Brandon Lemons from Friedens Church writes a post about being connected in your church. Does this post consider the issues of spiritual abuse and burn out which is rampant today? In addition it also offers some ideas as to how a church can help build community and trust in the process. This post is a reflection on an Evangelical Free in Port Washington, Wisconsin.
“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.”
Orson Scott Card
“It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to…the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility…and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:14 NLT
Friedens Church is an Evangelical Free in Port Washington, Wisconsin. This church can trace its roots to 1854 when German immigrants established Friedens. The name Friedens means “peace” in German. Port Washington is about 30 minutes north of Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan. The population is about 12,000 according to the last census. The city got its name from being a natural port on the lake. And Port Washington is home to the largest fish fry in the world which has been held continually since 1964.
The senior pastor today at Friedens is Brandon Lemons. Brandon comes from northeast Missouri. He attended Minnesota State University in Mankato where he earned a Bachelor degree in Automotive Engineering Technology. From his bio it sounds like Brandon got involved in Campus Crusade for Christ (today Cru) while at Mankato. Upon graduating he went on staff at Cru and served at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota for three years. Afterward Brandon moved to Illinois where he received a Masters of Divinity from Trinity. He then became the senior pastor at Friedens in 2009. In looking at Brandon’s biography I would suggest that our paths probably crossed at Crusade events in in the early 2000’s. After all I was deeply involved in planting Crusade at Marquette University and I also did Christmas conferences in Minneapolis. The Wondering Eagle regularly reviews, analyzes and writes about the Christmas conferences and in a couple of months I will do so again. To read 2016 Cru’s conferences go to “Cru Winter Conference Review 2016-2017: David Platt, Matt Smethurst, Jackson Crum and J.D. Greear are Some of the Main Speakers.” Brandon is married to Shelly and they have two children.
Today’s post is an analysis of a post that Brandon wrote for the church’s newsletter a few years ago. In writing about the EFCA I regularly study the districts and perform analysis of them. You can read the overview of the Forest Lakes District in “Analysis of the Forest Lakes District of the Evangelical Free Church of America.” To see the rate of Neo-Calvinism/Neo-Puritanism you can read the following post. “Analyzing the Growth of Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism in the Evangelical Free Church of America: The Forest Lakes District.” The Forest Lakes District is 24% Neo-Calvinist, which is high and in this writers opinion needs to go down. Friedens itself is Neo-Calvinist and a part of the The Gospel Coalition. Brandon’s article deals with people being connected in church. Being connected is the buzz word that is often thrown around. Let’s take a step back and look at what Brandon wrote and discuss it. My comments below will be in red.
How Connected Are You?
Back in October of 1993, in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, police found an elderly woman dead on her kitchen floor. This was no ordinary discovery—she had been dead four years! Police speculated she died at the age of seventy-three of natural causes. How can someone be so isolated that no one even notices when she dies? Well, this woman didn’t have a close relationship with her family, and she isolated herself from others. One friend from the past said, “She didn’t want anyone bothering her at all. I guess she got her wish, but it’s awfully sad.”
While this story is a bit extreme, it’s a good reminder of what happens if we aren’t connected with others. While I doubt that anyone at Friedens could end up in the exact same situation as this woman in Massachusetts, I am concerned about how easy it is for us as American Christians to live disconnected lives, to be around other people but
have no one who truly knows us and cares about us.
When I read that story that Brandon used about the women who died in her kitchen I honestly thought it was a bit extreme. I am glad Brandon admitted to stating that as well. But there could be a number of reasons as to why that particular person acted the way that they did and disavowed everyone. My gut is telling me that the person could have had an anti-social disorder or mental illness. That is quite different than the way some people struggle with community. While I couldn’t find the story that Brandon referenced in the Chicago Tribune I did find a story dealing with the situation in the New York Times which I linked above. But let’s continue and look at what Brandon has said.
Our Disconnected Society
America has been called “The Loneliest Nation on Earth.” Superficiality in our relationships can lead to loneliness, even when we’re in the presence of many people. Let me point out three of the root causes of this disconnection and superficiality.
1. We live “compartmentalized” lives. The various aspects of an American’s life tend to be divided into “compartments” that rarely interact with each other, such as: work, church, recreation, neighborhood, etc. When people only know us in one aspect of our life, it is difficult for people to really know us.
2. We’re too busy. We are moving so quickly from one task to the next that we don’t have a chance to slow down to connect with others or even to be honest with ourselves. It’s been said that “if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” Authentic connection takes time.
3. We’re too afraid. People often fear rejection if others see who they really are. It feels easier and safer to put on a “happy face” and pretend everything’s “fine” than to be honest about what’s really happening in our lives.
I found this section of Brandon’s post to be troubling because I think it ignores a deep problem that is rampant in the evangelical church today. That problem is spiritual abuse. Often times people are getting burned, fried and walking away from the church and joining the ranks of the “dones.” When it comes to compartmentalization what also needs to be stated is that often people should not be told to lay down their boundaries. Healthy boundaries is key to a healthy life. And honestly many evangelicals do not know what healthy boundaries are. The second point is that I often wonder if many pastors really understand their congregations and their needs. For many people life has gotten faster. Some people have had to pick up a second job just to pay their bills or more.
But the one bullet point that troubled me is the third one that Brandon wrote. Brandon doesn’t acknowledge the problems in evangelicalism, spiritual abuse and the way many people are getting fried. Let me use one personal example form my days in Campus Crusade to make my point. As a student leader from Cru at Marquette I had an accountability partner from Cru at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. The accountability ended up destroying the friendship and frying two people. Its the model Crusade uses, which as I understand is also what Sovereign Grace also used as well. Accountability in evangelicalism is often cult-like and questionable ministries use it to control people. In my case I got fried for confessing my short comings. My accountability did exactly what Brandon wrote and felt like he had to lie. His experience in evangelicalism in the end helped give birth to an atheist from what I understand who now lives in Chicago. But Brandon makes no mention as to how many people are burned, fried and just exhausted from the very legalistic nature of evangelical programs.
