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Posts Tagged ‘1 Timothy 5:19-21; Deuteronomy 19:15-21; false accusations against a pastor; lying about a pastor’

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Deuteronomy 19:15

Nothing hurts a pastor more than false accusations.  Nothing even comes close.

Several years ago, I spoke with a small church pastor who told me his story.  There was an opening on the finance team for one person, and somebody volunteered for the job.  The pastor did not want this person to serve, but after a while, this individual appointed himself to the position … and then began reviewing financial records that went back many years.

The finance person found small checks that were written to the pastor that did not include any notation.  The pastor said he was paid for doing non-pastoral work outside his normal duties.  The finance person claimed the pastor had embezzled funds … and then contacted the local authorities.

As you can imagine, the situation did not end well, and the pastor was forced out of office.  The pastor and his wife were devastated, not just by the lies, but by the fact the congregation did not defend them effectively.

Pastors have to deal with various kinds of false accusations.  Let me share five common ones:

First, there is hearsay. 

This occurs when someone who didn’t see or hear the pastor commit wrongdoing firsthand makes serious accusations against him anyway.

To a large degree, I am no longer in church ministry because someone stood up in a public meeting and made accusations against me that he did not witness himself.

An attorney was present on the stage and had to know that the accusations were hearsay.  He should have said, “Do you have firsthand knowledge of these accusations?  If not, please sit down or you are guilty of telling untruths.”

But the attorney went silent … as did the rest of my supporters … because they were more stunned by the accusations (nearly all of them blatantly false) than by the fact they couldn’t be corroborated.

I really think that pastors need to take time when they teach to condemn hearsay.  If you’re going to make an accusation against a pastor, that’s serious business.  You better have seen or heard something yourself and be willing to go on the record.  Telling church leaders or an entire congregation, “Well, I heard from a reliable source that the pastor said this or did that” should never be allowed in a church … but it is … all the time.

It certainly wasn’t allowed in ancient Israel (Deut. 17:6-7) … nor in the early church (Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:17-19).

There has to be more evidence than that.

Notice in Deuteronomy 19:15 that not only is hearsay not allowed among God’s people, but a single witness to a crime or offense is insufficient testimony to convict anyone either.  At least two or three witnesses are required.  Yes, that’s a high standard, but it’s divinely-ordained … and provides valuable protections for the accused.

Second, there are rumors.

During my first year in college, a rumor began circulating in my church that I was no longer getting along with a friend.  Since I had a day off, I decided to see if I could track down the source of the rumor.

I visited several people unannounced one day … told them the story I had heard … and asked them what they knew about the rumor.  When the day was done, I could not track down the source of the rumor.

Jesus called Satan “a liar” and “the father of lies” in John 8:44.  I honestly believe that some rumors do not have a human point of origin but are started by the devil and his angels … who probe a congregation for “a false witness who pours out lies” and “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” (Proverbs 6:19).  How this is done I do not know.  That it is done I know all too well.

Most pastors quickly learn who the gossips are in their church … and they don’t trust them with any valuable information.

In my first pastorate in Silicon Valley, there were four older women who didn’t work and who spent a lot of time together on the telephone.  Those four women had too much power because they could make or break their pastor with their words.

Reminds me of Adele’s song Rumour Has It:

All of these words whispered in my ear,
Tell a story that I cannot bear to hear,
Just ’cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it,
People say crazy things,
Just ’cause I said it, don’t mean that I meant it,
Just ’cause you heard it,
Rumour has it

Third, there is misrepresentation.

When I began my ministry in one church, a board member asked to meet with me to find out what my plans were for the church’s future.  During our two hours together, it was evident that we did not agree on the church’s direction.

A few days later, I discovered that this board member had dinner with some church friends and completely distorted things I had said to him.  He heard what I said emotionally but not accurately.

What should I have done: confront the man about his lies or choose not to trust him again?

I opted for the latter approach (it would have taken an independent investigation and multiple interviews to prove what he said), and in the end, it proved to be the correct one.

How could I trust him again?  I couldn’t.

In the end, he turned on me with a vengeance with a power play designed to make him look like a victim.

After this man left the church in a huff, a woman came up to me the following Sunday and said, “It’s a shame you and So-and-So couldn’t get along.”

I bit my tongue.

After years in ministry, my wife and I came up with a policy: I won’t speak for her and she won’t speak for me.

People often came up to her on Sundays and either (a) told her something so she would tell me or (b) wanted her to explain something I had said or done.  She always had the same reply: “I can’t do that.  You’ll have to talk to him yourself.”

That way, she didn’t misrepresent me, and I didn’t misrepresent her.

Rather than speaking for others … no matter how well we know them … church leaders have to let people speak for themselves.

Fourth, there is exaggeration.

