My generation of church leaders were taught that a key part of our responsibility is protecting the church as an institution, specifically its’ reputation, ability to fulfill its’ mission, and its’ financial viability. If that means sweeping things under the rug, turning a blind’s eye, being less than open, or prioritizing the good of the whole over the good of the one then so be it.
The wisdom of that philosophy of leadership is increasingly and rightfully being called into question in the face of a stream of revelations about church leaders who have been less than forthright in addressing pastor and minister behavior, church finances, and sexual abuse allegations to name a few. Especially in the matters of sexual abuse, church leaders attempts to protect the church, regardless of how sincere, is now perceived as being both insensitive to the individual and a cover up of wrong doing.
We Keep Making The Same Mistakes
In recent years Pastors, Deacon Boards, Elder Teams, and Denominational Leaders have repeated the same mistakes of failing to thoroughly investigate accusations, demonstrating a lack of openness and honesty in reporting the accusations, and being insensitive and less than compassionate to the victims.
Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and their Trustees have learned another hard lesson as they have tried to address a convention mandate to investigate sexual abuse cover up allegations. The trouble began when they stonewalled taking action while fighting for Client/Lawyer privilege, using the argument of fiduciary responsibility. The lesson? Their constituency doesn’t care about protecting the denomination or its leaders financially at the expense of openness about leadership failures and fairness, compassion, and justice to the victims of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist Churches. If there are financial consequences for the behavior of their elected and paid leaders then that is simply part of the price that must be paid for leaders failing to fulfill their responsibilities.
Church Leaders, It Isn’t Your Job To First Protect The Church
The key lesson pastors and denominational leaders apparently still haven’t learned is that it is not their job to first protect the church as an institution, but rather the individuals that make up their flock. It reveals a belief that the church is first an institution and secondly a group of individuals rather than the other way around.
In John 21 Jesus implores Peter to “care for my sheep.” In Acts 20:28 Paul says to church leaders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” The Greek word translated as “shepherd” embraces all the things a shepherd would do for a flock of sheep such as protecting, guiding, and feeding. It is debatable whether or not Paul is referencing the church as an institution or as individual members of the flock when he says, “be shepherds of the church of God.” Regardless, the order of these responsibilities is worth noting. Keep watch over your own soul first, then that of the flock you are to oversee, and then the “church.” Inevitably, when church leaders get these responsibilities out of order is when things go awry.
Prioritizing the good of the many over the good of the individual, while maybe a wise proverb, shouldn’t be considered an immutable principle of leadership anymore. Especially when prioritizing the good of the whole and protecting the institution means leaders aren’t held accountable, perpetrators aren’t punished, and victims fail to receive the compassion and justice they deserve.
Posted on November 30, 2021