Posts Tagged ‘forgiving a Christian leader’

I once served as the pastor of a church where the board chairman made a colossal mistake … and I didn’t know what to do about it.

The elders had hired a contracting team to renovate a warehouse we rented into a contemporary worship center.  The contractors we hired lacked a sense of urgency and weren’t making much progress.  Worst of all, when the contractors billed us, we paid them immediately … but they were diverting funds to other projects without paying their sub-contractors.

Concerned that we might be getting ripped off, I recommended to the elders that we consult with an attorney, who told us in no uncertain terms not to pay the contractors any more money until we received lien releases from all the sub-contractors.

One Friday afternoon, the contracting team met with the board chairman (I’ll call him Ben), another elder, and our associate pastor in my office.  (I wasn’t present.)  The contractors said that if we didn’t pay them even more money, they’d pull their people off the job.

Ben took out the church checkbook – he also served as leader of the finance team – and wrote the contractors a large check.  He wanted to keep the project moving along.  The associate pastor warned him not to do it … but Ben did it anyway.

When I was informed later that evening of what had taken place, I was justifiably angry.  Not only had Ben acted against the advice of our attorney, he had also paid the contractors in direct violation of the will of the other elders.

What in the world was I going to do?

Since I accounted directly to the elders … and since Ben was the chairman … in a very real sense, he was my boss.  How could I confront him – of all people – with wrongdoing?

After a terrible night, I arose that Saturday morning and drove to the warehouse.  There was a small room upstairs where some men held a half-hour prayer meeting early every Saturday.

Ben – who met me for prayer on Saturdays – was the only person to join me that day.

And he felt just terrible.

He told me softly but emphatically – with his head hanging down: “I blew it.”

I don’t recall what either one of us said after that, but as pastor, I had to discern how to handle Ben’s mistake.

I don’t remember how many Christian leaders I spoke with about Ben’s action, but I do recall talking to two in particular … and one gave me counsel that I’ve always appreciated.

This leader … who had known Ben for several decades but was now serving at another church … told me that I needed to put Ben’s blunder in the context of his total life and ministry.

This leader told me: “Ben has served the Lord faithfully as a layman ever since I’ve known him.  He has done it all joyfully and yet has never been paid a nickel.  His track record does not indicate that he’s made similar mistakes in the past, so please take his entire life and ministry into account as you make your decision.”

I finally decided that Ben could remain as chairman of the elders, but that he would have to step down as finance team leader.  (I never wanted him to hold two such positions – it concentrates too much power in one person’s hands – so it was an arrangement that I welcomed.)

I called Ben into my office and shared with him my decision.  He completely understood my reasoning and didn’t fight me.  He resigned as finance leader immediately.

I don’t think we ever discussed it again.

Years later, I left that church and moved hundreds of miles away.  I didn’t think I’d ever see Ben again.

But a few years ago, he and his wife were driving across the country, and the other elder I mentioned above invited me to lunch with Ben.  We had a great time.

Ben died several years ago, and although I wasn’t able to attend his memorial service, I wrote his wife a letter.  Although I can’t find the letter on my computer, I know that I didn’t mention his mistake more than two decades before.

In the context of his entire life, it simply didn’t matter.

We live in a culture that exhibits zero tolerance toward the mistakes of public persons.  Say or do the wrong thing in someone’s eyes, and they’ll mention it on Twitter … slam you in a blog … or denounce you in a press conference.

I fear that much of that spirit has leaked into our local churches.

There is great pressure on pastors to be perfect.  It’s a pressure that I felt every day during my 36 years in church ministry.

And it’s an impossible standard to meet.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons why I’m glad that I’m not a pastor anymore.

Because when a pastor misspeaks from the pulpit … or makes a less than stellar decision about a staff member … or doesn’t show up for a large social event … there are always people ready to pounce on him and denounce him.

But I maintain that we should view pastors – and all Christian leaders – through more charitable lenses.

Yes, pastors who are guilty of clear-cut heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior need to be confronted – and fired.

But most of the time when a pastor makes a mistake, it doesn’t approach the gravity of these offenses … and yet there will always be someone who magnifies a mistake and concludes, “Let’s just fire the guy.”

In Ben’s case, his life and ministry were not defined by a single mistake.

Ben loved his wife and spoke highly of her.  He spent a bundle when his daughter got married.  When his father died, he invited his mother to live in his home.

I can still see him reading Scripture before board meetings … inviting the board to pray in the four corners of the warehouse before we starting using it … and reminding me all the time, “God is in control.”

And when I was attacked by a group in the church, he always supported me and encouraged me.

Because Ben didn’t define me by my mistakes, it made it easier for me not to define him that way as well.

So yes, I remember his mistake … but that’s not how I define him … and I’m sure that’s not how God defines him, either.

I think Satan wants us to focus on the flaws in God’s leaders so that we turn from them as examples.

Should we turn away from Abraham because he lied about Sarah being his sister?

Should we turn away from Moses because he angrily struck the rock in front of Israel?

Should we turn away from Elijah because he ran away in fear from Jezebel?

Should we turn away from half the Psalms because David impregnated Bathsheba and murdered her husband?

Should we turn away from most of the Book of Proverbs because Solomon had too many wives and concubines?

Should we turn away from Paul because he called the high priest “you whitewashed wall?”

Should we turn away from Timothy because he was shy and timid and often afraid?

Or should we factor in their flaws and mistakes but view their lives and ministries as a whole?

Yes, I know there’s more to be said on this subject … much more.

But for now, I want to encourage you to define the people in your life … including your pastors … not by their mistakes, but by their entire lives.

Isn’t that the way we want God to view us?
















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