Thursday, July 20, 2006

Recovery after a church dies due to sin

Dear Pastor Lawyer,

The Pastor of our church recently was found to be participating in some very sinful behavior and as a result our church has lost most of its members. One of the reasons this terrible event took place was because the pastor was able to control everything in the church. Even when we found out about the things he was doing in secret, he was able for years, to maintain control of the situation. We were wondering if you had any ideas for my wife and me about how we might go about finding a church where this kind of thing can’t happen to us again. Thank you for your help.

Ed in Seabeck

Dear Ed,

I wish your dilemma was unique and that I would never have to address it. Unfortunately some folks see the Christian ministry as a way to make money and to exercise power. There are a couple of things I would guard against in your thinking about finding a new fellowship. First, don’t buy into the temptation to think that if a church is a member of a denomination (or maybe a stricter denomination) that it will be safe. Some denominations are much more closely involved with their churches than others, but a man who is a controller can do it almost as easily in a tight knit denomination as he can in one that is not so “hands on." This is because most denominations have men in leadership who know one another pretty well, creating a sort of “good ol’ boy” situation. That is, sometimes the men at the denominational level know the pastors pretty well and are reluctant to take the word of a parishioner over their good old buddy, pastor Pete.

Second, don’t think that not going to church or not getting involved in another church is a way to avoid the possible hurt. Such avoidance may safeguard you from pain, but you will also be in sin by not getting involved in the lives of other saints in a corporate worship setting. The Bible is clear that there are no “Lone Ranger” Christians and that local church involvement is a must.

To avoid the problem in the future -- First, to be discerning, you need to be steeped in the Word of God, to take responsibility for your life and the life of your family, to meet with God regularly, and to spend vast amounts of time in the Word so that you will have your heart transformed and you will become more like Jesus. As you become more like him, you will think more like him. When this is the case and you visit a church that is slightly off, you will more easily notice problems and know what to do. If, on the other hand, the church is doing well, you will also know that pretty easily too.

In addition, do a lot of praying for wisdom. As a rule God does not talk directly to us. But he does give us brains, and as we immerse ourselves in his Word, he also gives us incredible wisdom. In addition to our own wisdom, we are directed to use the wisdom of friends and relatives. What are they saying about the church you are visiting? The Bible says there is success when there are many godly advisors.

Finally, when you visit a church, check out the leadership to make sure that it is Biblically qualified to lead. Do the Pastor and all of the elders fit the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and the command in 1 Peter 5? Note especially how their children behave and are treated. Are they the wildest kids in the church? Do they obey their parents? What do the parents do when the children disobey? Notice too how the Pastor and the elders treat their wives. Have your wife get to know their wives. Do they gossip about their husbands? Do they bad mouth them and complain about their marriage? Do the leaders strike you as being humble men? Are they trying to control the church as opposed to leading it? This is a hard distinction to make, but it makes all the difference in the world. If anything is unbiblical, you need to avoid that church. I hope this helps.

By the way, have you visited our church? You’re always welcome, and I’d like to meet you face to face.

Pastor Lawyer

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