the way the situation was handled, I wanted us to move forward and i wanted to discuss some of his more ambiguous statements in his letter. I told him I would like his input and would like us to work towards getting on the same page and working to move forward past this incident. I was very nice and polite, and even told him that I had deleted my myspace (which he had given me the ultimatum to delete my friend the previous night, but instead I decided to delete the entire account). He was very nice and polite too! He happily said that he thought my suggestion to get together and move forward was a great idea! I later found out that he called at least 2 other families with youth that same day, that he knew would side with him. In other words, he lied to me over the phone!

I got a call Thurs. night from the pastor saying "we don't do things in the dark here at this church. I would like to bring in the head of deacons and the head of personnel tomorrow (fri.) to discuss the situation." I said I thought that was a great idea, and after hanging up I wrote up a 5 page talk points sheet for that meeting discussing the youth program, what has gone successful in 9 months (as well as the success my relational approach has had in my previous job), how relational ministry is far more effective, but cannot be measured by numbers or "salvations", areas of improvement (taken right off my staff review), and ways in which I proposed to deal with the Terry situation in order to best protect the youth.

Day 3: Fri. June 22nd
Friday I sat down with the 3 men (pastor, head of deacons, and head of personnel) and Brad began the meeting by saying, "today we don't want to talk about actions or reactions because all of those things stem from something deeper: our beliefs! So we probably should have done this a long time ago, and we should probably do this for everyone we hire, but today we just want to sit and have a theological discussion." By this he meant we want to ask me a bunch of theological questions and write down my answers.

I interject here that this is the church that chose me for the job over 100+ other candidates after a long 3 hr. interview where they asked a lot of theological questions. This is the church that ordained me, where Brad went with me to the local Baptist Association and sat through my ordination council for almost 2 hrs, where I had trained people grill me on my theology! After I walked out of the Ordination Recommendation interview, before they called me back in to give me their decision on recommending me to my church for ordination, Brad told me he had never seen anyone answer ordination/theology questions as well as I had just then. When they called us back in they said, "no one on this council has ever done this before, but we are highly impressed! We give you the highest recommendation possible, with no reservations and no areas of suggested improvement because you are very aware what areas in your theology are still growing, and you continually research and tackle those areas with diligence!" I was highly honored! All this, and added to it the countless theological discussions i had had with Brad over the 9 months, where more than once he told me that he would not lose respect for me if we disagreed on an issue, but would in fact lose respect for me if I felt like I had to conform to everything he believed.

Back to the theology meeting: I asked how asking me about my theology would improve the situation with Terry. Brad said, "I don't know. I can't see into the future to tell you what will happen, but once we do this we can move forward. this will help us to better understand and come to a decision." I then had a funny feeling and asked if my job was in jeopardy according to my answers. Brad looked at the other two men on each side of him and then said, "Again I can't say yes or no to that, we just want to sit here and have a theological discussion." At that point I thought I knew what was going to happen, so i slid my talk point notes under my folder and allowed them to ask me theology questions for over an hour, many of them so broad that no matter how I answered the intpretation could easily mean something completely different from what I truly believe if the question would have been phrased more directly. (an example: "do you believe in a literal Hell?" (what exactly does a literal hell mean? is the word "hell" in the bible? yes it is literally there? Do it is a place of fire and brimstone? what about the translation of the word Hell back to the original language. what is my view on if people go to hell when they die?... see the ambiguity and broadness of the question? (my answer by the way was simply "sure")). Immediately after they finished talking to me they went into the pastor's office and (behind closed doors, after saying we do nothing in the dark) decided my fate, or more likely, (and this is conjecture)figured out how to use my answers to justify asking for my resignation. I say this because they only met for less than 30 min.

