Friday, August 28, 2009

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely!

“Maria, you are on a dangerous path.” Today, several years after hearing those words on the other end of the phone line, the memory still stings. Maria had asked a question of a pastor and now she was being warned by an associate pastor to stop asking such questions! Unbelievable!

Absolute power corrupts, absolutely! Who among us would challenge that statement? I submit to you that none of us would! After all, we only have to look at politicians to see living examples of how power corrupts. Surely power and corruption never happens in the church…right? Well, we all know the answer to that question. Corrupt happens! Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, Ted Haggard, Dr. Jeremiah Wright – these are high profile religious leaders whose names and less than flattering stories come immediately to mind. These men have corrupted their families, friends, and the reputation of God, His people, and His message. These men didn’t start out as powerful spiritual leaders, but like all of us, they started simply and quietly. As their ministries grew, their power grew. As their power grew, people around them stopped asking questions. The only way to avoid pride-fuelled corruption is to keep people close to you, and then give them permission to be honest and to hold you accountable.

Pastor H. had seen Maria’s gifts and talents in the area of the performing arts, and he had enlisted her help in growing the ministry in his church. There were several other people on the creative arts team, as well. Maria loved being a part of the team and these people were more than colleagues – they were friends. For several months before the phone call, however, there had been discontent stirring among the team members. Why is it that the choir and drama ministries in churches are always so full of…well…drama? Okay, that’s a whole other blog, for sure! Anyway, one day Pastor H. called Maria up and asked her to step down from the team. When she asked why he said, “I’m in charge and I don’t want you to make me feel like I’m in a box. This is my decision.” Maria wasn’t questioning the pastor’s authority, “but,” she said, “you’ve just made a decision about my life and my ministry and I want to know why.” “Because I’m in charge.” And, that was that.

It was soon after that conversation with Pastor H., that his associate, Pastor B. called Maria. “You are on a dangerous path. You should not question men in spiritual authority over you. This trend is very dangerous.” Um…. that could not be further from biblical truth! 1 John 4:1 tells us to “test the spirits and see if they are from God” because “many false prophets have gone out into the world”. Listen friend, if you’ve got a pastor who won’t let you ask “why”, that is a major red flag about the man and his ministry. He should be able to support his decision with scripture. Matthew 23:13 warns teachers and church leaders with these words, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” If Maria had been a baby Christian she might very well have walked away from God altogether. After all, when a religious leader says, “do this ‘cause I said so”, that’s really cult-like and I would advise any young Christian to run screaming from that leader, and into the arms of a more mature believer!

It would be several years before Maria learned the truth. It seems that one of the other creative arts team members was saying things behind her back and that team member eventually won the leadership position that Maria had once held. Maria not only lost a ministry she cared deeply about, but she lost a family she had trusted and loved.

Is there discontent on your church team? Settle it! Are you a pastor in leadership over a rowdy rag-tag group? Look, it is your job to seek the truth, follow the principles of reconciliation found in Matthew 18, and to teach your team to work together as one body. Is someone coming to you with suspicions or gossip about another believer? Remind both the gossiper and yourself of the truth found in 1 Samuel 16:7, “man looks on the outward appearances, but God looks on the heart.” I’ll go one further here – man can ONLY see the outside, God ONLY sees the hearts. Don’t make assumptions about your team members, as that’ll destroy a team faster than anything. Get of the pew! Be seekers of truth and peace!

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