There is a general perception that policeman can run red lights and drive in excess of the speed limit, but it’s not the case. True, there are circumstances that might force someone in law enforcement to do either or both of these things, but generally, they are not above the law and not immune to prosecution if they are breaking the rules unnecessarily.
Similarly, one often runs up against people in church leadership who feel that situations require them to, for lack of a better word, make stuff up. A policy that exists absolutely nowhere in writing is suddenly invoked for the sake of convenience. Information important to a particular facet of church life is withheld for the sake of expediency.
When pastors misrepresent situations on a national or megachurch level — i.e. recent instances of book plagiarism — there are watchdog ministries that will call them out on it. When it happens at a local church level, we might hear of it through survivor and church abuse blogs.
Often however, the situations play out quietly at a local assembly level and in many cases, the parishioners don’t even know they’re being lied to. For example…
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Anne had served her local church’s worship team for many years and helped in their transition from a hymn-based music format to a church known for leading the way in modern worship. She followed her husband to another church for a year, then returned for several years, and then disappeared to help with an inner-city church plant. Now she was ready to return and jump in with both feet.
Instead, summoned to a late-night meeting with a church deacon, she was told that her present status was: Visitor. No regard for the years she had poured into the music program. No recognition that this was the church where she was baptized and where her children were dedicated and where her husband had been on staff. She was told that people are uncomfortable being led in worship by someone they don’t know and they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.
Three weeks later, they had a “guest” worship leader.
It made everything the church leader had said to be a lie. Why do this? Why not simply say no? Perhaps he was threatened by the fact that she had more musical and spiritual leadership in her little finger than… well, you know. This after all, was a guy who, at one time, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our church” opening statement unless it was printed on a card, and yet in this situation, he was in leadership over her.
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Ross was always amazed that his church seemed to end the year with a financial surplus. While everyone he talked to said their church was way behind on their budget, Cedar Ridge Neighborhood Church always had money left over.
There was a regional ministry several hours away that intersected with the life of the church and many other churches and families in their city. Not being supported by any particular denomination and benefiting only middle- and lower-income families, Ross occasionally took it upon himself to do some unofficial deputation for the organization and try to raise both their profile and support. So he asked if Cedar Ridge would consider putting them on their domestic missions budget.
Instead he was told that they didn’t simply make blanket donations to organizations, but gave their support only to individual missionaries or organization workers. Respecting the office of the church leader in question, Ross though somewhat disappointed that he had failed to make his case, accepted the response at face value.
It took a year, but finally Ross realized this was simply not the case when they handed out some huge donations to several organizations that were not even faith-based.
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Sadly, the stories are true though the names are changed. They’re examples I was able to easily call out of memory, but don’t begin to scratch the surface of stories I’ve told where board members, elders, deacons, pastors, church staff, etc., had simply lied to save face or for the sake of convenience.
In the true spirit of grace and charity, I know the people involved in both above stories have “kept these things and pondered them in their heart” rather than go public. But the first example above was done in such a way that was abusive, and five years later, the scars of the late night meeting have never healed. That leader is currently in line for a position of greater profile and responsibility, and it’s very difficult for those of us who know the story to just sit back and not say anything, especially when the individual is otherwise so highly esteemed as a perfect example.
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The scriptures at this morning’s Daily Encouragement reading were so timely:
“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).