Struthers Memorial Church and the plough of despond






The last sermon Struthers Memorial Church made available online was preached on March 12 2011 by the present leader of the group of churches.


This article looks at the final part of what was said on that occasion. In particular we are looking at what the leader of the Struthers churches is telling their Saturday night congregation the response to what is being said online should be.



And our warfare is against principalities and powers. And sometimes it comes a poison that moves through human channels. Human channels I may say that have not named themselves. Put it on anonymously. Why did they not put their names to it if they're saying anything that's true? Our warfare is against the enemy of souls.

We could save a lot of time if the leader of Struthers Memorial Church would read the websites she is seeking to tear down. We have explained very clearly the reason for anonymity and invited SMC to use the email address on this site to let us know if there is anything on the website which is not true. But if she is seeking to suggest that not putting our names on the website means she is not dealing with humans there is probably not much we can do for her.


Let us repeat the fact. She and others have taken leadership and responsibility for a charity. Therefore they have no choice but to identify themselves publicly in this role and as a result they get significant tax and building rates benefits. Those benefits are the reason they are a public charity and not a private club.


We are seeking to help people come to terms with the problems they faced being part of Struthers Memorial Church. We are doing this because we think it is the right thing to do and because we thought it would be helpful to people.


We now know that it has been.


We gain nothing from this other than the chance to help others if they choose to read the articles and if they find them relevant. If we placed our names online then every future friend, employer, acquaintance or (perish the thought) future marriage partner would be able to Google us and see that we were once involved with Struthers Memorial Church. As proud as the leaders are of their involvement in that organisation - we are not. The reality is we have been able to reach and help a lot of people by sharing the truth and anonymity has not prevented that.


To insinuate to the SMC congregation that our remaining anonymous is a proof that what we have said is untrue is a claim, and an unworthy suggestion, we think the SMC leadership should prayerfully consider before God. It is not their job on the platform to deliberately mislead people - even if they think it is for their own good. If they cannot deal with these websites without remaining truthful before God – what is going on in this church?  


So we request of the Struthers leaders - tell the people you claim to lead – have we (though anonymous) said anything that is true?


If so then explain the reasons for the things you have done, and the things you have allowed to happen, and give them the information they need to understand what is happening in their church?



and when you feel spiritual oppression. When you become aware that you're fighting against something you're not sure what don't forget your sword. And when the form of that pressure..is that you yourself are assailed by thoughts that can become very critical. Critical of god, critical of the work of God and critical of a person have a care that it's not one of the enemy's tricks..,


It is depressing how often a sermon seeking to address questions relating to the conduct of the SMC leadership is twisted and turned into a sermon about a sinful attitude to the leadership from within the congregation.


The problems so many people are talking about are not about the congregation’s attitude – they are about what the leaders have done.


The problem is the actions of those with all the authority, all the power, all the platform time and no limits on what they can do and say to people other than their own view - on that day - of what “God is saying to them”. Even if that steps far beyond biblical boundaries of appropriate servant leadership. As in the abomination sermon the issues are twisted to protect the leader and accuse the people.


Many in the congregation will recognise people they have known and worshipped beside for years have now made claims on the RickRoss forum and many of these claims they know to be true. In that circumstance the speaker here is suggesting that if the congregation feel concern about what their leaders have done - then the real problem must be them and their attitude. That suggestion is manipulative and disgraceful.


The problem, it seems, is us. The problem is those affected by us.


The problem is never what people actually claim it is - which is the words and actions of the Struthers Memorial Church leadership.



Does that mean I'm never allowed to have a question? Never allowed to have a criticism? No – it doesn't mean that. We are not meant to loose our common sense. You can have a question. You can have a doubt. You can have a confusion and you can come and ask about it. And HOPEFULLY find an answer. There's no problem about that. If you find that your mind is getting bombarded and bombarded until your enjoyment of the presence of God has been poisoned and you're no longer able to feed on a particular ministry – if God is coming through a particular channel – its time to do something about it.


We acknowledge and welcome this clear policy on questions. But why “hopefully find an answer”? Why not definitely? That should be perfectly possible in every case if you are “manifestly open and all is above board”. However - many of us did approach you hopefully over the years and the record now shows how many did not get satisfactory answers, or even rudimentary respect.