Day 4: Sat. June 23
As I knew would happen, I went in Sat. and met again with the 3 men. I met them in the pastor's office where Brad officially asked for my resignation. I found out then that Terry and 2 other families had threatened to take their youth out of the mission trip if i went. I understood then that the pastor had been put in a tough situation, thus my conjecture as to why the theological questioning and interpretation approach was taken. I took it gracefully and without argument. I did this so well that, in the end, Brad said in front of the 2 other men that i had shown more maturity than anyone he'd ever seen in that sort of situation and had shown maturity well beyond my years. I feel now that this was a backhanded compliment meaning that i had played ball and not caused a fuss. The OFFICIAL reasoning for asking for my resignation was "theological differences and simply not a match". I agreed with the not a match, in part because of the way I had been treated and felt like i was being sacrificed. To this day my wife and I have not been told the real reason for their asking me to leave. (warning: guessing): We have a lot of circumstantial evidence that points to Brad sacrificing me to cover his own job, in addition to/or, keeping the church from having to face the issue of homosexuality (although again my stance when asked was not being judgmental and being called to love EVERYONE no matter what! I said that Judgment is reserved for God alone, and if i stay away from being judgmental, then i am free to love others unconditionally!). But that is no more than speculation based on circumstantial evidence that i have gathered.
There is no official church stance on that issue, although if it were to become an issue there would probably have to be one! From other things i do know about, I know that the issue would probably split the church, and they would lose members on one side or the other. However, that is a sad reality of growth, change, and being aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention as this church is.

I was asked to leave immediately. no telling the youth, no reading my letter of resignation to the congregation, and i was even told when i asked to call my most invloved youth workers that they would prefer that i not contact anyone! The joke was made, "we would prefer you not to contact anyone, but what can we do if you do? Fire you?" I refused to write my resignation on paper in his office but said i would type it up and send it to him or drop it by (which I have yet to do because i do not know what to write). I was assured that there was no issue of immorality or impropriety on my part in their asking for my resignation. I have this part as well as the official reason I was asked to resign in writing signed by the pastor and on his personal letterhead.

I was never told exactly what the theological differences are, even after I asked for them listed in writing. He has always been vague and ambiguous in his reasoning for my resignation. Again, I was asked to leave and not contact anyone including the youth or youth workers. My assumption is that they didn't want me to tell anyone because they didn’t want what really happen to be heard for reasons mentioned above.

I have on tape the explanation of what was at the next day's service where I mysteriously was not present. At the end of the service where the pastor stated that there were theological differences, the committees had met and had to make some tough decisions, and my resignation had been accepted. He focused most of the time on saying, "there will be NO gossip! NO parking lot committees, and NO dragging anyone's name through the mud. This will not be discussed." Here again is this order to keep quiet, only this time it was to a Baptist congregation who has EVERY reason to ask questions and know what happened.

It saddens me some of the calls that i received. Most of these calls were well meant, but because of the situation the words hit me like a bullet! "We don't know what happened and we don't want to know. But we want you to know how much you have meant to us and how much we care about you." was the main comments i heard. I was frustrated 1) because being Baptist you have the right and responsibility to know what has happened in your church! 2) because the statement left open the assumption that these people thought that I had done something wrong when in fact i had done nothing wrong in these four days! It kills me to think that those that drug me down in a VERY unchristian manner (we believe for ego and power reasons, but could not prove it. It is simply based upon what we know of these people and their life systems, analyzed by both of our psychology degrees), are not being held accountable for what they have done to my wife and I when we both acted very Christlike...even to the point of walking willingly into my sacrifice.

Again, I want to end by saying that we are seeking closure and healing. My wife and I both are "in repair...we're not together but we're getting there". Please do not go out of your way to figure out who is who, and if you do know who I am referring to I ask out of a Christian love towards them that you not spread the names to others. I know that there are things that I don't know that was said behind closed doors and in the dark. But again, I was never given a chance to correct any genuine complaints, which leaves me to believe that there were NO genuine complaints that could have been corrected. Instead, i have now become another in the growing statistic of churches who have kicked good people out for the wrong reasons!


  1. I sit in awe at the strength that you and Justin have shown during this trial. It was a bad situation, and one that no one should have to go through. Especially such good people as you and Justin. It is very evident that you and Justin have and are continuing to grow from this. This will strengthen your beliefs and witness to others. I wish I could be there to say these things rather than type them.
    Please give Justin my appreciation for being the person of character that he is and how he has handled this. What he sad is true, that Christians like some of those hurt how the rest of the world looks at us, but it's christians like the two of you, and your family, that make us shine!

