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).