By David and Sarah
For the entire story of why we left Harvest Bible Baby Church, please see the following posts: A Letter to My Friends at Our Former Church The Molehill that Became a Mountain [this post] The Feedback My Pastor Labelled "Possibly Aggressive" (or How NOT to Respond to Solicited Feedback) Our Resignation Letter to a Former Church... ... And Their Manipulative Response
A detailed account of how a minor mistake on the part of the senior pastor was severely mishandled by leadership and became a catalyst for us to leave the church. This account was originally written within a matter of days after the final communication referenced here.
There is a lot of text to sort through here, so highlighted in bold are what we feel to be some of the most pertinent statements, to ease the flow of communication. Our reactions to the dialogue are italicized.
For reference, Mr. and Mrs. Elder were the leaders of our small group. We had attended the group regularly for two years, and considered them friends. Mr. Elder was also an elder at the church. Pastor Senior, in spite of his role and title, was actually on the young side for being a senior pastor of a soon-to-be-mega church. He turned 30 sometime during the two years we called this church “home.” We call the church Harvest Bible Baby Church (HBBC). The church was a plant of the Harvest Bible Fellowship (of James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel fame), later renamed to Great Commission Collective (an unfortunately accurate, if unintentional, allegory to the borg).
On November 25, Pastor Senior preached a message (“Prayed Up”) at the end of a series regarding the Lord’s Prayer. The following was a minor digression toward the beginning of the sermon:
“How many have a Catholic background or are waiting for the real ending, which is ‘For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, Amen!’ … You want to pray like that? Is that untrue to pray? No! It’s 100% true! And it’s awesome! But I, here’s where I have a problem with this. What I have a problem with is not what it expresses. But I have a problem with someone deciding whether it is abrupt or not in its ending. I have a problem with when Jesus wants it to end somewhere that we let it end and understand from Jesus’ perspective why it would end in the place that it does…”
Our reaction: We agreed with Pastor Senior’s overall point. But there was a small issue. For Sarah and I, the clear implication was that either Catholics were responsible for the circulation of that ending to the Lord’s Prayer, or that Catholics would be more likely to have heard that ending to the Lord’s Prayer.
Both of these are incorrect. The King James Bible, which has been the most widely used English translation in Protestant churches for centuries, includes the alternate ending. We know that the translation was created by the Anglican (not Catholic) Church under the patronage of (you guessed it) King James I. At the time, there was question as to which ending more accurately reflected the original writings. The men writing the translation did not have access to the quantity and quality of the manuscripts bible scholars have today. They chose to include the doxology version, in part, to distinguish the King James Version from Catholic translations circulating that did not include the doxology. The English translations that the Catholic Church today endorses do not include the doxology in the Lord’s Prayer, either. (https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/the-mystery-of-the-our-fathers-ending)
Even though this mistake on Pastor Senior’s part is such a small thing, Sarah’s email (below) reflects our thoughts on why accuracy in matters like this can be important. Again, this is only a molehill. We assumed that Pastor Senior merely misspoke or was misinformed, which was not a big deal. I (David) have done the same numerous times both from and outside the pulpit.
When it came up at small group that week, Sarah shared with the ladies (women and men met separately) that the Catholic reference was not entirely accurate. Sarah’s memory of the conversation is that Mrs. Elder affirmed this, saying the church tradition she grew up with (a non-Catholic tradition that Sarah can’t remember specifically) uses the doxology, and that Mrs. Elder appreciates the beauty of the language. She also asked Sarah to share what she found about how the doxology was added, and Sarah briefly did so. The group moved on to discuss other aspects of the sermon and HBBC-provided small group questions.
Our reaction: This is all fine and good.
Two days later, Sarah sent Mrs. Elder the following text: “Happy Friday! May I ask an awkward question, just when you have time? Going back to Sunday when Pastor Senior incorrectly attributed the alternate ending of the Lord’s Prayer to Catholics, is there someone who says something when a pastor/staff member makes a public error like that? I realize his main point was that we should not add to scripture as opposed to bashing on Catholics, but the bashing on Catholics kind of detracted from his main point. So I was just wondering if there’s some kind of check in place for simple things like that.”
