Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Neglect Is A Form Of Abuse

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about my vision for a Christian ministry which would help numerous Christians and Christian ministries to more effectively communicate with other Christians, without being hindered by denominational or geographical boundaries. At the beginning of the article, I made it clear that I believed that such a ministry would help Christians to more effectively obey "the law of Christ" by bearing one another's burdens.

It seems to me that there is a special need for such a ministry in this time of extreme economic uncertainty and stress, from which many believers and unbelievers alike are suffering. I believe that we Christians have the resources to collectively meet such needs, especially here in America. However, it does very little good for us to have the necessary material resources, if we do not implement a means by which people in need can easily make connections with other people who are willing and able to help.

If I thought that the current methods of meeting such needs were adequate, I never would have made such a proposal in the first place. However, I believe that our current methods, while better than nothing, fall short of what is needed. My intention in making such a proposal was not to impugn good men and women of God. Rather, my intention was to do everything I could do to address the needs which were not being met, in a manner which would not only help me personally, but which would also help numerous other Christians.

One would think that godly leaders would be thrilled to learn that Christians such as myself wanted to launch new ministries which would help them to more effectively minister to hurting people. But that assumes that the leaders in our churches have a genuine desire to minister to such needs, and it assumes that the meeting of such needs takes precedence over the preservation of protocol in the minds of those leaders.

Unfortunately, the gap between the inspiring rhetoric often heard from our pulpits and the actual day-to-day realities in our local churches is sometimes wider than a four lane interstate highway. Like many of the religious leaders in Jesus' day, many of today's church leaders feel threatened by initiatives which are designed to empower ordinary Christians to be all that they can be. Perhaps such leaders erroneously feel that if Christians realized how much ministry could be accomplished without the direct involvement of their pastors, people would somehow feel as if their pastors were no longer necessary.

I find that incredibly sad. Such insecurity speaks poorly for the maturity level of such so-called leaders. The purpose of Christian ministry is to exhalt the name of Christ, not to exhalt the names of specific Christian leaders at the expense of other Christians. What's important is not who does the job. What's important is that the job gets done!

Please don't misunderstand the preceding statement. Obviously, it's important for ministries of all types to be led by people of good moral character. However, it's erroneous to assume that professional clergy are the only people who fit that description. In fact, based on an observation of the numerous scandals which have involved Christian pastors and leaders in recent years, it seems to me that our pastors and professional leaders might be well advised to collectively get their own acts together before they presume that they are uniquely qualified to do God's will. Misquotations of scriptures pertaining to "submission to authority" only serve to insure that such scandals will continue, by insulating such leaders from internal criticism in such a manner which insures that abuses of power are tolerated far longer than they ought to be tolerated.

People tend to think about blatant forms of active abuse (such as sexual molestation or adultery) when they hear about spiritual abuse, but neglect is also a form of abuse.

Jesus did not tell St. Peter to bully his sheep, nor did he tell Peter to neglect or ignore his sheep. He told Peter to feed his sheep. And who (other than God) is in a better position than the sheep to know whether or not they are being adequately fed?

Whose sheep were they? Peter's? No! They were (and are) Christ's sheep. The people of God are a stewardship from God. Pastors will be held accountable on Judgment Day for the manner in which they have dealt with the human resources entrusted by God to them.

Each and every member of the Body of Christ has an important role to play, just as it says in the book of I Corinthians. A church in which the majority of the people are passive spectators rather than being active contributors is an impotent church which deserves to recede into cultural insignificance. That isn't the way the early Christian church operated.

There is a need for clergy, and I am not by any means trying to undermine such leaders or to diminish the respect which is due to such leaders. But only Christ is entitled to receive our unqualified devotion and submission.

Furthermore, as I see it, "professional Christians" such as pastors have a moral responsibility to use all of the human resources at their disposal, by offering real opportunities to all of the Christians within their midst to actively serve God. It is not the proper role of a pastor to force each person who wishes to engage in ministry to "run the gauntlet" in order to demonstrate his or her worthiness to serve. Instead of automatically assuming that people who wish to engage in certain types of ministries need to prove their worthiness, such people should be given the benefit of the doubt (thereby treating them in accordance with the principles of the Golden Rule) unless there is solid evidence to suggest that they as individuals are unworthy. And even then, such people deserve the right to defend themselves against what may very well be false accusations. That, after all, is the way each one of us would wish to be treated.

Only when there are legitimate, scripturally defensible reasons for barring people from ministry (as in the case of people who promote heresies or live ungodly lifestyles) should pastors exercise such restrictive authority. Otherwise it's just a raw and self-centered demonstration of power, not a demonstration of the "servant leadership" exemplified and taught by Jesus Christ.

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