#ChurchToo, Good Shepherds and Beloved Community

Shortly after the #MeToo movement, another movement surfaced, #ChurchToo.  #ChurchToo is about sexual harassment and abuse within the body of Christ.  I am so grieved about the #ChurchToo movement as it hit’s at the vision for beloved community in Christ.  And I have begun to ask the question, how do we live out the beloved community in Christ between men and women working together for the sake of the Kingdom of God?  I have a couple of thoughts but first I want to lay out some Biblical support.

Ezekiel 34 tells the story of evil shepherds and good shepherds.  Essentially, the evil shepherds have been feeding on the sheep instead of feeding the sheep.  While the sheep are bleeding, hungry and suffering on the mountains, the evil shepherds are getting fat.  And the Prophet asks the question, who will care for and bind up the wounds of the sheep?  The answer is, the good shepherd.  The good shepherd is, of course Jesus, the coming one who will bind up the wounds of the sheep, and tend to them in the sheepfold where they will flourish. 

The prophet is helping God’s people to understand that the task of leaders and shepherds is the task of tending and caring for the sheep.  I think the #ChurchToo movement is surfacing this issue in the church today so that we might become more whole as leaders and so that our communities might flourish.  As those who long for the beloved community, we must be aware of the human lust for power, ego issues and self-gratification when in ministry.  I want to lay out some principles that could help us move closer toward a healthy and safe community within which men and women are respected, and the sheep are fed. 

1. We as leaders must become more self-differentiated. 

What does that mean?  When a leader or person is self-differentiated they are self aware enough to notice their areas of weakness and need and instead of putting the blame on others, such leaders recognize their own part in a given problem or issue. Here is a good definition from Bowen Theory: The Level of differentiation refers to the degree to which a person can think and act for self while in contact with emotionally charged issues. 

Recently, a noted evangelical mega church pastor has been in the news. (Read about it here).  He repeatedly propositioned women leaders he was mentoring and set up conditions within which adultery or abuse could have taken place.  In each story told by witnesses coming forward, there were themes emerging regarding how the pastor used his power to try and groom and seduce the women leaders in his care. (Testimony)  And having been caught and confronted, he cast the blame on them for “being out to get him.”  He could not own the reality that he was the person not in control of himself.   He could not separate his own sexual neediness from the people he was seeking to seduce.  In his mind these two things were entangled.  This reveals his lack of self-differentiation–he could not separate his own stuff from the women he sought to engage with and because he was not in control of himself, he blamed them.

A leader who is self-aware is cognizant of his or her own feelings, desires and needs and takes appropriate actions to care for self.  

What happens with undifferentiated leaders is that they become deceived by their own ego, thinking that because they work so hard for the kingdom, people owe them something.  That’s an entitlement mentality and the shepherd begins to feed on the sheep instead of feeding the sheep. 

2.  We as leaders must commit to self-care.

What is self-care?  Self-care is noticing when we are tired, needy, or hungry.  It involves learning about our own areas of growth psychologically or emotionally.  Often we have unresolved issues from our past that need healing and if unaddressed they become issues in ministry.  For leaders, this self-care happens in safe ways outside the community we are leading.  It might involve having a select group of healthy colleagues to whom leaders can go for ministry or to have their own emotional needs met.  It could involve a spiritual director or therapist who will help a leader deal with past issues that could be affecting his or her ministry.   It involves having close relationships with people who will speak into a leader’s life and call him or her to account when needed.

Self-care involves getting the proper nutrition, exercise and rest.  What happens when leaders are poured out in ministry is that they become depleted and when depleted, they don’t have the inner resources to minister in other-centered ways.   Leaders begin to project their own issues on to others.  And they lose self-control. There is a saying that AA members use: HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.  We are more likely to act out of our neediness if we are hungry, angry, lonely or tired.  So it is necessary to HALT, takes notice and begin caring for oneself.  Self-care becomes a crucial factor as leaders seek to lead in beloved community.  Without self-care the danger is that leaders might spiral downward into an entitlement mentality.  “I give so much, I need something back.” And leaders become the shepherds who feed on the sheep instead of feeding the sheep.

3.  We as leaders need to set boundaries.

What are boundaries? “Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for self and other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when they or someone else passes those limits.”  It is imperative that leaders, be they men or women, think through what kind of boundaries they need to function in healthy community?  An example from the recent allegations of the Mega-Church pastor: one of the women leaders, Vonda Dyer, was asked to come to the leader’s hotel room under the guise of working together.  She did but when he began to reach out for her in inappropriate ways, she rightly stopped him and immediately left the room.  One good boundary is to not meet alone with the opposite sex in a hotel room for any reason.  That should be a no-brainer but within situations where a leader is trusted, this boundary can become somewhat blurry.  Another boundary that was crossed in the news story was, that the pastor shared how troubled his marriage was in the context of being alone with a woman not his wife.  This is one place where the leader needed to take that concern outside the community to get the proper help instead of using it as a seduction tool and hint at a relationship that might have a future. 

