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Posts Tagged ‘church conflict unity or truth’

The following post is meant to be interactive.  Along the way, I have included some questions that I’d like to have you answer for your own benefit.  Compare your responses to what actually happened in the story.  Thanks!

Yesterday I read a true story about a church that faced a terrible situation.  The story comes from church consultant Peter Steinke’s book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times.  I do not wish for anyone to be upset by this story, so please know ahead of time that the story turns out favorably for all.

Here’s what happened:

A young girl in a church accused her pastor of molestation.  Two leaders, Tom and Diane, met privately with the pastor to notify him of the charge.  By state law, they had to report the charge to a governmental agency.

The pastor shook his head and quietly responded, “I have never touched her.  Never.”

1.  Which option would you recommend for the pastor if you were Tom or Diane?

  • Stay and fight the charge.
  • Take a leave of absence.
  • Resign immediately.
  • Hire an attorney.

Which option did you select?

Tom and Diane recommended that the pastor take a leave of absence.

However, the pastor eventually decided against that option because he felt it indicated guilt.  He told the leaders, “I need to clear my name, but I don’t want to drag the church through this for months.”

Tom and Diane knew they had to inform the congregation of the charge, and when they did, a group of members thought the pastor should resign.  The leaders of the church were warned that most cases like this one are based in fact.

2.  What should the leaders do now?

  • Insist that the pastor stay and fight.
  • Encourage him to take a leave of absence.
  • Recommend that the pastor resign.
  • Let the process play itself out.

Which option did you select?

The leaders decided to let the process of justice go forward and stand behind their pastor until the legal system made the next move.

The leaders also decided that they would meet every week for prayer followed by a sharing time where they would openly discuss what they were thinking.

Tom shared that he believed the pastor was innocent.

Diane wondered how stable the girl was based upon the fact that her parents had gone through a terrible divorce two years earlier but had now jointly hired a lawyer.

Another admitted that she was being pressured by other members to withdraw her support for the pastor.

The pastor told the leaders that he would hold no resentment if anyone felt compelled to withdraw their support from him.

One leader chose to resign.

Marie, another leader, stood solidly behind the pastor because she had been falsely accused of something at her own workplace.

A few anxious leaders turned against the pastor and condemned him.

3.  If you attended those weekly meetings, what would you as a leader do now?

  • Insist the pastor stay and fight.
  • Encourage him to take a leave of absence.
  • Recommend that he resign.
  • Let the justice process run its course.

Which option would you select at this point?

The leaders chose the last option once again.

Fourteen weeks later, the charges against the pastor were suddenly dropped.

4.  What should Tom and Diane do now?

  • Verbally berate every person who doubted the pastor’s innocence.
  • Encourage all the doubters to return to the church.
  • Shame those who didn’t stand with the pastor.
  • Just turn the page and move on.

Which option did the leaders select?

They decided to personally contact anyone who doubted the pastor (or the leaders) and welcome them to return to the church – no questions asked.

5.  What did the leaders of this church do that was so unique?

  • They stood behind their pastor whether he was innocent or guilty.
  • They ignored almost everything the congregation told them.
  • They waited for the truth to come out before making a judgment.
  • They took the easy way out.

Which option did you go with?

The third statement best reflects the mindset of this church’s leaders: they chose to let the justice system take its course before deciding the pastor’s future.

According to Steinke, many people facing these conditions become what psychologists call “cognitive misers.”  They instinctively draw either/or conclusions: either the pastor is innocent or he’s guilty.  Either the pastor is good or he is bad.

But the leaders of this church are to be commended for not letting anxiety make their decision for them.  When certain people were calling for the pastor’s resignation – and even staying home from services until he left – the leaders stuck to their original decision and let the legal system do its work.

The pastor’s job, career, and reputation were all saved.

The church’s reputation and future were preserved.

The decision of the leaders was vindicated.

Why?  Because the leaders chose to make their decision based on truth rather than (a) unity, (b) politics, (c) groupthink, or (d) anxiety.

Let me quote Steinke on this issue fully:

“Nowhere in the Bible is tranquillity preferred to truth or harmony to justice.  Certainly reconciliation is the goal of the gospel, yet seldom is reconciliation an immediate result.  If people believe the Holy Spirit is directing the congregation into the truth, wouldn’t this alone encourage Christians who have differing notions to grapple with issues respectfully, lovingly, and responsively?  If potent issues are avoided because they might divide the community, what type of witness is the congregation to the pursuit of truth?”

In other words, the church of Jesus Christ does not crucify its leaders just because someone makes an accusation against them.

Think with me: if unity is more important than truth, then Jesus deserved to be crucified, didn’t He?

The accusations against Jesus caused great distress for Pilate, resulting in turmoil for his wife and animosity between Pilate and the Passover mob.

The Jewish authorities had to resort to loud and vociferous accusations to force Pilate to act.

The women around the cross wept uncontrollably.

The disciples of Jesus all ran off and deserted Him in His hour of need (except John).

Jesus’ countrymen engaged in mocking and taunting while witnessing His execution.

Who caused Pilate, the Jewish authorities, the women, the disciples, and the Jewish people to become angry and upset and depressed?

It was JESUS!  And since He disrupted the unity of His nation, He needed to go, right?

This is the prevailing view among many denominational leaders today.  If a pastor is accused of wrongdoing, and some people in the church become upset, then the pastor is usually advised to resign to preserve church unity, even before people fully know the truth – and even if the pastor is totally innocent.

In fact, there are forces at work in such situations that don’t want the truth to come out.

That is … if unity is more important than truth.

But if the charges against Jesus – blasphemy against the Jewish law and sedition against the Roman law – were false and trumped up, then Jesus should have gone free even if His release caused disunity in Jerusalem.

The point of Steinke’s story is that leaders – including pastors – need to remain calm during turbulent times in a church.  There are always anxious people who push the leaders to overreact to relieve them of their own anxiety.

If Pilate hadn’t overreacted … if the mob hadn’t … if Jesus’ disciples hadn’t … would Jesus still have been crucified?

Divinely speaking: yes.  It was the only way He could pay for our sins.

Humanly speaking: no.  What a travesty of justice!

20 centuries later, Jesus’ followers can do a better job of handling nightmarish accusations against pastors.

Instead of becoming anxious, they can pray for a calm and peaceful spirit.

Instead of making quick decisions, they can make deliberate ones.

Instead of aiming for destruction, they can aim for redemption.

Instead of holding up unity as the church’s primary value, truth should be viewed that way.

If the pastor in this story had been guilty of a crime, then the leaders would have had to agree on a different course of action.  Sadly, these things do happen in our day, even in churches.

But in this case, the leaders stood strong and did not let the anxiety of others – or their own – determine the destiny of their pastor and church.

They opted for truth instead, and the truth will set you – and everyone else – free.

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