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I fought back tears reading this post. We so desperately need a theology of the tongue, especially in an information age when relevance means responding immediately and vocally to various current events. We don't think carefully enough and we lack nuance when we speak.

I work in full-time women's ministry and there have been days I have thought there is no possible way I could handle even one more minute of the slander and criticism. When Anne Rice made her grand exit out of our disputatious sect a few months back, I thought perhaps I would follow her. It sounded sort of liberating, at first. Just to get away from it all, but I couldn't and can't because I know too many faithful exceptions. I will pray for your young friends--there are still a good many faithful Christian men and women in the pews and the gospel is far too compelling for them to give up now. May the Lord convict us of our corrupt and idle words and give us perseverance to serve in increasingly toxic communities.

Thanks for a powerful word today.

I for one will not disagree with you. I have recently stepped down from a leadership position and have decided to find another church, primarily because of slander and disrespect, so I know firsthand that it does happen in churches, even the one I attended. In my experience, when people make the church theirs rather than remembering that it belongs to Christ, they can be blinded and do some vicious things in the interest of the church.

As for the young man mentioned in this post, he probably just needs some time and space to heal (I know that I do). In time, he may come back to the church, possibly in a different capacity. Hopefully his experience has not soured him on Christianity completely. Also, he will find the same attitudes and tactics exist in the business world as well (but as Paul said, "Such should not be name among you"). At the time that I was in the heat of the battle, I was also working for a boss who rode rough shod on those who reported to her, so ill treatment of people is everywhere and I can only hope the young man will learn and grow from this experience and become a stronger person for it. I know that I've learned a lot and am determined to continue serving, but for now, I need to do in a different place.

Having spent half of my life so far (31 years) as a parish pastor I fully agree with your comment: "More and more I am going to the doctrine of the Remnant in order to understand the church. The true lovers of God are always a subgroup of the visible church."

Without sounding too cynical, I suspect that even the best pastors and preachers spend much (most?) of their time providing religious services to unregenerate people.

What keeps me going is the belief that there are embedded within my congregation an unknown number of "the Remnant", as well as an unknown number of others who will join the Remnant through the grace and effectual calling of the Lord.

All I can do is pray, preach, teach and minister as faithfully as possible, then leave the outcome in the hands of the Lord Jesus.

That said, I am still looking forward to retiring.

I am not sure of the capacity in which this young man was serving, though my guess would be it was not as a senior pastor, but as an assistant of some sort. Though, I agree that gossip is reprehensible and obviously hurtful, the text referred to in Acts 20 is written to the elders of the church. As wrong as the gossip was, I believe the real wrong that ultimately lead to this young man leaving the ministry was with the other leaders at this church.
As stated in other comments and in the passage from Acts, there will unfortunately be some in the church who cause problems and promote these problems in such ways as gossip and backbiting, but ultimately it is the way in which the pastor and other leaders of the church react and respond to these issues that will determine the health and growth at that church.
We need church leaders that will lovingly and humbly rebuke those in the church that need correction as well as promote growth in the lives of the members.

Ray Stedman used to say that "anyone who can leave the ministry, should do so." I think he meant that you've got to be able to withstand the kind of opposition from Satan that laid your friend low. That doesn't mean people can gossip about pastors and that's OK. But it does mean that pastors need to be able to handle and deal with the opposition and distractions and then able to instruct others in how to overcome temptation to quit or give in.

I read this blog article with great sadness. I wish that the destruction of young, promising pastors were not so common. My husband has been in full time ministry for over 27 years, many of those years spent with gangs, juvenile offenders, adult offenders, etc. We assumed we had very thick skin. That was until the Lord called us to a small, established church. Our story is much like the one about which you blogged... it was absolutely gut-wrenching to endure the attacks, especially during "business meetings", during which time the character assassination of my husband was commonplace. The elders were sweet guys who had endured many years of being controlled by certain strong personalities. Then God graciously sent many new families, from which we found strong, godly elders. Once that happened, the attacks slowed down, and no, the gossiping slandering brothers and sisters did not leave. Now, 6 years later, the attacks are almost non-existent and God has poured out His grace. I can honestly say that while I am still a bit shell shocked & cautious, I do truly care about those who caused us so much pain and doubt.

