One of the things that breaks my heart as a Pastor is to see things happen in churches that I know breaks the heart of God. I’m dealing with and praying for some friends in another church/another city right now that are going through a tragic situation that has impacted them and has the potential for impacting their kids in a negative way because of the way things have been handled in their church. I’ve seen this happen hundreds of times in local churches and it’s tragic. Therefore, I’m weighing in on some things I think are important that relate to issues like the ones my friends are going through. The wife in this situation was one of my students when I was a student pastor years ago and she and her husband have such a heart for God – so what they’re going through really bugs me; actually it makes me mad.
Years ago I got crucified in a church and saw people who claimed to follow Christ act in ways that were totally contrary to the example of Christ and to His Word. I’m sure the people involved have their own perspective of what happened, but even if they were right – their actions were wrong. From my perspective – they were wrong in what they thought, said and did.
By the way the issue that took place wasn’t moral, ethical or theological; it had to do with some decisions that were made with the Pastor’s approval concerning my work schedule during the summer and a particular summer camp the church took students to. There was some miscommunication that took place about the entire situation and some lies were told about me, but I was willing to do whatever was needed to resolve the issue. Things were not resolved and I was asked to resign gracefully which I did.
I had already experienced God’s call into full-time ministry, but remember telling God at that time if this is what ministry in the church is all about then I don’t want any part of it. The tragedy is that this story happens all too often and young men & women who have great futures in the ministry sometimes are hurt so badly that they are sidelined from ministry – sometimes for the rest of their lives. I’m thankful that shortly after this situation I was taught incredible truth about forgiveness and was able to forgive the people involved in this situation and even began to pray God’s blessing on them. However, that didn’t mean I trusted them. Forgiveness is to be offered freely and immediately even in the midst of the hurt, but trust must be earned.
I tell that story to acknowledge the fact that sometimes leaders (even pastors) in churches make decisions that aren’t right and just because they have a position of leadership doesn’t mean they always lead well. I’m not trying to draw greater criticism to the office of Pastor; I am a Pastor and hold the office in high regard. I believe we are to trust our spiritual leaders and when they mess up (and they will) and ask for forgiveness – their humility should strengthen our trust. I realize if there’s a major problem with something that’s moral, ethical or theological that leader may need to be removed from their position of leadership and it will take longer for trust to be rebuilt. However, in most conflicts in church – the issue isn’t moral, ethical or theological; most issues are over opinions, hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
Here’s another “church” story that’s the opposite of the one above. I share it because it also happens often and people don’t always respond the right way.
Years ago in another church – another city – I had a very gifted teacher/leader in my area of ministry whose wife began to suspect he was having an affair. She hired an investigator who did find out that another woman stayed with him overnight on a couple of occasions. When she came to me with this information I followed the Matthew 18 principle of going to him privately. Since this could impact our church (he was well known and well liked) I did inform the Sr Pastor who went with me to see this man. I won’t go into the details, but the bottom line is that he did seem repentant and was willing to submit to our decision to remove him from his position of leadership while he worked on restoring trust in his marriage.
This man was gifted; a great personality and great teacher of the Word of God. When I removed him, I told the large group he lead & taught that he was stepping down for a while to work on some personal issues. This did not set well with a few members of the group and they wanted to know what was going on. They tried to put a great deal of pressure on me and in some ways accused me of not telling them the truth. They thought I removed the man for personal reasons, and starting making judgments on my motives and decision. In light of Mt 18, and in light of what’s right – I did not want nor need to tell them the details of what had been going on with this man. It took a while for things to calm down, but the issue was that the people who thought he was the greatest teacher and person ever really struggled with the fact that he was no longer leading anything in their class. Bottom line – he did reconcile with his wife and they are still doing well as far as I know. In addition, he was eventually restored to a place of leadership after 3 years of demonstrating his repentance was real. In other words, he took the time that was needed to rebuild trust.
I tell this story to state another side of what happens at times in churches when people leave or are removed from a position of leadership. There will always be questions by the people who really liked that particular personality and the natural inclination is to question leadership b/c of all the negative we’ve heard about in churches. What’s tragic is that sometimes people get mad about a decision made and they have no idea what’s been going on behind the scenes. If the leader in question is like the man in my second story – then they can go to him privately and he may or my not feel the liberty to tell them what has happened. In this case, when people talked to the man in the story – he basically told them the same thing we told them — he had some personal issues to work on that were going to take the majority of his time and couldn’t devote himself to leading the class at that time. However, some people are not that mature and will not always tell the truth – or not the whole truth. That’s why the book of wisdom is clear —The person who tells one side of a story seems right, until someone else comes and asks questions (Prov. 18:17 NCV). A word to the wise is simply this: be careful of weighing in on a matter when you don’t know all the facts and haven’t talked to both sides. Seriously – think about past situations in your life where you heard something that sounded like the truth until you heard the other side of the story and realized that what you heard at first wasn’t completely right. Also, the matter of trust is at stake; most of us are more apt to believe what our friends say (that’s natural because we have a closer relationship with them) – but we need to mature enough to talk to others involved before we come to some conclusion that impacts us and those around us concerning decisions that are made.