There is an unfortunate, or deliberate, confusion here between setting out the quite proper right of the congregation to bring questions; with an accusation that the only need to bring them would be if your mind had been “bombarded” with lies about a particular ministry. The assumption about anyone asking a question is that they have been weakened by the websites; and the assumption about the SMC leadership is, as ever, that they are basically pretty well always right.


They should be seeking to assure the congregation that appropriate action will be taken to ensure that the things the leadership have done poorly will be addressed and they will be changed. But - astonishingly - the speaker suggests that the real problem here is not some of the actions of, for example, the Cumbernauld leader, but rather that there is a danger that some in the congregation might now be less inclined to receive ministry from her! This shows starkly the twisted priorities of the self interested Struthers leadership.


It is a matter of some importance (and some note) that the reaction of the SMC leaders to what has been said and published about them is to fear for their own leadership and ministries. Not first fear for the sheep they have failed being harmed. Not fear for their remaining congregation being confused. Not even a prick of conscience for the damage caused by their mistakes and harshness. Far less repentance. The primary concern expressed here is that the main leaders ministry opportunities must remain undiminished.


What can it be called when people do not express the slightest care or regret that so many feel they have been emotionally abused and psychologically harmed by them? Yet their prime concern is the preservation of their own ministries and that their supreme position, and the unhealthy dependence on themselves they have created within the congregation, remains unchallenged.



You say well is that person a channel of God or is it me some thing's gone wrong with? Is it my vision that's getting clouded? O God where are you? Where are you?


No - we believe it is the SMC leadership who “something has gone wrong with”, not the people under their care (both those who remain and those who have left).


People “used as channels of God” do not get a bye on living by the same biblical requirements as the rest of us - including taking responsibility for their own mistakes and unkindness. This is usually followed by repentance and an apology. If doing that would damage your ministry opportunities - well boo hoo. History and sanity tell us people “used as channels of God” can and do cause real and hurtful problems sometimes. Why can the SMC leadership not admit that and join us in the real world by showing a willingness to try and resolve the problems they have caused?



And God above all else give me a love that covers. There is an absence sometimes in the church of Christ of a love that covers. It's quite remarkable that Christians think its all right to tear one another to pieces. To tear down a work of God. O for a love that covers.


A few moments prior in this sermon the speaker indicated that the leaders should “have charge over you” and “be an example”. Reasonable then that we should ask in what way have the leadership demonstrated “a love that covers”? Now it is not clear what is meant by this but we shall be charitable and assume it means forgiving mistakes and faults - as opposed to “tearing one another to pieces”.


Was, then, Covlass dealt with by a leader showing a love that covers?


Was CrazyMixedUpKid shown a love that covers in seeking for 25 years an answer to the letters he was writing asking why the Struthers leadership had rejected him?


Was Lintar123 shown a love that covers when she was banned from attending the church on the basis of a false accusation; and accused of being a Jezebel attempting to take her husband away from the church at a time they still both regularly and faithfully attended?


Was Susie shown a love that covers or did she feel hated on sight and emotionally abused by her church leader?


Or is the love that covers only something the congregation have to show to the leaders - but not something that works the other way?


Would anyone see that pattern as typical of anything in SMC? Not the weak people fail and the spiritual leaders forgive, love and support them. But the supposedly spiritual leaders fail and the congregation has to pretend it didn't happen.


What is asking to be covered anyway? There has been no admission of guilt and a hint suggesting (but not a clear statement) that all the testimonies from all the people online are lies. So what is needing covered? If the leaders did physically remove children from their meetings, try to perform exorcisms on children, publicly criticise those in their congregations, claim to see sin people are unaware of, ban and ignore people was any of that wrong? If those who did this are those who (it is claimed) still have a wonderful ministry of bringing people into the presence of God - is it any wonder that is not resulting in the still awaited revival predicted by Struthers leaders 40 years ago? Or is that delay also the fault of the congregation?


Is the pattern becoming clear? As we indicated in our article on the revival problem until the leadership fall before the face of God in repentance then there can be no possibility of revival. In the meantime we are to give them a covering love but they have not admitted to any fault. In fact in this very sermon their spiritual motives are claimed to be selfless and perfect. So what needs covered?



