Sociological Events

From time to time a well-known Christian leader either steps down or is removed from office because of some flagrant immorality or some other scandalous sin. But other times, as in the case of John Piper last year, a minister takes a leave of absence for a time to sort things out, either personal things or ministry things. It is a leave of absence, not a resignation. It is a time-out to rethink how everyone is doing, off camera. For someone with an internationally known ministry, I can easily imagine that this could be a tremendous help. A minister of a small to mid-size church might be able to take a week off and regroup; but when you are the head of a huge ministry, things go public in a big way. It just comes with the territory.

Recently, C.J. Mahaney has stepped down from his position as head of Sovereign Grace Ministries in order to sort out some misunderstandings, headbonks, and whatnot. I am not going to address the particulars here, because, frankly, I don’t know what they are, and that’s not my point in writing.

A strange thing happens when a minister comes under fire. All the discontents from the past ten or twenty years form an immediate alliance, and they are the most unlikely bedfellows. It may be Joe Schmoe who left the church five years ago because he didn’t like the singing who teams up with the local atheist God-hater. They become bosom buddies united in the same cause of firing up a website with two hundred pages of “charges.” (We can guess how reliable this source of information is.) This is what my husband has named the “Fellowship of the Grievance.” Old grievances come out from under the rocks to “Kumbaya” together around the campfire.

When the minister says there is some truth to the charges, as Mahaney did, you would think this would cause all good-hearted critics to be encouraged and pray for a swift and godly resolution. But if the critics begin to circle round like hungry sharks when there’s blood in the water, then observers are right to be suspicious. Jesus knew what it was like to have a surly crowd stirred up.

The second thing that often happens is that old friends sometimes take cover until the smoke clears. A little adversity can reveal how thin the loyalty really was. They back away and play it safe to see how things will turn out. They do not want to go to his defense because they want to see who wins. After the smoke blows over, they may want to be chummy again. This does not mean they are wicked; but they are weak. You can’t hold it against them. But you see what they are made of. Jesus had friends like that.

And then there are the unexpected friends who turn up in the most unlikely places, who say, “We’re praying for you brother. We know what this is all about.” This may be the car mechanic or the guy you barely know from another congregation. And of course there are the true-blue friends who prove to be staunch through thick and thin. Jesus had a friend who stayed with him at the Cross.

My prayer for this minister and his family is that they will ride this thing out, bumpy as it may be. My husband calls these collisions within churches and ministries “sociological events.” As long as we have churches with people in them, we will have this kind of thing. And when a minister is willing to step down to sort things out, some bystanders will chuck some rocks rather than wait for a judicial and judicious outcome.

Jesus has a few words for times like these: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12).

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22 thoughts on “Sociological Events

  1. “Old grievances come out from under the rocks to ‘Kumbaya’ together around the campfire.”

    Loved that sentence…especially the verbing of “Kumbaya”!

    For those who are interested, you can hear more on the fellowship of the grievance here and here.

  2. Nancy, as a much younger woman seeking to understand this fairly common response to the situation with Sovereign Grace Ministries, someone not involved in it but who has been aware of it for some time, I’d very much appreciate if you help me think through this issue a little bit. What should the “discontents from the past” do when their stories of child and spouse abusers being sheltered by the church, excommunications for disagreements with the church’s areas of minor praxis, lack of honesty from leaders, and other such issues were brought before the leadership time and again and ignored? Should they not discuss these issues? Should they simply fall silent even as a pattern emerges of similar concerning events? Charges against elders biblically require 2 or 3 witnesses, how are those biblically to be assembled then?

    What would the right-hearted response of the wounded be?

  3. hi KT,
    I am not trying to answer for Nancy – and I’m interested in knowing her response to your question as well! it’s a good question – one I don’t fully know the answer to either.
    I did have one question when I read your comment – you said you’re not involved in any of the situations, so I was just wondering how you knew for a fact that the leaders were ignoring these issues? the only reason I ask is because I have been part of situations that when, retold, look a lot different in the story than what actually happened (even serious issues where one would think it would be hard to mess up the facts.) I am not saying it’s not possible – most certainly it is! I was just curious if it was something you were aware of by word of mouth or from experience, as a lot of things get changed as the story gets passed along :)
    i hope my question is clear and not at all hostile, as I really do mean it simply as a question :)
    but i also am eager to know how to bring to light things that are sinful and hidden, and yet do it without gossiping. it’s hard to do!

  4. KT,
    In cases of abuse that you mention, a woman should call the cops. Immediately. That is not what I would include in the ‘discontents’ category. Sheltering other kinds of offenders, it all depends on what is meant. The church is a shelter for all kinds of sinners! But it is not a place for criminals escaping a lawful trial.
    If a church is misusing authority, then I would find another church and do it fast. My point in my post is that once the judicial proceedings begin, we should pray for it to be dealt with righteously, not get our information from vigilante websites. And if it turns out some bad stuff was going down, we should pray that God will bring it to light.

