Sunday, 15 June 2014

Why Church Leaders Abuse

In recent days there has been a huge outcry online about the publication of an article written by an ex-youth pastor who is now in jail for abusing a young girl in his care. The article has now been removed and an apology posted by the magazine involved. But in an initial attempt to respond to the backlash it was receiving, the magazine printed an editorial update which included this line: "...the intent of this article was to serve as a cautionary story for church leaders…"

In my opinion, this explained a lot! As I wrote in the comments section of one of the protesting blog posts: "They see this as a 'leadership' issue, not one of justice for a child whose life has been devastated. It's about damage control, not reparation. I'm just not sure Jesus would have seen it from that perspective!"

It got me thinking about what fuels the attitude and perspective I was seeing - that leadership is about wielding power and authority rather than seeking justice and serving others.

And it reminded me of a time shortly after I became an elder in my former church, when one of our board members was offering us advice about being in leadership. At one point we were talking about pastoral care of the body and he suggested that we be wary about taking on the unreasonable expectations of the members.

The scenario was presented of a church member complaining that they had been sick and unable to attend church and that no-one in leadership had noticed or contacted that person. It was suggested that the appropriate response was to tell this person they should have contacted the church to let the leaders know of their situation, thus putting the responsibility firmly back on the one in need. Now I agree that we do need to take responsibility in our own lives and cannot expect others to carry us all the time, but the implication of this approach is, "We are too busy doing the important job of being leaders to care about your needs. It's up to you to make sure your needs are being met."

Despite the fact that Christ modelled Kingdom leadership as serving - a position of coming under and lifting up - too many christians seem to see leadership in terms of having authority over other people. And as long as there is this belief in the church that leaders are a higher/better class of christian, we will continue to see abuse because that belief is the doorway to an 'empire' mentality - that those who are 'superior' are not only justified in imposing their will on their inferiors, they in fact have an obligation to do so. After all, it is for their own good!

And where leaders are more concerned with protecting their positions and defending their authority, than simply caring for 'the least of these' (Matt 25:37-40), people will end up being thrown under the bus. When that attitude of entitlement creeps in, people are soon perceived in utilitarian, rather than humanitarian, terms. Until we see each other as brothers and sisters, equal before God, the body will continue to be hurt by these 'leaders' who place themselves over others.

It's just that I think Jesus had something to say about this attitude...
"At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?” 
For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me. 
“But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do." Matt 18:1-7

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