PASTOR SIMON EZUGWU is founding pastor of Gracefield Church, Croydon
JO NAUGHTON pastors a church with her husband. She is also Premier Christian Radio’s agony aunt and author of Revive: 30 Day Detox for Your Soul (Grosvenor House Publishing) (jonaughton.com)
REV DR VIV THOMAS is honorary teaching pastor at St Paul’s, Hammersmith and director of Formation (formation.org.uk). He is author of several books including The Spectacular Ordinary Life (Authentic)
REV DR JOANNE COX is evangelism in contemporary culture officer for the Methodist Church
We recently ran CRB checks for all our church staff and it revealed that our children’s worker had lost his licence for drink driving, although he hadn’t disclosed this to us. What disciplinary action should we take?
Viv Thomas: For me there are two issues here: the failure to disclose; what’s that about? Why has this guy not disclosed this? And drink driving; is there addiction here? Both will need to be faced pastorally and sensitively ? and then there are also legal issues that need to be encountered. So speak to your children’s worker directly. But assume a problem here, and don’t think: ‘Everything will be fine if I just talk to him.’ There would probably need to be some kind of accountability group that you’d put him into, to walk with him in the next part of his life (paying particular attention to both alcohol and deception ? maybe the two are linked together). I would also insist that he sees a counsellor.
Joanne Cox: In terms of discipline, you can’t necessarily fire this staff member, but you can put into place serious curtailment of their role and responsibilities. Take away all responsibilities for driving. But there’s also the longer pastoral conversation about why didn’t they disclose, and it’s often about shame cultures.
"IT’S NOT MY ROLE TO CHANGE A PERSON; I CANNOT CHANGE MYSELF"
Jo Naughton: There are two parties to consider here: the man and the children. You have a pastoral responsibility for both. If you’ve got your eight-year-old being taught by somebody who’s driving when they’re drunk you may want to think, ‘Hang on a minute, this is a children’s worker. We need to get this person restored before they are a role model again.’ When you are a parent, you want to know that the people who your children are looking up to are leading lives that are inspirational.
In this case, you also need to know how long ago the offence took place. If this is something that happened ten years ago, then what’s the blood of Jesus for? This is drink driving ? it’s not paedophilia ? and if this is something that happened long before he got saved, then the blood of Jesus really is powerful enough to deal with it. We’ve got people in church with criminal records who’ve had their lives transformed…they can give so much more glory to God because they’ve been changed.
A mature and well-respected church member (let’s call him John) has his own business. Another church member recently did some work with him and discovered him to be dishonest in his business practices. As the church leader, he has informed me of this, but he doesn’t want me to confront John about it. What should I do?
JC: Not getting involved too quickly is essential in this sort of situation because there are two church members involved. It could quickly spiral out of control, with people taking sides. Dishonest practice, as opposed to illegal practice, can be a matter of opinion. There is also a teaching element here: how do we enable people to practise their business biblically and faithfully?
JN: I would ask: ‘Can the three of us sit down and talk?’ Consider: How good is your relationship with John? Focus on building a relationship with him; find out what’s going on in his life. If there is a monetary issue here, then make sure he’s not involved in the church finances.
Simon Ezugwu: Prayer is the key here. It’s not my role to change a person; I cannot change myself. God is the one that does it. I get on my knees and pray and pray and pray. Of course, as pastors, we’re here to share as much wisdom as we can muster from the word of God, without judging. We’re not here to judge, just relay the word of God to do what only the Lord can do.
VT: I’m a bit suspicious ? not of John ? but about the guy who’s coming to me to talk about John. I wouldn’t take him at face value. I’d be asking, ‘Why is he saying this to me? Is there another agenda?’ A lot of people in church life come up to you as the leader and say something about somebody else. Often they want you to act because they’re scared to do anything themselves. Rather than facing the responsibility and stepping up and confronting John, maybe his friend is hoping that you, as a pastoral figure, will parent them through this. I’m determined not to do that, so I’d say, ‘You go and talk to him and see how you get on, and come back to me. This is something that God’s brought to your door. He’s a brother in Christ, so have a go at this. I’ll be around, later on, if you need my help ? I’ll be happy to help.’ Lots of people want to be parented and sometimes pastors want to be the parent. That’s usually a great mistake.
Two single male church members recently moved in together. It appears they have begun a relationship. What do I say or do?
VT: If there’s a sexual relationship going on, then from my perspective, that’s not fine. Contemporary culture tells us your body is your own; you can do what you want with it. This is a highly individualised heresy. Our bodies are not our own, our sexual behaviour isn’t my sexual behaviour. If we’re in the Body of Christ, there are communal dimensions to this. You need to see yourself as not just an isolated couple but as members of a worldwide and historic body.
I’d want to raise this with these guys and with anybody, male or female that is in this sort of situation. It’s not a homophobic issue, it’s about what do you do with your body. Homosexuals are welcome in the church. All of us have got our sexual identity broken in some way. None of us are complete. For me, homosexuals are invited on the journey with us in following Christ.
