Beware the Obsessed

Have you ever noticed how unreasonable people become when they are obsessed with some narrow idea or issue? Back in the 1980s business writer Tom Peters made the phrase “maniac on a mission” popular to describe people who were obsessed with something that would help their business. Over the years I’ve encountered a number of maniacs on mission that weren’t very helpful to life in the church!

In God’s kindness, He put it in my heart to do my best to keep such people from joining our congregation. I found the easiest way to do that was just to be very open upfront with anybody that seemed to be obsessed with something that could prove detrimental to the body. In the early years of my pastorate, the big two for me were the King James Only and Gothard crowds. I had seen a number of churches split by such people, so I determined to put a screen door on our congregation that would filter them out. The KJVO issue really was never a challenge since our church was known as very open on that issue for years—Peter Ruckman had branded us as part of the Alexandrian Cult long before I came back! My guess is that the first time a hardcore KJVO person sat down in a Sunday school class and heard someone read from the NASB or NIV, they were gone. But, just in case, I would point out during the membership process that causing division in our congregation over this issue was not acceptable. Since I switched to using the NASB in the pulpit back in 1995, I don’t think I’ve ever even been asked about this issue by a prospective member.

The other obsession area that concerned me was Gothardism. Somewhere back in the 1970s somebody from our church must have taken some folks downtown to the Gothard seminar at Cobo Arena because my older sister had one of those big red notebooks they used. I remember looking though it, but don’t recall much about it. In the mid-80s, when I was an assistant pastor across town, one of the men on staff went to a one day meeting with Gothard and came back all pumped up about how the feast cycle of Israel paralleled the gestation period of babies in the womb. It was the classic “look what Bill found in the Bible that everybody else has missed” kind of stuff that seemed so prevalent among his followers. That pretty much made me a non-Gothardite on the spot!

Sure enough, when I became the senior pastor here, I faced a few Gothard recruiting efforts. I can still see the looks on the faces of two particular people who were shocked by my response to their efforts. One lady from another church was visiting family members here and encouraged me to promote the upcoming Gothard seminar downtown. She looked stunned when I politely informed her that we wouldn’t and won’t ever be doing that. That was the first time I was approached.

The last time I was approached, a man visited our church on a Sunday morning and I noticed during the message that he was right with me, nodding his head regularly in agreement (or falling asleep, but I think it was agreement). After the service, when we met he offered profuse praise and thanks for the service and the sermon. He seemed genuinely excited about finding a church where the Word was preached. He proceeded to tell me that he was leaving his former church because of problems with the pastor. He offered that he and his family were looking for two things in a church—exposition of the Word and commitment to Gothard’s training seminars. I can almost remember my words exactly as I said them to him. “Sir, I hope we will always be a church which is committed to the exposition of God’s Word, but we will never be a church that promotes the ministry of Bill Gothard because it does not handle the Word accurately and always seems to build more loyalty to itself than the local church.” The man’s excitement for our church immediately drained and I never saw him again. I don’t say that gladly, but I am glad I have never had to deal with the fallout that happens when the assembly gets infected with their teachings.

My funniest, strangest Gothard story involves Bill himself. Back in the early 90s, our annual pastors’ conference was held in March and one year it happened to be at the same time as his Detroit ministers meeting. During the conference I was handed a message that said Bill Gothard had called and wanted me to call him. I’d never talked to the man before, but I figured I would give him a call during a break. I tried once, but wasn’t able to get through to him, so we never talked. I found out later, from some folks who were close to him at the time, but pulling away, that he called to offer to come over and speak to the pastors who were at our conference. I cracked up over his boldness and thinking about how that conversation would have gone. Bill: Dave, I’d be glad to come over this evening to speak to the men. Dave: Bill, I need to consult my chain of command, but I am pretty sure that the answer is “not in my lifetime!”

Well, as it turned out, before long I didn’t have to do much screening because big Bill identified me as one of “the strongholds of resistance” to his ministry in the Detroit area. I actually liked the ring of that and considered putting it on our church letterhead, but decided against it.

I’m treating this all lightheartedly, but it really is a serious point that I’m trying to make. Obsessed people inevitably put their obsessions ahead of the church’s health and end up hurting believers and the church. If you don’t share their obsession it is a clear clue to them that something is wrong with you. They are crusaders and consider those who don’t share their obsession to be cowards or traitors. I’ve highlighted two older strands, but there are way more out there. Beware the obsessed!

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