Our reaction: Sarah, out of curiosity, and partly out of concern, wanted to know the best way to point out a simple molehill like this to educate and enhance further communication. See her email to Mr. Elder below to hear more of her reasoning. Sarah readily acknowledged later that use of the word “bashing” to hyperbolize Pastor Senior’s multiple “I have a problem” statements was in error, and by the time of our meeting in Communication Eleven (below) she had repeatedly apologized for it. When she wrote this text, the kind of response she anticipated receiving to her question was, “Oh, yeah, one of the elders will probably mention something to Pastor,” or “If it’s something you feel strongly needs to be addressed, you should email or call Pastor about it.”
Two days later, Mrs. Elder responded via text: “Sarah! I just saw this message. I will talk with Mr. Elder about this and get back to you.”
Our reaction: It was a little weird that Mrs. Elder couldn’t answer it directly, but whatever. We appreciated that she was finding an answer.
Three days later, Sarah received a text directly from Mr. Elder (Mrs. Elder was not included): “Sarah, this is Mr. Elder. I went back and listened to the message you’re referring to and it seems to me that Pastor Senior was briefly inferring that if you have a Catholic background you might be wondering why he’s not covering the ‘doxology’ verse in his last message on the Lord’s Prayer. He goes on to emphasize that early, more reliable manuscripts don’t include that last doxology verse, and that Jesus likely intended his prayer to end without the doxology verse for good reason. Further, Pastor maintains ‘scribes’ probably added the doxology verse later. I wonder if it would be a good idea for you to re-listen to the message and see if I’m missing something as I don’t hear Pastor bashing Catholics or attributing authorship of the added verse to Catholics in the message. I hope this helps and I’m happy to talk more with you about this if you’d like.”
Our reaction: We felt like Mr. Elder did not understand the question, and Sarah was understandably a bit nonplussed when told “I wonder if it would be a good idea for you to re-listen to the message” (which, by the way, she had already done before texting Mrs. Elder). Sarah was also a bit puzzled as to why Mr. Elder felt he had to respond directly, since her question had been to Mrs. Elder, and this seemed like an unwarranted escalation of the situation. Regardless, Sarah again listened to the message, and was left with the same question. Mr. Elder’s response was also mildly concerning in that he did not admit the possibility of a mistake (however innocent) on Pastor Senior’s part.
Later the same day, Sarah texted Mr. and Mrs. Elder together: “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Elder! Sorry, in looking back at my text, I realized that, in an effort to be succinct for the text, I totally miscommunicated my question, and by exaggerating with ‘bashing’ ironically detracted from the point of my question. Mr. Elder, is it OK if I email to try and explain my question more clearly?”
Mr. Elder responded shortly afterwards with: “Sarah, no worries. And sure, here’s my email address.”
Our reaction: We hope this speaks for itself. Sarah offered a sincere apology for her tone and was still seeking an answer to her question.
The next day, Sarah emailed Mr. Elder:
Hi Mr. Elder,
Thanks for bearing with me and, again, I’m sorry for the confusion.
If I’m getting straight to the point, my question is whether there is a mechanism in place to alert the pastor/speaker when they make a simple error in a public setting, such as a Sunday sermon.
At your suggestion, I again listened to the message (my in-laws happened to have the girls yesterday for a bit). It was a well crafted sermon with an important message about temptation, and the brief piece of the sermon I’m focusing on does not detract from Pastor Senior’s points about temptation and God and our roles in it.
Yes, when Pastor introduced the doxology, he stated, “If you have a Catholic background…” To me, that implied that the Catholic church is responsible for the dissemination of the alternative ending, even though Pastor clarified not too long afterwards that a scribe likely was responsible for inserting it into Scripture originally. Whether or not my understanding of Pastor’s implication is what Pastor actually meant to imply, the simple fact is that people with a Catholic background are not in fact more likely to be familiar with the doxology ending. The doxology is in mainline Protestant traditions (particularly those that rely on the KJV or NKJV, a translation originally done for the Church of England), not in Catholic traditions. Even Wikipedia states, “Latin Church Roman Catholics do not use the doxology when reciting the Lord’s Prayer, because it is not part of their received liturgical tradition and is not found in the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome… The Anglican Book of Common Prayer sometimes gives the Lord’s Prayer with the doxology, sometimes without. Most Protestants append it to the Lord’s Prayer.”
Like I said in my text to Mrs. Elder, this is really a minor mistake. And it had no bearing on the bigger message relating to temptation. I agree that the doxology was likely not in the original manuscript of Matthew. And although this was a trivial mistake in the sermon, if someone in the congregation is talking to a Catholic friend and also incorrectly attributes the doxology to Catholic tradition, it would detract from any point they might try to make about why Protestants have a more accurate understanding of Scripture, wouldn’t it?
For all I know, Pastor’s use of the word “Catholic” was an accidental slip of the tongue. Or maybe the error was on the part of the resource Pastor happened to be using when doing his research, and he needs to take another look at that resource. I don’t know the reason for the error. But because it was such a minor part of the sermon and because I thought the correction would be non-controversial (given that a simple google search has numerous Catholic sources saying it’s not part of their liturgy), I thought this would be a safe example to use for my question to Mrs. Elder.
If I have inadvertently poked a stick into a hornet’s nest, I apologize. Pastor is a gifted speaker and preaches from Scripture and is one of the bigger reasons we chose to settle at Harvest. My question above has nothing to do with Pastor personally, it applies to anyone speaking at HBBC who happens to make an innocent, fairly black- and-white mistake. His example is simply one that happened to prompt my question because, again, I thought the example fairly innocuous, though my use of the word “bashing” was, in hindsight, not.
My major in college was history, and I happened to focus on Ancient Greece and Rome. I also happened to study Greek and Latin for two years at the university level after graduating. (I say “happened to” because this was all in my BC life.) So I actually find the topic of translations and manuscripts fascinating, and the evidence of the sheer volume and quality of Biblical manuscripts an amazing testimony to the power of God and the authenticity of Scripture. My interest in this particular topic is probably part of what happened to make me hone in on this particular part of the sermon.
Sorry for being long-winded, probably an overreaction to being too brief in my text to Mrs. Elder. Hope this helps to clarify my question, and thanks for whatever insight you can provide!– Sarah
Our reaction: Again, we hope in some ways this speaks for itself. Sarah was trying to both clarify her question and apologize for her tone and use of the phrase “bashing.” But she was also still looking for an answer.
Six days later, Sarah had not heard from Mr. Elder. She sent the following text, to make sure she had his email address correct: “Hi Mr. Elder! Just checking, did you get the email I sent? Thanks!”
The next day, Mr. Elder responded with the following email:
Sarah, sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier on your email. Thank you for taking the time to expand on your thoughts.
In response to your question, yes we have elders in place to address instances where speakers miscommunicate or could communicate better. As elders, our “job description” is to address Doctrine, Discipline and Direction in our church. When we meet we focus on these three areas among a host of other items. We have had a few instances where we have discussed and addressed an error or tone that maybe detracted from effective communication. By God’s grace, we have not had to address any doctrinal issues with those who speak publicly at our church. I hope this helps address your concern.
Thank you for sharing your perspective. Also, I really appreciated learning about your background and source of enthusiasm for history and context.
Grateful for you and David, and always know that I’m open to listening and talking, especially about things God puts on your heart.Sincerely, Mr. Elder
Our reaction: Again we were mildly frustrated that Mr. Elder still didn’t admit the possibility that Pastor Senior might have made a mistake in this instance. We were somewhat relieved that Mr. Elder acknowledged the plurality of eldership and that they challenge each other. After this e-mail, our concerns were slightly elevated. One of the people who was supposed to keep the senior pastor accountable did not seem to be able to acknowledge that the senior pastor could have made an innocent mistake. We didn’t quite see a mountain, but the issues seemed to be potentially more than a molehill.
The following day, we happened to be hosting our small group’s Christmas party. When Mr. Elder arrived, he approached Sarah while she was working in the kitchen. After exchanging greetings, Mr. Elder said that he’d “enjoyed” their conversation and proceeded to make sure everything was “good” between them. Sarah, bewildered because the tone of his email suggested anything but “enjoyment,” agreed that everything was good.
Our reaction: Sarah assumed this was an offer to smooth over any possible tones of contention in the exchange, and appreciated the intent. She explicitly remembered Mr. Elder’s wording of “enjoy” because it caught her off-guard and she was simply at a loss for how to respond, so she chose to take him at his word. While we had concerns, we decided to not pursue them and to treat the issue as a molehill. Sarah deliberately made the decision to let it go. Barnabas was considering bringing it up sometime with his friend, Mr. Elder.
