Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dennis Muses: When You Pastor in a Church of God and You Have Had Enough...

The Clergy Project


The Clergy Project:  Losing Faith in Faith
(Or your faith based community)

The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

Currently, the community's 500 plus members use it to network and discuss what it's like being an unbelieving leader in a religious community. The Clergy Project’s goal is to support members as they move beyond faith. Members freely discuss issues related to their transition from believer to unbeliever including:

  • Wrestling with intellectual, ethical, philosophical and theological issues
  • Coping with cognitive dissonance
  • Addressing feelings of being stuck and fearing the future
  • Looking for new careers
  • Telling their families
  • Sharing useful resources
  • Living as a nonbeliever with religious spouses and family
  • Using humor to soften the pain
  • Finding a way out of the ministry
  • Adjusting to life after the ministry


I have to say, or maybe I don't have to but I choose to, this chart cuts to the bone. I hate it.  I realize it is a bit of an exaggeration and not the norm, but the generic "minister" in the middle cuts like the proverbial knife. I was one. I was one in WCG and it was a choice.  I had to be there.  There was a time where you would have been of Satan to try and knock me out of it.  Then there is now.  Perhaps I am violating my own rule found in "The Four Agreements" of never taking anything personally.  It is about them, not you.  I once asked someone close to me if I was "one of them?"   They told me, "you were never one of them," and it helped. 
I wish I had never heard of the Worldwide Church of God but that was not in the plan evidently.  Someone once told me we write our scripts before we "incarnate" in this life.  I told them "then next time I am going to make a no drinking rule while we think this stuff up!" 
 I suppose...
Nonetheless, ministry and doing it in the right setting, with the right beliefs in the right way, before I outgrew this concept of ever being possible, was the goal of my youthful self in my desire to be a church pastor.  After all, what could be more important than knowing the answers to all of life's most important questions about today and after death, then what?  I don't believe I have to repeat my youthful ideas and such about going to Ambassador believing it was a seminary in the traditional sense or my personal church experiences.  The first human I ever anointed for healing as per James 5:14 after being ordained an elder when very young  (that's a bit of humor there) was my blind, deaf and dumb brother.  He's still blind, deaf and dumb but the "what the hell are you doing" look on his face is a great memory!

To the point.  I know the conflict a man or woman can have as they get older in ministry. It is probably one of the most unreasonable "callings" there could ever be. My lesson in , among many, was that the pastor was the sacrificial goat for being and doing what most members never ever intended to be or do.  When they screw up, there were 10,000 forgiveness scriptures flying around.  When the pastor screwed up, they were thrown into hell.  This is true across all denominational lines. 

I used to make couples promise, upon pain of eternal something or other , when getting married to never change from that moment on.  I failed to tell them that once out the door, everything would change around them.  I can play the day of my own wedding in my head very clearly and as time went on, I could not do it.  People change.  Circumstances change.  Regrets about ideas believed when younger begin to creep in when older.  Any pastor worth his academic salt could not possibly just believe in later years what he was taught when young.  "They never taught me that" becomes obvious to those who seek.  Organizations, by nature MUST fence you in with your growing in grace in knowledge.  It has to be their kind of grace  and their knowledge.  They all work that way. 

I can totally imagine the conflict the average minister in the average or the wacky Church of God , depending on which they got stuck in, is going through.  One can be conflicted and not show it.  One can go through the motions and quietly doubt and wonder what the hell to do or think about it all.  You can be too far down a road to turn around without chaos and it's pretty damn scary.  Sometimes people crack off in a comment or two what the minister should do in such cases, but in my experience, they probably would not be so simplistic or demanding in their solutions for others if it was happening to them.  Transitions are messy and they can take a long time when spiritual matters seem to be at stake.  Ministers balance off the doubts that will always come along with the perceived good they are doing for and with others in their position.  I have had any number of minister types both in WCG and other denominations admit to the conflict between what they had been taught and used to believe and what more or less belief had come as their lives unfolded.  It's a normal process in ministry. No one prepares you for it.  It is painful and can destroy the man and the family.  I have personal ministerial friends who have ended their lives quickly in suicide or slowly in alcohol or just the broken heartedness that can come from reckless theological change .   I asked my nephew what he thought took his WCG minister father's life so young and he said,  "a broken heart."  The Hodgkins Lymphoma was the outward manifestation of the inner pain, IMHO.

