The men in Stanton, or on the outskirts of Stanton due to family connections, have typically been cajoled and worn down into submission to the powers that be. I’m convinced Stanton top brass intentionally bleed the leadership qualities out of the men in the congregations because they feel threatened by leadership of any sort. This is why the “No Elders” Clock has been ticking for well over 50 years. Yet bold leadership is exactly what’s called for when it comes time to start extracting your family from the grips of Stanton’s control. Who will have the courage to lead their families out of the wilderness?
The beating down of a man’s leadership instincts can come in many forms. If it’s not directly at the hands of the local or main teachers, it can come at the hands of a wife still loyal to the group, a mother or father who still wants to maintain control of their family, or a sibling who still drinks from the poisoned well of Stanton’s unbiblical teachings.
As you start to free your mind from their grip by daring to consider an opposing exegesis, opinion, or teaching, they will sense this and start moving chess pieces defensively into place to block your next move. Maybe you asked a little too probing of a question at a fellowship, or showed too much bravery in challenging a longstanding teaching. Or maybe you said something that sounded a little too much like something here in this blog.
If you still attend, their next move might be to publicly reprove or rebuke you for something—anything, really—to show their dominance over you. If it’s your wife or other family member who still attends, they will work through them to get to you. Stanton’s fear and intimidation tactics will almost always exploit your desire to keep family relationships intact, like a terrorist holding a gun to the head of a loved one.
Don’t let them get away with this. Be the leader God made you to be. They want you to focus on the relationship consequences of you bucking their little system of control. You need to constantly remind yourself of the long term consequences if you don’t.
The consequences of NOT taking the lead
The longer a family stays intertwined with Stanton, the deeper those entanglements get—and the harder they are to unravel. Young children grow up around the dysfunction and come to think it’s normal. They will bring that into their future marriages. Grandparents still in the church will try hard to woo their grandchildren into the grip of Stanton, first by bringing them around “the Christians” (subtly insinuating there are no other Christians in the world). They will try to keep them for sleepovers, sneak them into church fellowships and babysitting to get to know other kids, and listen to talks in the car.
Husbands who leave lose the spiritual leadership of their family (what little they had to begin with). His errant ways will be used in talks, Bible classes, and fellowships, so his children (if still attending) have to listen to their father being publicly disrespected without any way for him to respond or defend himself. One of the most powerful verses in Proverbs says that the first to speak in court always sounds convincing—until he’s cross examined. This is true for Stanton’s public character assassinations of ex-members as well, except there is no way to cross examine assertions made from the pulpit.
When the wife is in, and the husband is withdrawn from (often for trying to lead by speaking out about something unscriptural), that permanently affects relationships, weddings, birthdays, and family dinners in ways you can’t begin to imagine until you’ve seen it play out for generations at a time. Rules about not eating with a withdrawn from dad leave countless children to grow up essentially fatherless and without a positive male role model in their lives. This has devastating consequences for both girls and boys, leading to generational problems with dating and marriage relationships, and future parenting styles.
I say all this to paint a photo-realistic picture of the consequences of NOT leading your family out of the wilderness of Stanton. These are not blind or unfair assertions, but the fear and intimidation tactics I’ve seen used in real life by Stanton for decades. My family alone has experienced all of these things, and I know of plenty others who have as well.
Some tips for better leadership
I won’t (and can’t) tell you how exactly how you need to lead your family. It’s going to look very different in each of the situations that exist in and out of Stanton. Some of you are single, trying to do damage control for yourself and/or your children after years of dysfunction. Others have a spouse to think about, an in-law, or some other family relationship you need to keep intact. Here are some tips from personal experience:
- Take ownership of your leadership role. If you are the head of your household, you have a strong moral argument that they can have no response to: God literally put you in the role of leading your family. This goes for husbands in an intact family, and single moms. You are responsible and will answer to God for how you lead. Take that responsibility seriously, starting today, and demonstrate it in a Christlike manner. Stanton is big on ridiculing what they call “the religious world” for wanting to run to their pastor with hard questions. I have heard many times “you won’t have your pastor there with you on judgment day.” Yet Stanton members are the first to hide behind the skirts of their teachers. Don’t do it, and call it out gently and patiently when you see it.
