Thinking Out Loud

December 21, 2018

When Doctrine Overrides Character

Not everyone is on Twitter, and not everything people post on Twitter is appropriate for the theme of their blog. So as we’ve done before — Skye Jethani, Mark Clark, etc. — when someone has posted a longer string that we feel is of great importance and deserving of a wider readership, I want to give you a chance to read something that author Sheila Wray Gregoire* posted to Twitter two days ago.

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

Why is it that Christians have such a difficult time denouncing pastors who have done horrendous things? I have an off-the-wall theory, and I’d like to share it in this thread.

Two incidences this week: Tim Keller offered George Whitefield, the man largely responsible for the legalization of slavery in 18th Century Georgia, as someone to emulate; and Harvest Bible Chapel elders and members continue to support James MacDonald, despite credible accusations of spiritual abuse.

We are told “we can’t judge” and “we all have our failings.” But most of all “He’s such a great preacher!” We live in an age where preaching and doctrine reign, and anyone who has the correct doctrine must therefore be a staunch Christian. Yet is this biblical? Let’s take a look.

In Jane Austen’s time, the phrase “Christian charity” was common. It was our love that distinguished us from others. In those days, pretty much everybody “believed” the same thing. What showed that you were a true believer was if you actually lived it out.

Things have changed. First, few believe today. But church trends also elevated belief over practice. [Billy] Graham’s crusades, though amazing, gave the impression that if one said the sinner’s prayer, one would always be right with God. Graham himself lamented the lack of discipleship.

Neo-Calvinism elevated doctrine over anything else, and a church’s preaching became key to its reputation. Then politics fused with Christianity. Christianity became synonymous with a certain viewpoint in the world, cementing the idea that it was about beliefs, not practice.

Today, if you were to ask someone what a Christian was, they would echo, “someone who believes X and Y.” The idea of “Christian charity” being our distinguishing characteristic has largely gone by the wayside.

Yet what does the Bible say? Jesus said they would know us by our love. James said faith without works is dead. Works do not save us; but works show that we truly are saved. Many people believe the Christian tenets and preach Christian doctrine for entirely the wrong reasons.

Paul admitted this—some preach Christ out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 1:15). James said that even the demons believe—and shudder. A person can preach excellent sermons and write amazing books, but that says little about whether they have the Spirit of Christ in them.

Yes, God saves us through our belief in the saving work of Christ. But what makes our faith REAL is that it changes us. Until the church stops idolizing the person who simply preaches an amazing sermon and teaches the right doctrine, we will never get back to the heart of Christ.

If the gospel does not change how you act—if it does not affect your view of marginalized people; if it does not make it unthinkable to yell at a restaurant server; if it does not compel you to give—then ask yourself if you are believing for the wrong reasons.

And then tremble.

To read reactions and responses from Sheila, click this Twitter link.


*Sheila Wray Gregoire is a published author with Zondervan, Kregel and Waterbrook Press and is a featured speaker at women’s events. Her blog deals with marriage, family and parenting issues and is called To Love Honor and Vaccum.

 

February 4, 2016

When Pastors and Church Leaders Tell Lies

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

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.

look closelySimilarly, 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…

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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).

 

March 25, 2013

When Your Pastor is a Jerk

Defective PastorThe title of this has probably raised some eyebrows, but relax, it’s more of a Bible study than anything, and it had a much more refined title when it appeared last week at C201. Still, a couple of times in my life I have found myself in a position of being under the leadership of a pastor who in many different degrees I did not respect, and I know some of you have as well. Believing him to be placed there in the sovereignty of God, I have made a statement like, “I don’t respect the decision he made [or direction he is taking] but I will support him [it] because I respect the office” that is to say, the position he holds. In other words, I didn’t want to undermine the general support I think a pastor should have once they occupy that position.

Some of you have been in the position of knowing a Christian leader or author or pastor intimately enough that you are aware of some severe flaws in their character, and yet their preaching or writing was solid; their teaching of God’s word was able to penetrate your heart or move people to a place of repentance.

