The SGM scandal (for those of you who need to catch up read this and this ) has been a excessively heated topic. It affords us an occasion to take a look at ourselves and our own church’s leadership. This post is a brief riff off some reading today in Hauerwas’ The State of the University. The quotes from Yoder and Hauerwas can be found around page 155-157
John Howard Yoder believed that understanding the sinfulness of the church is essential for understanding “the politics of the church.” Yoder believed that the organization of the church must take into full account the sinfulness of the church. By our nature as Christ’s church, we are ever being converted, reformed and transformed. And so the way in which leadership is conducted, organization developed, and authority exercised is a matter of witness before the rest of the world to the work God is doing in Christ to redeem all things. The character of our corporate leadership and the manner in which we lead should point the rest of the world to the life being lived together in Christ, in His death, resurrection and reigning Lordship over our lives. We are ever bearing the death and resurrection of Christ, ever showing the world that sin does not have the final word, but instead when we sin, it is the occasion to turn from and live further into our baptism before the world. This means leaders will not put themselves above others when it comes to sin. We will always be ready to confess our sins and repent, seek reconciliation and renewal as part of God’s new kingdom in Christ. This is part of our witness.
Yoder suggests that “wholesome growth is not so much understood to be like branches from a tree but rather more like a vine.” There is a kind of “looping back” to test ongoing practices by the Lordship of Christ. The progress of the body of Christ is akin to a “story of constant interruptions of organic growth” where pruning happens and the opportunity is made for new roots to spout.
One of the reasons why we have so much resentment in the church today is the loss of ability of leaders to submit their sinfulness to the church. To have our story interrupted. So many “parishioners” have been hurt or abused by the church. I don’t know what they were expecting from their leaders, but perhaps they were given false expectations. Perhaps they expected leaders to be set above the congregation. But we should not do that. We should always be expecting our story to be interrupted. Instead, in alot of our leadership structures, the revealing of sin by a leader threatens the entire structure of authority. This to me is a sign we have lost the essence of what it means to be the church (as Yoder described above). It sets the church up for abuse instead of reform, its most charismatic leaders up for moral failure instead of constant growth through humility vulnerability and mutual submission. It prevents any and all interruptions, that which makes us the alive body of Christ.
I think the SGM scandal is one more occasion for all of us Christians to look at ourselves, ask what are we doing? and why the kind of leadership we are perpetrating has created so much abuse and moral failure? What structures and culture are we perpetrating? How long are we going to look the other way every time another mega church pastor has another moral failure? There’s something bigger going on here than just another isolated pastor who fell. We must ask whether our leaders have been set up on a false pedestal (this post makes me seriously wonder about this). We must ask whether we have set up structures and a culture where the leader loses his/her ability to confess sins and listen to one another (again, this post makes me wonder about this). This does NOT mean everybody gets to take his/her best shot – releasing his/her pet peave – against the pastor. No, there should be structures for discerning lies from truth (this takes a living community and time). But we must be alarmed when leaders are impervious to submission to their fellow believers in community and the hearing of their sins. Because when we lose this, we have all lost what it means to be the church, a place that recognizes our sinfulness and the need to be ever open to challenge, recognition of sin, and God’s work to transform.
I encourage us all, not just my Neo-Reformed brothers and sisters, to NOT gloss over the events of this most recent SGM scandal. But let’s also get beyond pointing the finger at another church scandal. Don’t’ be gleeful you all who have an axe to grind. Instead let’s use this moment to examine ourselves and our churches concerning our own lives, the structure and culture of leadership in our own churches.
Peace, reconciliation and joy of Christ.