Memoirs of an Emergent Church Victim

By Heidi Swander

Olive Tree Ministries -

January 2009






The two pastoral search committee members I spoke with assured me there would be no problem.  Making certain that a new pastoral candidate was firmly grounded in Scripture, acutely aware of the Emergent Church, and stood squarely against it would be at the top of the list of attributes to look for in a new senior pastor.  Hey -- they said they even had an Emergent Church watchdog on the committee.  What could go wrong?  Plenty.
The day came when the committee recommended a candidate.  To acquaint the congregation with him, the elders scheduled a number of "townhall meetings" so we could ask him questions.  My two questions were on eschatology and the Emergent Church.  I don't remember his exact answers.  I do remember them being vague and unsatisfying. 
Nonetheless, in due course, the congregation voted and the vote was just short of unanimous.  We officially "called" our new senior pastor.
Within weeks of his start date, sweeping changes took place in our church.  I liken it to a bull in a china shop.  The music -- the one thing that is most readily noticed and a sensitive subject for any church -- began to change.  Two on the pastoral staff left fairly suddenly.  The organist resigned.  The church services began to look different.  Social programs absent a clear plan for presenting the gospel began to emerge.
I tried to set these peripheral things aside and concentrate on his sermons.  This was often difficult because the substance seemed elusive.  I found myself second-guessing everything he said.  Sometimes what he said and the way he said it sounded disrespectful of the Word of God.  He spoke positively about New Age advocate Oprah Winfrey.  He began to weave quotes and video clips from Emergent leaders into his messages.  He -- and many of the elders -- strongly urged the church to get on board with all that was happening, and eagerly promoted a questionable book we should read to help us in the transition.  And one elder blatantly recommended a book -- two weeks in a row -- by prominent Catholic mystic Henry Nouwen who is a father to the contemplative prayer movement.  My trust level was tanking.
Then one day here at Olive Tree Ministries I got the word that a friend of our new pastor, Terry Esau, would be speaking in my Sunday school class.  His subject?  "Breathing Lessons for Your Church."  My heart sank.  I was in the middle of reading A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen -- a warning primer on contemplative prayer, which is a foundational teaching of the Emergent Church.  From the subject title I predicted that this speaker would have Emergent leanings.  It was that day when I finally admitted to myself that I was losing my church.  As we sat down for lunch and Jan asked me to pray, I choked on the prayer and began weeping.
I had felt so comfortable at this church!  I had finally opened up and made some friends.  I had a Sunday school teacher that I could really respect.  I'd even gone to a couple of class social events.  I thought I'd found a church home.  And then, disaster struck in the form of a new senior pastor who turned the church -- and my world -- on its head.  For your average churchgoer, this is difficult; for a single person, the blow stings that much more.  For me, the pain was acute.  Now what should I do?
Others in the church were aware of the pro-Emergent direction in which the church was headed and tried to address it.  Many of the older members -- who were systematically being ousted by the change in service music and venue -- tried to talk to the new pastor or an elder to no avail. 
Finally four of us had the opportunity to meet with the pastor and a couple of the elders.  At that meeting I heard firsthand what so many had reportedly been told: "If there are those who are uncomfortable with the direction the church is headed, it may be wise for them to find another place to worship."  It wasn't directed at me, but I got the message.  They wouldn't consider any pleas for caution, no matter how scripturally-based.  
By the time that meeting was over, I'd had enough.  It was time to move on. 
I'd already started visiting another area church intermittently and had really enjoyed it, though I was wary from my recent experience.  But the people were friendly, and the Word of God was dynamically preached.  I also discovered that the pastor was teaching a series on the Emergent Church in order to educate and warn his church family.  That really encouraged me!  I sat in on one of those lessons, and my enthusiasm grew.  Could it be that I had so quickly found a new church home that stood squarely on Scripture and against the postmodern onslaught I'd been wrestling?  In a word, yes!  It's amazing how quickly my trust level is growing, and I'm so happy to once again look forward to attending church every week!
I realize as I write this that there are many of you who only dream of finding a solidly biblical church home.  Some continue to attend an unhealthy church because you don't know what else to do.  Some choose to stay and fight - which I did for a while -- but you have to know when the gig is up and it's time to move on.  And then, where to move on to? 
Pray about it.  Set standards that you will not waver from.  For me a church must be Bible-based, doctrinally sound, pro-Israel, premillennial.  Sit down with the pastor and grill him on your important standards that are essential to a Biblical church. 
There is a command in Scripture to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25).   The Lord knows that it is vital to our spiritual health and growth to exhort one another, "and so much the more as [we] see the day approaching," - that is, the nearer the return of Christ is.  If He commands it, there must be a way to fulfill it.  Ask Him to show you what to do.  
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).

Olive Tree Ministries, Inc. --
Box 1452, Maple Grove, MN 55311
763-493-3010or 763-210-8291

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