A few weeks later, Pastor Associate delivered a Sunday message. As a part of it, he specifically addressed people who have been hurt by past churches, and exhorted them to not project past hurts onto HBCB leadership. He said that if someone has a problem with an individual in leadership, that someone needs to call that leader and ask to meet and just sit down and have a conversation and address concerns with a heart of humility (Sarah paraphrase of what she remembers).
Our reaction: Sarah took this message to heart and realized that she had treated Pastor Senior unfairly, not in thinking that he had made a mistake, but in not going directly to him to discuss her concern. She considered for a long time whether she needed to apologize directly to Pastor. On the one hand, it would make her feel better to unburden her heart by apologizing to Pastor. But a possible outcome of this would be having to share communication between Sarah and Mr. Elder that Sarah felt put Mr. Elder in a less-than-flattering light.
Sarah ultimately decided it would be better to feel guilty about treating Pastor Senior unfairly (particularly since she was operating under the assumption that Pastor knew nothing about what had occurred) than it would be to unburden her guilt but implicate Mr. Elder. Particularly since she had already decided to submit (for lack of a better word) to Mr. Elder in agreement that she and Mr. Elder were “good.”
Five months after Communication One occurred, we met with the Associate Pastor and Mr. and Mrs. Elder. Context for the meeting that turned this “molehill” mistake of Pastor Senior’s into a “mountain” has been written in a previous post, https://www.whyhavewefasted.org/a-letter-to-my-friends-at-our-former-church/ (under the “Leading Up to Why We Left” and “Why We Left” sections).
For the purposes of this post, it is sufficient to state that Pastor Associate invited himself and the Elders to our home under the guise of discussing us becoming small group leaders. After eating a meal that Sarah cooked them, Mr. Elder began the “business” part of the meeting by stating, “We’re wondering where your hearts are at.”
As both of us stared at him blankly, Mr. Elder turned his chair around to face Sarah in the kitchen (where she had excused herself to make Miss Bee a snack) and said, “Specifically you, Sarah. We’re wondering if you’re able to submit to leadership and training.” He followed up saying that there was a “pattern of communications” that were “yellow flags” to him.
The first of the three incidents he brought up was Sarah’s questioning of Pastor Senior attributing the alternative ending of the Lord’s Prayer to the Catholic Church.
In light of Sarah deciding (in Communication Ten, above) to not bring up Mr. Elder’s heavy-handed actions in conversation with Pastor Senior, having Mr. Elder bring up the incident which he said he’d “enjoyed” and was “good” with to raise concerns five months later about Sarah’s heart and her abilities to lead a small group which she’d been told by these very same leaders “God was leading her to do” felt like a sucker punch to the gut.
During the meeting, when Sarah was trying narrate the Catholic Church conversation to Pastor Associate, who seemed ignorant of the details of the exchange, Mr. Elder interrupted Sarah and said explicitly, “I did not tell Sarah to re-listen to message. I said I re-listened to it myself.” This is a parsing of words on Mr. Elder’s part, and factually incorrect (aka, “a lie”). Mr. Elder implied not only that Pastor Senior did not make a mistake, but that it was us who misunderstood what he said. Pastor Associate (albeit without being allowed to know much context) agreed with Mr. Elder.
As part of the discussion of this incident, Mr. Elder furthermore said that the elders’ role was not to correct minor misspeaks like this, and that their role was to protect doctrine. He said they have addressed doctrinal issues on a few occasions and that it has been received well. This is very different (aka, “another lie”) than the e-mail he sent Sarah (above), which says that doctrinal issues had not had to be addressed.
Our response: This was now a mountain. It was previously communicated that things were good, but this incident was later used to question Sarah’s ability to submit to leadership. Moreover, this personal challenge was made in front of others. At the meeting, it was denied that Pastor Senior might have misspoke. Our recollection of the conversation was challenged, and Sarah’s offer to pull up the actual transcripts were rejected. We were implicated for making a mountain out of a molehill. Let’s just be clear, we didn’t care about the original incident. We cared more that there was the inability to even take ownership for a small mistake and that we never felt listened to or understood. The mountain includes how quickly both sides of the conversation became defensive (David later apologized for this) and how that highlights concerns already mentioned. And the biggest mountain is that Sarah was blindsided in front of our children, and her perceived fault was addressed in a way that did not seem in line with Matthew 18:15-20 or common decency.