Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3H – Step 5, Layer 4 – Affected Groups Need to Deal with Sick Organizational Systems

Part 3 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan”

Part 3H. Step 5, Layer 4.

Affected Groups Need to Deal with Sick Organizational Systems


Layer 1 – How to determine the levels of personal growth and recovery needed by leaders who harm others, regardless of how gifted they are or how much they help others.

Layer 2 – How to identify what levels of peace-making are needed in personal relationships where a leader has caused damage.


Layer 3 – How to ensure individuals qualified for roles to lead the organization stay, when those disqualified should be removed, and when/if they should ever be restored to a former position.

Layer 4 – How to discern whether an organization that is toxic can be repaired, or should not even survive.

[Click on the chart to view a larger version.]

Step 5, Layer 4 ~ Affected Groups Need to Deal with Sick Organizational Systems

Step 5, Layer 4 ~ Affected Groups Need to Deal with Sick Organizational Systems

There are so many questions when it comes to the people in an organization deciding what to do about problems in it:

  • Why would an organization need to be shut down?
  • What issues make it our choice on what to do with repairing or shutting down our organization, and what issues could take that choice out of our hands?
  • What makes for a “safe” or “optimal” environment for teamwork? Is “unsafe” or “unhealthy” the exact opposite of that?
  • What does “healthy” – not “perfect” – look like?
  • Who should we exclude from input or oversight on carrying out major organizational renovation or actual shut-down?
  • How do we deal publicly with toxic, sidelined leaders who need to be called out?
  • Is there such a thing as “organizational repentance,” and if so, what does it look like?
  • Why is hope an integral part of the process of dealing with sick organizational systems?

All these questions are relevant, but some are outside the scope of this article. I’ll cover the key factors here and leave details and additional issues for the second book in my series on Do Good Plus Do No Harm. (That volume explores and illustrates how to start up a healthy organization that focuses on personal and social transformation, and how to repair a not-so-healthy one, and then maintain either kind so it is sustainable.) Then I’ll focus on some ministry case studies that illustrate the dynamics of decision points that create the divides between Stages 2 and 3 (to renovate or to dismantle/salvage) and Stages 3 and 4 (to dismantle/reclaim or to demolish/shut down).

Note: This article is an excerpt from a curriculum dealing with why things go wrong when we want to do right. I kept this particular article in a longer form than I usually would to keep the flow intact on the case studies. It wasn’t meant to be read through quickly or all at once, but to spark your own questions and engage critical thinking processes. Don’t worry if you feel the need to stop and take breathers … or perhaps to engage in a side conversation with Mr. Coffee!

Word Studies

What is done with an organizational system parallels what happens with an individual. The more damage it inflicts, the stronger the case for increasingly more severe consequences – up to the point of either dismantling the organization and salvaging what can be recycled without re-implanting damage elsewhere, or even complete shut-down when it clearly is so toxic as to be unsalvageable.

Do some word studies into these terms and where they came from. (I’ve added links to, which is one of my preferred online dictionaries because it includes word origins and a thesaurus.) Also consider the illustration images I picked for the chart, and descriptions I wrote that go with each term. Tie in with material from other Steps, and see what you think about how these all relate to a process of personal repentance.

“Safe” versus “Abusive” Environments

for Personal and Social Transformation

Theory First, or Practice First?

Depending on your learning style, you may prefer to interact with a theory first before you put it into action. Or you might be more the action-reflection type learner, who wants to just jump right into the fray, and figure out later what you learned as take-aways. I’ve suggested below a customized study plan for each kind of dominant learning style. Both plans assume you’ve already worked your way through this current series on four Layers for dealing with toxic leaders and sick organizational systems, so you can synthesize that material with what follows, in moving toward application to your own situations.

Study Plan for Theory-Into-Application Learners

For the theory-into-practice learners, I suggest you first read the section immediately below on Keys to Analyzing an “Optimal” versus Toxic Ministry Environment. Then read this article I wrote in August 2013 on “Safe” versus “Abusive” Environments for Personal and Social Transformation. That will give you the paradigm system theory I’ve been using for the last 15 years as the base for my writings on organizational development and social transformation.