  2. I am truly sorry for what you have been through. Just know that you are loved, and you are not suffering alone. You are always in my prayers.

  3. It truly amazes me how strong that you and Allison have been. All things do happen for a reason and there are more treasures in store. I know you have made the best of a bad situation and have grown tremendously through this test of faith. I have tremendous admiration for your honesty and the way that you professionally handled this. We consider you both excellent role models for our children and ourselves. You have demonstrated more love, caring, openness, willingness to listen, and goodwill than I personally have seen in a long time. Your personal characteristics and integrity won't change. I like this saying: "You say what you think but you live what you believe." See you in town!

  4. I saw the term salvations in double quotes in your blog, as if this is not something that is necessary to become a Christian. Your whole blog has a flavor of its all about what an individual discovers in his spiritual life (never mind what the person discovers is right or wrong, as long as he/she discovers it on their own..). It comes awful close to Universal Unitarianism. They say there is no absolute truth, just everyone do their own thing and all is cool.

  5. thanks for pointing that out! I did put salvations in quotations without explination. let me further explain. The reason it is in quotes is because i question the validity of using the salvation experience as a measurable factor in the productiveness of a ministry.

    1)I think that measuring the # of salvations as a known goal/ factor, deminishes the individuals personal salvation experience.

    2)I believe that the process of salvation (and relationship with CHrist) is ongoing, but the decision to follow Christ is a pinnacle point in the journey. I WAS saved, AM BEING saved, and WILL BE saved by Christ's sacrifice! We use this in our language all of the time when we say things like "Christ died on the cross for our sins."
    When we measure "salvations" what are we really measuring...not salvation itself, but some sort of decision that has been made!

    3)I do not measure effectiveness by any number, rather by spiritual growth in that person's life. Spiritual growth can happen BEFORE and AFTER a person has walked down the isle or said the prayer! Spiritual Growth is also on-going. there is now may to measure this in numbers, only through truly being in relationship with someone. In that AUTHENTIC relationship, it can bee seen over time when someone is being moved closer to God!

    this is why I put this in quotations. I apolojize for the confusion, but I in no way want to deminish the Salvation experience that all christians (myself included) hold dear!

    I do believe in people OWNING their faith, and that can ONLY come when they think for themselves about their faith. Nowhere has it been proven that someone achieves this level of faith through indoctrination, hence why i reject that process.

    I think you misunderstand my process (as do many who have never tried a more experiential/relational model of ministry). Until one Experiences it for themselves, it is a very hard philosophy to grasp, and scary to the more traditionalists. However, I have seen the level of committment and sincerety in youth that have gone through this process. I use the Bible to teach and instead of indocrination, I allow the Bible and God to speak (although I always have a topic in which to lead them). The biggest difference between the traditional approach, and a more relational approach (see The Process of Reculturing post for the goals set by both myself and the youth), Is that I belileve that God is big enough to speak to each individual for himself, and I do not limit him to one doctrine in which every person HAS to believe!

    In other words, I free God enough to work, and I trust Him enough to lead us in the direction He wants us to go. I use the Bible as the conduit in which each person can connect their individual lives and experiences to God, Christ, and the responsibility of being a Christian!

  6. thank you for sharing Justin. i am glad you are a friend and fellow minister. i am also you got out of a church that is run by people that twisted with spineless leadership. i hated it when alecia and i went through it and will be praying for yall.

  7. "and I do not limit him to one doctrine in which every person HAS to believe!"

    So if I believed in the doctrine of Mormonism or Islam, that would be OK? If that is where i felt i was being led.

  8. justin you should just write on those theological issues later.....but do it soon, i need to cheat off your answers for God's true\false theology test come judgment day. i keep thinking after 2000 years someone would get around to writing an infallible systematic theology so i don't have to think too much and can make sure i get it all down straight. that aside i vote you save sharing where you are on your theological journey for a post where you don't share such a personal story of getting treated so crappy by a church.