Ideally of course, this type of situation — or character double standard — shouldn’t exist. It’s really at the heart of hypocrisy.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus addresses this issue. In Matthew 21: 1-3 we read:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

In Matthew Henry’s commentary he looks at this. The language is older English than we speak today, so read slowly and unlike at C201, where you can read the original I’ll try to paraphrase some of this:

Christ allows them their office as expositors of the law; The scribes and Pharisees (that is, the whole Sanhedrim, who sat at the helm of church government, who were all called scribes, and were some of them Pharisees), they sit in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), as public teachers and interpreters of the law…

First: Many a good place is filled with bad men; this is nothing new; sometimes the vilest men are promoted even to, in this verse, Moses’s seat (Ps. 12:8) When that happens the men are not so much honored by the job as the job is dishonored by the men…

Second: Good and useful positions and responsibilities are not automatically to be condemned and abolished, just because they fall sometimes into the hands of bad men, who abuse them. We must not overreact and pull down Moses’s seat, because scribes and Pharisees have are in control of it; rather than so, let both grow together until the harvest, Matt. 13:30

…As far as they sit in Moses’s seat, that is, read and preach the law that was given by Moses” (which, as yet, continued in full force, power, and virtue), “and judge according to that law, so far you must listen to them, as conveyers to you of the written word.”

The scribes and Pharisees made it their business to study the scripture, and were well acquainted with the language, history, and customs of it, and its style and phraseology. Now Christ desires the people to make use of the helps they gave them for the understanding of the scripture, and do accordingly. As long as their comments illustrate the text and don’t pervert it;  as long as they make plain, and don’t make void, the commandment of God; to that extent they must be observed and obeyed, but all the while exercising caution and a judgment of discretion. Note, We must not think the worse of good truths for their being preached by bad ministers; nor of good laws for their being executed by bad magistrates. Though it is best to have our food brought by angels, yet, if God sends it to us by ravens, if it is good and wholesome, we must take it, and thank God for it.

Our Lord Jesus promises this, to prevent the nitpicking which some would want to make in this situation; as if, by condemning the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus intended to bring the law of Moses into contempt, and to dismiss it; whereas actually he came not to destroy, but to fulfil…  Sometimes, we need to carefully fine tune the difference between the office-holder and their offices, so that the ministry isn’t blamed when the ministers are.

emphasis added

I looked at Matthew 23: 1-3 after reading a chapter in a recently released book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (Zondervan). In Chapter 6, he looks at this from the point of view of our behavior and reminds us of our responsibility not to be jerks, and thereby hypocrites. 

Pursuing Justice - Ken WytsmaIt’s deceptively easy to believe a lot of good things about God but fail to live out those good things. It’s been said what we do is actually what we believe. It’s easier than we think to have the spiritual exteriors without the spiritual heart. It’s easy to mistake the packaging for authentic living, to confuse the décor of religion with genuinely loving our neighbor.

Think of James 4:17, where we are reminded of this truth: “Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Or Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold the good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Sometimes trying not to do the wrong thing is the surest way to do the wrong thing.

[This type of sin*] is subtle. We’re often one step away from becoming the Pharisee. And the minute we care more about avoiding the bad than doing the good is the moment we’re in deep trouble. Our spiritual pride blinds us to our own imperfections, causing us to become “lukewarm” from a Biblical standpoint — good only to be spit out.

True morality — true righteousness and justice and love — can never lead to external legalism because we cannot be fully righteous and just and loving. For that we need God’s grace, every moment of every day, and grace is the stake through the heart of legalism.

pp. 93-94 [* eusebeigenic sin, term coined by Eugene Peterson; a sin picked up in a place of righteousness; a type of sin only available to those within the church]

So it may be at times in our lives we are called to follow less-than-perfect leaders; times our food will be brought by ravens and not by angels. Nonetheless, we are to follow genuine teaching from God’s word, and also to look in the mirror to make sure that our leadership or place of influence in someone else’s life is free of anything that would be hypocritical.

April 2, 2012

Refreshment When the Well Runs Dry

This weekend I had the pleasure of reading Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose by Mark O. Wilson (Wesleyan Publishing House, March 2012), pastor of Hayward Wesleyan Church in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.   Although the endorsement on the book’s cover by Mark Batterson indicates this as a book for pastors and church leaders, it is so much more than that.

Wilson has put everything in this book except the kitchen sink. It’s an encouragement collection of stories, quips, analogies, adages, and many scripture references. I hesitate to introduce comparisons, but I would think of this as a large glass of water for someone engaged in Christian service who finds themselves running dry; or an energy bar for the person whose strength feels depleted.

