Experience In A Church Pastored By A UPCI Minister

First of all, thank you for providing a chance to vent my feelings and experience on your site. I was a member of a Pentecostal church for about 5 years, and even though I left several years ago the frustrations and bad feelings are hard to shake.

The "pastor" (I find it impossible to think of him as a true minister of God) of my church, whom I will not name, is bringing much negative attention to his family and church and I thank God my husband and I are out of it, although to our dismay my husband's family is still involved there. The pastor is a very charismatic person, a former top salesman, and the congregation follows him almost as if he were God himself.

I joined the church because my husband belonged there. He was a former Catholic and was at a lonely point in his life when he joined. Even after my husband and I were engaged, he (pastor) tried to dissuade my husband from marrying me because I "thought too independently" (his exact words). We did marry though, and several of the church members were in our wedding party.

Over the years we began to notice things. The church seemed to attract mentally unstable people and those who were at a very low point in their life. Of course they need the Lord as much as anyone, but no other kind of person seemed to want any part of this church. We also realized that people there believed that Christians of other denominations were going to hell. This was actually said to us -- we didn't just infer it. Our "shepherd" said that the Catholic church had sent more people to hell than any other denomination, and he took his youth group to a Catholic mass to show them the "wrong" way.

The pastor was right -- I did "think too independently." I began to question the need for never cutting my hair and always wearing dresses/skirts. It seemed to me to be related to the culture of Bible times, and certainly had nothing to do with salvation. The pastor preached almost exclusively on Acts 2:38 -- hardly ever quoted other Scripture and almost always ended his "sermons" with that verse.

Speaking in tongues was practically forced on you, although I could never do it. They would stand over you and "pray you through to the Spirit" and you were supposed to show it by speaking in tongues.

Sometimes they would kind of shake people for emphasis. Seeing people "slain in the Spirit" (i.e. lying in the aisles) was not uncommon. I remember one woman suddenly getting up and running around the church.

Another woman was supposedly "slain in the Spirit", causing her to fall down and having her dress fly up to her waist so that she had to be covered up. I am not saying that the Holy Spirit can't cause a person to speak in tongues or even to fall, but what I saw I am convinced was false, and not a manifestation of the Holy Spirit but of the pastor and his wife whipping people into an emotional frenzy.

Furthermore, the pastor's greed became more and more apparent. He came right out and said one day that he (personally) was going to take the offering money. Decisions were made on how to spend the money by him, with no committee or other church members involved. His congregation was largely at the poverty line, yet he milked them for all he could.

One family, faithful members, was having serious financial problems and a member of my husband's family wanted to help. She was told not to by the pastor, because the family was not tithing (his words describing failure to tithe were "living in sin"). Another family was living in a tent, and as far as we know nothing was ever done to help them.

It was hard to consider leaving because of our family ties there, but we finally had to. We just knew what was going on wasn't right. I'll never forget the moment I personally decided I had to leave. The pastor's wife came up to the pulpit to preach and said (and I quote) "If you are thinking of leaving this church, march up to this altar and tell God you aren't going to serve him anymore." I knew for sure that was wrong -- how could she claim that the only place in the world you could serve God was at her church?

After we did leave, not one church member, including those who were in our wedding party and supposedly our friends, ever contacted us to express concern or ask why we left. Our non-Pentecostal friends were the ones who stuck by us, even though over the years they had been concerned about our involvement in this church.

To make a long story short, we were so mixed up that it took us several years and several denominations to find out where we belonged. We now belong to the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. I hope that my telling about this miserable experience can help somebody, somewhere. Look closely at your Pentecostal church and figure out if it's really a place that teaches what Jesus taught us about how to live and love others.

Sorry, but I prefer to leave my name off. I don't want to take a chance of my husband's family being hurt.


Posted December 3, 1999

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