Today is the 72nd birthday of America’s greatest living songwriter, Bob Dylan.
One of the measures of Dylan’s brilliance is that many of his greatest songs (like “Up to Me,” “Blind Willie McTell,” “Foot of Pride,” and the incredible “Cross the Green Mountain”) never appeared on any of his official albums. In fact, I enjoy listening to his unreleased music from The Bootleg Series (1991) or Tell Tale Signs (2008) as much or more than his released songs. (I’m blessed that both my wife and my daughter-in-law like Dylan’s music.)
In 1963, two boxers met for a match at Dodger Stadium: World Featherweight champion Davey Moore and challenger Sugar Ramos, who knocked Moore out in the tenth round and won by a technical knockout.
After the fight, Moore spoke with reporters, complained of headaches, fell unconscious, was taken to the hospital, and died four days later of brain damage.
Later that year, a young Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Who Killed Davey Moore?” If you’ve never heard it before, it will definitely make you think. You’ll find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvLFOCMbHHE
Who was responsible for Moore’s death? The referee? The crowd? The manager? Gamblers? Boxing writers? Ramos?
Each verse of the song is a protest from each of the above six parties … and each verse ends with these words:
“It wasn’t me that made him fall, no, you can’t blame me at all.”
The implication of Dylan’s song is that somebody played a part in Moore’s death. Dylan doesn’t just indict Ramos … he indicts everybody who had the opportunity to stop the carnage, but didn’t.
Dylan even quotes Ramos as saying, “Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill,’ it was destiny, it was God’s will.”
In other words, let’s blame God for everything!
In the same vein, when a pastor is forced to leave a church, who is responsible for his departure?
After a pastor’s last Sunday, when churchgoers stop their whispering and start speaking more forthrightly, they often blame the pastor completely. Examples:
“He didn’t seem happy here. He should have left three years ago.”
“He never should have come here in the first place. He was the wrong man for the job.”
“He was too well educated for this congregation. He never spoke on our level.”
And on and on and on …
Maybe every pastor who leaves a church prematurely is 100% to blame … but somehow, I doubt it.
After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Sanhedrin called a secret emergency meeting. In typical fashion, they overreacted to Jesus’ miracle and misinterpreted its meaning. John 11:47-48 reports their discussion:
“What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Then Caiaphas, the high priest that year, suggested a solution: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Caiaphas nominated Jesus to be Judah’s scapegoat … to blame the Roman-Jewish troubles completely on Him … and then none of the Sanhedrin would have to claim responsibility for any of their nation’s current problems.
To paraphrase Dylan’s song: “Who Killed Jesus Christ?” We can identify many possible culprits:
*The traitor among the Twelve.
*The politician Pilate who let the mob have their way.
*Every person in the crowd who cried out for Jesus’ death … and every person who failed to call for His release.
*The Roman soldiers who arrested Jesus in Gethsemane.
*The disciples who deserted their Master when He needed them the most.
*The Sanhedrin which violated its own rules because they hated Jesus so much.
*The devil who was pulling strings behind the scenes … as the film The Passion of the Christ so clearly delineates.
So who is to blame when a pastor leaves?
Let’s admit that there are times when a pastor’s personal misconduct disqualifies him from church ministry. Maybe the pastor was discovered to be a persistent gambler … or an unrepentant womanizer … or a hopeless drug addict. According to Alan Klaas, personal pastoral misconduct accounts for 7% of all forced terminations.
I would hope that even if a pastor was guilty of immoral behavior, those around him would still try and restore him spiritually and even vocationally rather than try and destroy him.
But Klaas says that 45% of the time, a minority faction causes a pastor to leave involuntarily. Notice: it’s 7 1/2 times more likely that a small group of vocal churchgoers pushes out a pastor than that their pastor sinned his way out of the church.
In a typical case of forced termination, the following parties may share some responsibility for the pastor’s ouster:
*The chairman who sided with his board buddies rather than back his pastor.
*The staff member who rebelled against his pastor’s directives and aligned himself with board members.
*Churchgoers who knew the identities of plotting members but never passed on that information to their pastor.
*The district minister who took the side of disgruntled members rather than a pastor called by God.
*Regular attendees who loudly criticized everything their pastor said and did rather than quietly leave the church.
*Christians who blamed every church problem on the pastor rather than defending him or supporting him.
Who pushed the pastor out?
Maybe the board chairman helped … as did a staff member … along with various churchgoers … and the district minister … and chronic critics … and some ordinary members.
This is by far the most common scenario … much more likely than blaming the pastor for everything.
Bob Dylan was right. When Davey Moore died, there was plenty of shared responsibility to go around.
And when most pastors leave a church unwillingly, it’s rarely their fault completely. (When the church did well, was he alone entitled to all the accolades?)
Rather than taking the political perspective of the Sanhedrin (which tried to blame everything on one person), let’s adopt the more mature viewpoint of that 22-year-old folksinger from Minnesota (who held multiple parties responsible for a tragedy) and ask:
“How did I contribute to the pastor’s departure … and how can I make things right?”