He arranges the 190 pages into three sections: Vacuus, Repleo and Fluo.  The first section sets the stage  indicating the nature of the problem: 45.5% of pastors surveyed said they have experienced depression and burnout (p. 19) a stat which resonates with Mark’s own experience;

“I realized I had been depending on yesterday’s grace; failing to keep my spiritual life fresh and up to date. My soul was empty and needed to be replenished.” (p. 16, italics added)

The second section talks about the process of filling up, but he contends we need to be emptied before we can be refilled; which begins with confession and repentance.  I quoted a section of this on the weekend at C201. I also loved this quotation:

Our job is to seek His way instead of demanding our own. Instead of me writing the check and asking God to sign it, I need to sign a blank check and ask God to write it.  (p. 50; US-check = cheque-UK)

And several other insights for which I didn’t note page numbers; like this one, the response of a young boy who is given a fully grown St. Bernard for his birthday:

“Wow. That’s great. But is he mine or am I his?”

And this prayer:

“God. Your will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.”

The last section deals with the resulting overflow that results from being filled, and how that reflects in the life of the individual and the life of the church as a whole, in compassion ministries, holiness, and influencing both the local community and the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this; and I want to share the entire first chapter with you. This link will take you to a .pdf file sample of the introduction and chapter one.

We all face desert times in ministry and in our personal Christian pilgrimage. But times of refreshing are available even when the road is rough and the well runs dry.

March 19, 2011

Churches Can’t Hurt People; People Hurt People

While it’s only one year old, I want to rerun this piece because there’s a lot of hurtin’ goin’ on out there. It’s a post that was a continuation of my wife’s guest post a year plus one day ago. At the time, I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively.

A year later, I am only beginning to realize the level of the abuse she suffered.  If she had been raped by the church elder who presided over the meeting she attended, there would be an outcry.  Because it was only spiritual abuse, her situation is ignored.  For her sake, I refuse to let these issues die…

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Andy Stanley’s Fortune 500 survey company found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital’ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” is simply too much kommel-bonnaugery. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received this week; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody knows her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge their carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where organic leadership is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their province. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”  It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on haitus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I keep watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

The new pastor who had arrived around this time continues to distance himself from my wife’s situation by saying he doesn’t want to interfere in departmental decisions. He may have bought into the organized tainting of her reputation.  He’s never heard her speak or lead worship.

She returns for visits at my insistence — I have my own history and roots in this church — but is extremely uncomfortable, as you would expect someone to be if, using the example I started with, someone who had raped them was making the announcements or leading the worship.  The new pastor has the utmost respect for this guy.  I suppose time will tell.  No, wait; I know time will tell.

What’s worse, the hurting continues; another person, with so much to offer this church, recently left.  He’s hurting and broken over it, and I am hurting for him. He’s trying to find another church home.  You just want to grab some of these so-called church leaders and start shaking them and shaking them and shaking them…  Bastards!  Sorry.  Only word I can find right now.

On the plus side, my wife is currently on a monthly worship rotation at another church and attends there most other weeks also.  They give her the freedom of a half hour worship set to explore the depth of worship, to produce original videos, to write contemplative and sobering liturgies and to include off-the-wall fun stuff, too.  Their gain is the other church’s tragic loss.

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”

February 15, 2011

Movie Rights Available, I’m Sure

If this isn’t a television Movie-of-the-Week by this time next year I’ll be most surprised.  It’s a story that’s just quirky enough for the pages of The National Enquirer, and yet I’m not sure we can ignore it completely.  Or to put it differently, when life — or the blog Bene Diction Blogs On — hands you a story like this, don’t bury it in the Wednesday Link List.

But you’re going to have to some clicking to follow the thread of this for yourself.

So here’s where it starts.  There’s a woman who has a son who is five years old and goes to a church preschool.  They have a Halloween party and he decides to go as Daphne, a Scooby Doo character who is female.  So she decides to go along with all this — he’s only five, remember — and rents the costume.  The other mothers are not so supportive.  The woman has a blog, and a gift with words, and a few days later, on November 2nd, expresses her feelings about all this online in a post titled — with tongue firmly planted in cheek ’cause he’s only five — My Son Is Gay.

The blog post goes viral. Actually, it goes capital “V” Viral. I know some of us have blogs and have a list of “Top Posts for 2010,” but we’re talkin’ — as of last night — 46,180 comments on a single item.  That’s just comments. The page views were in the millions.

