Why is it so hard to confront bad character in the church?

The Babylon Bee recently posted a chart titled, “Does a Politician’s Moral Character Matter?”  The satirical web site focused on evangelical Christianity asked the question, ‘Is the politician a member of your own political party?’  If the answer was yes, then the chart hilariously said that moral character doesn’t matter in the slightest and that you should defend the moral failings of the politician no matter the cost.  If the answer was no, moral character of course is hugely important.

In the early 2000’s I found myself in a scenario when it looked like my pastor at the time was having an affair.  I half heartedly called him out a few times, but because I had no specific evidence of any misconduct, but only a few coincidences and a feeling, there was nothing real I could do until the evidence came out.  I didn’t want to be divisive, I wanted to honor those in leadership over me, and I didn’t want disunity to prevail.  I waited.  The evidence came out.  The affair went on at least 4 months after the first time I weakly mentioned something to him.

In an age where our president can literally say (or tweet) anything he wants, and people who previously screamed at the top of their lungs for the head of other leadership with obvious moral challenges now defend the current administration with circular, straw man, and every other kind of bad arguments, I know now that the church lives in this same world of unaccountable leadership.

So what’s a follower of Jesus to do in a world where calling out bad character in the church can be so polarizing?  Here are some ways to counteract such nonsense:

  1. Know your “gathering”.

The followers of Jesus who confronts you or who you confront should be those who you love and who love you and who have poured into you. Their should be a mutual sacrifice, and a natural risk on both sides of the relationship so that manipulation and control is not a factor .  This is why I believe being a Christian in the wilderness can be advantageous.  You no longer have to call that huge monstrosity of a place your church.  You can now realize that a community of believers is really about the small group of people who you live life with and who you know will call you out when its real and not when you are upending the status quo of the church organization.  A matter of identifying who your church is might be to ask yourself who you sit down and eat with within the gathering.  If you’re a part of a church organization, and you don’t like that last sentence, break bread with more people, I guess.

2.  Remember that peace is the end of confronting, not more confrontation

Let’s face it, some people are addicted to drama.  Drama sells, and with the advent of Netflix, there is no shortage of people getting their fix of drama.  But unity in the church is important.  Therefore an environment of constant confrontation where drama builds on itself is an unhealthy one and should be re-evaluated at all costs.  Peace is not easy to come by, but it should be the end goal by which all parties work toward.  Gossip, backbiting, passive aggressive or aggressive aggressive behavior should be confronted immediately and in the end, all parties should have the peace of knowing that love won out.

3.  The reason to get more people involved is for accountability on both ends

In Matthew 18, Jesus shares a “plan” for confronting ‘sin’.  He tells those listening to go to the person and confront .  If they refuse to listen, take one or two others along.  If they still don’t listen, take it to the “gathering”.  So we have this idea that Jesus is simply taking a black and white issue and making it even more clear, but of course nothing is ever that black and white, right?

Hear me out.  What if Jesus understood human conflict, and knew that the person could be wrong or maybe they were not so wrong?  What if Jesus knew that bringing others into the mix would not just make it more difficult to push the sin aside, but also keep the confronting person from accusing someone foolishly?  What if adding people to the confrontation held all parties responsible to doing what was right?  This is what I know about poor leadership, they don’t like being confronted, and they certainly don’t like putting themselves into a situation where others can hear their sins.

I saw this played out several years ago at a church business meeting though in a good way.  Where someone stood up before the church and accused my pastor of several weird things, among them was taking a table away from the stage.  He thought he was doing a noble thing and confronting things that were unbiblical.  The rest of the church looked at the guy liked he had 3 heads, and essentially the matter was closed because everyone knew that really the pastor had done nothing wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with going to a brother or sister in Christ and confronting them in a way that focuses on love and peace and unity.  In fact, it can be hard but healthy, and can create more health in the long run.  Churches around the country are littered with unhealthy dysfunctional atmospheres because of the lack of healthy confrontation.  It can be hard, but in the proper context and with love at its root, become a part of a church that promotes this type of “calling out”.

Social Media, though littered with dysfunction can also be a source of health when it comes to feedback.  What say ye?  Tell me what you think of what I’ve written please.

Written by Marty Holman

#Peace #Confronting #Gospel #holmanreport

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  1. I’ve been saying for a long time that one of the biggest problems in our seminaries is that we do not teach management skills. The business world has all this down cold. The average church is at the very least a decent sized small business. It has employees and a decent budget. Most businesses have codified policies about conduct, evaluating performance and conflict resolution. Businesses do not recognize or deal with “sin”. It may technically be a sin to embezzle or sleep with your secretary–but in the business world, we simply deal with those things as crimes and / or misconduct. Two key differences with a church (in theory) #1 a church is supposedly interested in restoration. Someone who “sins” can be confronted, correct their behavior and be restored. In business–they are fired. Which system more effectively prevents misconduct worthy or termination–well, the business system does. You mentioned how difficult it was to confront your superior about his behavior. In the real world–outside of church–you go to HR or to the ombudsman. An investigation is begun and you are protected as a whistleblower. This gives superiors much more to fear then a timid underlings who they have enormous power over. Churches today are run an operated the same way they always were–by one man leading a cult of personality who has near absolute power. I grew up sitting in church with Russell Anderson (Jack Hyle’s right hand man). I saw all that go down. My piano teacher was Bob Gray’s daughter. I watched all that go down. The cult of personality has to end.

    1. While I think you’re absolutely right Pete, one problem with the seminary idea that I see is not that it’s wrong, but many who don’t go to seminary, but who are good in business, do start churches. Because they don’t have a pastoral gift (I’m sure some do), they treat the church exactly like a business. This is where much of the pain and distortion come in. The whole Jack Hyles thing though, spot on. Would be interesting to talk through this more. Church and business have places where they meet nicely, and other times, not so much.

  2. I hadn’t looked at this way before…. But after reading this it occurs to me a Jesus-centered comnunity has 2 very distinct callings when someone is behaving badly. I think you do a good job describing the scenario where the immoral person is inside someones community. But i also think we are called to being prophetic. When someone with power is abusing someone with no power Jesus consistently stood with the marginalized. I think we ought to do the same.

    1. I like this point, Jeff, and agree with you. It is interesting though that he ultimately sacrifices his life as opposed to preaching at the ultimate power/government. In other words, the powers he’s calling out is our equivalent if his spiritual leaders, while when it comes to the ultimate power abusers, Rome, he lays down and says very little, choosing rather to suffer in humility than use his prophetic voice to call for their overthrow.

  3. I think you show a lot of wisdom and restraint around avoiding protracted internet conflict. After 2-3 responses, it rarely leads to anything helpful for anybody. So I will work hard at letting this be my last comment on this one, and I will share that I am not interested in picking a fight here, just trying to decide if you are nudging a bit in how I think about this issue:
    My read of history is that small groups of Christians in important places have really changed the course of history. Beyond the obvious Jesus example, I think Christian work in ending legal slavery, obtaining votes for all citizens etc. has been important. How do you rectify their work with the take away that Jesus didn’t politically challenge Rome? Were they misreading the bible?


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