We’ve all heard the recent abuse stories. The victim feels helpless, uncertain of what to do. Maybe the victim says nothing to the abuser. Maybe the victim protests. It doesn’t matter. The abuse goes on. The victim retreats into silence. To speak up is a fearful thing. The very idea produces panic. There are feelings of embarrassment, even shame. The victim wonders, “Would people believe me? Would they say it was my own fault?” There are realistic fears about the loss of employment. The cycle of abuse continues, but the victim stuffs damaged emotions deep inside and tries to carry on as if nothing is happening. A brave face is presented to the public.
Yes, such stories have been big news in the world of Hollywood. But go back and reread the first paragraph. I wasn’t writing about actresses. I was referring to . . . PASTORS. Pastors who have someone making verbal threats, spreading gossip, constantly complaining, blaming the pastor for everything wrong in the church, and pushing the pastor to leave. This is the type of conflict where a pastor seems to get run off from a church due to the mean-spirited actions of just one person or of a small group. The pastor is loved and appreciated and affirmed by the majority of church members, but the attackers have made life unbearable. The worn-out pastor resigns in frustration and collapses with fatigue. The many stories I’ve heard from pastors tell me that these pastors could learn from the #metoo movement. When subjected to abuse by a person or small group, here’s a plan of action that I didn’t invent.
First, speak up. Speak up to the offender. Do it sooner, rather than later. Matthew 18:15 clearly says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (NIV) Simply stated, we are obligated by Jesus’ command to NOT ignore dysfunctional church members. We are instructed to confront them. Yes, we should do it with our higher angels leading the way, but we must not ignore the situation or keep putting things off. To let it linger makes it worse. My conclusion, however, is that most pastors never take this step.
Now, there are some pastors who do take the first step. Some even find success! But let’s continue and look at those who don’t achieve the desired goal. Guess what? Many of them STOP there. They don’t continue the Matthew 18 process. For them, the results of stopping are no different from those experienced by a pastor who never took the first step to begin with.
Thankfully, Matthew 18 goes on in verse 16. “But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” I have been known to say, “The small group doesn’t run off a pastor; it’s the majority doing nothing that runs off the pastor.” There is an element of truth there; however, how can anyone help the pastor if no one knows about the problem because the pastor suffers in silence?
Lots of ministers like to fly solo, micromanage, and do everything themselves. This leads to isolation. A healthier approach is to have a trusted group that can hold you accountable, advise you, and help you. Different churches provide a variety of possibilities, from the deacons to the personnel team to a hand-picked support team to the morning coffee group at DQ. When attacks continue after Step One, bring two or three of your inner circle into the situation—quickly—and let them help.
There certainly is a risk that you might learn you are also at least partly at fault. But better to confront the issue, and eat a little humble pie, than to let things fester until they blow up and ruin the church and your ministry.
Jesus goes on to say that if the second step doesn’t work, “tell it to the church.” (vs. 17) I think we’ll find this third step is rarely needed after following the first two steps. On the other hand, be forewarned, just because YOU practice Matthew 18, it doesn’t mean church members will. Some churches will skip steps one and/or two in order to get rid of their pastor. Don’t let this happen to you. Move out on steps one and two while you still have time. Even in the worse-case scenario, you will be found acting in obedience to the Lord. Isn’t that the best place to be?