Lately social media and the “blogosphere” have been filling up with posts regarding the shortcomings of yet another Christian minister, Pastor Mark Driscoll. There is even an entire Facebook page dedicated to pointing out these apparent failures. As I have never personally attended Mars Hill church, nor do I know Pastor Mark personally, I will not speak much about his recent shortcomings specifically. I believe there is a larger issue at hand: Disgruntled or offended former church members/staff belittling their pastors on social media. Unfortunately, it seems this form of criticism is a growing trend.
Certainly many of Pastor Mark’s alleged actions were reprehensible, and he should be held accountable for them. But the question that needs to be asked of the global church body is, “Was this church leaders’ actions brought to light in a proper, biblical manner?”
This question reminded me of a rather famous biblical leader whose reprehensible actions were far more damaging than any church leader I can recall: Saul. How did David, the “man after God’s own heart”, handle the horribly destructive actions of God’s chosen king of Israel? When David is presented with a golden opportunity to kill Saul – who had forced David into hiding because he sought to murder him and his loyal men – David concludes that he will not touch Saul “because he was the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6-7). It is painfully clear that he understands whose responsibility it is to judge, and leaves it to God to judge between the two of them (1 Samuel 24:12). He adheres to this understanding, even when he might have saved his own life.
Being mindful of this, I want to raise 3 important questions for the church body to consider before condemning a minister of the gospel in a public manner.
1. Have you made every effort to resolve the perceived issue with the pastor individually and the local church community?
In Matthew 18 Jesus gives a fairly straight forward approach for dealing with conflict in the church. The basic principle is that if you believe that your brother has sinned against you, you should go and tell him one-on-one. If he refuses to listen, then you should go with 1-2 other people and confront that individual. Finally, if he still doesn’t listen after you take 1-2 others with you, you should bring it up with the church or elder board. If he still doesn’t listen, the offender should be treated as if they are no longer a part of the church.
This is clearly a lengthy process that if followed all the way through will take some time and a great deal of effort on the part of the offended. It is much easier to just walk away and hide behind impersonal, detached social media communication. Yet Jesus makes it clear that such effort should be made to bring reconciliation in a private manner, if possible. If at all possible the issue should be resolved and reconciliation should be sought in the manner that is most private. Resorting to the internet, if it “must” be done, should be a last resort, if anything.
2. Is it worth the potential damage to the reputation of the pastor and diminishing his influence for Jesus?
Certainly, a church leader clearly “living in sin” must be brought to the light. Certainly, pastors must be “above reproach”. Yet discernment must be used (1 Timothy 3:2). It is not our job to announce our pastor’s every shortcoming. Every pastor is a human, therefore a sinner. Every pastor fails. Which ones are worth bringing out in public? The lists from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 guide us into knowing which failures disqualify ministers from holding leadership positions in the church. See those for further reference.
Many of the situations that we hear about are with high profile pastors that quite literally minister the gospel message to thousands of people everyday. Damaging their reputation via social media or any public avenue will inevitably reflect on how people perceive Jesus, and should only be done when all attempts to reach reconciliation (by many!) have been rendered useless.
3. Are you seeking repentance and reconciliation for the betterment of the pastor, or are you seeking revenge or sympathy?
This is a question of motive that will most often take a good deal of time to decipher on the part of the offended individual. Therefore, it is always advisable to give the situation time, and to seek the counsel of other, more “seasoned”, Christians before acting.
Often, the accusations brought up seem more like “rants” than constructive criticism. Criticism is loving; ranting is selfish. Criticism says only what needs to be said; ranting tends to ramble. Criticism seeks repentance; ranting seeks harm. Criticism is done in the most private possible manner; ranting is done in public. Please, please – check your motives before acting, and the motives of others when reading.
Perhaps, therefore, we need to take a lesson from David and be a little more considerate about attacking “Saul”. While there is arguably a difference between an appointed King of Israel and a post-theocratic church leader, God still takes seriously those whom He permits to be leaders, and will always judge more severely and more justly than we ever could.