Sunday, July 24, 2022

What Processes Might be Expected

When a grief-filled experience is too closely mirrored in the church as it happened in the world, there is probably something wrong. Even without it being the church I just had another experience where an accusation was overblown at my job, though it was probably not hiding ulterior motives, unlike my previous experience.

While I think my recent experience is probably just due to some misconceptions, and won’t stand up to any real scrutiny, the church incident seems to have other depths because other people in the ministry have stepped down for “reasons.” I hope I am wrong.

I think two points need to take precedence in any situation like this, but especially within the church: following the process laid out for us, and grace and mercy.

The process is from Matthew 18:15-17(NIV):

15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Essentially, work your way up from personally and privately addressing the issue to taking it in front of the whole church. In some situations, such as abuse or violence, quick escalation might be required, up to and including bringing in the police. But in this case, let’s say that harm is not imminent and the person sinning, or contravening an expected standard, could be approached by the one that notices. I mention the second because we all sin, so usually it is the case that there is an expectation, especially in leadership, that we have all agreed to.

Often, with grace, this is the final step. The person sinning didn’t realize that they were doing it, and they really just needed that loving nudge to ask for forgiveness and repent. However, let’s say that what was brought up was not the actual issue. There is an agreement about what was said, but then a request to take it up one level. Why would this happen without an ulterior motive? Beyond harming the ministry or a person, going up a level is probably a sign that there are other things wrong, or the person that has pointed out the fault doesn’t have the resources or power to bring about support to help the brother or sister with their repentance.

It’s my favorite benediction that can only be said tongue-in-cheek, “Go forth and sin no more!” A ridiculous request of already harried people, especially if they are harassed from within the church. So, maybe bringing the issue in front of a subset of elders could in fact be helpful to find the support that your volunteers need.

But if this is the point that another “sin” is pointed out, and the person is asked to step down from their ministry, this is what the world does to catch people off-guard to affect a more swift change than otherwise possible. If you are playing your cards close to your chest to affect change within a church, then you need that pointed out so that you can stop, ask forgiveness, and repent.

But maybe the issue was big enough that the person needs to step back from serving in the church. Great, but either way: if there is no support, no walking alongside, then there is no process. And if the support is already waning in the ministry in question because there aren’t enough volunteers to do it without burning out, what is done will be detrimental and possibly cause worse issues.

The third level is where this whole process, I believe, is misinterpreted. First off, this is the level at which the person should be asked to step back from any ministry role, whether they are unrepentant or need a break and better support from the church in their time of hardship. And only asked to step down after careful deliberation by, essentially, the church as a whole, though practically the board of elders.

But here is the second point, both for this level and overall. Whether unfit for serving in a ministry or unrepentant they are to be treated as pagans and tax collectors. Who wrote Christ’s words down in Matthew? It was Matthew if you didn’t get that hint, and by tradition, he was a tax collector before Christ called him. Grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness are what they need. If they truly believe they did no wrong, but the church as a body disagrees, it is unlikely that they will stay, but they should not be cast out and shunned as some churches do. In either case, removing from ministry, for a time or permanently, still results in loving the person. While we are called to be discerning for our leaders and teachers, but only in terms of doctrine. Essentially, if someone is teaching or leading in the wrong direction, they need to be corrected or removed from that position so that it is clear what is expected. But again, if the process isn’t followed…

Even with this process laid out so plainly, it doesn't mean there are complications or variables. This is a good case for someone in a public ministry, within the church anyway, that is teaching or supporting doctrine. However, there are so many situations where the balance of power, or any other disparities, would put the "accuser" in a position that nothing is done, or there is even a backlash against them. With sexual or mental abuse, for example, the first step in this passage would possibly backfire and the whole process comes to a halt because of the manipulation of the victim. But neither should we burn people at the stake without real investigations by neutral parties.

Overall, we are just humans, and we will make mistakes. When your volunteers feel like they don’t have a way to take a break, or have recourse for less than upfront accusations. If the church can model better behavior, maybe people not currently interested might not be scared away, but unfortunately, it seems that individuals or individual churches have a significant impact on the view the public has when things go wrong.

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