A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this essay that Christian Post published today. It is a letter to church leaders and suggests 4 ways they can support positive emotional and spiritual care for their congregants.
Tag Archives: pastors
Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment and my seminary, Biblical Seminary, have teamed up to offer a 3 credit course for seminarians on the topic of child sexual abuse prevention and response. This course will run on our Hatfield campus on Monday nights during the month of June. To my knowledge, a course like this has not been offered before. I highly encourage you to send your pastors or church leaders for some continuing education.
The latest issue of Christianity Today has an article on pastors and the struggle with pornography. Here’s a couple of pieces of data from the 770 pastors surveyed
- Current struggle? 21% of youth pastors and 14% of pastors say yes
- How frequent a struggle? 35% of both categories say “a few times per month”
- Past struggle? 43% of both categories say yes
So, it is a problem. But here’s the data that stood out to me most of all.
- 70% of adult Christians say that if a pastor is having this struggle, the pastor should either be fired or put on leave until the problem is resolved? While
- Only 8% of pastors think they should leave their position if having this problem
While not surprising, it is telling. We think we should manage our own problems (or get a counselor or accountability group–that is still managing on our own) and that these problems don’t hinder our work.
What do you think?
How serious is the problem of porn use amongst pastors? Should it be cause to lose the position? Sinlessness is not a reasonable goal for pastors. But what would disqualify one from the position?
And if porn is a significant problem amongst congregants (and this study among many say so), does having a pastor with a current (even if infrequent) use of porn help or hinder care of congregants?
We all do it. We categorize sins and failures to explain why they happened. This habit is not new. Our first parents did it. Adam and Eve knew of their choices and yet laid the blame at another’s feet.
We do it too, whether for ourselves or for others. We hear of the sins of others and provide a ready explanation.
He’s a jerk…she comes from a dysfunctional family…he has a chemical imbalance…a disease…low self-esteem…narcissism……
When we think about our own failings, we also provide simple explanations to categorize the problem:
I was tired…You made me…I forgot the Gospel…I just loved you too much…I didn’t love myself enough
Usually these explanations and categorizations fail. (Who was it who said that every complex problem has a simple, neat but wrong answer? Mencken?)
Why do we categorize in simple but incomplete fashion?
In short, it serves a purpose. It enables us to communicate something we find important. Yes, we may lay blame on others or remove blame from self, I don’t think that is our first or only goal. What we really want to do is point out a factor we fear is going to be missed by others. Consider these two examples:
- A christian leader is revealed to have an affair. How will we categorize it? Some might focus on the impossible pressures of ministry. Others might focus on a pattern of arrogance and narcissism. Still others might focus on childhood trauma.
- You falsely accuse someone of wrongdoing. How will you categorize it? Talk about your history of being mistreated? Talk about misunderstanding the facts? Talk about having a demonic influence? Talk about a psychological illness?
These explanations may well carry some weight. They may be, in part, true. I would suggest that our motivations for emphasizing one reason over another has much to do with comfort. It settles matters. It avoids blame. It separates things we love from things we hate.
What to do?
When listening to our own explanations or those of others, I think it might be best to use this blog entry by Ted Haggard penned after the recent suicide of a well-known preacher and preacher’s son. You’ll recall that some years ago, Ted went through his own public hell after evidence of misconduct including same-sex activity and meth purchase was released to the public. The purpose of Haggard’s writing now is to identify false theology behind the reasons why we Christians jump to conclusions about the reason for moral failings,
In the past we would try to argue that Evangelical leaders who fall were not sincere believers, or were unrepentant, or that they did not really believe their Bibles, or were not adequately submitted. And in the midst of these arguments, we KNOW those ideas are, in some cases, rationalizations.
It is much more convenient to believe that every thought, word, and action is a reflection of our character, our spirituality, and our core. They think the Earth is flat. Everyone is either completely good or bad, everything is either white or black, and if people are sincere Christians, then they are good and their behavior should conform.
Not so. There are more grays in life than many of our modern theological positions allow. It would be easy if I were a hypocrite, Bakker was a thief, and Swaggart was a pervert. None of that is true.
Haggard then explains that the problem is that we buy too much of the legalistic view of sin/holiness (A pharasaical view) and do not apply the Gospel of repentance and faith in a fallen-in process life. Actually, he doesn’t quite spell it out what it should be but points to the fact that we too often just label our failing leaders as sinners without seeing our own sin.
True, but maybe we can do better than this. What if we
- Listen first and validate. What does the explanation given reveal about what you or others think or feel?
Notice this from Ted about his own scandal (all emphases are mine)
The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem or a problem with cognitive ability, and that I tested in normal ranges on all of my mental health tests (MMPI, etc.). Instead, I had a physiological problem rooted in a childhood trauma, and as a result, needed trauma resolution therapy. I had been traumatized when I was 7 years old, but when Bill Bright led me to the Lord when I was 16, I learned that I had become a new creature, a new person, and that I did not need to be concerned about anything in my past, that it was all covered by the blood. I did become a new creation spiritually, but I have since learned that I needed some simple care that would have spared my family and I a great deal of loss and pain.
Contrary to popular reports, my core issue was not sexual orientation, but trauma. I went through EMDR, a trauma resolution therapy, and received some immediate relief and, as promised, that relief was progressive. When I explain that to most Evangelical leaders, their eyes glaze over. They just don’t have a grid for the complexity of it all. It is much more convenient to believe that every thought, word, and action is a reflection of our character, our spirituality, and our core.
