Is there a Common Denominator across the problems plaguing Midway?
Midway Presbyterian Church has a prominent heritage. Founded in 1850, this church has, by God’s grace, remained faithful to the Word and sought to fulfill the Great Commission for the majority of its history. In many ways, Midway has been a powerful beacon within Reformed circles and the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) in particular.
This special place has stood for well over 150 years with no major conflict. It has, for the majority of its existence, proven itself to be a church that has been able to hold on to its history while welcoming new members as though they were long lost friends or family. It was a church whose pulpit had been filled with stalwarts in the PCA, such as Todd Allen (who was a “PCA founding father“), and was home to prominent players in the denomination, such as Susan Hunt, the former director of Women’s Ministries in the PCA.
For the vast majority of its history, an observer could look on and finely relate Psalm 133’s words “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” The church membership grew rapidly alongside the expanding community in West Cobb around it. Its outreach was global thanks to its financial ability to support mission programs.
During the 1990s, perhaps its primary challenge was containing worship service attendance in its 1987 sanctuary, which could only seat about 500 people. Two Sunday morning services were necessary. The Sunday School classes across all ages were struggling to find places to meet since nearly 500 people attended faithfully each morning before the 11 a.m. worship service. The children’s and youth ministries were growing and drawing substantial attendance and participation as well. The school located at Midway was also expanding rapidly, becoming a primary point of outreach to the community.
Incredibly, all of this growth and success continued even while there was no Senior Pastor at Midway Presbyterian Church.
The Session at the church had not had any significant public disputes in the memory of its oldest members, some having attended there for their entire lives.
That was Midway Presbyterian Church up to 2003–the tranquil times.
It was into this tranquil and blessed environment that the church called a new Senior Pastor. As of February 2022, he still holds this position – Dr. David Hall. Tensions quickly rose after he was hired, and within three years, one Ruling Elder left the church over arguments with the new Senior Pastor. The elder who departed declared that the pastor was not honest in his dealings with him and he could no longer sit under his teaching. Perhaps this was an honest disagreement, but sadly it proved not to be an isolated affair and it marked the beginning of a divisive time period in the church.
Additional issues arose soon after when Midway’s Associate Pastor, who had held this position through the tranquil times, came into apparent conflict with the Senior Pastor and a portion of the Session. This conflict resulted in a congregational meeting, the outcome of which was disastrous; surely the Holy Spirit grieved. A complaint was filed against the Moderator’s actions in that meeting, which the Session denied.
Midway Presbyterian Church, peaceful for over 150 years, split with over 200 members departing in disgust. This first split in the church’s history reduced the congregation by roughly 30%, and it summoned the first complaint filed in the history of the church–just as the church had undertaken expansion into the 2009 building on the expectation of continued growth that would soon outstrip its Sunday-morning capacity.
Before healing could occur, Satan having a fresh foothold at Midway, the next contentious issue arose soon after. Around 2011, there was a scandal involving a Deacon that was a fierce supporter of the David Hall. Throughout this sad process, members of church complained that the Senior Pastor had provided the Deacon in question with private texts of women in the church – even though these communications expressed concerns for their safety and requested confidentiality. Members across the church made it known openly that, in their opinion, the Senior Pastor could not be trusted. More members left Midway in disgust at this sad time.
The Season of Complaints
Conflict, seeming to now exist with familiarity, continued to come about as the Senior Pastor sought to change the rules at the church allowing related family members to serve on the Session. Historically, there had never been a nepotism problem at Midway, and many related men had served on the Session without issue for years. This change was prompted by the Senior Pastor to prevent a particular father (a Ruling Elder) and son from possibly serving together. This was part of the Senior Pastor’s pattern of controlling the Session that had become institutionalized. This dispute ended with the Ruling Elder resigning, and he and his son followed up by filing complaints. This became the second and third time in Midway’s history that a complaint was filed at the church. The higher courts of the PCA ultimately accepted the Ruling Elder’s complaint as a credible report (BCO 40-5) requiring responses from the local presbytery.
The wounds at Midway only opened deeper from there, as soon after, a conflict over church officer elections arose, as the Senior Pastor continued the pattern of control over the Session. The Session, with the Senior Pastor’s approval, had been tossing out officer nominations from the list of candidates provided by the congregation in a process they referred to as “vetting”. The nominees tossed out were not approached or given cause for why they were dismissed for consideration – they were just removed. This prejudicial practice was used to sideline opposition to the Senior Pastor’s agenda.