Authentic, Biblical Community
Without authentic connections with other Christians, we cannot be all that God has called us to be, individually or as a church (see John 13:34; Rom. 12:9-16; Gal. 6:2; Heb. 10:24-25; James 5:16). Even worse, lack of authentic community can cause us to
suffer from a similar fate as the woman in Massachusetts, though with a slight twist. We may be struggling spiritually, emotionally, financially, etc, but no one really knows. Then, when the truth comes out, it’s too late: a marriage has already crumbled; a heart
has hardened toward God; an addiction has formed; disillusionment has set in.
I think what Brandon is writing here is more representative of American evangelical culture. After all is the description that Brandon uses actually work? Do you need authentic community in order to be all that God wants you to be? If we could run this by a Christian suffering in a North Korean internment camp alone what would he say? Would he concur? Plus until Christians understand grace there are many areas that Christians should be careful about sharing. I learned this the hard way in my life. There are also situations that counter what Brandon writes. For example people can and have volunteer and open up about struggling spirituality, emotional issues, finances, etc… and the church hammers them. Some organizations or ministries get Christians to confess issues or problems so that they can use them against people. How Christian is that? Actually for me its more cult like in the end. The sad part about some of this is that many ministry leaders who encourage and enforce this often don’t practice or personally believe it. Just look at Mark Driscoll from the late Mars Hill Seattle. Was Mark Driscoll open and honest about his issues, and his abuse? If so then why did he flee to Scottsdale, Arizona? What about C.J. Mahaney from Sovereign Grace? He was all about accountability, and what happened? Information came out that he allegedly engaged in criminal activity – to include blackmail and more. And the bastard fled Covenant Life Church here in the D.C. area and hid behind Mark Dever’s ass at Capitol Hill Baptist. And many Christians from D.A. Carson to so many others stay silent and act like this is fine. When Brandon speaks about accountability and more this needs to be remembered especially as this is a Neo-Calvinist church affiliated with The Gospel Coalition.
Friedens has been known as a “friendly church.” I want to challenge us to go deeper than mere friendliness. We are in deep need of authentically sharing life together—the ups and the downs, the good parts and the ugly parts. A core aspect of Friedens’ mission is “connecting with one another authentically.” Are we courageous and intentional enough to live this out?
Again see what I said above.
Two of the key ingredients for developing authentic, biblical community are: intentionality and the Gospel. Intentionality is necessary due to our busyness and passivity. And the Gospel has the power to remove our fear of vulnerability. According
to the Gospel, we are a lot more sinful than we ever dared believe, so our sin shouldn’t surprise us or others. Yet the Gospel also proclaims that God loves us a lot more than we ever dared hope, and this frees us to experience grace from God and from others.
If Brandon wants to build authenticity then the key is to start with trust and having honest conversations about spiritual abuse and other problems that are deep, painful and more. This entire post is a waste of time in light of the scandals and problems that come from The Gospel Coalition. If you want to start with intentional and honest Biblical communities lets start with D.A. Carson and the leaders of The Gospel Coalition.
Are you ready for deeper connections with other Christians? A great step is that if you don’t currently gather regularly with a group of Christians for prayer, study, and sharing life together, start now. LifeGroups are a great way to seek authentic, lifegiving
biblical community. Remember, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Pr. 27:17). But this only happens on the deepest levels when there is authentic connection.
How to Build Authentic Community The Wondering Eagle’s Thoughts
In order to build authentic community it actually needs to start with people like Brandon Lemons. Be transparent about your salary and let the people from Friedens know how much you are being paid. I am not trying to be flippant or difficult, but the fact of the matter is that the church needs to be better than the world. Often times you can find more transparency from companies that line Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee than churches in places like Port Washington, Ozakue, West Allis, Waukesha, Greendale, and more. Take the pay situation why do so many pastors hold that information tight? Especially when the salaries for public school teachers are open? The same holds true for first responders and government employees. This also applies to members of the military. You can find out what an IS1 in the US Navy (USN) or a Captain in the Air Force (USAF) can make. Pastors being transparent about their salaries is a major step toward building trust.
Next pastors and churches can be honest about a multitude of issues. Some of those issues include the following. Being open and honest about sexual predators and child sex abuse problems. If there is an incident at an evangelical church go straight to the police and be open about it to the congregation. I have been involved in four situations with either sex offenders or child sex abuse. Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee was the worst and most tragic. I wrote about that in “How I Learned Evangelical Christianity is Struggling with Child Sex Abuse: An Incident at Milwaukee’s Elmbrook Church in 1999.” Be honest about your polity and theology. Do you have any ideas about how many church hijackings I am writing about or have written? Neo-Calvinists often don’t respect the churches they come to. But be honest and open about your theology and what you believe. That is huge and essential.
Its important to remember that much of this can’t be forced. It can only happen in time and with many pastors and people leading by example. The world often has higher ethics, principals and values than many churches. That is what I have often learned and realized. Honestly it should be the other way around. This may be a hard post for Brandon to process, but I mean no hard feelings, nor am I trying to be difficult. Instead I am trying to reflect upon this after being fried and burned so much. Brandon I look forward to regularly writing about Friedens. The next time I get up to Milwaukee if you want to meet I am game. Milwaukee is my second home in many ways. That’s it Friedens, have a good day.