"THE CHURCH LOVES TALKING ABOUT SEX BUT WE JUST DON’T TALK ABOUT IT VERY WELL"
JC: I’d take them a big beef casserole. Whoever it is, moving in together and starting a relationship together is something to celebrate. It’s difficult and it’s complicated and there’s a great story to be told for them to get to that point. Let’s hear that story of two people discovering a promise and a lifetime together and some of their dreams and hopes and some of the awkwardness. Let’s sit and eat together and share the narrative…then, as a church, we could work through some of the other issues that some of this kicks up. Actually, the Church loves talking about sex but we just don’t talk about it very well. It’s dirty, it’s secret, it’s stuff that we don’t like addressing, and when we do it’s always because we’re against something. But actually, how do we express sexuality and enable people to be who God has created them to be?
SE: It depends if these two brothers have been in the church for a while. If they are new believers and have just started coming to church, give them grace and allow the word to work in them. If they have been in the church for a long time then, in love, I will confront them as gracefully as possible, because they need to know the truth. I actually had this situation with a man and a woman who have been in the church for a while. I had to, in love, confront them. I’d love to say that they embraced me, but ultimately they decided that the church and our preaching was not for them and they had to go elsewhere.
A member of the congregation recently attended a prophetic healing conference and has come back saying she senses that God has given her a prophetic gift. She is now regularly meeting with other church members in coffee shops and in their homes and prophesying over them; but feedback has revealed that her approach is often domineering. I am not sure how biblical the things are that she is saying. How should I intervene?
JN: The approach I would adopt here is called a praise sandwich. That is really thinking of correction as the filling, and love and affirmation as what we have to wrap up correction in so that we can take it. I would take her out for a coffee and say something like, ‘It’s wonderful the zeal that you’re showing; your love for God and ministry. I’d love to help you learn more about how to operate in that prophetic gift. Why don’t we talk more about a bit of accountability? But also I should share that one or two people have mentioned that they were a bit shaken by what you have spoken into their lives.’ Then I’d finish off with the other bit of praise which is, ‘I’m looking forward to seeing your growth and how God leads you onward and upwards.’ Then I’d keep watching and looking out for her, as I would for a daughter. If it’s my daughter, then I’m going to be looking out for her well-being and wanting to see her grow in her gifting. That’s the way I want to handle people in the church.
JC: A really simple, practical tool would be to ask her to take someone else with her so that she’s not on her own. That would enable spiritual listening as well as the practical accountability to make sure that things continue to grow well rather than start to break down.
VT: Prophecy is for strengthening, encouragement and comfort. So, if this woman is not practising these things, then it’s not prophetic. I’m quite excited about this woman because I’ve been to conferences, got fired up and gone off and done wonderful things. For me, this is a positive scenario. If she’s able to be helped a bit you may have a new super-leader here who will plant ten churches around the world. But she needs to know what prophecy is all about.
A family in the church recently won a large amount of money through the National Lottery. They have offered to pay off several thousand pounds worth of the church’s debt and fund a new staff member’s salary. Should we accept their donations?
VT: Yes. But there are some issues. Why are they playing the lottery in the first place? Sometimes people play the lottery because they can imagine there’s a great big world out there for them if they win 80 million ? but it’s a fantasy. But ultimately if they win money and want to give it to the church, then my answer to that is yes. Not least because money comes from all sorts of directions to the church. If you analysed it you would probably have difficulties accepting some of the other money that comes in your direction.
JN: The first thing I’d do is ask: What are we teaching on God’s way of increasing? The Bible is really clear on how we can grow in difficult financial times, and I don’t think gambling is the way. This issue could cause a split in church because it could be very contentious. So we’d have to find a way of using it to unite the church, to bring people together and talk about it. I believe money is a servant…we don’t know how people have raised the money that they put in our collection buckets, but I think we must be conscious of the fact that the devil is always looking to split us. I would rather have a united church that has financial issues than a rich church that is divided.
"DISCIPLESHIP COSTS EVERYTHING…OUR PRIORITY IS GETTING OUR RELATIONSHIPS RIGHT"
JC: This also raises the issue of church debt. A church in debt is not a good ambassador for the kingdom. I am also nervous about whether there are strings attached to the donation ? even the offer of a new staff member brings with it potential conflicts of authority. I’d want to ask: What is the motivation behind the donation?
A pastor would also need to consider how to communicate the donation fairly so that the congregation don’t feel guilty or the givers don’t feel prideful. It is a great story of affluence and influence. Jesus had something to say about this; let’s remember his story of the woman who gave a single coin. Discipleship costs everything; let’s not be corralled into caring about the fringe benefits and the faÃ§ades of our buildings ? our priority is getting our relationships right. That includes our relationship to money; personally, corporately and internationally.