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Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Almost Perfect Church: Interlude

The story is almost over, the ending is predictable.  I will finish the tale for completeness but first a short interlude.

I have tried to be as honest as possible.  I have spent years reflecting on my own mistakes and have tried to own them publicly and openly.  I have not hesitated to state where I felt others fell short, we were deeply hurt (Jeanie tonight: "Do they know that this was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my entire life?") and I couldn't explain how or why we were hurt without being clear about what was said and done that hurt us.

This story is my perspective.  There are other perspectives, but I can only guess at them.  If there are other things I did wrong, I have yet to hear of them. If anyone else feels they did anything wrong, that it wasn't all my fault, I've never heard it.  I've apologized where I felt I did wrong, no one else ever has. Whether this means no one else feels they have anything to apologize for, I don't know.

The people who did this are all basically good people whom I have admired.  I DESIRED to have them on my board.  I enjoyed their friendship in the past.  I miss them.  I don't believe that any of them sought this outcome or wanted to force me out.  I have explained why their behavior left me feeling like staying was impossible, but I doubt if they saw this at the time.  I don't know how they didn't see it, but I think they got caught up in something none of us understood.

I have tried to explain how I've made sense of it.  I've gone back to underlying conflicts over the type of church we would be and how the pastor should function.  I honestly don't believe they ever really thought any of that through. They had an idea of what the church should be and do based on their experience of other churches and they wanted me to conform to it and when I resisted they probably thought I was being lazy or something and wanted to shock me into changing. If my guesses are wrong, I look forward to hearing the true story.

I had a vision of the church and my role based on my understanding of the New Testament and I wanted us to move in that direction but they didn't see it that way.  Even today if I spelled it all out they probably wouldn't agree that my vision is how churches should be or how Christians should live or how pastors should lead.  My missional conception of the Church and Christian life is pretty radical compared to how the majority of contemporary American church-goers think.  If I spelled it out in full, most people at TA (then or now) probably would feel relieved that I left.

I'll have more to say about that after my story is through.  What I have to share on these matters isn't specifically about TA but about all churches today.  "You may think that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

Francis Chan left his church suddenly at about the same time I left TA.  He said, in one interview, that he had a picture in his mind, based on his study of the Bible, of what the church should do and be, and every year they kept trying new things to bring their church into line with that vision (pretty much the same as my vision) and it always felt like they were just tweaking around the edges but could never bring about the radical changes needed to fulfill the vision.

I wasn't willing to compromise my vision and the other leaders and probably most of the congregation weren't ready to follow it so my leaving was ultimately inevitable.  For that vision to happen at TA, I would have had to prayerfully figure out how to bring the leaders and congregation around to what I believe to be a New Testament perspective, a way of doing church different from what most of today's evangelical subculture is used to.  Because I didn't, and couldn't, do that, I ended up being a leader with no followers and suffered the fate such a person always finds.

In all I've written I've tried to make the point that neither I nor they had wrong motives and neither I nor they are without blame for how it ended.  I apologize to those who are angered by this conclusion for any anguish I have caused you. My criticisms of TA are not really so much criticisms of that specific church as they are of the state of the "Bible-believing" churches of America today in general.  Some of you sincerely believe that these problems can be fixed by a series of small, incremental changes.  What Chan calls "tweaking".  I hope you are right.  I just don't believe it anymore myself.

Chapter 10


Ted Hering said...

Mark, I'm thinking of several things, not all related to each other. It sounds like the board thought you were out of control, so they had to control you--which just doesn't work. There's also a hint that they thought your devotion to running was idolatry (though they probably didn't articulate it so that you could respond).
One of the sentences I took away from college NT class: The Epistles were written to Christians! ("Now, about the guy in your church who is sleeping with his father's wife..." is only the most extreme). I suspect that the church has never looked like what the church should look like just as humanity has never looked like humanity should look like.
Finally, in the Perspectives book, there is an article on modality vs sodality--the parish church vs the religious order, or, in evangelical terms, the church vs the missions agency. I never quite agreed with it, but I see the point. Maybe you wanted a sodality.
Love you and Jeanie and look forward to seeing what God has for you.

Ted Hering said...

Yikes, the computer decided I, Janet, was Ted! Oh, well!

Sherrie said...

Mark and Jeanie, just wanted to say I love you both and my heart aches for the pain you have been through.

Mark Swanson said...

thanks Sherrie, I think most of my pain is healed but Jeanie still struggles (I've been told these situations are always harder for the wife involved). Just last night she mentioned you specifically (along with a few others) as one of the friends she has missed the most.

David Haddon said...

In the parable of the two builders, one of whom built on the rock and the other of whom on the sand, the issue was whether or not the builders, both of whom had heard Jesus' words, did them. The issue for the outcome of how we build our lives and, by extension, of how we build the local church is just that: do we build it in accordance with Christ's words or not. That is the question.

Mark, I think that your vision was generally in accordance with Jesus' words. But the cultural captivity of the American church often renders the word of God of no effect today just as it did with the religious leaders of Jesus' day, the Pharisees. So the issue is not so much "blind spots" as a pervasive blindness to spiritual realities.

I have lived long enough to see a a spiritual revival--the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s-early 1970s--that actually transformed a typical Southern Baptist Church into something much more like the Biblical model. Other churches across the country have done even more. And a visionary leader is usually at the core.

David Haddon said...

I hasten to add, lest Mark be constrained to rebuke me, that I do not consider our brothers who were in leadership at TA to simply be blind Pharisees. As Mark has already said, it's a lot more complicated than that. The paradox of Romans 7 besets all believers with the reality of continuing sin and sinful attitudes. And even some of the leaders that God has used mightily in the history of the church from Augustine to Luther and down to Francis Schaeffer have made doctrinal errors or have had serious personal defects. And this list, of course, includes, at least in our sinfulness and proneness to error, Mark and me.

What I am saying is that the rejection of Mark's vision for outreach, not to mention for relational groups, suggests to me not "blind spots," but blind areas, and these areas happen to be central to the Great Commission 's commands for 1) evangelism and 2) discipleship. And this gets back to our cultural captivity to the American Dream, American patriotism and a capitalist economic system that through brilliant advertising inculcates aquisitiveness in us from an early age.