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Archive for March, 2011

In his book Clergy Killers, Dr. Lloyd Rediger writes about the phenomenon of church members who attack their pastor with the intent of destroying him.  While many (if not most) Christians have never met someone like that, let me assure you that these kinds of people are sprinkled throughout the Christian community.  (I have met more than my share.)  They are usually people with deep-seated personality disorders.

But Dr. Rediger writes about “killer clergy” as well, and although there are far more “clergy killers” than “killer clergy,” there are pastors who inflict damage on their churches.  In my last article, I mentioned pastors who are narcissistic, overfunctioning, lazy, non-attentive, and too nice as examples of the kinds of leaders who can cause trouble in a church.

If you attend a church where you suspect that a pastor is causing trouble, what can you do?

It all depends on what we mean by “causing trouble.”

1 Timothy 5:19-21 gives a congregation and its leaders the right to correct an elder (or a pastor; see verses 17-18)  if he sins in such a way that he dishonors the Lord or harms Christ’s church.  Please note that this passage deals with acts of sin.  It does not cover:

*a pastor’s personality.  Although they are definitely in the minority, a small percentage of pastors can be thoughtless, obnoxious, rude, dominating, or insensitive.  I have met a few of them, and maybe you have, too.  I’m always amazed at how some pastors are able to stay in the ministry with such glaring personal weaknesses, but this is not the kind of behavior that Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy.  In fact, Paul himself could be rather rude and insensitive at times.  (Read Galatians 1:8-9 and 5:12 in case you’ve forgotten.)  If a pastor occasionally displays his unattractive side, you may choose to avoid being close to him or serving alongside him, but that doesn’t mean he’s violating 1 Timothy 5:19-21 and should be disciplined or terminated.

*a pastor’s style.  I have seen a huge change in pastoral leadership style since I was in seminary.  I was trained by scholars and pastors from the builder generation.  These professors passionately taught God’s Word and believed strongly in biblical accuracy, yet they themselves were usually modest individuals.  But much of that has changed today.  Many of today’s pastors pride themselves on knowing the culture more than the Bible (and I am not exaggerating).  They refer to the Bible while teaching but do not necessarily expound it.  And many of today’s pastors are publicly brash rather than humble.  When it comes to change, they won’t wait a year or two to get to know the people and the community (like we were taught to do) – they’ll institute changes during their first year that pastors from previous generations wouldn’t institute until years later.  Given the fact that our culture is increasingly secular, and that Generation X is largely unreached, maybe we do need to accelerate the pace of change in our churches today.  But should a pastor be attacked or destroyed because he has a different leadership style than another pastor?  1 Timothy 5:19-21 refers to clear-cut sin, not a pastor’s leadership style.

*a pastor’s liberty.  When I was in seminary, we students were expected to limit the use of our Christian liberty.  The implication was that we did not want to cause another believer to stumble by emulating our lifestyle.  So many students were careful about the movies they saw (if any), some did not drink any alcohol, and some only listened to Christian music.  These particular behaviors may have been frowned upon because some of the seminary higher-ups didn’t engage in these activities or because many older people in our churches didn’t either.  We pastors were expected to be distinctive from the culture so we modeled a Christlike life.  But all of that has changed today.  Today’s Christian leaders enjoy their liberty to the hilt.  They not only see movies, they feel comfortable seeing anything and everything.  They not only drink, they revel in it.  And they feel comfortable listening to any kind of music or watching any TV program that’s out there.  Several years ago, a seminary professor friend told me that incoming students are now required to take a course on morality because they don’t know right from wrong.  I’ve felt for a long time that some boomer pastors and many buster leaders value being cool over being godly.  While some of today’s pastors may have gone too far in enjoying their liberty, Paul isn’t referring to such behavior in this passage.  Just as some Christians could eat meat sacrificed to idols and some could not, so in our day some pastors feel uncomfortable engaging in certain practices while others have no problem with it.  Much of it is just generational.

(This reminds me of a story.  Four years ago, Kim and I visited Moldova, the poorest country in Europe.  We stayed in the home of a pastor and his wife in a small village, and although we talked with them a lot, it was mostly about missional and churchy matters.  On our last night there, I happened to mention to the couple that I had brought along an iPod with a lot of songs on it, and the missionary told me he had once been in the US and had heard a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival called “Long As I Can See the Light.”  He wondered if I had the song on my iPod.  As it turns out, I did.  When I played it for him, he was in seventh heaven.  I left the iPod with him and his wife along with some Logitech speakers.  When we returned to their village three years later, that iPod (Classic) was still working and provided the music for the church’s pizza parlor – but somebody had added Tammy Wynette songs to it!  I assure you – I didn’t do it!)

If a church is run like a business, its leaders/members can discipline or terminate a pastor for any reason, including the fact that someone doesn’t like his personality, style, or liberal use of Christian liberty.  But if a church is to be run on the basis of the New Testament, its leaders/members should only discipline or terminate a pastor for violating Scripture.  His personality, leadership style, and Christian liberty may be discussed at different times and eventually negotiated, but he should not be immediately dismissed because he’s just being himself.

When Paul writes that “those who sin are to be rebuked publicly,” what kinds of “sin” does he have in mind?

I believe that Paul is referring to a clear violation of a biblical directive.  Pastors should not commit homicide, or engage in sexual sin outside marriage, or steal from the offering plate (or anywhere else), or lie about matters.  They must believe in the basics of the Christian faith (like the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ death and resurrection) and teach the gospel to believers and unbelievers alike.  Based on New Testament teaching, I would say the two primary sin categories that apply in this passage are immorality and heresy.  (And, once again, not a pastor’s personality, style, or liberty.)  Paul writes that pastors/elders “who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Timothy 5:20).  I will talk about how this is to be done in my next blog.

Thanks for reading!

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