I call myself a recovering Baptist because of all the turmoil and scandal I’ve witnessed in my life worshiping in the Baptist church; however, I probably convey an inadvertent meaning. I actually love the people I’ve met in those churches, and many are still dear friends today. There is an unsettling trend though, in church broadly, that I happened to witness in those Baptist churches because… well… that’s where I was.
Too many times my churches fell prey to embezzlers, womanizers, authoritarian rulers, wife and child abusers, and more. To my astonishment, even after “falling from grace,” many of these leaders made their way back to the pulpit way too fast and with way too little repentance. I don’t deny that some are truly restored to the faith and to leadership, but far too many more rejoined ministry leadership still refusing to confess their sins and leaving devastation behind them.
My mother had occasion to serve as church clerk when the unthinkable happened in Central Virginia. Instead of splitting, two Baptist churches actually merged. Yes, you heard me right, believe it or not! Her task, merging the minutes from business meetings, fell to her at the advent of the home computer, so she felt rather on the cutting edge as she typed the notes and saved them onto a floppy disk—if you’re young, ask your parents what that is. She arrived at one set of minutes that simply read, “Events at this meeting were too ungodly to record.”
How does this happen?
I believe we lose focus of the object of our faith and instead of placing our God in the center of worship, we replace Him with charismatic personalities and those who “tickle our ears” with the truth we want to hear. When we love what someone tells us, we tend to turn a blind eye to their weaknesses, often refusing to believe they did anything wrong even in the face of substantial proof.
In fact, we build our pedestals impossibly high and insist our young “preacher boys,” to use a term from my youth, ascend these thrones without the testing Paul calls for in his letters to Timothy. These young pastors often feel ill-equipped for the position, but become accustomed to the privilege and adoration of such glory, or worse, hate the attention and want off the pedestal that has been raised too high for them to descend without breaking their metaphorical necks.
Then their families are lifted along with them, some willingly and some kicking and screaming, onto the pedestal beside them. They stand with their figurative legs shaking from strain, trying not to make a mistake that will plummet them from their reluctant perch. We think we are doing them a favor, but instead, we set them up for failure. Not only do we expect from them what they cannot give, but we keep from them what they desperately need: true fellowship. In the end, that isolation causes them to seek fulfillment elsewhere. The cycle creates an environment hostile to authenticity.
These young families need older mentors, not a fan club. They need the freedom to share their hearts, their dreams, and their failures, but many of them feel they have to be perfect, and their families suffer for it. Many of their children walk away from God and the church and never look back. They spend a life time recovering from their failures that are no more serious than the failures any of the rest of us face, but they are somehow supposed to avoid the natural pitfalls of their own humanity.
How can we fix this? Fortunately, I think most churches have seen the error of their ways, or maybe I’ve just changed my worship habits enough not to see it so much anymore. I’m very sure, though, that the problem still exists and that many a pastor’s family still reels from the disillusion of ministry. Still, a good dose of caution never hurts, so when we build those pedestals, let’s keep them close to the ground.
…and that’s the view From My Front Porch