Recent years have seen a number of prominent evangelical leaders fall from their pedestals. Jacinta Read says although such revelations have made her want to walk away from the church, she’s choosing to stay in the hope of rebuilding on more solid foundations
Mercy, my heart is heavier this week than I expected it to be.
Another well-respected Christian leader hits the news. The outcome of the safeguarding investigation into Mike Pilavachi is not yet known, but we can say - with tears and sadness - that the trope of celebrity pastor falling from grace is old hat.
From within the fog of despondency, I force myself to ask the question (yet again) is it time to walk away?
Do I have the option of retaining my faith while severing all affiliation with the evangelical church? Many people have done it already and I don’t judge them for it.
Without knowing it at the time, I was blessed with a vital lesson within days of becoming a Christian. My church-going relatives led me through the sinner’s prayer and supplied me with a stack of sermon tapes to listen to. The main point of the very first one I picked was centered on the fact that God and the church are not one and the same. The church is full of people, and people can hurt you, but God never will. Wise not to confuse the two.
Because of this I rarely get mad at God when people are idiots. More often, I wonder if I’d be better off loving God quietly and not going to church, not even calling myself a Christian. There’s too much baggage.
But here’s the rub…
God loves the church. The church is God’s idea. The church might well be God’s vehicle for bringing his kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven. The idea feels laughable at times, but it’s true.
In the last few years, we have witnessed a global putting to rights. The Me-Too movement and Black Lives Matter are just two easy-to-name pieces of evidence. We are seeing bounding leaps forward in the areas of disability rights, gender equality, creation care, representation of diversity, and ethical business practices. None of it is perfect, but all of it points to the fact that humanity has said, “Enough!”
Liberation is a volcanic eruption that incinerates anything daring to stand in its way. What is terrifying at first leaves in its wake ground that is fertile, on which we can begin again. I thank God for these eruptions of justice all over the world and pray that every tower of evil will tumble, and I include the church in this prayer.
Toppling from platforms
We can love the church while wanting to burn portions of it to the ground. Both, and.
As Christians it's time to recognise we have collectively (and with only the best of intentions) built something that has turned into a monster. For example, in the case of the church being a witness to the world, I don’t think the idea was ever to bedazzle unbelievers with glorious, glittery, “excellent”, and “relevant” productions complete with flocking crowds and smoke machines. I am beginning to suspect, maybe just maybe, it’s something more along the lines of us discovering and demonstrating a supernatural level of humility, repentance, reliance on grace, and willingness to change.
It’s not possible to give a blanket answer to the question ‘Should I leave?’ Every situation is different. For me, sticking around to sort out the pile of elephant dung in the room seems to be the right thing to do. But I can also say with certaintly that no one should stay in an abusive environment. Some people have fallen victim to terrible abuses of power and rightly need to step back in order to heal. I hope everyone in that camp can do so, be blessed, and be welcomed on their return should they choose to make one at any point. This is a personal decision that requires great wisdom. The sooner we get in the habit of respecting people’s decisions instead of heaping shame and guilt on them, the better.
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For those of us who have the capacity and inclination to stick it out, consider this: What if we stay? What if we stay and do the really hard work of fixing part of what’s gone wrong? It’s a huge ask. What makes it even harder is the fact that sticking around means mingling with others who may or may not share your desire to tear down and rebuild, or worse, don’t even see that there’s a problem. Some will actively question your motives. Some will go right on perpetrating the very injustices you seek to end. No one would fault you if you decline the invitation.
You may want to consider these questions: Is your church centered around one or more dynamic personalities who could be mistaken for a celebrity? Do they do justice to their role of pastor while also building their brand? Do you feel safe enough to raise concerns or ask questions? Do you tend to downplay problems with the church to outsiders? Have you noticed a tendency to make excuses for incidents or wrongdoings by authority figures?
If answering these questions is upsetting, please consider taking a break, talking to a therapist, or working on other interests for a time. No need to explain yourself unless you want to.
Good pastors: please do not do nothing. Do not say nothing. There are people in your flock who have to relive their trauma every time another scandal hits the headlines. It is not fair that they fell victim in the first place. The onslaught continues for them and they pay a high price whether they come forward or not. They need to know you see them, even if you don’t know who they are. I promise you they are there. Please say something that will comfort them and show your dedication to doing what you can to put right the state of the church. Please be very open about your structures of accountability and your desire to not harm the people God has entrusted to your care. Invite questions. I’m sorry this is awkward.
If, on the very slim chance you are a leader who is guilty of mistreating others, stop kidding yourself. Do yourself and everyone else a favour and step down, and do not make a ministry comeback for a very long time. Maybe never. Go away and do the very hard work you need to do. God has built his church for centuries without your ‘help’. He can and will continue. Your causing harm was never the plan in the first place. In his infinite grace, he has something better for you, and everyone else. Enough.
Churchgoers and elephant spotters, let’s keep this conversation open so the light can shine. Let’s stop being charmed by big names. We can show our leaders how much we love and respect them by holding them to the highest account, insisting on professional transparency and safeguarding protocol. Let’s stop funding organisations that cause harm. Instead, we could support and encourage the gifts and seeds that God has planted right in our local churches. They won’t be as dazzling as what we’ve grown used to, but that’s probably a good thing.
Calling out wrongdoing or evil in the church is not an act of treachery. It is an act of mercy.
To read the original version on Jacinta's blog, click here