The mother bird will protect her nestlings until the last one has been able to leave the nest and fly. She doesn't just see the first one or two off and leave another half dozen in the nest and say “och well” it doesn't matter if the predator gets them. Two of them are away safely. She waits till they're all out of the nest safely and able to fly. The sword of God hover over and protect us.


In that they expect as leaders to give an account of those who were their responsibility and who they had charge over – which at some point was many of us - what account do the SMC leaders intend to give for each of the 35 or so who have now posted on the RickRoss website and indicated that they were not well treated by them? Do they really believe that giving an account is to say, as it seems to be implied in this sermon, something like:


“we were close to perfect, and certainly deserved no criticism as leaders, and yet these people you gave us, Lord, to look after failed to avail themselves of the perfect ministry we provided.”


That is our paraphrase of what is being said and is consistent with what it often sounds like is coming from the SMC pulpit. That is what they seem to be telling us who have questions and concerns. We believe that if they expect to give an account then much more attention should be paid to what they have failed to accomplish in the lives of those God gave them; and who they know left their churches unhappy - many feeling worse off - with their needs unmet and their questions left unanswered. We believe this was not as a result of the strength of the SMC leaders. We believe this was a result of their inflexible and unteachable approach in handling the lives God gave them.


It is not us who will hold this to their charge before God. We are trying to resolve this in this life and this world. But it is their frequent claim - when demanding submission from the congregation - that they remind us God will ask them for an account of their Christian leadership.



And Lord we want so much more. How can I keep moving on till .. we are like an army terrible with banners arriving like the dawn. As majestic as an army with billowing banners.. to try and intimidate the enemy. To be part of that army was terrible - the army with banners. ….As the deer pants for water in the desert so my soul, O God, pants after you. And we've become single minded in our thirst for God. We will not be easily deflected if even a horde of shepherds come against us (!!) We will not be easily deflected by the taunts of the enemy – from within – from without. … we will not be afraid we will not be deflected we are marching on to find God.


If an army does not march strongly and together that is always - and will always - be the fault and failing of the leaders of that army. If a soldier does not learn, the leader has to find a way that works for them. Not just say the same things again in the same way. Or maybe louder. It hasn't worked before so why will it now? The need is for leaders to change what they do to meet the needs for learning and strengthening of those in their charge to become effective soldiers.


If you go to battle and loose - it’s always the general’s fault.


If the general says my leadership was flawless and perfect – those crummy soldiers just wouldn't listen to me and follow my commands still the failures of the army remain 100% the leaders fault and the leaders responsibility. That’s what being the leader means. Some people like being leaders and being in charge of money, platform allocation and jobs for the boys. The hard responsibility for preparing the army no matter what the cost to yourself, your time and your pride is less popular. We are sure nice banners would be lovely - but it would be better to march as an army with effective leaders making sure their troops are all well fed, properly trained and individually kitted out with what they each need to win should there ever be a fight.


Or is it enough to pretend. To ignore and disparage critics who claim your army seem to be weak and under prepared. But pretend one day they will they look good.  


If we were in an army, or a fight, we’d rather have a sword than a banner.



Is there any way tonight you have found yourself come off the sharpness of the cross. Is there any way you have found your spirit embroiled in the criticism that has a seed of bitterness in it that you just deep down know is unreasonable (!!) Come back to Christ. Just let your focus be upon him...himself. That’s all that any of us – I think – who preach to you want. It's all we want.


A touch of wishing and fantasy, we fear, as we get near the end of the sermon.


“Is there any way you have found your spirit embroiled in the criticism that has a seed of bitterness in it that you just deep down know is unreasonable”  (!!)


What a twisted way to accuse the congregation! The Struthers leadership have admitted nothing specific, they have dealt with no accusation directly, they have sought to dehumanise and disrespect those who do not regard them as flawless. Then they seek to claim the only real damage is the oft mentioned “seed of bitterness” forming in the followers.


As the Petitor pointed out in his response to this sermon - that is a meaningless phrase. What is a “seed” of bitterness? Is it bitterness of is it not? If it is - call it bitterness.


But be careful. Consider the example of a child abused by an unloving and uncaring mother for many years in their home and who was hurt, emotionally damaged and psychologically scarred by her harsh and nasty treatment - by someone they had a right to expect love and care from. If that child was bitter about that (or even a bit bitter) would that be the important issue as far as God was concerned?


