Somebody told me yesterday that I should have called him on the phone to discuss certain issues when what I actually did was send information in an email which was also copied to others. He was absolutely right. It kind of ticked me off/embarrassed me but I’m grateful for his willingness to offer fair criticism. The point is that I learned what not to do next time.
I am not always so quick to agree that I made a mistake. This was an easy one.
Several years ago, a friend in the Emerging Church community was criticizing denominations and I asked him who held him accountable in his life and ministry. He answered in some way that seemed lame to me and now more than ever I am wishing he had a body of people who were his peers, but not necessarily his posse, to sit him down and acknowledge that maybe some of his life choices have caused far-reaching pain.
In my business – the hypocritical, corrupt, disappointing world that is The Church – I see lots of it. And maybe you do too.
- Pastoral leaders who criticize the lax personal standards of other pastoral leaders when actually they are doing the very thing they attack in another. Or worse. (I once had someone lecture me about LGBT ordination only to learn that he was having a long time affair with a woman who was not his wife.)
- Church people who have human failings – as we all do – but then they lie about it rather than confess that – yes – they screwed up. (And they can’t keep the lies straight, so I get multiple versions of stories from their own mouths.) Sheesh.
- People criticize their brothers and sisters who are miserly in their financial giving, but then I learn that the critics themselves have not donated anything financially to their congregation in years.
I could go on and on, and so could you. It’s distressing. It’s human. It’s universal. We all fall short of the glory of God.
However, there are certain circumstances that make it difficult to be held accountable and ultimately this damages relationships far beyond the initial offense. Among those circumstances:
- There is no denomination to hold people accountable or the denominational structure is so lax or corrupt that ignored suffering becomes the norm.
- The Pastor/Leader is so adored and set on a pedestal that no one dares to challenge sick behavior. And the Pastor/Leader has become blind to the fact that the behavior is indeed sick.
- The Pastor/Leader is surrounded by a band of friends who “pray with him” once accusations are made but he’s so gifted and such an important leader that he can’t possibly be asked to remove himself from leadership even for a brief time so that he can get some counseling and make some concrete changes.
- The Pastor/Leader is a bully behind the scenes and people are afraid that she will crush them, so she gets away with all kinds of hurtful behavior.
Again, all of us are guilty of some significant screw ups. We fail God and each other. And yet we are blessed with second and third and hundredth chances.
Nevertheless – it’s not okay to crush people in huge and small ways. How can we be the church we were created to be unless we are honest about this? Are we able to face the fact that we – often – bear absolutely no resemblance to Jesus?
Image is Chagall’s David and Nathan. Remember?