My heart has been heavy in listening to recent conversations about church conflict/scandal.
Is it ever okay to question church leadership?
“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” 1 Timothy 5:19-21
We should not entertain accusations against elders (pastors) lightly, but when two or three witnesses step forward, we ought to pay attention.
But before we speak into a pastor’s life (or anyone’s life), we ought to take inventory of our self first. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
Have we prayed for love, humility, wisdom, and eyes to see our own sin first?
What was our role in the conflict? Did we perpetuate harm directly or indirectly? Did we defend or accuse? Was our defense or accusation warranted? Did we stand by in silence? Was our silence warranted? Did we ask questions? Were our eyes opened or closed? Were we discerning? If we were ignorant, did we do our due diligence? Or was our ignorance willful?
If we have taken “sides” in a conflict, what were our motives? Did fear play into it? (e.g. fear of man, fear of the unknown, fear of loss, etc.) Did partiality play into it? (Were our judgments based on favoritism, popularity, charisma, position, security, wealth, or any such external factor?) Did an unhealthy obsession with controversy or interest in gossip play into it?
If we have sinned in any of these ways, what have we done about that? Have we confessed? Have we looked in the eyes of those we have harmed (or stood by and watched)? Have we listened to those who have been harmed to hear the effects of our actions or inactions? Have we apologized and done what we can to make things right?
We have to address our own sin first before addressing others!
These questions of accountability take on another dimension if we are in leadership, especially for pastors.
Hebrews 13:17 tells us that leaders are keeping watch over the souls of the flock, for which they will have to give account. Leaders are held to a higher standard!
Once we have addressed our own sin, what is our motivation in speaking out? Do we have love and hope for the offenders? Is our goal the destruction of the offenders or their redemption and restoration? Are we coming from a place of humility and grace or self-righteous judgmental-ism and vengeance? Are we speaking truth? Are our words edifying or do they tear down? What is our agenda?
Have we followed the process outlined in Matthew 18:15-20? Have we gone to our brother directly first (if that was possible)? Have we persisted by bringing others along to try to help our brother(s) see? If he/they won’t listen, what does it look like to tell it to the church? What/who is the church? What does this look like in a public, widespread ministry?
If we are silent now, what is our motivation in our silence? (Is this time of silence a time of prayer and reflection? Are we coming from a place of wisdom and forbearance, or fear and partiality? Or something else?)
If we are unsure of what is right or wrong in a conflict, let us ask God for wisdom. This is something I have been praying a lot of lately for myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ:
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11
May our hearts be filled with God’s wise, discerning and fruitful love, and may our action or inaction be born of it.
Finally, the gospel is good news in all our conflict and sin. None of us can stand on our own merit. No matter who we are, in Jesus we are free to admit our sin, flaws, and failings. We are free to walk in the light and in truth. We are safe to be exposed because He has taken our shame. When the light exposes our ugliness, He meets us with free and abundant grace, forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation. It is all right here:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10
For more on this subject, I found this article to be insightful: