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"Every church has conflict and differences of opinion. I understand that," Joudry said. "It can be a healthy, cleansing thing. But this was not that kind of conflict. Where it should have been open, this was covert. Where it should have been discussed, this was hidden."

Its secret nature made it nearly impossible to call out. And as pastor after pastor was chewed up and spit out by a growing pattern of hostility, the church began to have a reputation in the community as a "widowmaker" for ministers.

"This systemic problem became the corporate identity of the church." Joudry told The Madison Courier, in an article the community paper published on the service. "The reputation was national, and the reputation was bad."

You're the pastor … as long as we like you

On the phone, I asked him to tell me more.

"Key lay leaders saw pastors as just chaplains for the church, not leaders. In their view, a pastor was supposed to preach, to supervise worship, to marry and bury. Ultimately, he was just an employee, and his value was tied to their satisfaction with his services. His performance had to meet their stringent personal requirements for style and comfort. Step out of line, by going against the grain, or by taking true directional leadership of the congregation, and you'd be warned. Step out again, and you'd be gone.

"Really, there were always two congregations: one led by the pastor, and one led by a quiet lay competitor who was uninterested in the title but obsessed with things going his way. He was well intentioned, I'm sure, but power hungry, angry, and dangerous if crossed. And it was his way or the highway. For decades."

Every church experiences conflict. It's a natural part of worshiping in a community with other people. "But it is one thing to have shallow conflict and deep unity," said Joudry. "It's another to have shallow unity—surface pleasantness most of the time—and deep conflict. Our brokenness was at our most basic levels of organization."

Pastors were not merely replaced, they were driven out, he said, and for "offenses" that were far from deserving of such treatment. Sermons that were too short. Or too long. Or small misbehaviors from the pastor's children. Criticism would start with small, passive-aggressive digs, then bloom cruelly. It impacted not just the ministers, but their entire families.

"One pastor's wife, like me, was a little rotund rather than the petite, thin pastor's wife that these people thought she should be," Joudry said. "They would invite him places but conspicuously leave her out or ignore her because of her appearance. At Christmastime they backhandedly gave her a membership to a gym—a 'gift' that was a cruel jab at her struggle with her weight. When I first came, I didn't believe that passive-aggressive horror stories like this really happened. But they did. Ministry qualification was all about image."

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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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Displaying 2–6 of 15 comments

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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Doug Tegner

January 24, 2014  9:56pm

Thank you for the article and example set by Pastor Jourdry. We had a similar situation to work through in 2006 and by God's grace we have experienced redemption, renewal, restoration and re-direction. I have been serving as Sr Pastor since that time and can attest to the vitality and ongoing repentance our church family is experiencing. We lost 1/2 of our congregation before our Solemn Assembly and restoration (of a former pastor) service. Yet, I too, even now, 7 years after the fact, experience bouts of depression, discouragement and anxiety with the leftover "losses" our congregation continues to be reminded of. (ie. 600 of our once-1200 member congregation, departed "for good"). Here is the article from Leadership Journal that expresses our testimony to God's redemptive work for this "repenting church". http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2010/spring/repentingchurch.html Tha nk you for stepping out in obedience to the Lord and for standing up to "ram" sheep who destroy His flock.

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