 I will always credit the Tkaches with reckless theological change no matter who was more correct biblically or theologically.  I have come to feel, for now, that no one gets it right and all religion is a mixed bag of possibilities and improbabilities.   People don't change like that.  The Tkaches brought rapid change pretending they weren't in months that real denominations would bring in decades or more.  They were fools to think so unless they had the intended chaos and outcome in mind to begin with.  Joe's collection of Rolex Watches and getting paid for being head of nothing doesn't make me feel so great but that's his story and this is mine I suppose.

The Clergy Project is a very private and discrete organization founded by Dan Barker , author of Losing Faith in Faith and others who exist to help men and women in clergy who find themselves, for whatever reasons, torn in their calling and coming to doubt the truth they so wanted to be true when younger.  While it is about going from faith to losing faith, the problems and concerns that a torn Church of God minister might have can also be helped by caring and listening former pastors.  It is private and there is no way those over you can access or see your correspondence with The Clergy Project. 

"Welcome to the Clergy Project. It is hard to think of any other profession which it is so near to impossible to leave. If a farmer tires of the outdoor life and wants to become an accountant or a teacher or a shopkeeper, he faces difficulties, to be sure. He must learn new skills, raise money, move to another area perhaps. But he doesn't risk losing all his friends, being cast out by his family, being ostracized by his whole community. Clergy who lose their faith suffer double jeopardy. It's as though they lose their job and their marriage and their children on the same day. It is an aspect of the vicious intolerance of religion that a mere change of mind can redound so cruelly on those honest enough to acknowledge it.

The Clergy Project exists to provide a safe haven, a forum where clergy who have lost their faith can meet each other, exchange views, swap problems, counsel each other – for, whatever they may have lost, clergy know how to counsel and comfort. Here you will find confidentiality, sympathy, and a friendly place where you can take your time before deciding how to extricate yourself and when you will feel yourself ready to stand up and face the cool, refreshing wind of truth."

- Richard Dawkins

I am not addressing this from the cold transition from believer to generic unbeliever.  I am not suggesting one must be agnostic or atheist.  I am suggesting any Church of God Lurker Minister or Elder who is struggling with all the ridiculous experience with WCG, GCI, RCG, PCG, LCG and it taking it's toll can find private help to talk it through.  I belong to the Clergy Project as well but have been more active here on Banned for now.  It helped just to read the stories, concerns and realities of men and women in theological change with consequences.  There is not much consequence for the average member to simply walk away.  They go to work on Monday and not much changes in reality.  I know it can be traumatic but they only have themselves to be concerned about.  There are exceptions of course but I believe you all understand what I mean.  I stayed with my local congregation way longer than my mind stayed with anyone "over" me.  I did care about my local congregation.  But you can't win. Stuck between the Devil and the deep blue sea, you lose it all.  I can count on one hand my ongoing friends in ministry with fingers left over.  It takes two hands to cover the members of my own congregations who have stayed friends no matter. 

If there is any pastor or elder in the COG experience who is struggling and needs to chat, I promise you complete confidentiality as if it never happened.  If you need to see the experience is not unique in all of ministerial experiences in Christianity, please read the stories at the Clergy Project.  If you are the type of person who has all inclusive scorn for every Church of God minister, who are not all Ministurds in fact and who started out with the same hopes and desires to be and do and teach the right things, stop by the Clergy Project and read how pastoring really works in the real world.  I don't excuse any in ministry but I know that side of the fence and pressure and confusion  churches and religion  cause were and are common in all Churches and Denominations. 

Finally, it is no secret that the WCG ministry and thus all those who went on to make fools of themselves all claiming to represent the One True Church and culminate in the foolishness of a Dave Pack, were not well trained in theology or ministry.  I was not.  To study the Gospels and the "Harmony" of them was simply to read them and know the stories.  Rod Meredith would not know a controversial questions or contradiction in the Gospels if it bit him in the bum.  Epistles of Paul classes were reading them classes and generic commenting and know the content.  Old Testament Survey was reading it from Genesis to Malachi and hanging out in the stories that fit whatever one wanted to make them fit .Knowing that half of Paul's Epistles were not written by him was not part of the mix.  Knowing the language they were written in was not required .  The Psychology of ministry or the care and feeding of a congregation was never covered.  I graduated with a 3.97 in what they had to offer and what they had to offer was precious little in reality.  I was an elder at 23 and a Preaching Elder at 24.  Wow...awesome!  Want to know all about the Bible, the mind of God and where the True Church is on earth?  Just ask.  Sigh...
I have attended Episcopal Church the last two weeks for a couple of personal reasons.  I find myself still very torn.  Stuck between a view of life that is real and accurate and stories and myths that, depending on the education, most clergy recognize as well and keep to themselves.   It's a weird profession.  The price has been very high in every way.  I have followed the antics of Dave Pack with both a fascination and a contempt for a man who claims great things for himself and has no training  of any actual worth in theology.  He is an excellent speaker and communicator.  He speaks lies and communicates fairy tales.  He is a weaver of tales and analogies he mistakes for truth at the expense of probably sincere folk who are being conned into what the Bible may say but does not mean.  It is common in all churches.  Dave practices a particularly repulsive form of it to me.

