I’ve probably worked on this post in draft form for the last two-and-a-half years. For whatever reason, the things I wanted to say never all fit together the way that I wanted them to, so I’ve allowed some version of the post to languish in my drafts folder for way too long.
As I’ve been working as pulpit supply for a Presbyterian congregation in another city, the burden of pastoral responsibility has felt especially heavy. One aspect is that I’m a full two hours away from the church, and if something happens it’s not like I can get there all that quickly. Another aspect that has weighed very heavily on me is the church’s history.
The pastor of this little congregation stepped down last year. I had met him several times though mutual friends, and he had invited me to fill the pulpit for him while he took some vacation time. Because I’m passionate about preaching I said yes, and enjoyed meeting the members of the congregation. When I got the call that he had left the ministry and was asked to fill the pulpit I gladly acquiesced, despite my reservations.
I had reservations for one massive reason: the out-going pastor had a well-deserved reputation as a tyrant. “Heavy-handed” doesn’t begin to cover it.
I think we’ve seen enough of tyrannical pastors. The actions of men like C.J. Mahaney and James MacDonald sicken me. The fact that Mahaney has very likely taken part in covering up abuse sickens me even further. While I can’t speak to the absolute veracity of all of the charges, I can say this—I believe the victims. I believe them because you rarely see this much smoke without some sort of fire.
Those of us whom Christ has called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament have a very explicit calling—we’re called to be shepherds not tyrants. The flock of God deserves careful, gentle oversight. We’re not called to beat Christ’s sheep. What I’ve seen as the pulpit supply for this little church that has extended their kindness to me is a congregation of the Lord’s people who have been beaten up by a minister who was far too enamored with his own authority. As far as I’m concerned a man who would beat on Christ’s church is no different from a man who would beat on his wife.
I know that it’s fashionable now to talk about the responsibility that members bear to their pastors. But brothers, what about the responsibility that the pastor bears to the members?
Remember, brothers, that we will be called to give an account for how we cared for Christ’s people.
**Author’s Note, 3 May 2013: Well, it seems like in the past hour this post is getting an unusually large amount of traffic by way of SGM Survivors. If any of the folks heading here from there would like to offer their thoughts on a way forward for SGM, I’d love to hear about it in the comments box!**
- Trouble continues to mount for C.J. Mahaney and SGM (peterlumpkins.typepad.com)
- Drama In The Church (thoughtprovokingperspectives.wordpress.com)