Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Above Reproach

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology and
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at the Charlotte campus

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here in Charlotte, one cannot turn around without reading or hearing something about the exploits of South Carolina’s governor, Mark Sanford. He got into the news because he disappeared for five days without letting anyone know where he was going. Turned out, he flew to Argentina for a tryst with his mistress. Now, there is an urgent investigation of his performance as governor, calls for his resignation, and speculation about the state and future of his marriage. After several weeks of this, he refuses to resign, and says that his spiritual advisor has helped him see the light, that he has violated God’s law, but intends to reconcile with his wife. And, he will not resign because God works all things together for good.
God works through broken people. Aaron made the golden calf, and later God called him to be Israel’s first high priest. David committed adultery and murder with Bathsheba and God called him friend and made David and Bathsheba ancestors of Jesus. Peter denied Christ three times, and Jesus called him to feed his sheep. Paul persecuted the church, and God made him the apostle to the gentiles and writer of much of the New Testament.
And yet. James warns that leaders of the church, teachers in particular, will be held to a greater judgment, and cautions against too easily taking on these responsibilities. In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul gives instructions about the leadership of the local churches in Ephesus and Crete. He says leaders of the church are to be above reproach. For example, in Titus Paul writes:
An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:6-9, TNIV)
How do we understand these disparate lessons from Scripture, and how do we apply this in the life of the church, in the face of struggling and/or fallen leaders? Do we embrace fallen leaders and encourage them to continue their ministries or disqualify them because of their error?
Closer look at the stories of some of these individuals in Scripture might help. The fallen leaders in these stories go through a process of removal from leadership and spiritual restoration. For example, after Paul’s conversion he did not immediately become the apostle to the gentiles. He withdrew to Arabia for 3 years. Peter went through a restoration process with Jesus himself after his resurrection. Aaron went through serious judgment, and it was at least a year between the golden calf incident and his anointing as high priest. Still, one can feel the tension between the highest standards we are called to in 1 Timothy and Titus, and God’s grace and mercy to all sinners, including church leaders. The challenge and the solution, I think, as with many things is to find a way to hold these two things in a dynamic tension that allows God to work in our lives.
This feels like the same tension we encounter in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching is directed at his followers, and he calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). It is an incredibly high standard. How can we, in our fallen, imperfect condition be perfect this side of heaven? We strive to be the people God calls us to be, empowered by his Holy Spirit, knowing that only in him can we be what he calls us to be. And when we fall short, we fall on the mercy of God, repent and seek reformation.
For me, when I see a situation where a leader gets into trouble, it has a lot to do with the response of the leader and the process they go through before they continue or resume their leadership. We know the tree by the fruit it bears. Do they truly get it, and repent of their sin? Do they understand the value of and pursue a course of withdrawing for a time to pursue healing? Do they show the fruit of repentance in a changed life? We can identify too many leaders of the church who, like Sanford, refuse to withdraw from leadership to pursue healing and spiritual renewal. We have a responsibility to come along side fallen leaders, to hold them accountable, to protect the people, and to restore them as much as possible. But we also have the responsibility to guard the church leadership by not restoring too quickly one who has fallen. It is in evidence of a changed life, in endurance and persistence that the truth is found.

No comments:

Post a Comment