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:
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor. 6:1-3)
So the question remains, what should we do when we’ve been let down by Christian leaders who have caused harm—yet refuse to even acknowledge it? Here are a few thoughts that are helping me through this process:
I need to look for the "good guys." When one is confronted with evil, it is important to remember that there is lots of good out there. I need to remember all of the good and holy people whom I've met in ministry. For instance, the minister who'd been at this church when they originally invited me is one of the godliest men I know. He was mortified by his elders' behavior and did everything he could to mediate the situation and encourage them to be honorable.
I need to do right myself. Jesus was the most unjustly abused person in the history of the world. His simple advice in situations of unfair treatment: "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 6:39).
I need to use this as a "tutoring experience." The pain I’ve felt from this experience must make me just that much more resolute never to do this sort of thing to another—no matter how I rationalize it away.
I need to get a grip. In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a big deal. There are Christians in Muslim countries unable to get and keep jobs. There are Christians in Sudan being murdered for their faith. Comparatively speaking, this is nothing!
I need to remember that my only job here is to forgive. I need to remember my own sins; how many times have I failed to hold up the banner for Jesus myself? How many times have I been a bad witness? How many other people have I hurt by my wrong behavior? Jesus taught that we will only be forgiven if we forgive others. I cannot expect Jesus to release my sins if I don't release the sins of these brothers. This means I need to pray sincerely for them. Not in a self-righteous way, but for their souls and the spiritual health of the flock that they lead. I need to remember that church leaders are under terrific pressures, and sometimes, pressure doesn't bring out the best in people. It's time for me to give God a chance to heal and soothe. With every pain comes an opportunity for God to stretch and teach us more. If I will gently relax and "wait upon the Lord," He can bring good even from evil.
If I don't forgive, the devil is the only winner here. The devil's stock and trade is in bitterness and broken relationships. Mike Root, one of the finest preachers I've ever known, says that the two great enemies of the ministry are cynicism and apathy. If I allow a hypocrite to get between me and God, all that means is that the hypocrite is closer to God than I am.
Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.
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