Then, ten days later on November 12th she returns to her blog to report that the response has been, for the most part, supportive.

And then there are you guys. I cannot begin to wrap my mind around this outpouring of support. It is incomprehensible to me at this point. Yes, there are some out there that think I’ve made a colossal mistake and should never have ‘let’ [him] be what he wants. I respectfully disagree. I am 100% certain I did the right thing.

Did I mention that her husband is a policeman?

Did I mention she was then booked to appear on The Today Show?

The story is really heating up, and as you might expect, by November 16th, she is now in a totally defensive mode.  Martin Luther nailed 97 theses to a cathedral door, and the comparison is worthy as this mom nails 20 points of information to her blog.

Part of the reason she does this, as it turns out, is that there’s a lot of stuff taking place in the background of the larger story.  Much of that has to do with how her church responded.  But she holds back writing about that until months later, on February 3rd, where we then learn that as all this is going on:

  • She’s been accused of lying
  • She’s been accused of “promoting gayness”
  • She’s asked to take down the original blog post
  • She’s asked to consider closing her blog
  • She’s told to apologize to the women she “slandered and libeled” (this even though she referred to them only as A, B and C)
  • She is barred from receiving communion
  • In all this, she is not asked how her son is doing

I’m sure there are certain aspects to this story which leave it unfinished.  But I’m equally sure that as a family, their lives will never be exactly the same.  It’s no wonder that BDBO (the first link at top) refers to this as “spiritual care in the form of bullying.” At the intersection of Parents Drive and School Boulevard (and Church Road) things have become so serious that we’ve lost the ability to lighten up now and then and remember that we’re dealing with kids.

And S., if you’re reading this; I suppose it was inevitable that a few people might want to knock you down for the choice you made all those weeks ago, but the people in your church should not have been among that number.  We in the church so easily shoot our own wounded. For those in the church who tend to rush toward judgment, I apologize.  A five-year-old should get to have the fun of being a five-year-old.

As for the movie rights, I’m thinking of something that’s a updated spin on the hypocrisy of “Harper Valley PTA.”  The kind of script where the people demanding apologies end up apologizing.

(I decided not to borrow the child’s picture, even though I like to have a picture in each story if possible; you will need to link for this one. I just didn’t want to add to the sensationalism of a story that’s already been sensationalized.)

February 12, 2011

Justifying Your Paid Ministry Position

I want to return to something that was in the link list on Wednesday; and I’ll simply re-post the item and then if you didn’t read the pieces you can skim them and we’ll meet back here:

  • Okay this one was overdue.  Fox KTLA’s report begins: “Crystal Cathedral’s chief financial officer –- who received a six-figure housing allowance from the now-bankrupt church –- has retired after 33 years with the organization. Fred Southard, 75, said he believed it was time to let someone else have a chance at his job, and that he wanted to help the ministry reduce expenses.”  Yes.  Definitely.  Give that six-figure job to someone else now that there’s probably not enough money to support a four-figure job.  Of course, Southward justifies himself as the job was once “a ministerial function” albeit in “the early days.”

So what was your reaction?

Richard Deitrich (click image) writes: According to the LA TIMES this is Fred Southward's home, so you can see what $132,019 in housing allowance a year can buy - must be a pretty expensive pool guy!

This is a job that probably started out, as stated, with “ministerial function.”  There was probably a lot of contact with other church staff and many opportunities to interact with parishioners.

And I’m 99% sure I know what happened next.

Everybody got really, really comfortable.

The paychecks kept coming in.  Or maybe, in this case, the housing allowance continued. The calls got screened. The travel junkets increased. And that became the status quo.  It then continued the way it had always been and since the ministry was growing and flourishing, there was no scrutiny, no belt-tightening, no need to rethink everything.

On the other hand, I love how the guy spins it so he looks like a hero in his retirement, “I have to do all I can.”   That of course, needs to be weighed again what 33 years at the church as brought him; note the statement, ‘He owns a home in Newport Beach assessed at $2.3 million, property records show.’

Nice non-work if you can get it.

Ever since King David mentioned the gladness of going to God’s house, actually getting to serve in the temple has been a privilege.  Should there be term-limitations?  An insistence that all ministry positions be bi-vocational?

In this story, you can’t miss the irony of this statement:

“The cuts made by the church were not done quickly enough and they were not deep enough,” he said Tuesday. “There were a number of factors that snowballed to get the church to where it is today.”