Nothing prepares a ministry couple for this sort of thing, even experience in ministry itself. Those who say otherwise have not endured such a thing. You can be told "Satan will attack you." and still be shocked that the attacks come from those who say the know and love Christ. I think that was the hardest part!

THANK YOU for blogging about this. My heart and prayers go out to all who walk through these types of trials. Be encouraged! Your Father in heaven hears your cries. You are not crazy. Sustained attacks are spiritually, mentally, emotionally draining on you, your marriage, your family. There are those who care about what happens to ministry families and understand the battles. We're praying for you.

I read somewhere, although I can't verify its accuracy, that only 10% of those who enter vocational ministry in the church finish their careers in vocational ministry in the church. Having been a pastor for almost 3 decades I can testify that it is not easy and it seems the expectations and difficulties are only increasing. I feel for this young man and pray that he will discover a rewarding vocation and find a way to use his gifts and talents for the kingdom and the King.

Gossip,slander, defamation of character...it's all part of the walk...possibly the "shelter" of biblical academic life did not adequately prepare the young man for the rigors he would face. Perhaps some time in-between undergrad and grad school would allow him the chance to experience "real world" ministry and hopefully more adequately prepare him for the rigors he will face. The business world does it, and although I am not one to model ministry prep after the secular model, I do see a possible benefit. The Christian is persecuted, the pastor is slaughtered...if you are doing your job right.

After all Christ's greatest insult was not the cross...it was the abandonment, rejection, and mockery by those he loved, and ultimately dided for. Social degradation is by far the greatest persecution.

Bill, thanks. I am not in ministry, but I'm just a young guy trying to live a "different" life in my culture. For me, this means staying pretty busy living in a rough neighborhood, leading a bible study, being excited about truth, and trying to believe that the words of the Bible are words that don't just apply on Sunday morning.

And yet... this morning I am just feeling so fed up- no, more like broken down. I just feel like all my "friends" have for me is sarcasm and cutting humor.

If I were to lose all my passion and just "cool it" with my passion, challenging, and loving people, I think it's fairly clear that the opposition, the condescension, the pulling down would all but stop.

So, this morning, I'm sort of at an impasse. But this post helps. Alot. Needing grace...

What do you do when it is the pastor that gossips and backbites?Then when called on it points that finger at you?

Don't know the situation; and I don't support gossip.

But I think an ordained pastor should not allow himself to be felled by gossip.

Perhaps that sounds harsh. But it is my opinion, unless there is more than the typical going on, that he took it personally.

It isn't fun, but neither is the martyrdom and cross carrying that occurs in many Christian lives.

I think he needs to decide to let people say whatever they like about him/his family and just continue to faithfully serve.

I am not saying that it's easy. But I think quitting the ministry due to gossip is wrong.

Do we follow Christ? Christ was gossiped about, and did not quit the ministry.

My experience was very much akin to the young friend you speak of, Bill. It led to many spiritually dry years for me and a long battle trying to overcome bitterness and hurt. I am now a member of a church in which I am doing whatever I can to support my pastor and lay leaders. They need our prayers, our affection, and a lot of room to enjoy being human. Thank you for a sobering and provocative article.

"When will we learn?"

We won't as long as we don't take church discipline seriously and as long as our churches routinely accept new members transferring their membership from the church down the street without checking to see if they need to resolve any conflicts from their previous church. But noooo, why should we check for that when it might mean not gaining more members and more tithes? Until churches work together to stop the nonsense, it will continue.

It seems to me that fewer churches are interested in finding men of God who will preach the Word, love the people, and seek to lead the congregation to fulfill the Great Commission. Now most churches are only interested in (a) perpetuating their past, (b) growing numerically (and transfer growth is celebrated as if it were conversion growth), or (c) entertaining them and their children with endless programs and activities.

