Certain names have been redacted and replaced with “-“.
Sometimes you just gotta sit down and write to get it out. I find it interesting that a church goer can share their good experiences of their church far and wide but get condemned and accused of “dissention” if they share their bad experiences of their church far and wide. I don’t understand that. I’m gonna preface and say this about “church”. Many people have bad experiences at a church and blame God. Keep in mind that it is man, not God, who created those negative experiences. Don’t blame God. This writing is not to blast or condemn our former church, rather to express what not many at the church will listen to me say.
I honestly don’t even really know where to begin with this. I just need to vomit all this out. Quick backstory on me. I grew up going to church every Sunday and on Wednesday nights at a local Southern Baptist church. Fast forward a few decades. My wife and I decided to begin attending James River Church in Ozark, Missouri in 2011. There’s something about Pastor John Lindell that just struck me. I like that he’s more of a teacher, not a preacher. I could sit and listen to him for hours. I was hesitant to attend the church because it was so large. However, they had a smaller campus on the west side of town that we had tried and really liked. We decided that James River Church West Campus would be our church home to raise our kids in. We jumped into the church and got plugged in as much as our schedules would allow. I stepped outside my comfort zone and even volunteered to work at kids’ summer camps, drive the golf cart to pick up folks, attend volunteer training (Grow Track), etc., etc. Things have been great and I have really grown a lot in my faith and personal relationship with Jesus. I am happy with my walk.
In 2015 I had my first incident at church. I complied and everything was worked out after. So as not to have to type everything again, below is the letter I recently sent to senior staff at the church. It contains a synopsis of our time at the church and details of the most recent incident. I’ll pick this up after the letter.
Our family of 6 began attending West Campus in the smaller original building in 2011. —- began attending in the 90’s.
My wife has worked in the kids’ area for 10 years.
We attended the first Grow Track (required to volunteer) 1-day training.
We have both served at multiple summer camps. (requires background check)
We have supported the church by serving at and attending the men’s and women’s conferences as well as many other events.
We have been Life Group leaders for years.
I have led mission trips for the church to Brazil and Ecuador.
Loaned gym equipment to church for the Men’s Conference to use.
Our oldest son will be starting his second year at James River College this fall and was chosen to be one of the RA’s.
We were invited to be, and currently are, members of the church Legacy Team. (financial support team)
I’ve volunteered to serve on the parking lot team.
I’ve assisted ————— on grounds clean up at James River camp during off-season.
I’ve been asked multiple times to serve on the security team but have declined the offer (as I’m not in agreement with all the procedures and protocols).
Our family wrote Bible verses on the concrete before the carpet was laid during the West Campus construction and on Bible reading team during construction.
I completed the Living Free class to serve on prison ministry team.
Because of Cherish Kids, we have fostered 2 boys—one who has been with us for a year and a half (therefore we have completed all the necessary background checks, training and classes to have foster licensure).
I served in the U.S. Army for 26 years, retiring in 2018. I also worked for the CIA performing clandestine special operations around the globe, holding a Top-Secret clearance and receiving multiple commendations for my work and physical sacrifice to our nation.
I wanted to present the above to you to simply qualify our commitment to James River Church as well as who I am and who our family is. We have attended JRC for 11 years. In that time, I have been approached by the security team on five separate occurrences to be asked if I had any weapons on me. The first time was by Russell around 2015. He asked if I ever carried a firearm in church. I told him I did and he asked if I was carrying at the time. I was, so he and I walked to my vehicle and secured my firearm. Roughly eight months later, Russell approached me again and asked if I was carrying a firearm. I told him NO and showed him an empty holster. I told him then that I respected their first request and hadn’t carried my firearm since he had asked me the first time. The remaining three contacts with the security team were by the same person (I don’t know his name but can describe him). The first time he contacted me he wanted to check my bag. I had brought in two bags of protein powder to give to our friend, ———–. He asked to search my bag, I told him what was in there and after his persistence, I opened the bag and showed him exactly what I told him was in there. The next altercation with him, he asked if I was carrying a firearm. I told him NO but he insisted on me showing him. In the atrium, in front of many others, I pulled up my shirt and showed him an empty holster. It was embarrassing and frustrating, but I complied.
On Wednesday, 29Jun2022, my wife had just picked me up from the airport at 6:15pm. I was returning from a mission trip to Poland for a construction mission supporting Ukrainian refugee women and their children. Instead of going home after travelling internationally from Katowice, Poland, we chose to go to church. I wanted to go even though I was tired from the travel. After checking in our two boys, my wife went to the restroom, and I went to wait for her in front of the café. I noticed the same security person who had confronted me on the two previous contacts walking towards me. I always travel carrying a fanny pack around my waist to carry passport, wallet, etc. He walked up next to me said “How are you doing?” and I said “Good, how are you?”. He then asked if I had any weapons in my fanny pack. I was immediately aggravated by this simply due the fact that this wasn’t the first or even second time he’d done this to me in front of numerous people. I told him I did not have any weapons. He then asked me if he could do a “feel check”. I said, “Dude, I told you I don’t have any weapons. You’re not touching me or my bag”. Not to mention the location of my fanny pack resting right on the zipper of my pants. He then asked if I would unzip it so he could look in. I told him, “No man. You’re not touching it or looking in there. I just got off the plane from Poland and all that’s in there is my wallet and my passport”. He said it was procedure to do random bag checks and that if I didn’t let him check my bag, he’d have to escort me off the property. I lost my cool and was very angry at the unprofessionalism, lack of respect, and being approached in the atrium for everyone to see. He did not ask if we could step off to the side or move to a different location. I said, “You know what? I’ll leave and I won’t come back”. I stuck my head into the entrance to the women’s restroom to tell my wife that I’d be out in the vehicle. I then took my fanny pack off, emptied it, walked to where the security person mentioned was standing with two other security staff and three deputies. I said, “I told you all I had in here was my passport and wallet! I don’t know why you’re harassing me like this.” My wife walked up to ask what was going on as I turned to walk through the kids’ area and out to my vehicle. She asked them what was going on, they tried to explain and she began to cry out of embarrassment and frustration as she explained who I was. Russell was watching what was happening from upstairs and radioed to the team that he didn’t realize who I was and that I was good to go. The damage had already been done. All the while, the three deputies and three security guards were standing around her saying things, like “We have always done random bag checks”, and “We live in a crazy world”. She told them she understood the necessity for security, but that they knew who we were and that we’d gone there nearly every Sunday and Wednesday for 11 years. She asked them to step into the parishioner’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to be treated that way. The fact that no one made any concession or apology to her but were only defensive of their actions in front of numerous people standing around and working the check in desk was further embarrassment.
My wife and I have been sick to our stomachs over this. We have received no contact from anyone at church, although I’m sure there was probably a report or documentation written (or there should have been). I don’t know how we can return to a place where we, I, don’t feel welcome. I actually feel like a target. I have tolerated this on five different instances over the past several years, having complied with the security team’s request to not carry inside the church from the first instance. I’ve tried to give grace to the multiple situations. I am beyond that now. The security personnel did not handle the situation well, and further training in de-escalation is needed, not to mention training on tact and professionalism. Imagine if I had not been a member or long-time attendee and had been confronted this way. I can only imagine that other people have been treated like this. As a long time committed church member family, this is absolutely absurd. We are likely going to be looking for a new church home.
As you can see, this event was very surprising and a bit traumatizing to my family. I explained it to my 22-year-old son like this as he stood on the front porch of our home and I stood in the sliding glass door. I told him, “It’s like the entire family is here at our house for Thanksgiving dinner. We’re all laughing and enjoying being with each other. You show up and I stop you at the door. I say, “Whoa, good to see you son, but you’re not welcome inside. Nothing against you, you’re just not welcome here anymore. Best of luck finding a new family”. I told him that he’d be crushed, feel lost and abandoned. Well, that’s how we feel. I did receive a reply from the person I sent the previous letter to. Here it is.
Thank you for your email, sorry it didn’t come to me earlier.
- we love you, —- and —– (I don’t know your other kids, though I know I have met —— before);
- We, as a church, would never want to offend someone or push anyone away;
- We do the best we can to amend wrongs and make this a place where everyone feels welcomed;
- We have a great number of fantastic volunteers (dream team) who help make this place run.
All that being said, I can’t amend a wrong that is in the past. I believe the first time you were approached was correct, Missouri law is a little confusing on who can/can not carry, and when. I believe the third time you were approached was correct (we aren’t able to identify each person we approach, so if over a year had past from when security person #1 approached you, and then security person #2 approached you – I get that – two different people, now both on the same page).
The continued contact and questioning would not be the way we normally handle things. Once we have cleared a person, they should be cleared unless their actions (words or body language) indicates otherwise. I obviously wasn’t there, so can’t speak to it, but sounds like one person kept questioning you and had Russel realized who it was, he would have cleared you before being approached. The approach should be tactful, de-escalatory, and discreet.
I can and will talk to security about this. No report of the incident has made its way to me, so I don’t know the individual. You indicated you could describe him, would you so I can address it?
Also, you state that you are beyond making this your church home. I am sorry for that and we will miss you. I will address the incident, but since we have so many volunteers, I can’t say if we had a new team member at West who saw a “bulge” of a holster, someone wouldn’t ask you, again. I can hope that it would be tactful and discreet.
You and your family are always welcome. I would love for you to continue being a part of the JRC family, but if this incident is the “last straw”, I apologize.
Thank you for your candor, and do know that this will be addressed.
I had to reread this reply a few times and look at it from different angles until I settled on how I felt about it. I’d say I was about 50/50 on it. Pretty general with some feel good in there. It was missing something I was hoping to see. An apology. Not necessarily for me because I can take a lot. More than anything I was offended by how my wife was treated. I mean, she started crying in the atrium in front of many people while 3 deputies and 3 security personnel were discarding her feelings. That’s the main reason I’m upset over all this. I had one person tell me that “we should forgive our brothers when they wrong us”. True, and the bible also says that when we wrong our brother we should confess and seek forgiveness. There are many verses pertaining to forgiveness in the bible. Quite honestly and with 100% transparency, I’m having a hard time forgiving the security team for what they did. Most of all, I don’t feel welcome in my home.
Luke 17:3-4 ESV
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
The following Sunday after the recent incident one of my best buddies had a talk with the security team leader. They chatted back and forth about what had happened. The conversation ended with the team leader stating to my friend, “If he’s looking for an apology, he ain’t gonna get it”. Wow. Just, wow. For me, that was the answer. I’ve walked in humility many times when I’ve been guilty. It is not easy. But to walk in humility after being falsely accused, I just can’t do that right now. Below is the follow up email I sent to the senior staff reply.
Thank you for the reply and your understanding of this matter. We will land where God directs us and will continue to grow wherever that may be. We appreciate you looking into this and taking the necessary actions to prevent this from happening in the future. You are an honorable man.
You asked me to describe the security team member. He is approximately 6’2” and over 250lbs. Overweight looking, not muscular. He wears glasses, has medium length brown hair with a squatty face. He’s been on the security team since at least 2018.
For over 20 years I have participated in and led many security details from one of our presidents in Afghanistan to, most recently, leading a security detail for ————-. Skillset is a major qualifier when selecting personnel, obviously. Character of that individual and how the agent represents the client is another major qualifier. I’ve never been one to foster an appearance for the client that they are untouchable unless it was requested. Being aggressive to the point that makes people uncomfortable has proved not to work well unless it is necessary. I know many men who are unbelievable warriors and can be extremely effective against an enemy combatant if need be. They are also some of the most kind and selfless men who exemplify elite professionalism. There must be a balance of steel and velvet. They have high emotional intelligence. Simply put, love people and smile. Those two things alone can stave off a gunfight or some sort of aggressive act against oneself, or the client. I’ve had to give a lot of smiles and act in humility to avoid being shot in the face on more than one occasion. Security is a psychological game. Body language, an agent’s own and knowing how to read it on others, is everything.
