A troubling story emerges from an undisclosed Acts 29 church in an urban Midwestern US city. When Denise got involved after dealing with a stalker the church acted very authoritarian even forcing her into a hospital. The Acts 29 church was so controlling that it prevented her from spending Thanksgiving with her family. Elder issues from an unnamed elder also became a factor as well. Some of the issues here are similar to what is happening in other Acts 29 churches in the United States.
“A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 NIV
This is a story of behavior at an unnamed Acts 29 church in the Midwest of the United States. The person wanted to not reveal which church out of concern as to how that would impact herself or family and friends. But she wanted people to know what Acts 29 did. This blog is deeply interested in writing about Acts 29. If anyone out there has stories they would like to tell, this blog will give them a platform.
A Troubling Experience with a Southern Baptist Acts 29 Church
Her name is Denise which for this story will be a pseudonym. Due to the unique nature of her story the church and city will not be named to protect her privacy and identity. She is from the American South and had a good experience with her Southern Baptist Church. She was discipled by a loving and kind pastor, and Denise looks up to him as spiritual mentor. Her church in the south was traditional with a choir and quite small. Because of her experience with the Southern Baptist Convention when she moved to a new city for graduate school she looked for another SBC church. That was how Denise came to the Acts 29 church in 2019. However, she also dealt with something dark that was very stressful for her. She had to contend with a stalker who followed and tried to make contact against Denise’s will. She worked with law enforcement in dealing with the problem. But it was a depressing and caused anxiety from the experience. The Acts 29 church she was in had an emphasis on fixing everything. It was heavy handed in her view. While connected to a college ministry led by the church a husband and wife who she was connected to thought Denise should go to the hospital after her experience with a stalker. The couple contacted her friends from her small group (another couple and a single friend) as well as calling the elders of the church. The elders decision on the matter was to take Denise to a local mental health hospital. At first the single friend who was called objected and said she was thought this would this would make the situation worse. The next day the leadership of the Acts 29 church once again stepped in Denise really didn’t have a say, especially in such an authoritarian culture that was all about submit to the elders. She was given a choice go with her friends to the hospital or be escorted there by the police. In the hospital the doctor who saw her was taken back by what the Acts 29 church tried to in attempting to commit someone. The doctor pushed back and after looking her over said that Denise was fine and not a threat to herself. She was let go. What bothered and angered Denise is that none of the elders talked to her. No one pulled her aside and asked, “what happened.” They made a decision without knowing all the facts and they were not interested in listening to what she had endured. This bothered Denise and became a red flag for her.
After the experience Denise decided due to depression she was open to some counseling to talk about the issue. One elder directed her to a Biblical counseling program in the area which had an agreement with the church to tell the issues of clients to the elders of their church. Even though it was not formally affiliated with the Acts29 church the counseling was completed by another member of the church. Denise did not have any idea as to what she was getting involved with. Whereas she thought she was getting involved in a program that could help with depression she entered into a system that was fundamentalist where the Bible was emphasized for her treatment. As the situation dragged on Denise had some concerns and finally backed away from it. But while this was going on there came to be another aspect that Denise began to notice about the Acts 29 church. Many people who attended lived in fear of the leadership of the church. The organization was so authoritarian that people became scared to speak their mind. To speak up was almost viewed as dissent and to question Biblical leadership, if not God himself.
The Acts 29 church deeply controlled Denise in the fall of 2019. So much so that when Thanksgiving came around the church stepped in and refused to let Denise spend the holiday with her family in the South. She was forced to attend a Thanksgiving Day dinner with someone attached to the church itself. Denise was still involved in her Small Group. Denise was a private person but the small group she was in kept tabs on people and reported on people to the church leadership. Denise had stopped attending her Biblical Soul Care counseling because she realized that it was not helpful and her information was being shared with the elders. But her friends in the church still wanted her to go. Later on, in early April Denise was told the elder tasked with her “care” felt that the church was against him and that he was being ignored. He also believed that the church was targeting him and out to get him. In reality none of this was true. For Denise he was a toxic leader who should not have been in a position of leadership at the Acts 29 church.
Another aspect that bothered Denise was the approach the lead pastor took to membership. For her it was very cult like. The church pushed membership covenants. The church held several membership classes a year and they had a ceremony where individuals from the church signed the membership covenant thus agreeing to submit to the elder’s leadership. The membership covenants were then ceremoniously hung on the wall connecting the pastors offices and that struck Denise as being very weird. There were a number of people who decided to leave this urban Acts 29 church. The elder’s would inflate numbers even including children and rolling them up into membership statistics. A number of people left this Acts 29 church because of racial injustice issues and the church felt too white and lacked diversity. By March of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning in the area and services were moved online. Denise could not watch the services. At this point she felt burned out and when she watched the elders preach her stomach would go into knots and she would become physically ill. Not sure of what to do she reached out to her Southern Baptist pastor in her home church that she looked up to for guidance. When she told him about the issues, how the church forced her to go to the hospital, collecting information behind her back and more he advised her to leave. Her pastor said that Acts 29 is controlling and has issues and encouraged her to part ways. Denise took her pastor’s advice and left. When she told her small group leaders that she was leaving the church, this was the reaction received. The wife of the small group leader was surprised that she was leaving given how much grace she gave to the church.
Five Lessons From this Acts 29 Church
When this blog discussed Acts 29 with Denise I asked her what would be the five take aways or issues that she witnessed inside Acts 29. After she thought about it these were the following lessons from the church:
- Fear of leadership. At this church people who attended and covenanted to the church leadership continually lived in fear of the leadership. Questions were discouraged and people were afraid to raise their voice. People are told continually to submit to leadership.
- Lack of communication. The church had communication problems. Information at times is not shared correctly that makes it hard to make the church function. Even after leaving the church Denise is still being contacted and asked to work in ministry.
- People in leadership who should not be in leadership. This church had shady leadership. The toxic elder identifed was an elder when he should not have been. In Acts 29 questionable individuals become elders when they should not.
- Leaders of Acts 29 churches are too prideful to take feedback or listen. They think they know the Gospel and thus know all the answers.
- Cult like. Acts 29 is very cult like. There is pressure for young females to marry. People within are expected to submit and the message is consistent that you submit blindly to leadership. An Acts 29 church will always feel cult-like as that is how they are designed.