Those who read this blog regularly know that I am an advocate for healthy pastors, elders and churches. You also know that I regularly explore issues of dishealth because they impact others in a significant way. Like many, I have watched the situation in Seattle with Mars Hill Church and have some reflections on a number of issues it raises.
Reflection: Never give senior leaders a pass on behaviors that are unacceptable. I have seen this way too often. Boards often ignore behaviors in their senior leader either because he is getting things done or because he is "God's man" and we should not challenge him. Do we not get the fact that the qualifications for leaders are actually higher than for the rest of the church? If that is so, leaders are held to a higher standard than others yet we often give them a pass because we don't want to challenge them. Lets just say - there is no excuse for bad behavior toward others on the part of senior pastors.
Reflection: Pay attention to trends and patterns. I worked with a church where a long string of people had been fired or let go as at Mars Hill. Yet the board had never challenged the pastor on why it had happened, nor had they done exit interviews on the circumstances that surrounded the staff who left. One may give leaders the benefit of the doubt but where there is a troubling pattern over time, good leaders must wake up and take notice. When I interviewed staff who had left from the church I mentioned, I heard horrified stories of abuse by a senior pastor. Yet the board had not paid attention to a pattern that should have given them great pause. (See my blog, When the bodies pile up).
Reflection: Bad behaviors when not addressed will spill over into the congregation. It would appear that Mars Hill leaders tried to keep the behaviors of their senior leader private. This led to severance agreements tied to non-disclosure legal documents. Rather than addressing the issues it would appear that they tried to hide the issues. Then when it started to go public in social media they seemed to blame those who made the allegations public. Think about this: If you don't listen to people who have been hurt and try to shut them up the issues will spill out because people have a sense of justice. In my personal view, the only reason that this went public in Seattle was that church leaders did not listen to those impacted by their senior leader, take them seriously or deal with the real issue. (See my blog, Eight dysfunctions of church governance boards)
Reflection: Sad as it is, some pastors are bullies and their agenda gets in the way of their treatment of people. One of the most read blogs on my site is entitled Abuse in the Church - When the Pastor is the bully. What is interesting to me is that this blog post gets consistent hits with a current count of well over 3,000. I can see the blogs being read in my analytics and it always makes me sad to see this one being read. Yet just today I received word of another situation that would indicate an unhealthy pastor who is acting like a bully. My question: Why do those around him allow him to get away with such behavior?
Reflection: Bad behavior on the part of senior leaders hurts the reputation of Jesus. Unhealthy leaders give those around them grounds to become cynical of the church. After all, when people are hurt, marginalized, mistreated, inappropriately treated or fired by the very people who are charged to be their shepherd - and are undershepherds of Jesus, what would one expect? Sometimes the very pastors that are trying to make their ministry accessible to unbelievers are the ones who sabotage those efforts by their own behavior. When public behavior is different than private behavior there is an obvious character flaw that must be addressed.
Reflection: When issues like these are not addressed in a timely fashion they hurt the bride of Jesus. We are watching Mars Hill let staff go, close venues, cut budgets and struggle to deal with the aftermath of the issues that have surrounded their former senior leader. They will be a wounded body for a long time to come and I lay the blame on the senior leader and church leaders who could have and should have done something about it a long time ago. All I can say is that it is very sad and a lot of innocent folks will be caught in the middle.
The drama at Mars Hill is sad. We need to reflect on the lessons we can learn from their situation and ensure that it does not ever happen in ours.
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