In my book Church Coup, I quoted church conflict expert Speed Leas:

“A person being charged or condemned by others should have the right to know what those charges are and [have] an opportunity to respond to them.  Denying this opportunity plays into the hands of real or potential manipulators, allows untrue or distorted information to be circulated and establishes a precedent that the way to deal with differences is to talk about rather than to talk with others.  I have also found it true that individuals who talk about others out of their presence tend to exaggerate their charges, believing they will not be quoted.”

Read that last sentence again.

Let’s imagine that I’m upset with my pastor about something, and I tell two friends over Sunday lunch how I feel.  One of my friends then tells the wife of a board member, and a few days later, that board member calls me on the phone and wants to hear what I said directly from me.

If I want to hurt the pastor or persuade the board member to become an ally, I may dress up my charge a little bit … and then ask the board member to keep everything I said “confidential.”

The board member should refuse.

Why?

Because it’s often the “confidential charges” that end up forcing out pastors from church ministry … because the pastors don’t know (a) who is making the charges against them, (b) what the charges are, and (c) aren’t given the ability to hear them firsthand so they can explain or defend themselves.

The charges spread across the church like wildfire, and by the time the pastor hears them for the first time, key leaders and members have already turned against him … without ever hearing his side of things.

Someone once made a strong charge against me that resulted in an investigation … which I welcomed.  When my accuser recounted their story, the person made three exaggerations that I was able to refute.  I’m convinced this person didn’t exaggerate to hurt me … they knew I’d share my side of things … but to save face because the accusations themselves were so flimsy.

If I could choose one major sin that churches commit when a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, it’s not giving the pastor due process to face his accusers and defend himself. 

And for some reason, the more some people exaggerate a pastor’s offenses … or how he made them feel … the less likely it is that the pastor will be given a forum for explaining his actions.

So, in many churches, exaggerating charges against a pastor pays off … but it never should.

Finally, there is speculation.

Speculation occurs when God’s people aren’t given enough information about a pastor … especially why he’s under attack or why he’s departed.

When I left my last church nearly nine years ago, I did not share with the congregation the specific reasons why I was leaving.  The board members and associate pastor had all resigned weeks before, and they were out there pounding on me pretty good, but the vast majority of the church did not know why I had left.

So people began making things up.

The worst rumor was that my wife was having an affair and that I was having an affair.  My wife was on staff and worked down the hall from me.  We had one car and rode together to church and back every day.  We were then and are now madly in love with each other … even after 43 years of marriage.

Who started that speculation … and who allowed it to pass through the church without correction?

I believe that when false accusations spread through a church, the official church board has the responsibility to protect the pastor … his family … and the church by refuting those accusations as quickly and as clearly as they can.

This should be done both if the pastor is still ministering in that church or if the pastor has recently departed.

If a pastor is truly innocent of the charges going around about him, and the board refutes those charges, they are not only protecting the pastor’s reputation and future livelihood … they are also protecting their own congregation.

Because the longer a pastor serves in one place, the more the pastor and the church become identified together, as in “That’s Pastor Bill’s church.”

Because if Pastor Bill is forced out of office … the church may eventually collapse.

_______________

I’ve dealt with five types of false accusations against a pastor.

But what should God’s people do with false accusers themselves?

Moses put it this way in Deuteronomy 19:16-20:

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time.  The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.  You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.

Let me make five quick observations:

First, malicious witnesses have always existed among God’s people.  They’re in every culture … and in every church.  Whether it’s to get attention or to get revenge against someone, they will destroy individuals and families if their charges are automatically believed.  But according to Scripture, they must first be tested.

Second, God mediates His judgment to human leaders, in this case, “the priests and the judges.”  In our day, this would likely refer to the official board.  These individuals may be fallible, but God uses them anyway.

Third, the judges must investigate a witnesses’ charges and determine if the witness is truthful or lying.  If a witness proves to be lying, then they are to receive the same punishment the accused would have received.

Why don’t we ever do this in our churches?  Why are the false accusers … and those who have successfully destroyed a pastor’s reputation … allowed to not only stay in a church, but sometimes be promoted to even greater leadership positions?

What is wrong with us?

Some Christians say, “Oh, we need to forgive each other so we can all move on.”  But to forgive false accusers when they’ve never been confronted or repented of their sin?  Read Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3-4 where He talks about not forgiving certain people.

Fourth, God considers false accusations … not just against a leader, but against anyone in His covenant community … to be evil … and He says it twice.  It is evil to lie about someone … to harm their reputation … and in Israel’s case, lying about someone could result in the death of the accused.  (See Deuteronomy 17:6-7.)

Finally, if God’s people would institute a process like this, maybe we’d have far fewer false accusations among God’s people … and directed toward God’s leaders.  “The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

“Never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

How I love those words.

