Dear Rubber-Stamping Church Elders and Overseers,
I’m a sister in Christ on the oft-gut-wrenching path of sanctification. Meaning I realize I’m not perfect…oh, do I realize that. But I’m being changed day by day by the power of the One True God. And I love Christ’s people. I love the local church, and no matter its stenches and stains and knives, my heart is committed to it.
From this place and with this heart I appeal to you biblically commissioned church overseers who, when completely honest, know you’ve become yes-men:
Please stop rubber stamping. We…the Body of Christ…desperately need you.
Here is a hard truth: You aren’t loving anyone when you rubber stamp. Most of all, you are not loving senior pastors. Not one bit. Have you seen the news lately? Do you see how many mega-church pastors are being exposed for abuses of their power and position?[i] There is a common thread in these tragic stories. It’s the elders and church leaders who for years did nothing about the abuses they saw and heard and even experienced firsthand. Sadly, those mega-church pastors might have been saved from public shame if their elders and church leaders had held them accountable all along. But they didn’t. They turned a blind eye and let those pastors get away with treating people horribly and doing what anyone else on their staff would have been fired for. They let them get away with abusing the sheep.
Until the cry of all the broken grew too loud to ignore. Until the ranks of the disposed of and abandoned became far too large to turn away from. Until the secular world took notice and rejoiced in how lovely it is to expose a Christian church for corruption. If you are allowing this in your church…you are playing right into their hands. The world is waiting with open arms to comfort your victims.
If you are a rubber-stamping overseer in your church, can I beg you to get honest with yourself and ask yourself why? Have you lost your way? Have you watered down the biblical requirements for church leadership? Do you minimize the very clear requirement that shepherds not be quick to anger or arrogant?[ii]
Maybe you’re so full of mercy you believe it’s the loving thing to allow the senior leadership of your church to have a much longer rope than anyone else is afforded…maybe because of all the pressure he’s under. Perhaps you’ve been falsely led to believe you’re not supposed to come against a pastor because he is God’s elect, that the “anointing” amounts to some type of behavior pass. After all, you yourself have made so many mistakes…who are you to call out the sin of anyone else? And think of all the good things he does. Surely that balances out the bad.
Maybe you are golfing buddies with senior leadership and you are never at the end of the abuse—only the end of a banquet table. So, you dismiss every story that is different than your own. You aren’t disposable to senior leadership, so you get far better treatment than the little people. You most likely won’t ever see the ugly side.
Maybe you’ve got an incredible ministry your church is supporting financially, and you know if you dare deny the rubber stamp, your non-profit or your parachurch ministry might have to close its doors. You need the monthly support of your church. Or maybe you’re on staff and you need the health insurance or the salary too much to risk being the next victim.
Or maybe you are blind and genuinely believe everything is functioning as it should because you see only the best in all people and all situations. It would never cross your mind that senior leadership could be doing something different behind closed doors than what you’re being told straight to your face and from the pulpit week after week.
Oh, there could be so many reasons, but there is one massive consequence: no one is protecting the sheep when an elder board and church leaders are rubber stamping. No one. The entire program becomes about protecting a pastor or organization. The evidence is in the countless bloodied sheep that file out your doors. Sheep that are now abandoned. Left for dead. Sheep you never go after to exit-interview as you should, or if you do, it’s in secret, and you walk away and do nothing.
So long as the total number in the pews stays about the same, you are content. Never mind the numbers of people who are leaving. Or the type of people who are leaving. You know…former elders, pastors, and ministry leaders. Those people you once said you were “doing life with.” Remember those people?
I’m sure you do, but you probably don’t reach out to them, because if you do, you’ll be considered a traitor to the leadership or the organization. Loyalty is HUGE in your church. Or you’ll be seen as causing division or loving gossip. Or maybe you’ve been told a narrative that paints these folks as doing something unfortunate. Something like: Those poor folks just couldn’t work things out…they didn’t hang in there as long as we spiritually mature people have. Or, There’s a sifting going on in the church, and all of us still at this table are the true followers of Christ. There’s a big ego rush being one of the steady few, isn’t there? Especially when it comes with special accolades or gifts or privileges to reward you for your faithfulness.
Never mind the fact that all those sheep who’ve suddenly disappeared…you don’t know their story…because you’ve never gone to ask. Because you’ve somehow forgotten that you are overseers of...THE FLOCK. And going after them is YOUR ROLE before GOD.[iii]
For all you know, those people you once worked side-by-side with are home right now desperately trying to find the hope to move forward after having their souls beaten to shreds by leaders who are supposed to be like Jesus. For all you know, those sheep who were bloodied behind closed doors will never set foot in another church as long as they live. Why would they. They’ve learned their lives mean nothing there.
I appeal to you…please go to those broken sheep who have left your flock. No matter what (if anything) you’ve been told about why they left. No matter how long it’s been. Reach out even if they left kicking and screaming. After all, it’s quite normal for broken and wounded people to scream. Bleeding isn’t always pretty, and sometimes the abused try to fight back.
And, Rubber-stampers, if a shepherd is known to stab sheep in secret and dispose of them, the entire flock is in danger no matter how many great programs you’ve got going on. Don’t ignore, justify, or minimize the unbiblical. Don’t cover it up or enable it. It’s your job to stop it! No one else can. No one.
Why not start by loving the pastor enough to take him off the pulpit right away for as long as it takes to get him real and lasting help—help that might stop him from traveling down the path to full-blown narcissistic personality disorder—help that might stop him from becoming a hypocritical spiritual abuser who will someday stand before Jesus and be asked one question: How did you treat MY sheep?
Are you loving your leaders at all when your path of least resistance leads them to false security now and with only one answer to Christ’s question on judgment day: I stabbed them and left them for dead.
No, you are not.
Church Overseers, I am begging you on behalf of all the sheep in every congregation: PLEASE DO YOUR JOB. Protect us from abuses of power and protect us from false doctrine. And if you don’t feel you can…for any reason…please step down. The cost of your rubber stamp is too high.
[i] For a examples see https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-willow-creek-paid-3-million-to-settle-lawsuits-over-sexual-abuse-20180810-story.html and https://world.wng.org/2018/12/hard_times_at_harvest and an example of former leaders of a toxic mega church finally speaking out: https://theelephantsdebt.com/
[ii] For a summary of the biblical requirements for all pastors/elders/deacons see: https://www.gotquestions.org/qualifications-elders-deacons.html
[iii] See Ezekiel 34