Just when you think the man has crashed in flames, here he comes again for another run on landing safely.  I don't wish him well and I doubt he makes it to the hanger.  But to those of you who actually meant well and feel stuck and lost in all the confusion this and other men can cause you, try the Clergy Project if for nothing else than seeing there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to religious awakening no matter the source and no matter where it takes you.  It will be rough.  Family will suffer, marriages will fail, tensions will rise and the temptation to cover the pain inappropriately will be enormous.  Reality is our friend in the long run and the sooner you get started the sooner you can stop wasting your time, resources and life energy on the insane  ideas others think you need to follow them over the cliff for.
I will encourage you one more time to and as long as you're having the experience anway to...
Thomas Henry Huxley
“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing”







Anonymous said...

Regarding pastors who lose their faith, what do you make of this November 2012 post on another forum. Take a look at the next-to-last post on the page below:

An unusual admission?

Sure, there are thousands of religious cults around the world. How many, though, could be described with the words the poster used?

a small (>10K members) religious cult that split off from a bigger cult about 20 years ago.

Does anybody here know what other cults split off from their mothership at about the same time as WCG? And, if the post is referring to WCG, who is the father being described? Meredith? Weinland? Flurry? Hulme?

Douglas Becker said...

The Armstrong Mafia or TAM for short was a full fledged sociopathic organization replete with "flexible conscience". There's no way for it to get better except to leave the Mafia Cult. Note the mention of other organizations such as the military.

While the Venn Diagram I made represents the ministers in that cult (and note the "Psychopath / Sociopath by day"), members are not at all exempted because of their hubris.

You should listen to the 2013 Feast of Trumpet sermons, replete with references to the coming doomsday and the British Israelism idea of bring the lost tribes of Israel back together -- how the United States will be punished as Israel for all of its wickedness. Truly disturbing, since, as we all know, British Israelism is crap. You should listen to what's current for a really disturbing experience of the weird and creepy.

It's clearly the product of an addled mind, capable of only understanding (to a small degree) the physical rituals of the Old Testament Israelites without ever coming to grips with redemption as plain and simple (for Christians) as the epistle of I John. Herb Armstrong took Christianity back to the Bronze Age without ever understanding the revolutionary teaching that Jesus taught, presumably because his inferior intellect never allowed him to get beyond his narcissistic desire of admiration and his need to have the "best" (most expensive) of what modern mammon can buy -- and not being one to be able to lower himself to common labor, simply had to rely on duped TAM members to provide his every need to be like an Oriental Potentate, totally selfish with thoughtless impact on others as collateral damage.

The "flexible" social conscience context underlines the problems of a sociopathic organization wherein the conscience is highly dependent upon the vagaries of the leader / leader(s) and those close to the top of the hierarchy. Unfortunately, it is impossible to be untouched by the distorted perceptions of irrational thought resulting in folie à plusieurs ("madness of many"), which is associated with a particular mental disorder described in the DSM-5.

Irrational thought extends beyond socialization, however: Science is thrown out along with any other objective evidence.

The Journal is akin to having a newspaper for a collection of Mafia families, all designed to make the whole venue seem all so very benign while belying utter nonsense replete with toxic abuse. A Mafia magazine may include articles of pleasant garden parties, collective celebration of events, even holiday get togethers at the end of the year from Christmas to New Year's, but underlying the tributes to various luminaries, it never ceases to neglect the obvious detriment it does to its members and the community at large.

In "Stargate: Ark of Truth", Tomin recognizes the horrible damage he has done in serving his false gods (in this case, the ORI) and asks Teal'c how he can forgive himself. Teal'c answers that he cannot. He can only honor those he has harmed by going forth and working to stop the pernicious cult to which he was attached.

And that is where the past ministers of TAM must position themselves: They must go on and never stop exposing the evil being by those who are responsible for the harm being done.

And in the immortal words of General Landry to the Prior who was so certain that he was preaching the right thing and the sure of the power of his false gods, a response to TAM minsters today, "Feel free to set yourself on fire".

