Posts Tagged ‘pastors who vanish’

Have you ever patronized a business and become friends with someone who works there?  Then one day, you stop by to see your friend but he or she is no longer there.  They have vanished into thin air.  You don’t know where they went, or why they’ve gone, or how they’re doing.  And when you ask questions of people who should know, they become evasive and don’t reveal anything helpful.

When I lived in Silicon Valley, I received medical care at a clinic just ten minutes from my house.  Two doctors at that facility were very helpful to me: a physician specializing in internal medicine and an allergist.  Within a month, I received separate letters about each doctor, stating that he was ill and would no longer be practicing medicine.  I later learned from a nurse I knew that both men died of their illnesses but I never learned any details.  I just know that I felt their loss deeply.

Something similar happened to me when I first became a pastor.  I attended monthly district meetings with pastors from our denomination, and sometimes I noticed that a pastoral colleague missed several meetings in a row.  When I asked the district minister what happened to him, I was told that the pastor in question had resigned from his position.  While that was usually sufficient information for most of the pastors, I always wanted to know why the pastor had resigned.  In every single case, the pastor was blamed for his departure.  It was never the fault of the governing board, or a disgruntled staff member, or a faction in the church.  No, it was always the fault of the pastor.  That was the talking points answer to the question, “What happened to Pastor So-and-So?”

Then I would call that particular pastor and discover that there was another side to the situation, one that few people would have learned about because they had already bought the talking points.  The pastor would tell me about a powerful individual in the church who had been undermining him (and wearing him down) for months, or about a staff member who had aligned himself with the board against the pastor, or about a group of less than ten people who demanded that the pastor leave the church.  In fact, on occasion the pastor’s critics would align themselves with the district minister without the pastor’s knowledge.  While the pastor sensed that something was wrong in the church, he didn’t think matters were that serious until he was forced to choose between resignation or termination.  After the pastor left the church, he was blamed for whatever problems the church had.

Why was he blamed?  The pastor had left the spiritual community and was no longer around to defend himself.  Some people inside the church exaggerated the number and severity of offenses he had committed and many of those who didn’t know any better believed them.  The leaders who remained in the church were able to spin myths about the pastor that were untrue, but since no one ever checked with the pastor, they assumed the myths were true.  But without realizing it, these people collaborated in trying to destroy the reputation – and any future ministry – of that pastor.

Scapegoating is still alive and well today in churches.  Whenever things go wrong, some choose to blame everything on the pastor.  Let’s blame him for the decline in attendance and offerings.  Let’s blame him for “not feeding me” spiritually.  Let’s blame him for that time he didn’t make the decision I wanted him to make.  Let’s blame him for everything that’s wrong with the church and everything that’s wrong with my spiritual life.

And then, of course, I won’t have to take any responsibility– nor will any of my friends – for anything that goes wrong.  We can just blame the pastor.

Do you see any parallels to what happened to Jesus in The Gospels?  The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to get rid of Jesus.  They dispersed their talking points, accusing Jesus of blasphemy and desecrating the temple and sedition against Rome.  In fact, those talking points surfaced the night of Jesus’ arrest and the morning of His trial before Pilate.  No one took any responsibility for what happened to Jesus – not Pilate, not the religious leaders, and not the mob that called for Jesus’ execution.  Jesus was scapegoated for everything even though He hadn’t done anything wrong – especially anything worthy of death.  But when some people saw Jesus on the cross, they assumed that He had committed capital crimes because otherwise why would He be up there?  They didn’t know the back story – that humanly speaking, Jesus had been framed on trumped-up charges.

Unlike Jesus, pastors mess up, and sometimes mess up badly.  I’ve made my share of mistakes in ministry, and sometimes those errors haunt me long after I thought they’d disappeared from my mind.  But as important as pastors are – Paul calls them gifts from the risen Christ to His churches in Ephesians 4:11 – they should never be blamed for everything that goes wrong in a congregation or in a believer’s life.  We need to take responsibility for our part when things go wrong as well.

Because when pastors are unfairly scapegoated, Jesus is wounded again.

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