Then, go through this case study that applies my paradigm system to a toxic version of New Calvinism. Definition and Description of the Term “Calvinistas” is relevant to issues going on currently with Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church – showing the toxic logical conclusion of Mr. Driscoll’s authoritarian New Calvinism “Resurgence” movement where that entity can no longer be separated from his identity.

Finally, go through the series of eight Ministry Case Studies below to see what you think about applications of the earlier chart on Layer 4 about how affected groups need to deal with sick organizational systems.

Study Plan for Action-Reflection Learners

For the action-reflection learners, I suggest you first read through the Ministry Case Studies below. Further, though you might be tempted to skim and skip around in them, I’d recommend going slower and in the order presented from #1 through #9. That should give you a better grasp on the spectrum of situations and a parallel approaches to the core problems. (If you really do want to do something bolder, you could always jump right into case study #9, the most complex, and work your way backwards!)

If you feel ready for the theory, then tackle either the Keys to Analyzing an “Optimal” versus Toxic Ministry Environment which introduces the theoretical framework of “Safe” versus “Abusive” Environments for Personal and Social Transformation. Or, if you still want more application, go for the case study found in Definition and Description of the Term “Calvinistas”. Your choice, according to your style, but I would recommend going through all the components listed.

Why the Term “Toxicity”?

One final point to make here why I use terms like toxic and toxicity. Toxins are organic types of poisons, produced by animals and plants, and they cause diseases or other kinds of medical emergencies. I just resonate with the idea of these being organic, and “spiritual toxins” being something that humans can produce. So, it makes a difference to an organization if there are toxic people involved with it.

Organic – people – issues are a natural part of all organizations that we create. As Price Pritchett says in The Ethics of Excellence, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” To which I add my corollary: “The organization will eventually become whatever its leaders are.” This paradigm/people dynamic is why it is crucial to the health of an organization and all of its members that we ensure those set up as public role models and leaders are as healthy as possible for long enough to earn the trust necessary to lead.

Keys to Analyzing “Optimal” versus Toxic Ministry Environment

For my framework of essential background concepts, I use a paradigm analysis system of my own development, which I’ve detailed elsewhere. The paradigm uses three layers itself, with each layer having multiple elements – some concrete, some abstract. And then, paradigms can never be fully separated from the people therein – nor can we (in my opinion) analyze people properly apart from the paradigm that governs their values, beliefs, and behaviors. My paradigm uses the following system of layers. Going from the deepest, least visible layer to the most surface, obvious layer, they are:

THEORETICAL. Default information processing mode dictates how we typically analyze and synthesize information and our interpretations. From this flows what makes sense to us as far as our values and our beliefs.

OPERATIONAL. This is how we build and run our organizations, including where our leadership and power dynamics reside. At the macro, big-picture level, there are strategies and infrastructures. At the micro, detail level, we have processes and procedures.

RELATIONAL. In this layer we have behaviors, lifestyles, cultures, and modes of teamwork and collaboration.

The theoretical layer is the most abstract overall, and most hidden from direct sight – although its influences and impacts become increasingly more manifest in the operational/organizational and relational/cultural layers.

Ministry Case Studies

Here is a series of eight miniature case studies to help explore the landscapes of Stages 2 Renovate, Stage 3 Reclaim, and Stage 4 Raze, for groups needing to deal with sick organizational systems. They also illustrate issues at the borders between Stages. Some of these cases ended well, with positive movement in rebuilding. Others just ended – generally badly and leaving unaddressed damage. A few of these are situations I myself was involved with, while others are ones I know of from research and interviews. I have selected a range of situations and variety of outcomes, and told these tales as accurately as I can recall them, plus in some instances altered a few details.

The key thing is this: I purposely selected this set and the specific order in which they appear, to create a series that starts relatively simple and gets increasingly more complex. Hopefully that helps you work your way up gradually to whatever level of complicated situation you find yourself in.

Stage 1 – Repair / Sustaining Hope and Help

For this edition, I am leaving out Stage 1 Repair as those are more maintenance- and upgrade-related issues that have not progressed to a system-level because they are being addressed regularly. The other Stages represent situations that increasingly lean toward potential crisis or even organizational demise.

Stage 1 does deal with hope, as do all the Stages. And hope is a crucial issue in organizational survival. In my thinking, hope, prayer, and a sort of prophetic imagination of what the future could look like are all tied together. For instance, to pray to exercise placing hope in God and imagining a future different from what seems inevitable if He does not providentially provide or intervene. Here in Stage 1, hope remains strong because issues that would detract from it are identified and deal with before they can take root and choke out the future potential.

Stage 2 – Renovate / Hope on the Line

If Stage 1 Repair deals mostly with minor (but not merely cosmetic) system issues, then the advance to Stage 2 Renovate involves the organizational equivalent of major surgery that requires some substantive time to recover and then recuperate.

Here, hope is on the line, but has relatively more chance to thrive than it does in Stage 3.

#1. A TIMELY MERGER. How to extend the life of our institutions beyond two more generations has become a major problem as our population ages and our culture changes. Using the metaphor of a house, do you build on an addition, sell it to others and move out, renovate the space together, or something else? In the past 20 years, an increasing number of churches have been coasting toward closure because they are missing the involvement of younger generations. One response has been for an established church to merge with a church plant. One of the particular problems experienced in mergers lies with approaches to mixing people from what typically are two vastly different social cultures and ministry methodologies. Do you go with the traditional, the emerging, or some combination? Put another way, is this a symbiotic new relationship that helps both, a parasitic attachment that helps one and harms the other, or something else?

The root renovation issue for mergers is this: When you merge two such different entities, you do not merely birth something new, you simultaneously “kill” the trajectories and probable futures of both of the original entities. You’re not dealing with just one birth, but also with two deaths. How do you allow for both sides to mourn the grief of loss of what they had, so they can appropriately celebrate together a new joint start and singular future?

A friend of mine heard the most amazing account of how a church merger managed this process with a visual timeline and oral history project. The established church had a building, the church plant did not. So they used the wall in the main meeting room to post timelines. Week by week, the older congregation worked through their history a decade at a time. People posted pictures and news articles, and shared their recollections of what happened with their church during that decade. When they got closer to the present time, people from the church plant did likewise, recounting their history. They started from the opposite side of that wall. And when the two timelines met in the middle, the two congregations celebrated their official merging of a new entity with a new name and a new corporate future together. Their process had taken less than a year.

#2. CHAOS AND CONSEQUENCES. Conventional wisdom holds that for every year a particular pastor has led a church, when that pastor is gone, it takes the congregation one month to recalibrate who they are without that person in charge and transition before they are ready to find a new leader. So, when a leader’s been in charge for 10 years, it takes almost a year to reset before there’s deep readiness to start a search for a new lead pastor – despite any growing sense of antsy desperation to get moving on it.

What if your previous pastor had not so much led the church, but let chaos reign in the church? And had done so for 25 or 30 years? What would have to happen in the two to three years needed to get ready for the next leader? As it turns out in one consultation I did in this kind of situation, the organizational infrastructure alone took about that long to renovate.

“Leading” by chaos didn’t mean things were any more creative in the church. It was just as control-oriented as one infused with legalism and overburdened with rules and regulations – but it was just not as predictable. In consequence of this, there were no minutes from staff meetings. Which meant no records of decision-making or to-do lists. And there was no common understanding among staff members of what the official mission statement of the church was. Which meant if you asked three different staffers, you’d get three different answers, meaning know one really knew where this ship was headed in the ocean of supposed ministry.

An organization run that way is vulnerable to certain kinds of problems that non-profits are prone to. The biggest problem is that when you decide based on whim instead of with plans, you can easily end up expending the organization’s assets in ways that benefit insider individuals and not the public interest. Maybe you hire friends who turn out to be inept instead of experts to do needed jobs. And there may be lack of tracking fund usage, and therefore lack of transparency and accountability in financial dealings. The biggest problem created is a lack of trustworthiness. And that’s something you cannot fix directly; you need to renovate the systems in ways that earn (or re-earn) trust. As it turned out, the next pastor was mostly an administrator and he got the fractured infrastructures straightened out. That was his major accomplishment before he moved on. That process took about three years.

#3. MEN’S NON-MOVEMENT. One church plant I was in had been going for several years. The congregation was expanding. And with more people, there were more diverse needs to serve, but still just one full-time pastor and one part-time. These leaders were getting burned out. So the pastor invited all the men of the church to a weekend to spend time together, reflect on the state of the church, and help the pastors brainstorm ways to move forward.

That seemed like a great stride forward – this opening up of input to a larger number of participants. It was obvious already that this pastor had problems with control, an overly competitive spirit, anger, and intimidating behaviors – for which he regularly apologized and told people to hold him accountable. So, giving away control would be good. But it didn’t exactly come as a surprise to the men in the group when they’d suggest a new project or a different way of doing things, and the pastor would almost immediately shut them down. “No, we’re not going to do that.” “We’re not strong enough for that.” “Not in my church.” Those were early warnings signs of an as-yet-unseen problem lurking beneath the surface, but already embedded in the strategies and structures. This pastor was the founder of this church plant, and he would increasingly act like he owned it as an entity, rather than served the people in it. But he continued to hide that reality under the premise that the church was young and needed to be protected.

The kind of shutdown of participation at the men’s meeting stood as just another early point in what became a long line of acts of control. I don’t leave a situation until I sense that I’m released from it and free to go. Because of that, I was at this plant long enough to observe that most singles, couples, and families only stayed about a year and a half, and then they disappeared. Other pastors likewise came and went – most burned out or fired by the founding pastor.

A decade or so later, I heard that the people of this church had eventually told the pastor he needed to leave, because he’d never really dealt with his anger issues, and they would have no more of it. The remnant of that church eventually merged with another church – one that with a long-time ministry of healing for the people who spiritually staggered away from several toxic churches in the area. No renovation really was possible in the original organization, because the man who claimed ownership of it never would allow it.

Stage 3 – Reclaim / Hope in Definite Jeopardy

The shift from Stage 2 Renovate to Stage 3 Reclaim involves the organizational equivalent of decisive moments in medical situations. It is like the Emergency Room with severe trauma of unexpected onset, or the Intensive Care Unit where the outcome of critical system failure problems could either lead to a miraculous turnaround with significant time for recuperation, or, more likely, a terminal condition where demise clearly is inevitable.

Here, hope is definitely in jeopardy. To expect a positive future requires very substantial work to revitalize systems and foster robust recuperation – but if that fails, perhaps hope shifts to grief and preparing for the equivalent of a funeral for the organization.

#4. SPIN-OFF REELED IN. The “emerging ministry movement” of the mid-1990s through early 2000s provided a pool of younger generation ministry activists along with older generation mentors and those who never fit in til now. This pool eventually sifted out into multiple streams, according to the overall paradigms and cultures of the people in each. Also during that period, many established churches were recognizing the need to pass the baton of leadership on to next generations, and begin transferring on their legacy. It was a time of many experiments that included:

  • Younger generation entrepreneurs starting up an independent church plant or social transformation endeavor that was not directly tied to a pre-existing church.
  • An established church acting loosely as a partner by hosting with space and/or sponsoring with finances to foster a next generation ministry or church.
  • An established church starting its own parallel church-within-a-church next generation style service. This may have been as minimal as offering an “alternative service for postmoderns” to a full-out partnership to incubate a sibling church with its own systems, strategies, and staff.

For a few years during that heady and creative period, I was in an established church that launched a parallel, postmodern-friendly church-within-a-church. While there was some overlap with some singles, couples, and families participating in both the established and the emerging church groups, most of the church-within-a-church were 20/30-somethings. For month after month, the people in this alternative service worked together to establish an intentional “culture of participation” – shared leadership, open brainstorming to crowd-source ideas for how we wanted to do things, everybody helping with general activities along with each contributing more in their particular areas of giftings. That approach went counter to the “consumer culture” that dominated the established church – come, sit, and listen to the paid staff; get involved in pre-processed programs where you can fit into a prescribed role; give to help pay the professionals who provide everything else for you.

As you might imagine, the alternative service moved beyond an activity to becoming a community. When you relate that deeply, and work together to create common ground for the common good, something happens. The group of regular participants looked ever more like an organic church. It really seemed ready to spin off and become an independent entity, but still a sibling interdependent with the church that started it. One of the younger-generation staff members of the established church, who was also very relational and a capable pastor, was already the acknowledged overseer of the would-be spin-off.

However, that was the moment when the senior pastor of the established church stepped in, declared that this was merely meant to be another worship service offered by his church, and that it could not become its own thing. In other words, he “reclaimed” it as full under the authority of his leadership. The would-be next-generation church was reeled back in to being just another service – for a short while. But clearly, the hope was gone, the participants felt defeated and deflated, and the vision died altogether, as did the alternative service. Within a month, it was dead, and many who had been part when it was alive and vibrant now gradually filtered out of that church entirely. The arc of this story took place over less than three years, the denouement barely a month.

#5. EXPLOSION IN REVERSE. Start-ups always seem to involve precarious periods, even volatile. But some things will bust them up perhaps quicker than anything else, betrayal of trust being one of them. An acquaintance told me the story of the church she went to. It started as a church plant and seemed to be going and growing well, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It was well over 150 people, and they were participating and connecting, and sensed this group was going somewhere important and doing something unique.

Then it turned out that several prominent leaders were involved in marital infidelity. The situation was such that some congregation members felt they needed to forgive, let the people recover, and move on. Others felt that was minimizing the severity of what had happened. This difference of approaches got all mixed in with other personal and organizational issues, and it ended up that people were arguing and gossiping and back-biting all the time. It became so bad that the entire fabric of their community completely ripped apart and no one would talk with each other anymore. What had once appeared to be thriving was basically destroyed by the layers of betrayal.

However, there was one “little old lady,” then in her late 60s or early 70s, who reached out to each person who had been in the church. She made no demands or suggestions, only offered to be a listening ear if the other person wanted someone to talk with and process what had happened. Gradually, individuals began healing through the quiet but persistent ministry of this woman. And as that happened, slowly some re-initiated contact with other individuals from the exploded church whom they’d previously cut ties with. And as that happened, eventually some smaller groups formed or reconnected. And that ultimately resulted in a group of about 50 to 60 people who were willing to try to become a community and congregation again.

But what kind of pastor or leader or church planter would ever want to come into a situation with a history like that? In fact, they found a relatively seasoned pastor who was willing. However, when he came to explore that possibility with this reconnected group, he brought conditions with him. If they wanted him to be their pastor, then for the first year, there would be no ministries, no programs, no outreach. He told them gently but clearly that they were still dealing with grief and betrayal and wounding that all went deep. So, for the first year, he would lead them in worship together, and teach through series of Bible passages and stories about healing, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. And then, at the end of a year, they’d re-evaluate and see what needed to happen next. But he believe that if the toxic mix of damages were submerged underneath ministry activity, something as bad or worse would eventually resurface. The group agreed, and they did what that wise pastor suggested, and became what the little old lady had hoped in her heart would come to pass. So that whole process took several years for the group that had been split asunder to be moved from the doorway of death to be resuscitated, rejoin, and recommit, and then at least that first whole year to explore the meanings and purposes of recovery, reclamation, and restoration.

#6. CONCRETE TRANSPARENCY. Money, sex, and power – the triplet temptations, especially for those in positions of authority who have the means to hide them. There was a church that once had a great legacy of sharing the good news of Jesus, and serving in the community. But somewhere along the line, some leaders left the path of righteousness, and all kinds of darkness flooded in. By the time several years of horrible revelations ended, the list included adultery, theft, infidelity with staff and counselees, sexual assaults of teens and children at the church building, and child abuse. The battered and traumatized body of believers who survived all that brought on board a pastor willing to work with them long term to help right the wrongs, heal the wounded, reach the community, and train up new generations of leaders. That way, a redemptive legacy could be redeveloped and passed on.

The pastor and his wife were part of what became a team that included both women and men, and people of different generations and cultures. One of the first things to happen to “clean house” was highly symbolic but also very practical. The nursery, children’s ministry rooms, and all the main offices had the wood walls removed and replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Rooms that shouldn’t have locks, had them removed. This meant full transparency now for rooms where assaults and abuse had occurred then. Solid doors for all staff offices and conference rooms were replaced with ones that had large windows in the upper half. These lined a hallway where other staff and visitors might walk past at any random moment, and so the possibility of hiding was lessened.

Those kinds of concrete actions made a spiritual difference. The content of ministry changed to, to match this new direction and openness. Practical sermons, healing seminars, mentoring meetings, listening sessions, neighborhood study-and-mission groups, community access, leadership development. In a slow investment process that took over 10 years, the sins and evil of this church’s past had been addressed as best as possible. Also put in place were a new course reset toward a vibrant and missional future – with enough strategy and structures to provide for organizational needs – along with enough local connections and relationships to keep things organic, indigenous, and flexible. A church on the edge of destruction had been reclaimed before it was too late.

Stage 4 – Raze / When Hope Fades or Fails

The shift from Stage 3 Reclaim to Stage 4 Raze involves the organizational equivalent of hospice where the damage goes so deep and is so widespread and has gone on for so long that the organization is barely hanging on with the aid of life support. It has hardened into a closed system where the toxicity cannot be reversed. This means hope for survival is faint, and even if it survives it would not be strong or last long.


One church I was involved with in a university town endured a three-way split in the process of trying to find a new pastor. The previous pastor-teacher, who’d been there over 10 years, was a very firm leader, a highly trained exegete, and strongly systematic in his theology. In fact, it would be termed more a “Bible doctrine church” than just a “Bible church.” When the church was at its apex, the pastor-teacher presented one or two verse-by-verse and/or theological classes each weeknight, plus four or five more on Sundays – totaling as much as 13 hours of Bible/theology per week! And though there was no overt requirement to go to every class, many people felt pressure to do so, and so they did.

He left to plant a church, and the deacons had the responsibility of acting as a pulpit committee to search for pastoral candidates. The congregation had a lot of dysfunction going on underneath the surface. And when the pastor-teacher left, those issues emerged, especially in contentions over the meaning of spiritual growth and living a balanced Christian life. Surely, so much teaching with no time for family or friendships wasn’t healthy. So, while people in the pews were expressing a variety of views about what the next pastor should be leading them to do, the deacons were officially the ones with responsibility and authority to conduct the search. And they were getting a lot of push-back about it.

THE SPLIT-OFF. The first split occurred when a group left, months before “The Takeover,” as it came to be called. This group strongly emphasized authority and truth. They could see the handwriting on the wall about the ultimate trajectory of the church. This first-wave Split-Off Group had just a dozen or so people. One of the former deacons of the church was its leader, and he continued to teach and pastor those in that small group.

Under his leadership, people in this group imposed “separation” in the fullest sense of the term, even if it used the severest interpretation of church discipline. They would not speak to those still in the church, except to reiterate the evil influences going on there, plus the lack of authority being listened to. They’d confront those still there about their choice to leave. So, this “ban” existed between the time of their departure from the church and The Takeover. After The Takeover, the separation issue was moot for those who were no longer there, and separation was therefore no longer in effect with them.

THE SHOW-UP. There was a pastor from a nearby town who had gone to this church a decade earlier. He was close friends with a number of the families, including those of several deacons. To help provide some continuity, he commuted to teach regularly, alternating with a protégé of his who’d also gotten his start at the church. The first time the pastor came, he publicly berated as “too big for their britches” a number of young and older adults who had asked questions about the whole pastor search process and philosophy of balanced ministry in the church.

THE TAKEOVER. Meanwhile, after a first candidate failed to be elected, just due to lack of experience, a second candidate came and taught. He ended up being voted on twice and each time very narrowly missed the required two-thirds majority to be “called” as the new pastor. He came across as authoritarian, doctrinal-detail-oriented, and warm to those who’d been positive toward him but cold to others.

When the deacons were supposedly going to present plans for new candidates, something unexpected happened instead. A group that included most of the deacons said they’d called the failed candidate as the pastor for the church, he’d said yes, and those who didn’t like it could just leave. Then they confiscated keys to the building, changed locks overnight, and barred the parking lot so it could only be used when they unchained it. (It was rumored later that “guns were present in case things got out of hand.” This being a regional stronghold for NRA advocates, that was perfectly believable and in no way a joke.) This group strongly emphasized authoritarian leadership and in-depth Bible doctrine.