Douglas Becker said...

Correction: General Landry said, "Feel free to burst into flames".

Head Usher said...

Perhaps the most heartfelt post you've ever written. Just had to acknowledge that.

I think they were right in that you were never "one of them." That's what Dave Albert meant when he said he didn't think you were cut out for the ministry. He recognized that you weren't a narcissistic psychopath and were never going to be quite up to snuff at the abusing requirements of the job. Sometimes incompetence is a virtue? But it's hard to get away from the "liar" charge. But even us laymembers are guilty of that. We were all "liars for Jesus" (or Moses). I know I was. I didn't mean to be. But you can't be "in it" and not be. And once you've written that history, all you can do is come clean about it. Most mistakes in life cannot really be fixed.

As I get a little older I begin to see that no matter what job you hold, no matter how upstanding or honorable, there's something a little bit unsavory, a little bit dehumanizing, a little bit corrupting about it. Just working for money at anything somehow makes you into some kind of a prostitute, a little cog in a larger, impersonal, soul-destroying piece of machinery. And being a minister isn't any different, just a little more cognitively dissonant. But there's no getting away from the fact that's what it takes to meet human needs at prices people are willing to pay. And what's the alternative? Leaving human needs unmet? Or maybe this is just what happens when you grow up viewing everything through the unreasonably idealistic lens of religiosity?

Even as a nobody, it still took me a couple of years to summon the courage to leave, and for me the price was relatively low. There are so many people who ask for an accounting. There are so many friends you lose, and family members you disappoint. And that's deconversion on the clearance rack. If you're a minister, you're paying full retail for name-brand designer deconversion.

Byker Bob said...

What I've learned is that there are things in life that appear desirable, and then as you become engrossed in them, they change and turn on you.

One of life's skills would appear to be knowing when to quit or leave. Unfortunately, most of us tend to try to "tough it out", which carries the consequence of a certain amount of damage. The problem in the ACOGs (still true today) is that management is dedicated to persuading those who recognize this damage and feel that they ought to leave that the damage caused by leaving would be exponentially greater. By the time one actually gains escape velocity, he or she is often filled with formerly suppressed rage, and bitterness on top of the damage.


Douglas Becker said...

It's impossible to be competent in a dysfunctional environment.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis, With the advent (no pun intended) of the internet, it's nice that we can now more easily find resources that dovetail with our particular and personal needs, whatever they may be.
I remember you mentioning this resource awhile back, and there certainly seems to be a need for something like that. I wish you and Chewie the best :-) and may the Force be with you!

Michael said...

A lot of ministers (notably in GCI) have admitted teaching mistakes, even big ones, in the past. Heartfelt regrets for past errors have been expressed among a lot of ministers.
But I'd like to submit that there's a big difference between that and the few cases like Dennis as seen in this and his other articles.
For example, GCI ministers acknowledge the errors but continue to work as ministers. In my opinion, if you worked for 10, 20, 30+ years teaching nonsense you have forfeited your credibility as being a teacher of men. Your best course of action is to leave that profession and become a student. Where are your credentials, Joe Tkach, Ron Kelly, Greg Albrecht, for being church leaders teaching your new theology? You've proven in the past that you can be preaching nonsense, and you probably still are, even if it is less toxic nonsense.

The difference between that and people like Dennis is that the latter have decided to leave the ministry altogether after having found out it was wrong, and no longer claim to have any right to being a religious guide for others. Kudos for that.

Some may disagree but in my opinion this is the only respectable course of action, whereas continuing in the ministry is an instinctive behavior: in other words, WCG ministers that believe they were somewhat meant to be theological expounders and must still be credible teachers of theological issues. WCG ministers, if all of you taught lies and errors, so what business do you have still teaching theology? If you acknowledge the errors, then why not graciously abdicate and let others teach who do not have such blotches?

Just my opinion of course. (By the way, GCI doesn't seem to be criticized much on this blog, although I guess that's because there's arguably less to criticize than the splinters.)

Anonymous said...

The one person who most hates all the attention Packer is getting is not Packer old Twelve Pack who insists that he deserves the most contempt for being Satan's primary target.

Anonymous said...

There is no way any just God would base your salvation on a book that was written by men, assembled by men, copied out by men, preached by men, and interpreted by men. Men are too deceitful and fallible. The entire process is abused. God is a hell of a lot smarter than that. If there is a lake of fire the ministers will be the first ones thrown in.

Byker Bob said...

Well, Simon and Garfunkel had an app for this situation: Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters.