Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Protecting The (Dysfunctional) Church System

Here is a story I have heard way too often:

A pastor is doing well at his church. The ministry is thriving, the people like him, and real fruit is being shown in his ministry. As good as things are though, they are not perfect and some of his ideas are not being received well by someone in the church leadership team. Maybe the annoyed party is another pastor (if it's a large church) or someone on the board/elders team. Perhaps they feel threatened or perhaps they disagree with the pastor's approach or theology. For whatever reason instead of the annoyed person talking directly to the pastor in open dialogue, they instead bully the rest of the leadership team (or the pastor directly) to quit. A covert campaign is established (gossip, manipulation, and outright deception) and eventually the pastor can't take it any more and is forced out.

As bad, as evil as that is, what really bothers me is what often happens next. The church leadership team - heavily influenced by the church bully - tells the pastor that, "for the good of the church," to leave quietly. In some cases financial considerations (compensation) are attached to the pastor leaving quietly without "raising a stink" about what happened to them. The pastor believes the lie that if he would let the people in the church know about the underhanded and terrible way that he was treated that this would "wrong." He worries that it could divide the church, that he would be doing it out of bad motives, and that it would just be too much trouble and bring up the bad feelings that he is trying to bury. So he agrees not to say anything. The people are confused on why the pastor is leaving (except those in the know) and he exits the church defeated, angry, bitter, and disillusioned. The average churchgoer has no idea of the dysfunctional element in their leadership and the cycle begins again with the new pastor.

Depressing, isn't it?

What bothers me the most is not that church bullies hurt good pastors (although the tolerance of church bullies is a whole other rant which I will share another time) but the fact that the dysfunction within the church is not brought up to the light. Pastors justify their lack of sharing the truth with the congregation by believing the idea that they are saving the church from further strife and division, but really they are just prolonging the dysfunction. And the members of the leadership team, even if they don't agree with what happened, become part of the code of silence to "protect the church." Someone needs to tell the church the truth if there is to be any hope to fixing things! Someone needs to have the courage to stand up and say "Yes, I know this will be disturbing to you, but this is what happened to me and it was not right." Instead the pastors feel the noble thing to do is fall on their sword. They are encouraged in this by the dysfunctional leadership team and their misplaced concern for the well being of the church. Yet Paul was not afraid to publicly call Peter and the church of Jerusalem on their sinful actions, and neither should we. Could bringing to light what is happening in the church result in terrible things for you, your family, and your ministry? Absolutely, and it is a decision that must be weighed carefully. But to choose not to expose sinful actions in the church is nothing short then collusion with evil.

It is like being abused by your father and not telling your family because you don't want it to "create strife" or "damage your mother." But if you choose not to tell about the abuse, someone else in your family has a good chance of being abused as well . . . and I don't think they would be happy knowing that you knew and didn't warn them. Essentially this is what too often happens in churches - I know several that have dysfunctional leadership teams who have burned through several pastors, damaging them while the congregation was completely unaware. And these congregations would be outraged to know how these pastors were really treated, but they don't know if know one tells them, right?

Standing up and telling the congregation the specific things done to them that were sinful is not an easy thing to do. You may get great results or you may not. But at least you tried, and yes, you did the right thing. Whether you are a pastor or just a member of your congregation, we need to stand up for what is right. We need to call it as it is, no matter the consequences. The church, the system, depends on it.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I was talking to a pastor today (who had gone through a similar experience) and he told me of another reason why pastor's don't speak out: they are worried about future jobs. If they aren't silent they jeopardize their chances of future employment, especially within their denomination. No wonder so few pastors speak up!