Seems Ted is trying to tell us that sexual orientation doesn’t tell the whole story; sin doesn’t do the story justice. But note he calls it only a physical problem, a trauma problem. He actively rejects it as a spiritual problem. Why? His entire being had a problem. He can’t really compartmentalize himself in this way. But by emphasizing the physiological, he communicates that we Christians far too quickly just stop at the problem of the will. Ted’s problem was more than just not believing the Gospel. There were far more complex factors in his heart and life, apparently far more than Ted knew or let on to himself.
- Consider additional factors. What am I ignoring or minimizing?
Since Adam and Eve, we minimize our own failings and maximize those of others. So, if we are going to find more accurate explanations for failures, we had better acknowledge some of the (not so) little gods we have served all these years. They may not show up on a psychological exam, but we all have them.
- We want power, prestige, control, accolades
- We want protection, love, purpose
- We want our weaknesses to be hidden and our strengths to be cherished by others
The problem isn’t that we want these things. Rather, it is that we fail to acknowledge that we use them to excuse, dismiss, or cover our actions from examination–from self, from God, from others.
- Look at all the parts. Be honest to self and God but look to Him for the right response.
Too often we look at self or other in all-or-nothing lenses. Either we are all victim or all perpetrator. The truth is everyone is full of parts. Part of us want holiness. Part of us want to look holy but practice sin. Part of us does a good thing to serve another and another part does the same thing to get praise. This is what the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 7. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t stop with the split. He continues in chapter 8 to point us to the fact that the power of sin is broken giving us the freedom to do good and the Holy Spirit’s help.
This letter and website link was forwarded to me today. I don’t know Jeff Crippen but I do like his utter honesty about the cultural influences in some conservative settings that encourage domestic and sexual abuse and that implicitly encourage injustice to victims of oppression.
I encourage you all to read this…especially if you were once a victim and your church didn’t care well for you. Maybe this will bring some healing.
If you know a pastor couple who could benefit from a 3 day pastor couple retreat (with a few other pastor couples) here in the mid-Atlantic area, check out the following link for information about the next retreat in April at The Haft.
Biblical is offering 2 fantastic summer counseling courses for your consideration. In both classes, you will walk away with practical tools! Both classes are hybrid (meaning you have both online and in person portions) and can be taken for 1 or 2 credits or for continuing education. Click the attached PDF for more details: BIB-0112-BFINAL. The classes are:
One Session Coaching: Action Focused Change
Taught by Pam Smith, VP for Student Advancement and Coach
When? July 6-7 at Biblical Seminary: Who should take the course? Counselors and church leaders.
Abuse in the Church: Biblical, Legal, & Counseling Perspectives
Taught by my self and Boz Tchividjian (Liberty Law School, founder of GRACE, and a former child abuse prosecutor)
When? July 20-21 (at BranchCreek Church, Harleysville, PA) Who should take this course? Anyone who wants to see the church a safer place. Breakout sessions will focus on counselors and also church leaders.
Both courses are expected to fill up fast given their practical focus. Sign up ASAP by contacting either,
I’ve written before on the damage done when a community fails to respond to abuse in a justice oriented way. But here is a more succinct and apt quote by Miroslav Volf:
If no one remembers a misdeed or names it publically, it remains invisible. To the observer, its victim is not a victim and its perpetrator is not a perpetrator; both are misperceived because the suffering of the one and the violence of the other go unseen. A double injustice occurs—the first when the original deed is done and the second when it disappears. (italics mine)
Abuse victims sometimes tell us that the most significant damage to them is when community members (family, leaders, peers) fail to “see” or act justly when they hear of the abuse. It was bad enough to be sexually abused (yes, that is real damage too) but far worse to be told it didn’t happen or be told to take it for the sake of the larger community (e.g., you wouldn’t want to harm his reputation, destroy the family, cause others to fall away from Christ, etc.).
I saw this quote in the first pages of The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused, to be released soon by Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf & Stock. I have the typeset PDF and the editor, Andrew Schmutzer, says the book will be released in August. This book (over 500 pages!) may become the place to turn for Christians seeking to understand the scourge of sexual abuse in all its ugly forms. Chapters are written by those who are expert in the social sciences, theology, and pastoral care. The line up is phenomenal. You can see the title page/table of contents (TOC Long Journey Home) to see the gamut of chapters and authors.
I’ve run across a conference topic that is so important I want to pass it on to the rest of you. I have not been asked to hype this and I don’t really know the people doing it (know them by name, not by person).
If you are a pastor…especially if you are a church planter…where do you go to talk about failure? Ask a pastor if he or she talks about failure at pastor’s conferences. Nope, not usually. Most just keep quiet about it.
Enter Epic Fail Pastor’s Conference. Check out their plans and times. Hey, it only costs about 80 bucks. Cheaper than going to 1 hour of therapy and you get the benefit of not being by yourself.
A couple of people sent me links to a recent news item out of Britain concerning the value of teaching counseling skills to pastors. Researchers there found that pastors who do a lot of emotion laden work with parishioners bear a heavy load (pretty obvious so it is nice to see that research doesn’t say otherwise). Those pastors with counseling skills training seem to cope better with the distress. I’ve not seen any in-depth description of the study so I can’t comment on why this might be the case. It could be that pastors with counseling training are more self-aware. It could be they are more positive on the benefits of talk therapy and so utilize it for themselves. It could be they feel more effective in their counseling work and therefore feel less helpless.
Whatever the case, I’m happy that it supports my coursework teaching counseling skills to pastors.