He is, as the chorus often sung in SMC says, a God of faithfulness and without injustice. So will all possible views of justice not demand that we agree He will be much more concerned about the sin of the abuser? The sin of the unkind parent? The sin Jesus particularly condemned where someone caused harm to a child?


The bible makes it clear God's concern would be justice for the child.


Whether the child felt bitterness, or utter, unrelenting forgiveness, makes no difference whatsoever to the responsibility of the adult in the relationship to repent and make amends for what they had done. No sane person would suggest that those abused by the Catholic church, those now vindicated after many years of struggle, should only be listened to if they can prove they have no “seed of bitterness” in their hearts. The very suggestion is repulsive.


The abused are not responsible for what was done to them by those in authority over them. Responsibility cannot be passed onto another. It lies where it lies.


We believe that after all the words in this sermon of 12 March 2011 have been spoken - the fault and responsibility for any damage done to lives, and any consequences for their ministries, remain utterly and totally with the leadership of Struthers Memorial Church. For them to try and creep away from this responsibility  - by diverting attention to the supposedly “bitter” attitude of real and hurting people should be seen for what it is.



Lord what is my goal? What is my vision? Just to see your cross raised. Just to see you glorified. To see lives come to know you. To see the wonderful action of the Holy spirit in the midst of your own church. Lord deep down I know the truth – that to live a pure and a holy life is truly your call. Its not the narrow teaching of a narrow church. It is the whole principle in the Bible new testament and old. It is the word of God. “Without holiness no man shall see God” ...Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.


It is easy to say “Without holiness no man shall see God”. It is a great deal harder to understand where in the bible some of the Struthers teachings about holiness come from. The startling similarity to the way of the Pharisees that SMC call holiness is a real problem which must be addressed. The control of the detail of peoples lives by those claiming God's authority was something Jesus came to set men free from.


Any definition of holiness which takes people away from the service of others and focuses their lives on their internal supposedly “spiritual” issues and walk also needs to be examined. It does not reflect what Jesus called holiness. These questions are valid and real.


They have not been answered.



This final part of the sermon we are looking at was not the final part preached but we are looking at it last because it contains the important Struthers final solution to all this online concern:



Nor are we meant to be at all deflected by the actions of those that oppose us and most of all by the opposition of hell. Of the enemy himself. We are meant to go on ploughing forward.


No we're not.


We are meant to study the word of God and see that we do it. Ploughing forward is rarely ever the right answer. That just encourages people to potentially remain in pursuit of the wrong goals in the wrong way. And in the pantheon of self serving advice from a pulpit this scores pretty high.


We are not meant to go ploughing forward if we are wrong.


We are meant to stop. Understand the reality of where we are. Seek what God is saying and move in that direction.


To stop and review in the light of new information is sensible and rational and spiritual. To plough forward ignoring, and in the face of, real problems which have not been in any way acknowledged or sorted is – kind of mental.


The early church did not just “go on ploughing forward” in Acts chapter 15. It stopped and considered, changed direction and welcomed the Gentiles. Fortunately for us.


The Pharisees ploughed forward, ignored the new thing that God was doing, and ended up crucifying Jesus.


From Wikipedia:


The Slough of Despond ("swamp of despair") is a deep bog in John Bunyan's allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, into which the character Christian sinks under the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt for them. It is described in the text:


   'This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.'



The call in this sermon from the leader of the Struthers churches is clear. There is no acknowledgment of need for change and there is to be no time of reflection. Plough on!


Following this sermon came the 2012 “new year word”. The gist again is ignore anything but the leaders directions and carry on building! And ploughing! That is all God wants you to do and to think about.


Well- any despondent ploughers in SMC have a choice.


Many of us made the choice to stop and seek God and find a place we could plough and work for Him without the despondency, mire, doubt, discouraging apprehensions, guilt and fear so many have now said they found so much part of life in SMC. Much in this sermon seeks to take that choice from the members - in particular by attempting to get them to see what is happening as a test of whether they have a “proper” attiude to the leadership.


Yet the choice remains: despondently plough on - or seek until you find.


Until you find the answers, and the information, and the resolutiuon you need to grow as a Christian.


Though, referring back to the allegory, it would not surprise us if people in Struthers were less concerned right now with reaching the Celestial City; than simply wanting to be in a church in this world which can explain and justify the conduct of it’s leaders.