Dysfunctional church leaders, elders or senior pastors hurt people and many of those folks quietly move on to deal with their pain in a healthier place. The wound inflicted, however, is the responsibility of church leadership who allowed people to be hurt and mistreated. In one church I worked with, it included almost every staff member who had resigned over a fifteen year period. In other churches it has been lay leaders who were marginalized and mistreated by senior pastors who were threatened by the leadership of others. In essence they moved out anyone who they perceived to be a threat.
Reconciliation means that we seek to make things right where we suspect that they are wrong. Sometimes leaders must apologize on behalf of those who went before them or for a senior leader who is no longer there. But to leave those relationships scarred is both sinful and the opposite of what Jesus would do. To the extend that we need to humble ourselves and apologize that is what we must do if we are in church leadership.
It saddens me that church leaders who are responsible for creating cultures of wholeness and health often inflict wounds on others or ignore those who do. Instead of a place of healing, many churches are places of hurt. The way out of that behavior is to take responsibility for past hurts that we know of and to seek meetings whether those individuals are still in the church or not. Often, we figure that if they no longer attend it no longer matters. To the contrary, they may well no longer attend because of wounds we have inflicted.
I have interviewed scores of deeply wounded former staff who were let go and abused by dysfunctional pastors. It will take years for them to heal from a wound inflicted by a bad shepherd. I have also encountered and interviewed many former church leaders or members who were treated badly by church leadership and quietly left their church. Again with deep wounds.
What is the responsibility of church leadership to address those wounds? I suspect that there will be readers of this blog who long to hear words of apology for wounds inflicted on them. Most will never hear them but I pray many do. If we as leaders will not seek reconciliation where we need to, how can we expect those in our congregations to heed our teaching on the matter?
One church I know made a list of 30 plus cases they knew of and systematically worked to get meetings of reconciliation. It was amazing how many old wounds still raw were healed in that process. I know of churches whose list would be even longer but that means the healing will be that much greater.
As a church leader, you are responsible to seek healing for those who have been wounded by leadership in your congregation whether it happened on your watch or not. Our willingness to do so is a matter of our humility and whether we have hearts like Jesus.
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