Many personnel on the church security staff only bring to the table a willingness to serve, which is admirable, but lack in security experience. Their training is thru the church and the security program. How they are taught within the program and the experience they gain on the job is who they are now. We are the sum of our training and experiences. I would encourage more training in the psychology of threats and security and protective mindset over shooting and moving. Avoiding the fight in the first place is key. Fostering a welcome environment in the church is key as well. At their core, people want 3 things. To be seen, heard and valued. In my case, I was seen but not heard or valued.
Lastly, I’ll share this with you and wrap it up. This past Sunday another couple, who are our closest friends, were at church. While there my buddy, a 17-year Springfield police officer, pulled Russell aside to visit with him. My buddy has attended JRC since the 90’s. I was told that Russell defended his and the team’s actions and decisions, naturally. He ended the conversation with my buddy by saying, “If he’s looking for an apology, he won’t get it”. That, to me, was shocking. Honestly? It hurt. Makes it very hard to feel welcome at my church home. It reflects poorly upon the security team and the church. Yes, we should forgive our brothers when they wrong us. We should also, in humility, confess and ask for forgiveness when we wrong or hurt another. Satan’s pride led to his fall. A leader should not have that attitude because it affects the entirety of the team and sets a toxic culture within it. During that long phone conversation with my buddy last night, he informed me that they, too, may be looking for a new church home. I admire, respect and have a great appreciation for you and —-. You give off a warm and welcoming feeling when you are near. God’s light shines brightly in you. Thank you for what you do for the church and in the world.
Thank you Bryan,
I know the individual, and we will talk to him. I also appreciate the insight on “seen, heard, and valued”. I will adopt that into our training (which really is supposed to have a red carpet / 5-star experience component).
Also, thank you for the kind words for —- and I. I keep the paddle you brought in my office beside my door – most every time I walk out of the office I see it and think about that trip. As well, —- was a great friend/employee when I was at ———–. You both will be missed.
And just like that, our relationship with our church home was severed. You know, I gave an analogy to a close friend the other day. I said to her, “Lets say you have an amazingly beautiful yard. You enjoy stepping out on the back porch, folding your arms and looking at the beauty you’ve tended to. Your neighbor behind you hollers over and says, “Hey man! Good to see ya! What are ya doing!?” You say, “Oh, I’m just standing here admiring my yard”! Your neighbor then invites you over to come view your yard from his vantage point. Now you’re looking at your yard from his back porch and wondering why it looks so bad. Dead weeds, mole holes, dog poop, etc.”. Point of the story is, things may look great when you’re in it and from where you’re standing (regularly attending James River Church). It’s not until you leave your yard and look at it from the outside do you realize how much attention it needs to improve it. That’s where I am with our old church now. I’m on the neighbor’s deck. When you try to highlight what’s wrong to your neighbor, old church, and how they can improve upon it, you’d think they’d take that into consideration to become better. Nope. It would’ve been an honorable act of humility if the church asked me, “What can we do to make things right”? You know, have a conversation to make things better for everyone. When someone who’s spent their life in a certain profession gives feedback on what went wrong and how to improve upon it, one would think that would be addressed. That’s why in the military we do AAR’s (After Action Reviews/Reports). You talk about what went right, what needs to be sustained, and what went wrong and how to make it better. Always striving to become better. Heck! You can do that in your marriage to make your marriage better. But when pride gets in the way, you will not improve.
