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Home > 2014 > January > The Widowmaker Repents

Roving journalist Charles Kuralt once called Madison, Indiana, "the most beautiful river town in America." It's a little place—just 13,000 people—across the Ohio River from Kentucky. If you walked along the riverfront, you'd see quaint shops, a marina for passing boaters, and established trees lining the street.

For decades though, the beauty masked an ugly truth. Madison First Assembly of God, one of the town's key congregations, was rife with toxic church politics that hurt and expelled minister after minister. Four successive pastors had come and painfully left the congregation. The church earned a reputation—in their town and denomination—for backstabbing and hypocrisy.

That's hardly news. But unlike many similar stories, there's more to this church's tale.

"We smiled a lot, but it all masked decades of dysfunction."

I first heard of Madison First Assembly after the town's local paper reported on an unusual church service: a reconciliation event in October of 2012. The church called its former ministers back to Madison to ask their forgiveness for how they were treated. The church paid their way, publicized the service, invited the community. The church was open about wrongs done, and serious about setting them right.

One photo from the paper shows Peter Joudry, the current pastor, bent washing the feet of former ministers on behalf of the congregation. An unusual image for an unusual news item, and one that pricked my curiosity. How did the little church go from being a serial "widowmaker" to literally washing the feet of abused former pastors?

Peter Joudry washes feet of former pastor Don Fisher.

Peter Joudry washes feet of former pastor Don Fisher.

Decades of dysfunction

On the phone, Joudry was genial and quick to chuckle. He told the backstory of the service.

"To Sunday morning visitors, we looked like the healthiest church in town. The worship was red hot and the preaching was strong. We smiled a lot. But it all masked decades of dysfunction.

"The roots of the problem went all the way back to the beginning of our church in the 1950s. From the start, there were factions within the congregation. A few influential people in the church—big tithers, and people with big opinions—became increasingly important. Eventually, it was literally their way or the highway for pastors. Their divisive nature patterned the DNA of the church, and no one dealt with it. It festered, and grew, until eventually, it seemed normal."

Pastor after pastor was chewed up and spit out by a growing pattern of hostility.

While turnover can be common in small-town churches, and is never easy, over the decades a pattern established itself. Over the years, minister after minister was faced with a church that welcomed them with a smile, then slowly soured, turned on them, and drove them out of the church on one pretext or another. The issues were minor, but the political power of an elite few in the church was not. While Joudry speaks in generalities about what happened long before he came to pastor there, the church's reputation as a pastor-killer was attested to by the town, the denomination, and by his own experience.

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Paul J. Pastor is associate editor of Leadership Journal.

From Issue:Ministry Health, January 2014 | Posted: January 1, 2014

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When my personal deterioration changed direction, so did our congregation.

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July 26, 2014  11:26am

After spending 12 years in various AG congregations(my former wife's denomination) watching Jimmy Swaggart on TV and live in crusade. Then having my wife leave me for another man(many men), I had my fill of the AG. Any church that had members like this are NOT saved. There is no Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit. It is the fruit of "Strange Fire".

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Phyllis Lloyd

March 05, 2014  5:00pm

My eyes filled with tears as I read about the children of the pastors treated so hatefully. My parents were AG pastors and only by the grace of God was I able to answer the call of God on my life. We saw our parents endure horrific situations at the hands of members that could not possibly have had any sort of devotional life. Belonging to a church and being the church are two separate lifestyles. My siblings were injured by it all. The AG political system of voting and politics made me dread every voting season and even after 40 years of personal full time ministry...the word "business meeting" gives me shudders. God's will....will never take us outside of His ways. God hates divisiveness!

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February 22, 2014  7:08pm

Please remember, every "story" had two sides and this is only one man's opinion. While I won't disagree that some of this article is true, much of it is enhanced greatly. I was a member if this church for 14 years, came to Jesus there, and yes, it did have issues. And yes, I did leave and felt set free when I did. As far as the new church building being constructed down the road, it is much smaller than MAG by at least half. No one but Jesus is perfect and if we keep our eyes on Him and not on man, we will survive in Him.

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Steve Skeete

January 30, 2014  3:39pm

Meanwhile the people who started the whole thing build a bigger 'church' down the street and a new episode of Diotrephes and his kin commences. Help us, Lord!

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January 30, 2014  12:06pm

Where was Jesus the whole time in this church?

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