Remember, Fred Southward was the children’s pastor, no wait a minute, he was the choir director, no he was Chief Financial Officer.  If the cuts weren’t made fast enough, it’s because they weren’t made fast enough by him.  That was part of his job description. That’s what executives get paid (and get housing allowances!) to do; to see the trends, to forecast the budgeting, and to make the required adjustments. Ahead of time.

In the comparison of Crystal Cathedral staff and supplier winners and losers, Fred Southward was a winner.

Bankruptcy court filings also showed that the cathedral paid out more than $2 million to 23 insiders, mostly members of the Schuller family, over the 12 months leading to the cathedral’s Oct. 18 bankruptcy. The church’s revenue dipped by about 25 percent, more than 150 employees were laid off and numerous creditors went unpaid.

…So let’s return to this article’s title.

How many other people are there out there who are on the payroll of a local church or Christian organization who have a nice gig with a plush office and would have no problem if asked to justify their salary and perks?

Bible College students are graduating and — with no experience — walking into full-time Youth Ministry positions that start at $48K.  No salad days.  No need for a second job. No dues to pay.

No wonder it’s so easy to get your ministry motivation corrupted when you’re doing it for pay. Also, let’s face it, any one who starts comfortably will expect regular pay increases; they’ll expect future placements to come with more money and benefits.

The Apostle Paul continued to ply his trade while singlehandedly spearheading efforts to take the gospel to the farthest parts of the known world. He does ask churches to set aside money to support those who preach God’s word to them. But he doesn’t seem to, as the saying goes, quit his day job.

Pastors in the third world church know nothing of salaries and housing benefits. (‘Yes, I’ll travel for three days through the jungle to attend that conference, but it’s going to depreciate my sandals and I’ll expect a mileage allowance.’)

So why do we not only do it that way here in North America, but do it to excess?


December 15, 2010

Wednesday Link List

It’s a busy week for most so I’ll keep the list short(er) this week…

  • Yes, I do list the links in order of importance, so for this week, it’s got to be a Christianity Today story in celebration of 50 years of Youth With A Mission (YWAM).
  • “Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?”   That question, included in the online, advance-publication announcement for Rob Bell’s forthcoming Love Wins, may explain why the title is with HarperOne, and not with Zondervan.
  • The Amish are causing problems for building contractors in Philadelphia where they are underbidding local companies on jobs, and then leaving town without spending any money.
  • Lots of time to answer our poll question from yesterday — Should audiences still be expected to stand for the playing of the Hallelujah Chorus?
  • A look at Brad Lomenick’s “Young Influencers List” for December led to the discovery that he’s been doing this list for a few years now, with some names you might recognize.
  • If you own a business in Dallas, Texas, you’d better not be substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” or First Baptist Church will put you on their “Naughty or Nice” list.
  • It’s minus 12 degrees Celsius, or 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Fairbanks, Alaska.  What better time for an outdoor baptism service.
  • Because of remarks made by Canadian Pastor Charles McVety, the National Post reports that Crossroads Television System (CTS) has been found to be in violation of Canada’s strict “anti-hate” Canadian Broadcast Standards.
  • Cedric Miller, a New Jersey pastor “believes the forbidden fruit had a QWERTY keyboard and came with status updates.”  He’s ordered his church leaders to either quit Facebook or resign.
  • Canadian readers:  Don’t forget you have less than two weeks to help us fill our Salvation Army iKettle.  No matter where you live, donations stay with the S.A. Family Services branch closest to you.
  • Joel Spencer doesn’t blog frequently, but if you like your bloggers with tongues firmly planted in cheeks, you might enjoy his catalog of Jesus action figures for 2010.
  • Bonus link:  In the days before Weird Al, there was Ray Stevens (Guitarzan, The Streak, Bridget the Midget, etc.) filling the novelty music category.  He’s back with a commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
  • Today’s cartoon is a 2009 entry at ShoeBoxBlog, while today’s picture is none other than Shane Claiborne at the White House which appeared — National Enquirer style — at the blog OutOfUr.  BTW, you need to drop by your bookstore to actually see, touch and feel what Shane is doing with his new book, Common Prayer.