  5. KT,
    I’ve been a member of SGM, CLC since new birth in 1994. I’ve never experienced anything like you suggest. Nonetheless, now is the time to bring your concerns to the leadership for consideration, with Matthew 7:1-5 in mind. While no church is perfect (only the Trinity), this season of trial at SGM seems to be posturing the leadership (sans CJ temporarily) to reflection, reconciliation, forgiveness and growth in a new direction. May our Lord be glorified and hearts healed of past hurts as SGM moves forward in our Lord’s strength. I look forward to a time of counting it all joy (with thanksgiving) as we steadfastly persevere in this time of testing. I am praying personally that you will find healing…

  6. I’m glad you’ve written this. I have a lot of Sovereign Grace friends and family who are very tense right now and who I think will be blessed by this. It’s just nice to hear gracious words crossing denominational lines.

  7. KT raised one point that I thought was a good question: If a congregant has a legitimate grievance against a church leader, if he has observed genuine sin and has Matthew 18ed it without success, how is he to get a second or third witness in order to bring it before the session or presbytery or whatever other party is appropriate? A hearty amen to not on the Internet! I’m thinking, by the way, of something that’s not a call-the-cops crime, but a sin. (And this is quite tangential to your original post, so feel free to ignore it!)

  8. This is completely off the current topic, but I wasn’t sure where to ask this. Will you have any of your talks from Dangerous Women available for download? Looking at the list there’s a couple I’d really like to listen to, but it’d be prohibitively expensive for me to fly into Spokane right now. Being able to buy an mp3 download after the fact would be so helpful.

  9. Well done everyone. I only became aware of the issue today and only found blogs and websites condeming the whole thing. In the day and age of instant access prayer is needed even more. Thank you for your spirits of kindness and love showing through.

  10. “As long as we have churches with people in them, we will have this sort of thing.” Probably the most important sentence for us to remember out of this post. Aren’t we odd to think that it would be any different? I have followed the Girl Talk blog after linking to it from your blog. I respect CJ Mahaney for stating that there is some truth to sort out in the charges against him. Your advice to pray for the family is advice to heed. Thanks for this post.

  11. I agree that there needs to be a way for those who have legitimate grievances and need additional ways to find witnesses, to be able to find them — and also with Valerie that the Internet ain’t it.

    But frankly, most of what I see when a situation like this arises is not some discreet attempt to find a way to address something that is being kept hidden, but a decision to conduct a public trial of the elders themselves, with the general public as the jury, and everyone who has some kind of discontent (or has heard of someone who does, or becomes upset at reading the stories of those who have heard of people who do) as unsworn witnesses. And that’s the kind of “Kumbaya-ing” that’s the problem.

  12. My two cents worth would be that I was once seriously wronged by a pastor, and when I requested a hearing with the elders to answer the charge lodged against me, which was not true, I was allowed to meet with only a portion of them. They refused to hear that their pastor would ever do anything wrong. Honestly, he was a very charming sociopath.

    We were not welcome to stay in the church and leaving felt like a divorce because of the level or our commitment at that church. We left quietly, and I apologized to all concerned because the pastor felt that I had wronged him. I knew that I had not done it, but I asked my husband to let me do it, just so that there was no question that my intention was never to hurt them/him (the pastor) in any way.

    I was not forgiven publicly or privately, nor was I invited to any kind of restoration process. I was completely devastated. It was one of the most difficult situations I have ever faced.

    When people left phone messages or sent cards, wondering at our sudden departure, I just sent a thank you card and told them nothing, afraid that it would damage the church we had sacrificed so much to build, if they knew the truth.

    A year later, the elders realized that they had made a serious mistake. The pastor was recognized for the type of person he was and dismissed. They met with me and my husband and apologized to us with tears.

    We were invited to return at that time, but we felt it best to stay put.

    I said all of that to say that God sees what goes on in secret, and even with leaders who misuse their authority, He is big enough to bring it to light, if we wait.

  13. Not sure if this is exactly relevant but 1Tim 5:24-25 came to mind as I read this. “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden”. I’m completely unaware of any details regarding the SGM situation but as my husband is a pastor, I gain comfort from knowing that despite what others may wrongly say or think about him, the truth will always ultimately be revealed. These verses are comforting if we are in the right and scary if we are not!

  14. Can I get a witness?
    To my heart the sad part is that the world who doesn’t know Jesus or His grace looks on and decides — I want no part of that group!
    Jesus said ; “By THIS shall all men know that you are mine. That you love one another.”
    That is our witness to the world.
    We’ve become obsessed with being “right.”

  15. As a member of a SGM church, I just wanted to say THANK YOU!! There are so many who are jumping at the chance to attack our leaders, and it does always seem to happen more when they are already down. (Not just speaking of SGM leaders). It breaks my heart to see the slandering and gossiping that has been happening, and I am grateful when there are people like you willing to remind us where we should be standing!

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