We need to figure out a way to help young pastors (1) re-orient their definition of success (i.e. biblical fidelity and faithfulness to the mission) and (2) prepare them for the onslaught of criticism, gossip, and slander that will be flung at them by those who fail to get their way.

I almost became a statistic like this last year when two key families turned on me and behaved more childlike than I had ever seen in over 20 years of ministry. The betrayal was very painful to experience, especially for my precious wife. If not for godly friends and mentors praying for my wife and I, and helping us see how it was really an attack from the Enemy, I probably would have quit and started looking for another line of work.

Thanks for drawing attention to this, Dr. Mounce. Bringing it to light is surely one of the ways to help.

If I may respectfully add a couple of points - it's very easy to assume someone is weak or thin-skinned if they leave the ministry. I'm sure that for some this is true, but what I see are ministry families who have sacrificed a great deal, especially in their family lives & marriages, to serve the church, only to be worn down by gossip, slander, etc. It's not just a couple of cross words or criticisms. Often these attacks go on for years. It's easy to say, "Just let it roll off your back." when you've not been in the pressure cooker of ministry.

My hope is that those reading this excellent blog will take it upon themselves to not only support their pastors in prayer, but also be a safe friend. One who has integrity and one who will also stand up to slander/gossip of the pastor on his behalf, & on behalf of his family. Stand up, godly ones! Apply Gal. 6:1 to those who are tearing down your pastors with their words. Don't allow it to continue.

Encourage your elders/leadership to correct any issues there may be with your pastor privately, humbly, as you would want to be corrected. Be as brave & strong as you expect your pastor to be. Be as Aaron and Hur were to Moses... he, too, got weary of the issues with God's people (Ex. 17) If Moses got weary, we can expect our pastors to, also. I guarantee that if you minister in these small ways to your pastor, he will be utterly grateful. He may, even now, be under pressures of which you'll never know, because he doesn't complain about them. If you're judging your pastor as weak in your heart, then bring it to Christ and ask Him to show you ways in which you can help.

Thanks for posting this.

It speaks to me and an experience I've had for the past year and a half (that many church leaders and fellow pastors have never encountered either).

And I often look for the way out.

I have thick enough skin. I know the stark realities of ministry. I am experienced enough with people and conflict.

But sometimes it is hard not to lose my faith in the church even while losing my faith in the church.

Thank you, Dr. Mounce, for your sobering exhortation to the church.

I confess I am saddened and a little angered at some of the graceless responses to pastors who wilt under a constant stream of gossip, slander and criticism. Quitting ministry because of such attacks may be wrong (as one commenter put it). Abandoning Jesus in the face of threats was also wrong, and yet the disciples were not condemned even by the One they denied.

I would ask if rather than criticize those who are hurt by friendly fire, we could instead be gracious and understanding of those struggling under burdens we haven't had to carry, and work to protect and encourage them.

"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." (1 Tim 5:17)

I think slander is an aweful thing that can fell a church and a pastor. But to what extent is 'slander' really at fault for making young pastors leave? The reason I ask is that 1) slander means false charges - lies. If someone accuses one of my pastors of something, the session and elders of church step in and either verify or rebuke such statements, straight up. (I agree with Chris above that Acts 20 is addressed to the elders fo the church).
2) there are too many churches that use the warning to guard against slander as a way of keeping people from voicing desent with errant teaching or practices in the church.

We must be aware that when A LOT of young pastors, right out of seminary, are called into ministry and the expectations of the congregation and the members are not clearly defined. Many, many of the guys who have come to our churches in this region in the last 2-3 years from the seminaries are trying some pretty radical approaches to how we do church. The elders of the church (ie, the ones who've been in ministry long enough to have tried many of these novel approaches and know what is not appropriate) should help coach the young pastor. BUT they should also have been very clear up front about what they expected from him and make sure that his teaching and doctrine is sound and accords with theirs.

I've seen it go the other way too where the elders brought new blood into their church but wouldn't support him in his vision and teaching.

