Friday, August 24, 2018

Abuse and the Church

When church leaders abuse power, they do great harm to people God has placed in their care. That is why God gave the church a list of specific qualifications for church leadership. Paul gave Timothy two lists, one was the qualifications of elders and one the qualifications of deacons. For the sake of space I combined the lists. Leaders are to:

  • be above reproach
  • be the husband of one wife
  • be sober minded
  • be self-controlled
  • be respectable
  • be dignified
  • be hospitable
  • be able to teach
  • not be a drunkard who is addicted to wine
  • be gentle--not violent
  • not be quarrelsome
  • not be a lover of money
  • be a good manger of his household and his family,
  • not be new covert
  • not be double-tongued
  • be tested and proved blameless over time
  • have a good reputation with those outside the church. 

Because Timothy was young, Paul also gave him additional advice on being a godly leader. He told Timothy to train himself for godliness as he taught the Word of God. He also told him to set an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity so no one  could despise his being a young pastor. In additions, he was to develop the gifts the Holy Spirit had given him. Paul said, "Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself! Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

In addition, Paul also advised young Timothy on how to relate to those God placed in his flock. He told him to not speak harshly to older men. He was to encourage them as he would his own father. He was also to encourage the older women as he would his mother. He was to treat young men with the respect he would show his a brother. He was also to treat the younger women as sisters and Paul added the words "in all purity." Important words they are! 
From Paul's instructions,  we see he understood the potential leaders have for failure. He put several things in place that he had hoped would safeguard them. First, Paul set the standard for becoming a church leader high. His plan wasn't to give mediocre believers leadership positions and then hope they would somehow live it out. No, they were to be chosen because they were already living the standard out loud! Second, Paul gave instructions they were to follow to insure they stayed on track. The verbs he used in this list are proactive words that were to be done continuously--"train," "develop," "practice," "immerse," "watch yourself," and "persist." Third, he wanted Timothy to have a great regard for the people in his care. He was not to use them or abuse them in any way, but to care for them as he would his own family. Those are tall orders for any of us to keep, but they are even more important for leaders, because every Sunday when they stand in the pulpit or the classroom and declare the Word of God, their lifestyle impacts how people receive the Word, which in turn has an eternal impact on people and their souls. 

Recently, the Catholic church has been in in the news for thousands of cases of childhood sexual abuse that took place over many years in Pennsylvania. Instead of dealing with the sin, the Catholic church silenced victims, hid horrific sin, and left sinful men to continue to abuse more children. The church quit being the church when it quit caring for the flock! Because of the support group ministry I lead, I can honestly say that it isn't just the Catholic church in which abuse takes place. It happens in every single denomination. Church can even be a good place for predators to hide, because who would believe gifted pastors, youth workers, Sunday School teachers, or worship leader would do harm to others? Abusers don't look like abusers. They look like good people. They groom others to believe they are good and then they betray them.  

Maybe, just maybe, all churches need to make sure their qualifications for leadership truly aligns to the Word of God. Maybe they need to make sure every pastor, church volunteer, and worship leader passes background tests and are living out loud the same list of verbs Paul gave Timothy. And maybe every one of us in the church needs to examine our own hearts and make sure we are treating one another with respect that family is due, in all purity. Our men need to teach our young men what it means to live purely and to treat young women with all purity! 

And when a church and/or its leader fails, we need to be honest and report it to the church and to legal authorities when necessary so abuse is stopped in its tracks! We need to believe the victims who report and provide care over the long hall to help restore their faith in Christ. 

Think what it is like to a child or an adult who was not believed, who was silenced, or who was dismissed by leadership when they reported something that took every ounce of courage they could muster. 

Think how hard it is for the survivors who were forced to continue attending church with their perpetrators because it wasn't reported to legal authorities and let's give them ample time to work through that kind of betrayal as well as the betrayal of their perpetrator.  

Think what it is like for survivors who decide to go back to church, only to be greeted at the door by their perpetrator. Think what it is like for the one who watches as his or her perpetrator prays with other children at the front of the church. Think what it is like for the one who is being lead in worship by a former abuser. Think what it is like for the one who is being taught the Word of God by someone who abused them in the counseling office. Let's carry out Biblical discipline so that perpetrators are not leaders in the church. 

At one point we discussed an abuse support group what it would take to learn to trust a church after one has been abused by someone who claimed to be a Christian. I expected the women to say they wanted leaders to be perfect to insure their safety. But no one of them said that. They said they would feel safe if a leader who falls fully owns it and then confesses it without casting blame or giving excuses. They said that they would trust a church who dealt swiftly with the sin of its leaders and reports to the police when a crime is committed as in the case of childhood sexual abuse or rape. The consensus was that Christ didn't hide sin in the religious system of His day, He fully exposed and dealt swiftly  with it. And to be like Christ, don't we have to do the same? 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Obeying the Master

I recently visited a dog training class in which there were six large dogs, all who had very different temperaments.

There was the dog who began talking the minute it entered the room and didn’t stop until they left.

There was the super compliant quiet dog who would do anything for praise.

There was the veteran dog, who knew all the commands and was completely obedient.

There was the dog who would do anything as long as he received a treat.

There was the aggressive dog who growled and was distracted by all large and fluffy dogs, who entered his space.

Then there was the young dog who was energetic and a bit more anxious, but worked hard to learn everything he was supposed to do.

Their job during class was to follow their masters commands and no one elses. Newer dogs were still on leashes and the handlers carefully applied pressure in certain ways as they gave different commands until the their dogs learned to respond solely to their verbal commands.

One of the commands was “heel,” which meant they were to walk evenly with their master. This was fun to watch, as I could see the dogs constantly glancing at their masters to see if they were walking in sync. They also learned the commands sit, down, stay, come, and place. Each handler gave commands to their dogs and at times the trainer had the handlers give different commands to different dogs to make sure they were each listening to their own masters. When the handlers told them to stay and walked away from them, the dogs kept their eyes on their handlers waiting for them to tell them to come. When the handler pointed to a mat, stool, or chair and told them to place the dog simply relaxed in that place, but was still carefully listening until they were given their next command by their handlers

One of the things I found interesting is that the trainer went to great lengths to figure out what would distract different dogs. One dog was distracted by food. The trainer had the handler drop little treats around her trying to distract her as she continued to give commands. If the dog made a move toward the treat, the handler simply said no. At one point the trainer put treats on both of the dogs front paws.
She learned to still look at the handler until she told the dog she could eat one of the treats. Another trainer brought in a fluffy Saint Bernard to help train the dog who behaved aggressively when she encountered large fluffy dogs. Every time the the fluffy dog walked by the dog, I could see him tense up and give a low guttural growl. The two handlers walked in different patterns, gradually getting them to the point the dog could stay focused on his handler as the Bernard walked by. They continued to do this until the dog also consistently kept his eyes on his master and maintained a more relaxed demeanor as the Bernard passed. The class was a safe controlled environment in which the trainer could create scenarios that enabled the dogs to get to the place they could listen and obeyed their masters even when other dogs played, talked, disobeyed, or showed aggression. They could then carry the skills they learned to life outside of the class.

I've helped create a small group ministry for women who have experienced trauma and/or who are struggling in life because they are fearful, struggling in relationships, or stuck in behaviors they hate and of which they feel ashamed. As we work through the core issues, we also introduce skills that help them navigate the group in healthy, godly ways. We have them practice these skills until they can successfully and consistently use them both inside and outside of group. Many of them have come into group having read similar materials to ours, but without the group they couldn't practice those skills and little had changed. They had a lot of head knowledge that didn’t make its way to their hearts where it could transform into natural healthy actions and responses.

As I was watching the class, I also saw many analogies to the Christian life. Sometimes we live in the Christian community struggling with things we keep well hidden because of shame. If we are not careful, shame can cause us to become great pretenders, hiding behind “good Christian” masks, stagnant in our growth as believers. When this happens we come to church looking good, but at home live in severely broken families, hiding pain, broken relationships, anxiety, aggression, and addictions. The truth is that we all come to Christ with our own personalities, emotional make up, and sinful and broken ways of relating to each other. I wonder how different our lives and our churches might be if we learned, as new believers, to view life as a training class with Jesus being our master and trainer, instructing and training us all how to live. Knowing that sometimes He carefully places people in our lives who distract us with endless chatter and empty philosophy and  pleasurable things that in and of themselves are not evil but can distract us. However, if we view life as training rather than something we are supposed to do perfectly, the bondage of  shame can melt away and we can mature to the point that no matter what comes our way—that distraction, that pleasure, that event, that aggressive person harassing us—we learn to listen to the Savior’s voice and act out of who we want to be instead of letting all these other things define us. Just like a dog owner must be humble enough to say he or she needs help with their dog struggles with, we have to be humble enough to take an honest look at ourselves and identify the areas with which we struggle. For when we are honest, we can focus on recognizing and hearing our Master’s voice and learn to obey as we learn to ignore the many distractions that could keep us from the most important an most fulfilling relationship in our lives.


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!