Disclaimer: To protect my family and myself, I am not using names and I’m purposefully obscuring certain details. I cannot confirm them privately, either. These are well-known people in Christian circles who I still believe are doing helpful things, despite the terror behind closed doors. I must be careful here, because 1) they would absolutely crucify me if they saw this post, and 2) they could also deny having ever met me, despite email correspondences and recorded conversations. But I have to speak up.
I want to tell you about my most horrifying church experience ever, because it began so ordinary and subtle, and I want to protect you from the nightmare I eventually woke up to.
I know there must be so many more terrible experiences at church and mine is not nearly the worst, yet I hope you’ll know that not every horror story about church happens in a cult of backwood druids sacrificing goats to chanting. It can happen in the most mundane sort of atmosphere with a slowly tightening chokehold, until it’s too late.
Years ago, I befriended the lead pastor of a church ministry that was doing amazing things in the community and we first became friends over the phone. The pastor explained that every church in America was doing it wrong. This really appealed to my discontent about the church culture, and our phone calls were filled with tons of encouragement and positive affirmation over my “gifts, talent, treasures, insights, and abilities given by God.” Whenever I spoke bad about my own church, the lead pastor agreed as loudly as possible.
In the first few months, he offered me a position at his ministry, but I was obligated to my current church. However, I was still able to visit. I was completely seduced by the way he and his team did ministry. Their preaching was fun, their services were boisterous, their praise team was incredible, and they knew every single family by name. They were well-respected by the community and they were funded completely by other churches and individuals from all over the world. All the while, they were saying, “We do it better than the other guys” and their website sold tons of church curriculum. I even bought some.