  9. In Response to the anaymous post:

    Firstly, the purpose of my blog is not to debate. anyone is more than welcome to express what they will, but the purpose of my blog for me is to just explore myself and my journey as a human being and a Christian. I try to remain within those set guidelines. I will not be drawn into a theological/philosophical debate, although ANY theology/philosophy is welcome to be expressed here! Please feel free to disagree with me, but do not expect arguments in return.

    That said, I was simply elaborating on my philosophy of Christian Education.
    I think you are reading way too far between the lines of my blog. There are a lot of assumptions being made that need not be.

    There is NO way that I can explain my full philosphy of ministry in one blog, especially when the post's main concern is just to tell my story. If you want further understanding of this philosophy of relational ministry (esp. in youth ministry)then please see:
    A New Kind of Christian -McLaren
    Presence-Centered youth ministry -king
    postmodern youth ministry -Jones
    A New Kind of Youth Ministry -Folmsbee
    The Godbearing Life -Dean & Foster
    The Church in transition -Conder
    Contemplative Youth Ministry -Yoconelli

    They can give you much more insight than I am able to do here, and I think they will answer your questions directed about other faiths in relation to exploritive ministry.

    And there is one thing that i did not address in my previous response: labeling me a Universalist Unitarian. First of all, I am not comfortable with labels (as I mention in part 2 of "In Repair"), and only use them to clarify. Of course, if that is the conclusion that you are determined to draw and label me with then I can't (and therefore won't even try to) change your mind. Again, my blog is not an outlet for me to debate, but a place for expression and exploration. However, for clarification, if i HAD to label myself, I think I would choose the label that Brian McLauren uses in the subtitle to his book A GENEROUS ORTHADOXY:

    A Generous Orthadoxy: WHY I AM A missional+evangelical+post/protestant+liberal/conservitive+mystic/poetic+biblical+charasmatic/contemplative+fundamentalist/calvinist+anabaptist/anglican+methodist+catholic+green+incarnational+depressed-yet-hopeful+emergent+unfinished CHRISTIAN (emphasis his)

    to find out what is meant by that, (if you haven't already) you'll have to read the book. I'm boardering on plagerism as is:)

  10. I deleted my previous, but similar response to the anonymous comment from last night because I had misread the first line, not realizing it was a quote from me:) my bad! so i corrected and updated my response. aplogies all around!

  11. sorry, the full title (and label) should be:


    WHY I AM A missional+evangelical+
    depressed-yet-hopeful+emergent+unfinished CHRISTIAN (Emphasis his)

    sorry, it does not want to copy and paste correctly!?

  12. Justin, thanks for sharing your story. I am proud of the way that you have dealt with this very painful situation!

    To add one note of possible explanation / understanding of the church -- with the warning you have used that I am of course speculating, since I do not know any of the people involved -- I would guess that what they did was driven more by fear than by anything else (e.g., ego). For many people, homosexuality is a topic that raises enormous, deep-seated fears -- probably a mixture of theological, personal, and parental fears, to name just a few. It is hard to "own" fear, and easier to find other ways to justify one's response. Very likely many if not most of the people involved would not even recognize their own fearfulness, but would see themselves acting according to "what is right" or acting "to protect the church."

    Even if my guess is correct, I don't know that it helps ease the pain any, but perhaps it might offer another avenue of insight. Meanwhile, I'm excited by what you're doing with the Emergent model. I'll look forward to hearing more about how this goes.


  13. never read this before. what a beautiful picture of the church of jesus christ in action.

    makes me physically sick.

    i am sorry you were on the right end of the stick...

    is terry's family a historically generous donator, by any chance?

    christianity would be a lot better off without all the ...


    mike rucker
    fairburn, georgia, usa

  14. Thanks Mike...I kinda feel the same way when I remember this. It still affects my wife and I to this day, and this was over a year and a half ago.

    To answer your question, actually no, his family was not a generous doner to my knowledge... but he had a way of intimidating others (like the pastor), and he drew one of the 2 biggest (size wise, which I would guess would = $-wise) into it. He knew that was all he had to do!

    Thanks for your words Mike... It's still nice to hear that this urks people even after this long!

    peace bro