When Christian Leaders Do Wrong
- Wednesday, April 16, 2008
There’s an old saying: Being a writer is simple—all you have to do is open a vein. Having written professionally for over thirty years, I can tell you that's a little overly dramatic. For the most part, writing is like any other discipline. It requires certain skills, focus, and dedication—and, usually, not much blood. But this article has forced me to "open a vein."
I'm writing this to those of you who feel confused and disenfranchised by religion. Maybe someone you respected and trusted has let you down. Maybe it’s a minister who has misbehaved. Maybe it was a religious leader whom you saw going into a vulgar movie. Maybe it was your mentor whose feet you learned were made of clay.
I've been a Christian since I was eight. I've taken all sorts of upper-level theology courses. I taught in a Christian college. For most of my 55 years I have been actively involved in my church. And, for nearly ten years I’ve been in full-time ministry. You would think that I'd be too mature to allow myself to become discouraged by the behavior of other Christians. But the truth is, sometimes I do. Sometimes other Christians do things that leave me shaken and cynical.
I travel all over America presenting the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminars. Many of these seminars are presented at churches. And, for the most part, I meet wonderful people (when I get to heaven I think I will know half of the people there!). But, recently, I was terribly shaken by the behavior of some Christian leaders.
First, a little back story: Like any other ministry, No Debt No Sweat! must maintain a responsible budget. This allows us to pay the ministry's overhead, receive a salary, and help high-needs cases who simply can't afford much. And, it follows, that to be a good steward I must plan each year's budget ahead. So when we schedule a seminar, we are very clear in explaining to the church that they need to honor their commitment. And if they cancel without proper notice, at least a certain portion of the honorarium is due. Simply put, we depend on Christian leaders keeping their word.
Recently, an elder from a church south of Dallas called and told me that they were not going to honor their agreement to host a seminar. He assured me that they respected my ministry, but they just had decided not to do the seminar. At first I was stunned, but I soon learned that this particular man was a new elder who had offended other people. So, as things progressed, I contacted the other elders—believing they didn't fully understand what was being done in their names, and the harm it was causing. “Surely,” I reasoned, “if they really understand, they’ll do the right thing.”
Over the next few weeks I was to see the ugly underbelly of this church's method of operation. I would learn how one aggressive man could browbeat other more passive men into doing something that would not even be condoned in the secular business world. At one point the contact elder referred to himself as a judge (it's still unclear whether he actually is a judge—or was simply trying to intimidate me). Then they denied the obligation by telling me they had consulted the church's "legal staff." This really stunned me! I’ve never heard of a church with a legal staff. I later learned that this, too, was a fabrication. Finally, they informed me that they were not going to host the seminar nor were they going to even supply the cancellation fee which was part of our original agreement. They simply suggested that I reschedule with another church—a near impossibility on short notice. Then, they washed their hands of the entire matter.
So where does this leave me? I could tell you the church's name, but that would be evil and vindictive on my part. In Deuteronomy 32:35, God says, "Vengeance is mine…" I could sue them—and I'd probably win, but what a horrible thing to contemplate! This is exactly what Paul prohibits:
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