So, just as Chris stated, "ultimately it is the way in which the pastor and other leaders of the church react and respond to these issues that will determine the health and growth at that church.
We need church leaders that will lovingly and humbly rebuke those in the church that need correction as well as promote growth in the lives of the members."

Amen.

I believe what's missing is our understanding of vocation within in modern evangelical seminary training. There are many that are being trained to be pastors, but are not called vocationaly. We see young men that have a passion for Christ directed to seminary, when they should be encouraged to learn and become part of the lay leadership of the church. If we encouraged these young passionate people to stay within thier churches to become leaders I don't think we'd see the destruction that is happening.

Without the confirmation of the vocation I could not stay on as a pastor. I had a lady from our congregation tell me to my face, "You're the worst paster we've ever had." I can take that 2 ways, she's right and I am the worst, which is possible. Or I can lean upon the call that is confirmed by God in my life to live the vocation that He's given me. I've chosen to follow God's call and by grace have won this lady over to see that I'm not the worst, I'm the second worst now, which is a start.

Had I not an understanding of vocational call, I would have been destroyed in that moement. Ministry calls you to put your all into what you are doing. You sacrifice so much and when you are critisized it hurts more deeply than mere words can express. The power of God's word has helped me to persevere; the understanding of vocation has pulled me through the rough stuff and made me a better pastor.

I am very hesitant to recomend seminary to any young man that has a passion for Jesus. I carefully spend time with him to see if the passion he has is more and he may have a vocational calling on his life. Luther has some excellent writings on this and it's time for us to go back to the church fathers and examine what they lived through. We evangelicals mistake passion for call all the time. It's time for us to evaluate how we evaluate vocational calling versus passion for Jesus.

Bill, this is not a critique of your frineds passion, but a critique of how his called was measured. He may be in the best position to be the best laymen a church ever had becasue of his expierence. The church needs men like him and women like his wife who have been through a tough time, to make sure it isn't happening to the pastor of the church they worhsip at now. This is not a wasted expierence, but one that will benefit the church immensely. Yes the church is full of sinners, and gossip is rampent, but the church that your friends attend will never be the same because they will bring with them what God has done in them. I wish they were close to me, I would love to have a couple like this in my church.

This is a great post. I feel a need to share that some have maligned some of these wounded pastors by adding the worn out expression, "that if you can find another line of work, then do it." Seems to me in the NT we see Pastor John on the Isle of Patmos working in a rock quarry, not leading a local congregation. It has come to my attention recently, that sometimes it is the pastor slandering and maligning his staff, because HE cannot do another kind of works and is a)jealous, b)fearful. I have seen this in recent years where some pastors just are trying to hold on to what they have and fear greatly having to find another line of work.

To be fair, I am one of those pastor who has been maligned in not one but two churches. On both occasions I sought biblical reconciliation/discipline. One incident I was the senior pastor, the other and associate. As an associate I was #4 of what would be 5 staff terminations. These have left me in a precarious position when it comes to ministering on a church staff because a church committee almost always sees me as damaged goods, and not as damaged by the church. One must seek employment to feed his face and family, all the while, seeking to carry out his calling. My mentor, a Pastor of 40+ years, says he has never seen things in church life like he has in the last five years. He mentors a lot of younger pastors and is heartbroken at the rate of termination and un-biblical disqualifications(collateral damaged good men) that is coming along.

Thank you for shedding some light on this subject as I seek to encourage another in his recent, slanderous termination that was indeed an abomination.

Just a word to those who seem to think that young pastors need a thicker skin or more "real-world" experience: We were in a situation very similar to the one posted, and my husband-pastor was more than willing to fight and withstand personal gossip and slander himself. It was when the accusations moved to his wife and children that he felt the need to step away. The tension of caring for his family vs. continuing to fight for his ministry was too much. Ultimately he feared that children reared in such an environment would ultimately reject Christ and His church because of the hypocrisy and evil that it tolerated. Yes, it is spiritual warfare, and we send men into battle; but you shouldn't expect their wives and children to endure such horrors as well.

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