Jesus told us that Satan, as a thief, comes “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10), and nowhere is that more profoundly seen than in situations of abuse.
We are always saddened to hear of sin and abuse in the Christian world and in Baptist ranks in particular. In such instances, we are reminded of the need for an awakening of conscience as to how these issues are dealt with—both in the removal of those who no longer meet biblical qualifications for ministry and in the aid, counsel, and comfort of those who have been taken advantage of. Ministry-related abuse damages the name of Christ and damages hearts, lives, and spiritual growth of the victims.
While these moral failings are not necessarily indicative of the vast majority of independent Baptist churches, every case is tragic.
It has certainly been documented recently that many denominations have experienced these problems. However, this has been a problem in our circles, and it should be dealt with more seriously and biblically.
Any abuse is appalling. However, it is especially appalling to hear of abuse by a pastor or church leader. Even worse is the practice of attempting to privately deal with these allegations by relieving the offender of his public duties…and then recommending him to another church. This is sinful and wrong.
Furthermore, when victims come forward in a church, they should be heard and treated with compassion and dignity. Allegations of crimes must be reported to civil authorities. It is my conviction that anyone committing these offenses does not meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3. We have taught these principles at Spiritual Leadership Conference and have practiced them at Lancaster Baptist Church for over three decades.
Over the years, we have broken fellowship with churches who mishandle these situations. We have never recommended anyone to another church after knowing of moral failure or abuse, nor have we knowingly invited any such person as a guest speaker.
Placing emphasis on image or appearance rather than integrity is pride. It doesn’t protect the name of Christ; it tarnishes His name.
This is one of the reasons why in 2013 I wrote the book The Road Ahead in which I openly discussed these issues from an independent Baptist perspective, particularly pointing out our responsibility to transparently deal with them. In the book, I wrote an entire chapter on how to deal with the sin issues. Sadly, I received several letters from entrenched independent Baptist pastors who were irate because I spoke about a problem everyone knew existed.
The Road Ahead also included policy examples from our ministry for reporting and responding to abuse, including our whistle blower policy which is read by every incoming employee to Lancaster Baptist Church and ministries.
There are three actions that I hope will be implemented in more churches across the country going forward:
1. An increased compassion for victims of abuse. You cannot read of the wounds that come through sexual abuse and not be heartbroken. Furthermore, we shouldn’t care only in situations that make us look bad—we should care for every victim. When a victim does come forward to share what has happened, we need to be equipped to listen and respond.
2. A renewed training within churches on how to recognize and report abuse. Every church worker must know that he or she is a mandatory reporter. We have emphasized this training for pastoral and counseling students at West Coast Baptist College. In fact, just a couple months ago, I visited with our entire student body regarding the necessity of transparency, approachability, and obeying the reporting laws of each state.
3. A stronger commitment to ministry integrity. We must never recommend men with an abusive past to another ministry. It has been embarrassing to see such men working their way back into ministry, often with a false interpretation of grace as their justification.
A weakness of independent Baptists has been a lack of cohesive communication from church to church on these issues. Additionally, too many churches are hiring people without calling the last ministry to ask questions. We must increase the reciprocity of information from ministry to ministry. This is not gossip; it is protecting the flock.
I do believe we should have compassion and a helpful heart toward transgressors as well. But it is not compassion to try to mediate a situation of sin simply to keep it out of the public eye. First Timothy 5:20 specifically instructs, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”
Last month, we celebrated Veterans Sunday at Lancaster Baptist Church by serving over four hundred meals to our veterans and their families. It was a privilege to honor them. Three days previous, however, a troubled veteran carried out a tragic shooting in Los Angeles. As we approached the weekend, a few veterans from our congregation called me and asked that we not publicly recognize Veterans Day because they were embarrassed of the association with the shooter. I shared with them, as well as with our church family on Sunday, that the actions of the lawless do not mitigate the sacrifices of others. This principle is true of the ministry as well. I believe the majority of the 13,000 independent Baptist pastors on our mailing list serve God with a sincere heart.
I have shed many tears in my life over people who have fallen from the ministry. During a difficult time in ministry, I called a prominent pastor to ask for counsel when I was made aware of another pastor’s sin. I was asking for counsel on how to help the victims. His comment to me was, “I knew that pastor had been unfaithful in his last ministry. I’m sorry to hear that it happened again.” Although my heart was already numb, his statement injected more pain. The reason? This prominent pastor had been featuring the now-twice-fallen pastor as a speaker at his college and in many of his conferences. It was the first time that I as a young pastor in my thirties realized how some pastors actually dealt improperly with these situations. I determined that this would not be the mode of operation in the ministry God had given me.
I know there are a lot of young pastors reading this article whose hearts have been numbed and discouraged. I want to simply say I am praying for you, and I want to encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus Christ and allow these hurts and difficult news to deepen your conviction to walk with integrity in these days where suspicion and hurt abound everywhere.
Men like John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, and Tom Malone challenged me to live and walk in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit-filled life is still a life of sanctification and soul winning. Emphasizing the externals may produce temporary behavioral modification; emphasizing the Word of God and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is the way back to powerful, distinctive, and compassionate ministry.
We have previously addressed on this blog the egregious nature of the sins of church workers and the need to pray for and support victims. Here are a few of these posts, in case they serve as a helpful resource for you: