1996--My mother moves in with us in January. The why and how are detailed and not important to the authority discussion. The consequence, however, is. My wife had several chronic, health related issues, and my mother was no easy roommate; as a result, my wife spiraled downward into a serious depression. In October, I do something I had never done since 1979: I ask for help from the leadership. Two elders and their wives meet with my wife and me. They listen to us and our emotional reactions to the current circumstances. They conclude, we simply need the support of friends through our current life situation and commit to meet with us weekly for an undetermined amount of time until we see a turn around, whatever that would be, in my wife's depression. A week passes, and I hear nothing from either of these elders. On the day we are to meet, I call one and we talk for about ten minutes. No one meets with us, and I feel more like I have checked in with an overseer rather than a friend providing me emotional support. I wait another week. No one contacts me again, and I decide calling them is not my responsibility.
I was not angry or hurt. I was sharpened to examine the facts and think. I asked for help. It did not materialize. Why? The elders involved were over-burdened themselves with responsibilities in the system. Also, I see the evidence we use the term friend at GCC without experiencing its reality. If an elder as deeply connected as I could not find support in Christian family/friendship during a personal crisis, how did those who followed experience support from the leadership? Also and for the worse, I confront memories when I realize the words of elders proved empty, including my own. I walk through the crisis alone. In early 1997, a second crisis will pull my wife and me together and start her rise above depression.
1996--Sometime in this year , GCC starts a third service on Saturday nights to handle our growth. This service is very relaxed and many find it refreshing. However, the reduced crowds on Sunday mornings make these meetings seem less vital. The head-pastor is concerned and brings up the topic in an elders' meeting. He indicates he wants to stop the Saturday night service. The eleven elders disagree over what is to be done. In a seven/four split in favor of keeping the Saturday night service, the discussion is tabled. At the next elders' meeting, the head-pastor states he strongly feels stopping the Saturday night service is God's direction. He determines this is what we will do and gives his head-pastor responsibility as the basis for the decision. His position is in line with our tradition and obligates me to change my position if I have any integrity of consistent practice. We concur as elders, though I am left seriously examining the substance and meaning of how we function as a governing team.
1997, January--While my wife and I are out of town, our eldest son uses a key we were entrusted with to enter the summer home of a neighbor and host a party for high school students. We receive a 3:00 AM phone call from the town police that our eldest son has been arrested for illegal entry. An elder who is a friend accepts custody of our son for us and puts him up until we can return home. We are grateful. Our son is 14, and the neighbor lovingly chooses not to prosecute, labeling it a young person's poor judgment. Recognizing finally, that my family suffers from the hectic pace I live as an elder, principal and teacher, I take a sabbatical from being an elder for one year. The only call I receive from any other elder, asks me to make sure a next door neighbor, who is aware of the break-in due to the police questioning him, receive an apology for my son's behavior. No elder, however, seeks to pull alongside our family to ask what we are experiencing, how my son is handling the circumstances, or how my wife is handling our situation in light of her depression brought to two elders' attention just three months prior. I admit to myself that my personal circumstances seem to bear little concern for these I have considered to be family that loves me.
1997, April--I am given a book to read by a brother written by Gene Edwards, How Then Shall We Meet? The book speaks of several practices of the modern church and suggests organic meetings in homes without titled leaders is healthy and biblical. I put the book down and realize his words crystallize something I had been avoiding: I no longer believe in a head-pastor, a major tenet of church governance among our brethren. I have no idea how to bring up the subject and commit it all to God in prayer.
1997, June--I am asked to attend the semi-annual leaders' retreat even though I am on sabbatical. I agree to attend parts of the retreat and use the forum to announce my altered beliefs. I am told my thoughts are illogical and unbiblical by the "apostle." I look at him quizzically but do not respond, believing most of the elders will follow his lead rather than speak openly. No real discussion ever develops on the issues.
1997, later in June--An elder I consider a friend asks to meet with me. We talk for two hours and determine that the busyness of church has caused us to lose touch with our friendship. We commit to work on our friendship, and I feel encouraged. The idea of leaving GCC has not ever entered my mind to this point.
1997, July--the elder of the previous meeting invites me to lunch at his home. I agree and arrive to find a third elder is also part of the lunch meeting. I am confronted as an elder in error and told I am hurt and need help. I experience much anger at a system that so clouds truth in the eyes of men, that they speak of friendship and love while only taking action to protect their authority. I clearly see by the words used in this meeting, I am now viewed as a threat to the security of the body. I lash out at the system, but manage to keep my words from attacking them. Debriefing my wife on this meeting, we talk of leaving for the first time. We are devastated at the thought, but have no confidence the elders will be convinced that the head-pastor government is the problem. We expect no honest hearing of our hearts or thinking, just manipulation and/or outright pressure to try and alter our thoughts. Memories surface of relationships over the years brushed aside by the elders when circumstances required GCC exercise "authority" in protection of its theology and practice.
1997, one week later--I am called to an official meeting at the church building. I am asked how I feel this week. I announce my wife and I have talked and are agreed, we will leave the church. The two staff elders are clearly unnerved and speak of the damage this will do our body. I explain how I cannot stay believing what I now believe. If I remain silent, I am dishonest. If I speak out, I will be labeled as a factious man fomenting dissent against authority. I commit to leave as quietly as possible, and that I will not encourage anyone to follow me out. The meeting lasts ten minutes or less.
It takes nearly four months for the elders to announce my resignation to the body. Many meetings with individual elders and the whole group of elders ensue in the time period with both harsh and kind words. One man, who will become an elder a week before my wife and I are officially removed, works to maintain his personal relationship with me and try to bring peace, though he never seeks to understand my new perspective on leaders. I am asked by the elders to present my beliefs with scriptural support. I write a four page compilation and turn it in. No one ever asks to discuss it in any following meeting. It appears to have only been a stalling tactic. I never hear any position from their side except that I am hurt and in error. No one ever attempts to listen to what I am thinking. All try to change my mind or convict me of the sinful pride in obstinance.
In the end, they feel betrayed by one who lacks the commitment to love. I am confronted as one lacking relational integrity and trying to manipulate them. Two elders encourage me, and I decide not to attend the meeting where the announcement will be made. When the content of the meeting is verified by several different witnesses including the elder now designated to deal with me, I discover I have been misrepresented and characterized in terms that malign my character.