I’ve been composing a blog post in my mind for years now. I’ve wrestled with how to say the things that swirl around in my heart as I watch the Body of Christ turn in on itself. Rick calls it “friendly fire.” I don’t know what to call it but I’ve experienced it first hand and I’ve watched it from afar. Either way it sucks.
So far, the post has just been in my head because the thoughts are too long and too complicated to get on paper. But, in the midst of this most recent feeding frenzy on one of our own (Mark Driscoll in Seattle), I feel like I need to get it out there; because more and more women are asking me what I think.
On the subject of Pastor Mark in specific, I don’t really know what to think. I don’t know him at all. I haven’t ever been under his leadership or sat across the table from him at dinner. I’ve never even been in his state (more’s the pity). What I do know of him from his books and his sermons makes me think that he genuinely loves Jesus and the Church and that he tries to consistently live a life that is yielded to the Holy Spirit. I haven’t read or heard anything that makes me think he should be disqualified from ministry leadership though I have no doubt that he is an imperfect man whose own sin does affect his ministry and the people that he leads. I, for one, have always appreciated his boldness and gritty passion. (Of course, I say that from afar not as someone who sits in his pews week to week.)
So, while I don’t know about this situation in specific, there are some things that I do know:
- Slander, malice and gossip are out-of-bounds for the family of God. I’ve seen some of the comments people are making about him. They seethe with hatred. By people who claim to love Jesus. Friends, this ought not be. The Bible couldn’t be clearer about it - in several places. Honestly, I am more alarmed by the response of many within the Body of Christ right now than I am by Pastor Mark.
- The whole New Testament is full of admonition on how we are to handle relationships within the Church. Situations like this one highlight how horribly we actually do this. I think it grieves the heart of God and tarnishes our witness to the world around us. The internet has made it incredibly easy – even savvy and sort of hipster – for us to lash out at one another with extreme statements of judgment. The truth is, we often know very little about a situation or its context before we spout off online. We make public statements where there should be prayer and one-on-one conversation and a desire for restoration.
- Things are not always as they seem. The accusers and naysayers often have their own agendas. As a pastor’s wife myself, I have watched people turn on us in the proverbial “New York minute” because they didn’t like a decision my husband made or the way he said something. Friendships that had been cultivated for years, were over in moments because someone couldn’t have his/her way. When people come to our church from other churches with their frowns and whispers about their former leadership, I have learned to take it with a grain of salt. Just because someone is unhappy and has a story to tell about their former pastor, doesn’t necessarily make it so.
- Leadership is a heavy mantle for most who take it. The men I know personally who pastor large, growing churches do not lead because they are on a power trip. They lead because they have been gifted by God with vision and passion and leadership and/or teaching abilities. They get up and keep going day after day because they genuinely want to see people draw closer to God. They don’t take it lightly or do it because they are trying to prove something to someone. Now, because of the growth that they see and the fruit of the ministry they lead, do they probably struggle with pride and pugnaciousness at times? Or come to rely on their own abilities too much at times? I would guess so. But, we need to pray for them and respect them and support them (like the Bible admonishes), not eagerly anticipate their downfall or make leading even MORE difficult for them than it already is. (As a side note, I think it’s ironic that WE create a culture of celebrity pastors and then act all shocked and dismayed when they get a little full of themselves. I’m not trying to downplay the sin of pride. It is a serious sin that God hates. I just think sometimes WE are the ones feeding the very pride we claim to hate.)
- Leaders do need corrected at times. Believe it or not, most of the good ones know that and have intentionally surrounded themselves with a least a few people who will call them out. Our leaders are just men. Sinful people who do make mistakes. We know for sure that both Paul and Peter made leadership mistakes. And needed some correction. How, when, where, and with what kind of motive that correction is offered usually makes all the difference – for both the leader and for us. (Another side note: When we idolize them in the first place, this usually does not happen well. For either party.)
- Sometimes a leader truly does need removed because of sin or because he doesn’t respond well to correction with humility and repentance or because he really is on some kind of power trip. I have been on the receiving end of that kind of leadership too. It’s hard. But, when that does happen, it should make us sad, reflective, and prayerful. It should be the place where peace and grace floods in and presses us all into Christ. Not the place where fingers are pointing and rumors are flying and condemnation is spewing.
- Grace is a beautiful thing. Especially when it’s intertwined with truth and time. We know this because we all want grace when we screw up. If only we offered it as quickly as we take it.
Being part of family is tough sometimes, isn’t it? It’s hard work. But it’s a hard work that God has called us to as His Bride, the Church. So, here’s the thing: I’m not going to write the Church off and go all Lone Ranger in my faith. I’m also not going to gather my own little posse of Christian buds who think just like me and chill with them all the time, keeping my head down until Jesus comes back. God doesn’t really give me that option, honestly. Instead, I’m going to keep living out my personal faith in my Lord Jesus Christ in the context of both a local church body and the larger, global Church that is diverse and complicated sometimes. And I’m going to let the mess and the challenges that come with that Church life drive me closer to Christ.
As for this situation, I’ll likely continue reading books and listening to sermons by pastors like Driscoll even though I don’t know them personally. Since I don’t experience them in real life contexts, I will judge their teaching based on its content. If it is Biblical and Gospel-centered, I will recommend it. But, mostly, I will encourage people to read the Bible and prioritize it above all other books and teachers.
And, then, I will pray – for Driscoll and Mars Hill on the West Coast right across the country to Tim Keller and Redeemer Prez on the East Coast as well as for all the churches of various sizes and bents in between. I’ll pray for all of our church leaders and for our submission as congregants when we would normally want to demand our own way. And for healing where relationships are broken. And for things to be brought into the Light in a way that makes us whole, not splinters us into factions. I’ll pray for Believers to hold their tongues and for pure motives to replace selfish, agenda-driven ones.
And for love to abound still more and more.
And for grace. I’ll pray for grace as we wrestle through all of this junk in an age where media and the internet are a powerful force – both for good and for ill.