THE KICK-OUT. When the pastor in question arrived, he did indeed accept the calling to be hired. He and the remaining deacons also called a number of individuals into a conference room separately. These were the men and women who had made any kind of public opposition to his being accepted, or had been teaching adult classes. They were declared persona non grata for “conduct unbecoming a Christian” and removed from church membership. The pastor hid behind such generalities and refused to be any more specific about the supposed offenses. That apparently was just fine with those who stayed behind with him. He fit the mold of what many were looking for – someone who could continue feeding them reams of biblical and theological information, but who expressed no value on fellowship, service, evangelism, missions, or worship. That form of fundamentalism had more in common with Gnosticism than with orthodox Christianity.

THE LEFTOVERS. After The Takeover, a second group gathered from former members and attenders. This was perhaps 60 people or so, and included many people who had initially wanted the man who had been voted on twice to call as pastor. However, they could not accept the conduct of the Takeover Group and the pastor. So, this group was primarily those “ejected and orphaned” by the split. They had stayed at least four to six months longer than those who left earlier on and formed the Split-Off Group. This group strongly emphasized grace and relationships. 

Many in this second-wave group were severely traumatized by the events leading up to the split. Quite a few were university students who were graduating, so they intended to move on soon anyway. Those remaining were mostly long-time area residents. There were not many local options for evangelical, Bible-teaching churches, and the group eventually decided to attempt becoming a church and finding a pastor. They had several regional pastors come in to teach on a weekly basis, to keep their community going.

Although the group seemed to want to move toward a better balance between teaching, worship, and outreach, some of the more outspoken members seemed very reactive about the form of government. After being traumatized by hyper-authoritarian leaders and their cruel words and deeds in the church takeover, these members advocated a more congregational form of government or acquiesced to the idea when they formally started a new church.

THE FALLOUT. Within a few years of the takeover, here is what shook out for the different groups:

The Split-Off Group eventually dissolved as some people joined other churches in the area, graduated and moved, or, sadly, even dropped out of church life completely.

The Leftovers Group eventually hired a pastor to teach them, but apparently he did not really lead (or was not allowed to lead). Within two years, the church of the leftovers folded because they could not financially support their pastor. He and his family moved, and the church people mostly got absorbed into about three other theologically conservative churches in the area.

The Show-Up Pastor apologetically acknowledged in public a few years later that he’d been deceived by people he’d trusted. They’d lied about the pastoral interviews, lied about the finances, and lied about people who’d opposed the hiring of this hijacking pastor. He also said he’d misjudged those who had questioned the integrity of the deacons and of the search process.

The Takeover Group that quote literally stole the church building eventually folded because they could not support this man they considered their perfect pastor. He had limited appeal because his doctrinal approach was hyper-fundamentalist, and his approach to leadership was hyper-authoritarian. They simply did not attract new members, and because the emphasis was dedicated to teaching “Bible doctrine,” there was little (if any) evangelism and they didn’t seem to care. Also, some of the central people in The Takeover eventually came to their senses and left the church, removing their tithes from the income stream. News filtered out eventually that one of the tipping points to closure was when the wife of one of the most prominent take-over deacons realized the pastor was over-controlling. The event? She served as his secretary and brought him coffee, and he required the mug to be set in a specific spot on his desk with the handle turned at a particular angle to make it convenient for him. But one day, she happened to place it wrong … and got royally chewed out. She finally got it, because of coffee mug misplacement. Eventually, the financial reserves ran out, the pastor left, and the church folded, and the building was boarded up. A few years later, transients broke in and set fires. The burn damage was never repaired.

From the time the original pastor left until the split was about a year. From the takeover to demise of the Split-Off and Leftovers Groups was another three years, and the death of the Tookover Church occurred sometime after that.

Postscript: An Unlikely Legacy. Perhaps surprisingly, many of the college students who went to this church during the era of the split have gone on to participate in churches wherever their careers took them, and have used their spiritual gifts to serve and benefit others. It wasn’t that they were unaffected by the conflict, but they grew despite it by overcoming their woundedness from it.

Here are links to the entire series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse: