PASTORS WHO PREY AND ELDER BOARDS WHO IGNORE
How is it possible for a pastor to prey on their parishioners for sexual favors and practice sexual misconduct and this go unnoticed for years, even decades?
I hate to say it, but it takes a leadership, an elder board and a group of people who refuse to see the situation for what it is and decide to look the other way.
As we step more into the #churchtoo movement, the stories are very similar and the sadness and darkness seems to be the same.
The stories go something like this…the leader was charismatic…they trusted the leader…the leader misused their authority…a victim or observer was confused, unwilling but intimidated…eventually they fought them back while fighting the shame they felt for being a part…finally they went to the spiritual authority of the church…be that another pastor or elder board or deacon board and shared their experiences…only to be turned away or belittled, minimized, ignored or even targeted for removal because of their “spirit of disunity” or their lack of character or shall we say…they didn’t benefit the church as much as the leader they were coming against.
Sadly, this is not just a situation for an isolated church in a remote part of the world. As we move into this #churchtoo movement, it is an epidemic. And it is not just a one church/one situation phenomenon or a situation birthed in large impersonal churches. This is an epidemic of churches and even associations of churches that span across city wide cultures where “success” is worshipped and the need to protect the “reputation of the church” is the norm.
As a senior pastor of a church for the past almost 25 years, this grieves me deeply.
The Church is Christ’s Bride. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 5:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
In recent months I keep hearing Jesus say to me, “The Church is my Bride, and I want my Bride back.”
As I dig in to the circumstances surrounding pastors who prey on their church members, I am discovering that they can only continue this practice as long as the church allows it, enables it and even fosters it by not being willing to hold their senior leadership accountable.
For pastors to prey on people in their church long term, elder boards have to ignore what others are telling them.
Recently, my own church went through a very difficult transition and a number of our pastors went off staff. It was a very painful time, but it afforded opportunity and responsibility to my elder board to sit down with those pastors and with people in the church and to ask them if there was anything about my leadership that needed to be addressed. Yes, it was painful for me, and yes, there were some who wanted to see me go. It was hard on me, my wife and my kids to go through this, but it was NECESSARY in order for me to be and do what God has called me to be and do. And it was NECCESARRY for the elders to do their job to discover if my leadership needed correcting and disciplining, and to ask if I needed to be removed from my position all together.
I have always lived my life with full-disclosure and, sometimes, that requires me as a pastor going through a time of examination by those I am accountable to in order to make sure I am living above reproach in my life and leadership.
Why am I telling you this first?
Because I want you to know that I understand why churches, pastors and elder boards “hide” the truth sometimes. It is PAINFUL to be publicly honest about things that could damage you, your church and its ability to be “effective.”
But Christ wants His Bride – that’s us – to be presented to Him as spotless and blameless, not perfect, but HONEST, REAL AND ACCOUNTABLE.
It is time for elder boards to do their job. It’s time for people who have been sexually abused by pastors and ministry leaders to come forward. It’s time for church leadership to stop fostering and helping groom people in the church for senior leaders to molest, wound, abuse and take advantage of. It’s time for Jesus to have His Bride back. This is going to require HUGE AMOUNTS OF HUMILITY on the part of church leadership. It is going to require conversations, accountability and boundaries that maybe have been missing in a lot of churches across our country for the past few decades.
It is going to require elder boards to hold accountable the pastors who prey, and it may require for a time that they give more of a benefit of the doubt to those bringing the accusations over those who lead their organization.
It is going to require full-disclosure on the part of the leadership and a willingness to say to people, “We were wrong, we failed you, we need to ask you to forgive us.”
If you have been victimized by a ministry leader, pastor or person in a position of authority in the church or not, I want to encourage you to STOP BEING AFRAID OF THEIR POWER AND WHAT OTHERS WILL SAY. DO THE RIGHT THING.
God will meet you. No, it won’t be easy, but it’s time for those who have been traumatized by the church to stand up and say, “NO MORE.”
No more will you be silent and live with the shame that has been placed on you by pastors who prey and elder boards that enable. No more will you be silenced by the intimidation of church lawyers who try and get you to “shut up” and “go away quietly.” No more will you take undisclosed amounts of money in exchange for your silence.
It is time for Christ to have His Bride back “spotless and without blemish.” It is time for people like myself – pastors – to be accountable, submitted and full of humility. It is time for elder boards to be elder boards and hold their senior leadership accountable. It is time to use whatever means necessary to do what Paul says in Ephesians 5:
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
IF we do this, yes, it will seem “darker” for a while, but the Son will be break through and call His Bride, the Church to Himself, and we will be renewed with a power that unleashes the Gospel of Jesus Christ into our lives and restores a reflection of His presence in us that will cause the world to be drawn to our husband, JESUS CHRIST.
Yes, Jesus is our husband, we are HIS BRIDE.
This ALL begins with church leadership making the holiness of God more important to them than the “reputation AND success of the Church.”
MAY REVIVIAL SWEEP THROUGH OUR CHURCHES IN JESUS’ NAME!
God, give us bended knee and a repentive tongue for the glory of Jesus!
Pastor Kelly M. Williams