Ephesians 4: 31-32
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Choosing Pride Over Being the Good Shepherd
Here we are, four weeks after the altercation and last day attended at James River Church. Still no apology or any type of correspondence. It has become the past and it makes a person realize how insignificant they really are in large churches. The pastor stands on stage and says things like, “We love each and every one of you”, but they have no idea who you are or your story. In reference to the analogy in the last paragraph about your view of your yard and your neighbor’s view of your yard, I’m still at the neighbor’s house looking in. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect and think about all that has happened since we left the church and people I’ve visited with. We didn’t know where to go to church so we stepped back into comfort and have attended a small church we used to visit. It was a very welcoming and warm feeling when the pastor of this church called me to invite me to breakfast. Wait, what? The pastor actually wants to know me and my story? Wow, that’s different. Or is it? Are leaders in the church tasked with being directors of the big show or shepherds of their flock? Regardless of how large your church is, it is your responsibility, as the pastoral staff, to ensure that the flock is tended to. If you don’t have enough people to tend to that flock, you recruit more to help. I went to breakfast with the pastor of the smaller church yesterday. He wanted to know my and my family’s story. It made me feel like we had significance and value. I learned about him and have even texted back and forth with him a bit since then. That is the sign and how a person exemplifies being a good shepherd. Jesus is the master of humility. Him washing the feet of the disciples was how He tried to teach this. I mean, the God of the universe in human form, on His knees to wash our feet. Wow! That’s powerful. A good shepherd cares for his flock. He may wash them, he feeds them, he guides them, and he protects them. He doesn’t look at one in the flock that wanders and says, “Oh well”. And that’s if he is even attentive enough to notice.
Matthew 18:11-13 (ESV)
12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
It’s just baffling to me and a very good sign of trueness how this has ended. The emails posted in this article were the only communication we had with anyone from the church regarding the matter. When we began attending the church in 2011, the pastor at the West campus had been caught up in an affair. That pastor was called to the main campus for a Wednesday night service and was rebuked publicly by the lead pastor. I remember how uncomfortable that made me feel. The pastor explained that it is biblical to rebuke our brothers for their wrongs. That is what has led me to write this and post it publicly. This is me rebuking the church for their wrong. Granted, it was their security team, they are representatives of the church. Furthermore, not receiving an effort from them asking for forgiveness of their error. No effort to make amends.
As I write this paragraph, it’s been over a month since we left the church. I just got home a few days ago from leading a mission trip to Honduras. That was an incredible week! It has to make a person wonder how much value they have added when they leave and no one has reached out to ask where they’ve been or how they’re doing. It’s been crickets. People like to be acknowledged for things they do. People like to be missed when away from something that they feel they were an important part of. Not many people will admit it, but it lets a person know they are important. I have begun to believe that when an organization (mega church in this case) gets so large that they can begin to lose their way. They begin to stray away from the reason they exist. This happens when they forget the people who have helped them and supported them along the way. The deep and solid roots begin to dry up and are replaced with new and more youthful roots; ones that have solidified themselves quite yet. Then, the whole “catch and release” practice comes into play. When people open themselves up and make themselves vulnerable to a cause they can become easily traumatized when they are taken advantage of or persecuted.
This part of my writing sounds like a pity party. It’s not meant to. I am simply sharing with you, the reader, the realization of the insignificant role we’ve played at James River Church. It’s kinda funny, too, that we have continued to receive emails on the church financials (because we were on the “Legacy Team” – the church giving team) and we continue to receive emails for events. I’ve unsubscribed from the emails. Another pastor from another church said that in events like we’ve experienced that there can be a period of mourning. That was interesting and believe that we have been mourning. Now, I’m trying to get past the resentment and bitterness of the events and of how we were put in the position we were placed in. We have visited a couple other churches and we like them. They don’t feel like home, however. We understand that this process takes time.
My prayer is that through all of this that God can and will use us to continue to grow His kingdom. Either by us being able to put our training and experiences into a new church and others or by growing in areas we have not been growing in. Either way, this experience is good for us because now we can empathize with others who are faced with this experience.
I’ll close with this. Earlier I touched on the fact that churches (buildings and congregations) are made and grown by Man. Man is a sinner and makes many mistakes. God is not and does not. God is perfect in His ways. God did not do this to us. Man did. We are not angry at God and at this point are not really angry with man, anymore. God allows these kinds of things to happen for reasons we may not understand. Those reasons are important, though. My personal relationship has actually gotten deeper through this as I continue to seek His wisdom and guidance as the spiritual head of my household. God has, is and will be good to us.