- Leadership doesn’t always mean laying down laws. This may seem counterintuitive, but leading is far different than managing or commanding. Christlike leadership means stepping out in front with the moral authority to ask others to step in behind you. Jesus didn’t force people to follow him like a tyrant. Effective leadership takes time, because it requires trust from the ones you are leading.
- Study the scriptures diligently. Do the Clean Bible Challenge. Get in the Word for yourself. Tackle the passages that Stanton distorts, and do so with humility. Be willing to re-learn them in a new light, even if you can’t articulate it well enough to convince them (yet). This is more about your own knowledge, spiritual growth, and confidence. Get yourself on solid ground Biblically, and you’ll be more equipped to see the many gaps in Stanton’s Biblical knowledge.
- Become a real disciple of Jesus. If you’re not genuinely living out your faith, they will sense that and you will lack the credibility to even have spiritual conversations with them. Learn or re-learn what it means to personally follow Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, and mind. It does not mean having more correct opinions than someone else. Truly practice living Christlike. You will fail, as all humans do. Get up and keep seeking Jesus.
- Don’t pick ineffective doctrinal fights. Approach any doctrinal conversations carefully and respectfully, allowing them the opportunity to digest your points in a non-threatening way. I approach controversial topics more from the standpoint of “Hey mom, I know you believe XYZ, can you help me understand why, given these verses?” If they haven’t been barred from talking to you about scripture already, this can at least open a door to some dialogue. When I get some resistance to even talking, the best reply is to remind them that truth doesn’t need to be afraid of a lie. No one should feel threatened by a sincere request to talk through the scriptures on something.
- Be kind but firm. Instead of getting into arguments, decide the boundaries you need to set for your family, and simply set them. No argument, no fuss. Many times, my wording has been something along the lines of “Mom, I want my kids to have a great relationship with you, but God put me in charge of parenting them, and my conscience doesn’t allow me to let you take them to your church functions.” Because I was kind and firm while asserted my Biblical authority over my family, she largely respected my leadership and complied. There were only a few times I would have to remind her. She would cry, sometimes apologize, then things would be fine again. These boundaries are what have allowed us to have a good relationship over the years.
- Pick your battles wisely. Just as there is a time and place to avoid a confrontation that won’t accomplish anything, there is a time and place to have the tough conversations as well. Think more than five minutes from now. What’s the long term consequence for my family of failing to take a stand? For me, this always centered around my God-given right to raise my kids as I see fit. I will not concede any ground on that, period. My dad’s funeral was another example I could not concede on. But there have been other issues over the years I was able to just let go because the battle was not going to accomplish anything.
- Don’t burn bridges. The relationship bridges you have are most likely going to be what your family members desperately will need to walk out on, so don’t blow them up. They may not know it yet, or they may have thoughts about leaving that they have so far kept to themselves. Don’t cave to unreasonable demands they might make to your family. Make it clear that you still want a relationship with them, but if they are going to be unloving about XYZ, you will have no part of it.
- Pray for wisdom. God will give wisdom to those who seek it. Read Proverbs every day. Pray for guidance in making hard decisions. Pray that God will soften the hearts of your family members, and that you’ll be given the right words at the right time to affect incremental changes in their thinking.
- Carefully plant seeds. When I first started this blog, I was accused of wanting to plant seeds of doubt in people’s minds. In the proper context, I don’t deny that—I definitely want people to doubt the lies they’ve been told about the Bible and about God. In fact, I want to tear those lies to the ground. Then we can begin to rebuild, brick by brick, on a foundation of truth.
I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to lead with Christlike love without being mean, or resorting to treating them harshly like they might be treating you. Pray for wisdom. Follow what God is leading you to do, prayerfully and humbly. Be the leader you know God made you to be. Be kind. Be loving. But be resolute, and by all means, lead.
You will take some bullets, get hurt, and make some mistakes. Get back on your feet like a leader, and it will make you stronger. My prayers are with anyone in these difficult situations, that you will succeed in leading your families out of Stanton’s spiritual wasteland with minimum damage to your family. Then you can start a new chapter in your family, and begin leading them to the Living Water that is Jesus Christ.
If you support the efforts on this blog to reach hearts and minds in Stanton, please keep this project in your prayers and be an active part of the conversations here. God bless!