I just read through a New Yorker article where Alec Baldwin discusses his issues regarding the media, the paparazzi, and what he believes to be a false public perception of himself. I must admit much of what I read seemed like a pointless rant…until I came to this paragraph.
In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day. What’s the Boy Scout code? Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent. I might be all of those things, at certain moments. But people suspect that whatever good you do, you are faking. You’re that guy. You’re that guy that says this. There is a core of outlets that are pushing these stories out. (News source’s name removed) clutters the blogosphere with “Alec Baldwin, he’s the Devil, he’s Fidel Baldwin.”
Every pastor can relate to these sentiments. They are all too familiar to those who serve people who have little tolerance for any pastor who would dare deviate for even one moment from the “ideal”. The pastor who has a bad day, says a bad thing, or who goes through a difficult period without handling it just perfectly, soon finds himself under the judgmental eye of congregants who are ready to jump ship due to his apparent fall from grace. Ah yes, suddenly you’re that guy. 25 years into ministry, it’s becoming easy to tell when someone’s about to leave the church…they tell you that you are the best pastor ever. Yep, boy scout one day, fallen from the pedestal the next. It seems to follow all too often. And just like Mr. Baldwin’s complaint about the media spreading the sentiment that he is the Devil, pastors usually find themselves the victims of vicious attacks by vindictive gossip mongers who seem hell-bent on ensuring as many people as possible come to judge him and bail…just like they did.
What’s far worse than the lack of tolerance for a pastor’s human imperfections are the outright lies spoken of him which take on a life of their own. These lies originate in a variety of places from jealousy to misinterpretation to misunderstanding. What’s sad is that pastors (perhaps like celebrities) are never given the benefit of the doubt. They are convicted in the court of public opinion without even being given a chance to deal with it privately first. Pastors live in a fishbowl and frankly it’s not biblical.
When the scripture tells pastors, elders, and deacons to be “above reproach”, it is not saying that they become super-human. Pastors have flaws and those flaws will often be visible. Pastors, like the rest of the congregation are constantly working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Pastors have their issues, their fears, their stresses and their challenges to confront every single day just like everyone else, and sometimes pastors lose the occasional battle in their lifelong war against sin. And don’t forget there are many times when a pastor hasn’t lost a battle…the gossip is simply not true and driven by sin of it’s own.
As a pastor I know this all too well. Year after year I find myself on the defensive end of criticism which sometimes I feel is deserved and other times not. However, the way it’s most often handled is never justifiable. Did you know the scripture tells us not to easily entertain an accusation against an elder? It’s for the pastor’s protection because when God inspired that command, He did so because He foresaw the problems pastors would face in this arena. Sadly in this day and age, the average churchgoer doesn’t know or follow this command. Instead, it’s a “one strike and you’re out” world out there. It’s no wonder then the average shelf life of a pastor is a mere 4 years in the same church and the overall life of a pastor only averages about 5 years. Then there is this startling statistic: 40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month! Do you see a possible connection? Like Mr. Baldwin there comes a time in a pastor’s life when he may no longer be willing to suffer under the judgment of irresponsible and unforgiving people. Nearly ever single pastor out there will tell you they have at one time or another thought about leaving the ministry for this reason. Most will tell you they constantly consider leaving for this reason. Yet many of them press on and serve even though they live in the line of fire on a daily basis. And unlike Mr. Baldwin who can afford to give away $14 million, most pastors report struggling financially due to a lack of faithfulness from their church which makes matters even worse. Their inner-dialogue goes like this: “You aren’t faithful, yet I can’t make the slightest mistake”. Imagine how difficult it is to fight sin when fighting bitterness and resentment at the same time. Only a super-human pastor could.
Know this. Your pastor isn’t perfect. He will never be perfect. He is going to make mistakes. He may go through a life altering event and not handle it very well. He may appear to fail the test and even fall into temporary sin. But always remember that the church is in the redeeming business. And NEVER FORGET that your pastor loves you deeply. He has committed his life to loving and serving YOU. This is why it’s so disturbing that we put our arms around struggling sinners and walk with them as they make their way through life, yet we shoot the pastor at the first sign of trouble. This is a grievous sin for a church. So when someone starts talking to you about the failure of your pastor, consider studying 1st Timothy with them before encouraging their gossip to go any further.
1 Tim 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
Notice in verse 20 the word PERSIST. Pastors deserve the same process and privacy as anyone else when dealing with personal issues. Even when there are 2 or 3 witnesses, the pastor should be afforded the opportunity to work things out unless he persists in outright rebellion and obvious sin. When that happens, it’s to be brought to the elders of the church. Nowhere in scripture are we told to gossip among the general congregation or take a pastor’s sin public unless it comes down to the elders being forced to remove a pastor from ministry. To take a pastor’s alleged sin public prematurely is humiliating at best, un-redemptive and life-destroying at worst. Oh, by the way, verse 20 is actually referring to the sin of congregants brought to light by the elders. That’s significant because I doubt any congregant would ever stand for their sin being made public.
So next time you see your pastor struggling or acting in a way that troubles you, try coming along side of him and offering to walk with him through his struggle rather than listen to the haters, or worse becoming one. Tell the divisive person to stop or go away. Yep, that’s biblical too. Look it up, it’s in Titus 3.
So Mr. Baldwin, we pastors get exactly what you’re saying. I guess we have a lot in common. And as I’m sure you’ll keep acting because it’s what you love to do, we pastors will continue to serve those we love because we’re called. And in the end, the pain is worth it.