A Deacon who had faithfully served for years was removed from consideration for Ruling Elder under this practice. He asked to meet with the Session to discuss why this had occurred, but the Senior Pastor argued such a meeting was not a good idea, expressing the sentiment that the “sheep” are not to lecture the “shepherd”, and therefore the meeting never occurred. This refusal to engage in dialogue with a fellow officer of the church resulted in the fourth complaint in Midway’s long history. The highest court of the PCA, the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), determined that the Deacon was correct, and that the Session had been operating out of accord with the constitution of the church.
The fifth complaint followed which argued that the Session removed the Deacon from consideration to run again for his current role because he filed the previous complaint. Members of the Session were clear that this was retaliatory. While the SJC gave deference to the lower court in that matter, they were clear that filing a complaint is a protected right and cannot be valid reason to disqualify someone from holding office in the church.
After these judicial and optical defeats in the highest court of the PCA, the Session under the Senior Pastor’s insistence, refused repeatedly at the request of certain Ruling Elders to inform the congregation of the first judicial ruling by the SJC. It was believed by some that the congregation deserved to know that their officers had been improperly vetted for years in violation of the constitution of the PCA. The refusal to call this meeting led to yet another complaint by a Ruling Elder.
Additional complaints followed shortly after, but this time against the actions taken at a congregational meeting in 2020. Two members alleged that the Session and the Senior Pastor as Moderator mishandled a controversial election where three Assistant Pastors at the church were offered up as a slate to be voted as permanent voting members on the Session with the new title of Associate Pastor. This move was a clear power grab for the Senior Pastor, as these new voting pastors would never have to re-elected and, answering to him as pastoral staff, would likely support his agenda. These new votes would prove useful to countering dissenters on the Session and ensuring his agenda could not be outvoted. Never mind that the election itself was later shown to have been completely mishandled and violated multiple provisions of the constitution by the local presbytery.
The split vote at the congregational meeting to elect the Associate Pastors as well as these new complaints represented the growing concern among the congregation that the Session, under the guidance of the Senior Pastor, was not exercising due care to follow the constitution of the church. Many signaled that their voice as a congregation was being suppressed by the Senior Pastor’s refusal to uphold the rules of the church at the meeting, which was the same theme expressed in the complaint against the Moderator’s actions in the 2007 meeting involving an associate pastor. The local presbytery would later concur rules were broken, and their judicial commission would determine that the congregation’s voice was “muted” as “a maneuver to control congregational input in the process of electing three associate pastors.”
The controversy under the Senior Pastor would only intensify from there. The history of conflict was reaching boiling point, but the worst was yet to come.
The Season of Trials
Shortly after the controversial congregational meeting to elect Associate Pastors, a sitting Ruling Elder was prosecuted under the guidance and encouragement of the Senior Pastor. It was alleged that he violated his ordination vows and the ninth commandment by emailing the congregation about the upcoming congregational meeting for which he had concerns. He offered an alternative motion and shared the judicial decision made previously by the SJC that the Senior Pastor had been blocking from being released to the congregation. It was at this time that the highly controversial motion was passed by the Session that promised church discipline on any member of the Session that disagreed with the majority. This dangerous motion outlawed dissent and was used to prosecute the Ruling Elder even though it was written after his supposed crime.
Denying a request for an independent moderator and proper recording of the trial, the Session convicted this Ruling Elder with the Senior Pastor presiding, after a secret trial that lasted all night.
As bad as this was, it would only get worse. The conflict surrounding the Senior Pastor at Midway would then overflow from the local church into the presbytery. In attempts to prevent passage of a judicial commission judgment against himself and his Session in January 2021, the Senior Pastor interrupted the judicial commission report with his own motion for a study committee on the constitutional issues for which he and his Session had already been shown to be in error. The allowance of this highly unusual and grossly unconstitutional action by the presbytery enabled the Senior Pastor to argue their case in executive session to stop a judgment against themselves from being adopted. The procedural deficiencies that made this possible became the topic of a credible report (BCO 40-5) outlining the perceived mishandling of process that was sent to the Stated Clerk of the PCA. This report was signed by 13 ordained men at Midway, many of which served in the leadership during the tranquil times.
This credible report outraged the Senior Pastor and his Session majority, as it also exposed false attestations he made in writing concerning the aforementioned pastoral election. Three sitting Ruling Elders who refused to remove their names from the credible report prompted more church “discipline“. Despite the filing of a credible report or complaint being a duty of officers who honestly believe there is impropriety occurring, the three sitting officers issued responses to the Session as they demanded. The Senior Pastor stated he was not satisfied with their responses and participated in the bringing of charges against these men. So prejudicial was the Session under the Senior Pastor at this time, that they actually voted to deny “A Motion for Peace” presented by one of the accused.
