The pastor occupies a powerful position in De Deur. He exerts his influence not only in the congregation, but also in the private lives of its members. That didn’t go well for the marriage of John van der Weide.
John joins a Dutch De Deur congregation in the nineties, after being approached on the street by a group of young men. “Nice guys”, he says. They show understanding and talk about a loving God. The heart-warming contact wins him over. As he steps forward during his first church service and confesses his sins, a burden falls off his shoulders.
This article was translated and published with permission of the author, read the original article here.
Behind closed doors
He gets to know the congregation and soon learns how it works in the church. There are leaders and people who will become leaders at some point. As a newcomer, he is assigned someone to provide follow-up care and help with spiritual questions, someone who tries to climb the ladder of honor and prestige.
What John does not yet know is that this person reports everything he does and says to the pastor, including his deepest secrets and feelings. When the pastor addresses one of these themes in his sermon, John thinks God has a message for him.
The follow-up worker soon tells that it would be nice if John brought family and friends to church. If they don’t want that, it is better that John breaks the ties, otherwise they will drag him back into the world. He reads this warning back in a booklet with information for newbies.
By signing a contract he promises loyalty and active involvement. Those who only attend services on Sundays, he hears during the sermon, don’t really count. Anyone who goes on holiday for longer than a midweek will abandon the congregation. What counts above all else is loyalty to the pastor, liberality and presence in every meeting and activity. He is dedicated during services, prayer meetings and conferences. There he hears what he can do best.
He visits them faithfully. The conferences are pompous, flagship gatherings attended by Church members from many countries. It’s about members, newly established churches, growth. Speakers emphasize loyalty to the leaders, the pastors. They also tell you how to become a pastor.
“That’s the point,” says John. “Stimulating people’s ambition.” Everything shows how great the honor is that can be achieved there. At the end of the conference, people are sent out to start new congregations in other places. To big applause. A highlight. God raised them up. They are loyal, active, committed, generous. Their attitude deserves to be imitated. The ultimate destiny of male church members is to become pastors and do what God wants them to do, which is to lead people to conversion.
John would also like to be sent out. Every morning before he goes to work, he can be found at church. There are also activities after work and during the weekend. He practices with band members, does odd jobs and evangelizes. In time, he becomes a Sunday School leader. Year in, year out, he gives his best efforts to the congregation.
He sees how children learn at a young age that their performance matters in particular. Flawless homework is rewarded with a present. Anyone who makes mistakes gets nothing. It hurts him to see children leaving the church crying. That is, he says, in miniature how it works in De Deur. Exemplary behavior is rewarded. However, if you let go, you will never get higher. Unless you display “boundless loyalty and friendship to the pastor.” Then you have a chance to be admitted to the intimates, a group of people close to the leader.
“If you have led Sunday School for years, you hope that doors will open for you. That one day you too will be told that you can go. That is recognition for years of loyal service. ”
But what John desires does not happen. He begins to doubt himself. “What is wrong with me? Am I not loyal enough? ”
He talks to his pastor and shares everything with him, including the sinful thoughts that sometimes occur to him and which he tries with all his might to suppress. There are a few things he needs to work on, the pastor says. Tithing structurally, being present. After all, he sets an example for new converts. It would also be good for John to talk to him about his marital problems and for John’s wife to talk to him privately. Once spoken, God will cover. And the devil cannot use a confessed sin against him.
John feels rejected by everything and everyone. By God even, because it is God who raises people, who speaks through the mouth of the pastor. It says that you are ready. “I have rarely felt so alone.”
The pastor appears to be guided by his ego. He appoints people who laugh at his jokes, obey him unconditionally, follow his example. Church members are eager to get on the pastor’s good side, hoping for an honorable ministry.
One Sunday morning, John discovers that someone has cut the cables for the overhead projector, the device he needs as a Sunday school teacher. “Someone wanted me to go wrong,” he says, “so that my reputation would suffer.”
It is normal to tell on someone to the pastor, the pastor even encourages that.
As a member of the order service, responsible for all kinds of arrangements such as setting up chairs, John is instructed to play eavesdroppers during meetings. “I passed on many things to the pastor. Who hangs out with whom, who is about to start a relationship, who is critical, who smokes or drinks. And, most importantly, who is critical, who is a potential danger to the leadership. ”
Sometimes he needs to talk to someone to figure out what’s going on in someone’s life. He discovers that the attention for newbies is contrived. Checking and even spying on each other is the most normal thing in the world.
Ultimately, De Deur is all about one thing: don’t be a rebel. In sermons, in Bible studies, in mutual conversations, fidelity to the church and to the pastor is central. If you rebel, hellfire will be yours.
Something snaps in John and he considers leaving the congregation. That results in a fight with his wife. She thinks he should obey the pastor. The pastor often takes the position of the husband in pastoral care to married couples, says John. Women in particular discuss everything with their pastor without their husband being present, even if it concerns a disagreement with their own husband. “I call that pastoral adultery.”
Depending on who is most loyal to him, the pastor takes a stand, is his experience. “You will see that one of them is given a ministry so that he or she stays close to the pastor. That’s how you drive a wedge in marriages. ”
John and his wife eventually go through a divorce. Their marriage is one of many relationships that fail under pressure from the Church.
Some of the speakers in The Door, John recalls, are obsessed with everything to do with sexuality and cleanliness. The theme often comes up in sermons. In addition, there is an emphasis on confessing sexual sins.
He regularly witnessed how someone who committed and confessed sexual sins was not allowed to come into church for the time being, something that John had mixed feelings about.
“If someone is in a ministry and commits adultery, he should just get out, that is clear. But why is there so little love and grace for people? They are written off, publicly humiliated. People with low self-esteem will be hit by this. It is always the same persons who come forward. While those who remain seated or have a position are no different. ”
Although John had many negative experiences, he thinks it is important to add nuance to his story. He is convinced that a large group of sincere Christians is gathering in De Deur. He still regards these people as “family.” They are in good faith, have pure motives. However, he has great difficulty with the church leadership.
John has lost count of acquaintances who have broken with the Church over time. Many are damaged. Many have lost children, a partner or family members.
“If you can count a little bit, you know that not all newcomers stay with the congregation. The Door really only has a small core. The rest is cannon fodder. People are being used up. Then it is the turn of the next convert. It’s freezing in there. ”
This article is based on an interview with John van der Weide. John is actually a different name. For many years he lived with a De Deur congregation in the south of the Netherlands.