We were taught that you didn’t make a decision without first making sure it was approved by our appropriate Pastor, Master’s Commission Director, or Staff Member. Anyone in an authority position on church staff or ministry staff was clearly way more qualified than we were to make decisions–at least that’s what we were taught. We even had a hierarchy of leadership that were our assigned leaders who helped us make decisions and who we had to go to talk to make a big or little decision, or even to go somewhere as simple as the mall.
The inability to make decisions on our own became a problem for many staff and students leaving, including a few friends I’ve talked to recently. One friend, James*, shared the story of events surrounding his wedding. He had left Master’s Commission years prior and hadn’t seemed to face too many huge decisions until he was getting married. Even though he had met and dated a beautiful woman who was lovely inside and out, James told me he felt like he couldn’t even process on his own after being subjected to the authoritative teachings and life-management we’d been subjected to. For James, it wasn’t a question of whether his future wife was “the one” or not because he loved her more than anyone he’d ever met before and he knew she was who he wanted to marry—it was that he felt that he should be approving major decisions through his Pastor or Master’s Commission Director. He felt the need to get approval for his decision for the first time since leaving, and that realization made him feel that he couldn’t process things on his own.
The reason the teachings we were subjected to were wrong is because they fall into the category of what a destructive group (or cult) displays as characteristics. When a group is defined by professionals and scholars as being destructive or cult-like, they typically have this mind-controlling trait and many others traits working for the leaders of the group to secure loyalty and obedience. The leader uses this decision-approval process to set the levels of hierarchy in the group, and also to set up loyalty tiers within the group.
Recently, a former Master’s Commission student called me to ask me my advice on what decision he should make. It was a personal decision, something related to dating, and honestly wasn’t that huge of a deal. However, I’ve faced the same personal crises over decisions I’ve had to make over the past five years since I left Master’s Commission and my abusive relationship with the pastors of Our Savior’s Church. So, I knew exactly how he felt. I’ve been faced with big decisions like whether to move to Northridge, CA and pursue a writing career, and small decisions like what time of day to take a class that’s offered. Over and over, I’d find myself unable to make decisions or coming to a moment of crisis when I had to make those decisions without someone’s advice or approval. I’d go to my parents or friends and ask them and they’d all say,”Well what do you think you should do?”
That was the BEST advice ever!
My advice to my friend who called was to go with HIS instinct and his heart on the matter and not to listen to anyone else. I think that in order to practice making decisions, you have to just do it. You have to jump out there and see what choices you’re going to make and what effects they have on you—good or bad. The bottom line is that you and I are responsible for ourselves and we’re fully capable of making decisions. We are adults, after all.
No pastor or ministry staff should take away your ability to make decisions. Nor should they ASK for that right. They shouldn’t coerce you, rebuke you or try to silence you. They should allow you to think for yourself, teach you how to search for knowledge (if anything) and allow you to be human.
Making decisions isn’t always easy. Sometimes we do need to ask our parents or friends what to do. But, what I’ve learned in the past few years is that whether I make a “good” or “bad” choice in life, it’s not that big of a deal. So what if I choose something that’s not quite the best choice? Life goes on. I still have to wake up and go to work. I still have a great family who loves me and cares about me.
Most importantly: I’m a smart, capable adult woman who can make decisions on her own.
*Some names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any names that have not been changed may be left intact at the author’s discretion, so that the reading audience gets a full picture of the events that occurred/are occurring in the ministries of the named parties.