This conflict is the most recent issue to arise in what is becoming a very sad ministerial season of Midway’s history. The charges, being widely believed to be false by a sizable contingent of the congregation, have prompted three additional complaints alleging that there is no constitutional basis for them. The local presbytery is now hearing these matters. Meanwhile, under the Senior Pastor’s direction, a slow judicial process with no end in sight continues at the church for the three sitting Elders who signed the credible report. The first of three trials, conducted in executive session (in secret), is ongoing. Each new trial will further deepen the division at Midway, the Senior Pastor having refused (in a familiar manner) the accused’s requests for an open trial, independent moderator, and other reasonable indulgences to ensure fairness.
Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice done in secret is likely to not be justice at all. Given this pattern of control and manipulation of the judicial processes of the church, it is clear that the Senior Pastor at Midway doesn’t care. If he can string out the process long enough, even if the Elders are ultimately acquitted, their terms of office will be expired or close to it. In the meantime, there will be no opposition to his personal agenda, regardless of its impacts on the church. This may have been the plan all along since the charges are clearly manmade offenses not found in Scripture.
The Common Denominator
Throughout the history briefly outlined above, what is the common denominator across all of the issues? What personality has been at the center of every controversy? Every complaint? Every accusation? Every trial? It is the Senior Pastor, who has shown that he is willing to grind Midway to a nub, if needed, to maintain his way.
Strife and conflict were nowhere to be found in the tranquil times before David Hall’s arrival at the church. His particular views on submission to (his) leadership, coupled with his narcissistic and authoritarian style, have shattered helplessly the tranquil times from before. Those times when the congregation was at peace, unity abounded, and the ministry was expanding have been left as just a fond memory.
Many of the officers on trial led the church well during those tranquil times. How is it now, that only since the arrival of David Hall, that the congregation is told that these men are slanderers, great sinners who must be put under church discipline and removed form leadership? Is that what’s really going on here? Or is it that these men opposed a style of leadership that is characterized by strict adherence to the concept that one must comply with the Senior Pastor or leave.
Even more tragically, these departures are all too real. Any long-time member will need well over two hands to count the friends and families that are no longer in the congregation. There is a common denominator as to why. Can anyone find another church where the Senior Pastor drives members away and then preaches from his pulpit that these departures are a good thing and the will of God? Look no further than David Hall’s sermons on “pruning” the congregation, the first of which was on the very day of the divisive congregational meeting he presided over in July of 2020.
A true shepherd does not seek to scatter the sheep, which are not his to begin with. He would grieve the departures of long time members and would seek to reclaim them. He would not be content with broken relationship. He would not rest till there was restoration. The Lord’s example is that He sought even the single lost sheep and rejoiced upon its recovery.
Midway Presbyterian Church needs a uniter, not a divider, in its pulpit.
Do you see the progression of conflict? The pattern from the tranquil times, to the split, to the season of complaints, to the season of trials.
Please look back over all of this conflict since David Hall arrived at Midway. Notice the one common denominator in all of this. From the initial Elder who left saying he could not sit under a man he could not trust years ago to today – where a full 1/3 of the current elected Ruling Elders are not being allowed to serve in their office, having been suspended by the Session majority under the Senior Pastor.
The common denominator in all of this is Dr. David Hall and his “pastoral” leadership which has failed the Lord in the management of His Church at Midway. The pastoral staff are quick to throw around the Scripture about double honor to those who teach, but they leave out the part which states that such is reserved for those who manage the affairs of the Church well: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17).
Would anyone honestly think the affairs of Midway have been managed well under the current leadership? More importantly, would Jesus think so?
Church membership is smaller today than before the split in 2007, when the church wanted to build a larger sanctuary because it was optimistically expecting that it would need the capacity. But the people didn’t come; they left, and when they do come, they don’t stay, as the stagnant membership numbers show.
The church’s leadership is elected by the congregation, and if it is not performing properly, then it is the responsibility of the congregation to change it or suffer the consequences for a church whose heritage has been harmed by one pastor’s brand of divisive ministry. Even now, the ministries are smaller, the attendance lower, the participation lacking, and the impact less than during the tranquil times despite having a significantly larger facility. Midway is on the path to its second split, and being smaller than before may not fair as well as last time.
What is the next phase in Midway’s history? A return to the tranquil times or continued grieving of the Holy Spirit? The congregation can decide, and may well do so in coming weeks.