November 22, 2010

People Who Have Lived Three Lifetimes

Whether or not a cat truly has nine lives, I know three people who really have lived three lifetimes:

  • Stormie Omartian — Recording artist and songwriter, host of exercise and fitness videos, author of books about prayer.
  • Sheila Walsh — UK recording and touring Christian musician, co-host of The 700 Club, author of books for adults and children and, as of this month her first fiction title.
  • Brian Stiller — This one you may not know, but is the one I know personally:  President of Youth For Christ Canada, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (our equivalent of the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary.

I’m sure I am also aware of others.   And each one of these qualifies because they did what they did for a considerable length of time.

I started thinking about this today because of the release of Brian Stiller’s new book on leadership:  You Never Know What You Have Till You Give It Away (Castle Quay Books).   Brian’s decade-long commitment to each of the three aforementioned ministries was rich, lasting and significant.

So what are you accomplishing?   Do you feel you’re making a contribution?  The Bible tells us to “redeem the time.”   Other translations say, “Make the most of every opportunity.”    A writer in another generation put it this way:

Only one life, t’will soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

November 4, 2010

So Why Exactly Does Scandal Hit Pastors and Religious Leaders?

Mark Barger Elliott tries to deal with this question — “How can we clergy explain such egregious transgressions?”  this week on the CNN Belief Blog.   He feels there are two culprits, “the work and the person.”

Take the first one:

As a pastor I identify with the pitfalls of “the work.” Fifteen years ago I took vows “to love God, my neighbor, and to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence and imagination.”

Today, however, my job description reads like the director of a mid-size non-profit. A million dollar budget needs to be raised and a monthly payroll of 12 employees met. To tread the churning waters of shrinking resources and demands for excellent programs, I take classes on strategic planning as often as classes on the Bible.

As to the second issue:

How do we explain the moral transgressions of a profession charged to teach morality?

In my years as a pastor I have witnessed marriage vows made and betrayed. I have visited those in prison and those trapped in a prison they have made for themselves. I’ve prayed with the lost and the found, watched fortunes flow and ebb.

“Broken” is a word that describes many of the people I have been privileged to walk alongside as a pastor.

I have also spent a great deal of time with other clergy; from preaching stars who soak up acclaim for their oratory gifts to pastors in inner-city churches barely making ends meet.

The solution to the first problem seems more simple:

One option is to intentionally separate the clergy from the church’s financial matters. Teaching people about God’s love while shaking a fundraiser’s tin cup seems to ultimately undermine one’s credibility. People suspect a bait and switch.

I wish he had been given more space to flesh this out.    He identifies a tension here, but it’s just one, and pastors are stretched physically and emotionally in so many different directions.  Is the point financial responsibility specifically, or the inconsistencies of the job?

The second solution is not so easily dealt with:

Clergy typically fall into one of two camps.

Those who, in the face of the brokenness that surrounds them, come to identify their own brokenness and in humility choose to “live with the questions,” to borrow the poet Rilke’s phrase. This person is reluctant to offer quick answers to the hard questions of life.

The other camp is clergy who choose instead to offer confident solutions to life’s struggles. The clergy I have watched transgress their ordination vows typically fall into the second camp. The temptation is to shift from speaking about God to speaking for God. When that line blurs in a pastor’s mind, all bets are off.

On this point, I wish he’d had space to discuss the “personality” as well as the “person.”   I’ve heard it said that the very personality traits which cause someone to want to be in the pulpit are the very personality traits that leave them vulnerable to temptation.   (My personal belief is that anyone in business leadership, or in a position where they are “upfront” before a crowd of people is equally prone to the same conditions.)   The second paragraph above is certainly an interesting insight into how that might play out.

To me, this is the question all of us — laity and church staff — need to be asking each time we hear a story about another fallen leader.   And “hearing” is key, because we tend to focus here in North American on Canadian and American stories, but Elliott points out there are similar stories in Europe that we’re not always being told.

I also wish he’d had time to broaden out the ending.  While pastors have made vows to serve God vocationally, each one of us has promised to honor God’s name and serve Him with devotion.   The moral collapse of a Christian leader may make headlines, but when it happens to any one of us, it is not any less significant to God.

To read the full piece, in context, which I encourage you to do, click here.

Mark Barger Elliott is Senior Pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and author of Creative Styles of Preaching.

Comments left at the original article come from the widest possible readership at CNN and should be read with discernment.

“Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout, but is usually the result of a slow leak. ” ~source unknown

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