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I recently read an article about a pastor who is well-known in his region.

This pastor was accused of unspecified offenses and placed on paid leave … a humiliating experience.

The governing board immediately called in an outside investigator.

The leaders promised that when the investigation was over, they would make a complete disclosure to the congregation.

Two weeks later, the pastor was exonerated.  When he re-entered the pulpit, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.

I was glad that the pastor was cleared of the charges against him.  And I was glad that the church launched an immediate investigation into those charges.

But what the article never stated was what happened to the pastor’s accusers.

If the issue revolved around some kind of possible financial impropriety – say, a questionable expense account purchase – then maybe the accusation came from a church financial officer who was just doing their job.

But if the accusation was made maliciously and recklessly – as is often the case – then what should church leaders do to the accuser?

There are at least three possible options:

First, do nothing. 

The accuser made their charge.  The charge was investigated.  The charge was thrown out.

End of story.

Maybe it’s wisest to let the whole matter die out.

The accuser stays in the church … maintains any leadership position they may have … and the church carries on as before.

But if the accusation was malicious or reckless, then congregational life came to a halt … and the pastor’s career was in jeopardy.

If I were a church leader, I’d be uncomfortable doing nothing to the accuser.

Second, forgive the accuser and move on.

My guess is that most people in that church eventually learned the nature of the accusation … but may never have learned the name of the person who initiated it.

The tendency in Christian churches is to forgive people unilaterally without confronting them in any way.

In this case, the leaders in the church’s inner circle undoubtedly knew who made the accusation against the pastor.

In the future, they might feel uncomfortable in the accuser’s presence, or wonder if he or she might someday accuse them of something ominous.

But in spite of that, most church leaders will just “let things go” and not pursue any kind of justice against a false accuser.

And once the pastor was exonerated, he may not have wanted to press any kind of charges against the accuser as well.

Just forgive and forget, right?

But is this biblical?

Finally, ask the accuser to repent or leave the church.

There are two primary biblical passages that deal with making accusations against another person:

*Deuteronomy 19:15-21 in the Old Testament.

*1 Timothy 5:19-21 in the New Testament, which specifically deals with accusations against elders and pastors.

It’s so serious that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:22 that the investigative process should be carried out “in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels” and that Timothy is to “keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

It’s a grave matter to accuse a spiritual leader of a serious offense.

The Timothy passage has its roots in Deuteronomy 19 where we’re told “a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Please note that verses 18 and 19 say that if an accuser “proves to be a liar” after “a thorough investigation” has been done, then “do to him as he intended to do to his brother.”

If the accused was going to be arrested, then arrest his accuser.  If the accused was going to be stoned, then stone the accuser.

Moses concludes, “You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

What’s “the evil?”  What’s “an evil thing?”

It’s making a malicious and false accusation against another person … especially a spiritual leader.

Many churches state in their governing documents that congregational members can sign a petition to make charges against their pastor.  But those same documents state that if the petition signers are unsuccessful in their attempt to oust the pastor, then they either have to relinquish any offices they hold or leave the church.

Why?

Because they’ve tried to lie about their pastor in order to get rid of him.  The purpose of deception is destruction.

If accusers make charges against their pastor, and an investigation is done, and the charges are not true, then the congregation should be informed that the pastor is innocent of the charges made against him.

But the work of the governing board is not complete.  They need to meet with the pastor’s accusers and give them a choice:

“You need to repent of your false accusations before this church body, or you need to leave the church immediately.  What are you going to do?”

 I know someone who has served as an interim pastor in many churches.  After he came to a church, he’d do some investigative work, and if the previous pastor was pushed out, he’d find out who did it.

He’d call that person into his office and hand them a written confession.  Then he’d say to them, “This Sunday, one of us is going to read this confession in front of the congregation.  If you don’t do it, I will.  What are you going to do?”

I don’t know why it is, but too many Christian leaders … maybe most … will carry out a biblical process only so far.

If the pastor is pushed out of office, in their mind, that’s the end of it.  Time to secure an interim, form a search team, and find another pastor.

But because the leaders never address the false accusations made by certain people, the leaders … and the congregation … and the pastor who left … never gain a sense of closure.

And the lies are never “purged” from the congregation, but linger on in the church’s memory and soul.

The biblical process from Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy isn’t about personal retribution but about corporate health.  Christian leaders cannot allow other believers to lie about pastors with impunity.

Sadly, some accusations against pastors are true.  A distinct minority of pastors do things that disqualify them from ministry, and those pastors should be given the opportunity to repent and/or leave their churches as well.

But some professing Christians … for whatever reason … seem to take delight in gossiping about their pastor … and trying to destroy his reputation, ministry, and career.

If our churches continue to do nothing to the false accusers, how will we ever convince the world that Jesus is the truth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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