Many churches have specific policies that help keep children safe such as, anyone leading children or youth ministry must have two adults present at all times.  No leader would drive a youth home or attend a conference without other adults present.  Had one church practiced this boundary, one youth might not have been abused in a recent #ChurchToo story.  (Andy Savage)  The Youth pastor set up a situation within which he would need to drive a teen girl in his church home.  He drove past her home to a remote location and then asked her for sexual favors.  (more here)  And just to qualify sexual abuse is perpetrated by predators who groom their victims and set them up.  Trust is abused and broken.

Good, healthy community is led by leaders who set appropriate boundaries—so that they can remain in control of themselves.  A boundary is meant to help the leader know their own limits and recognize places where they themselves might be vulnerable.  Then when a boundary is set, they and the community remain safe and healthy.  Different leaders need different types of boundaries and it is essential that leaders think through (back to self-awareness) what kind of limits they need. 

There is much talk and discussion about the Billy Graham rule when it comes to boundaries.  That was Billy Graham’s boundary.  But it is not the only kind of boundary that can be set.  Many feel that this boundary would inhibit male leaders from mentoring women and have concerns that the presence of women is viewed as the problem instead of leaders acting with integrity.  I am one who is concerned about that. 

Our anxiety is so great about sexual sin that we assume because women are present, that sin might occur.  Such thinking makes the presence of women the problem instead of the actions of the leader in the presence of the woman.  It offers both a low view of men and a low view of women.  I think that we can do better than that.  The fact that leaders need boundaries is a place of agreement I have with those turning toward the Billy Graham Rule for safety.  However, we might seek to become safe people and to be more creative in how we mentor women leaders so that mentoring can occur and we can have more wholeness in our relationships between men and women.   Pastors could choose to meet with those he or she is mentoring in more public places, or in an office with a window in the door, and office assistant outside. He or she could work with groups of people needing mentorship.  Be creative… we can do better than the Billy Graham Rule.  A Shepherd who feeds on the sheep does not have good boundaries.

4.  The church needs proper ways of dealing with accusations of abuse and sexual impropriety.

Many churches that have had various situations within which a pastor or leader abuses their authority, have tried to deal with such matters “in house.”  While I understand their concerns about publicity, I think that this way does not help the church grow in maturity.  The tendency is to cover up the problem because of how it might affect the leader’s ministry instead of holding the leader accountable and validating the victims of abuse.  This also leads to calling the victim to forgiveness without calling the abuser to account.  And victims are further traumatized by the church.

Church boards often do not understand the dynamics of abuse and harassment.  They inaccurately see these actions as matters of sexual sin between two people of equal responsibility.  However abuse and harassment are issues of power–specifically the improper or abusive use of power.  Ministers, pastors and other spiritual leaders are trusted and assumed to be safe people to those in their care.  This gives them an advantage in relationships that unethical leaders might exploit.  Boards and governing authorities surrounding pastors and leaders need to become more aware of these dynamics as they seek to hold leaders accountable. 

Here a couple of strategies recommended by Ashley Easter who was a victim of abuse in the church and has now become an advocate for those who have also experienced abuse in the church.  The linked article covers several strategies that churches can use to help deal with abuse and harassment including utilizing outside investigators who will be more objective.  5 Strategies for the Church

What is the bottom line? 

If we seek to be shepherds and leaders in the church we must become aware of our needs for self-awareness and self-care so that we do not begin to feed on the sheep.  Especially celebrity leaders who have large churches and large followings can be easily seduced into an entitlement mentality and begin to take advantage of the trust given them.  Boards can be deceived because they have trust in their leader, victims can be unaddressed because we give so much power to our leaders.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  No one takes it from me, I give it.”  John 10:11-17  And in those words we see Jesus as a responsible agent of his own life acting in ways that give life to the sheep.  To follow Jesus is to be one who feeds the sheep, binds up their wounds and helps them flourish in the pasture of God’s kingdom.  To do that we need to be self-aware, set boundaries, take care of our selves and have good processes for handling sexual harassment and abuse when it surfaces.  May we move ever closer to the beloved community in Christ led by those who reflect the Good Shepherd.  (Resources for developing Emotionally Healthy Leaders) 

There is much more to be said as I have only skimmed the surface.



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