The first time I read a blog containing information about the conduct of a pastor in a church, I was stunned. Right there, in cyberspace, where anyone with access to the internet could read it, someone from the Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland was detailing the actions of a pastor who had become involved in actions that were questionable, but who had somehow managed to find a way to squelch questions and block information through the church’s established processes. So someone took to the internet with the intention of providing the details to members of the church, as well as to anyone else who happened to find the blog. I have no idea what had happened, or what was the eventual outcome, but the thought of church conflict being out there for everyone to see was very disturbing.
Recent, high profile disagreements in some Southern Baptist megachurches which have experienced recent changes in leadership, or in which there were questions about the extent of authority a pastor had either been given, or had taken without asking, have followed a similar pattern. Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, and First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, have all joined in having their church conflicts put on blogs, and in at least two of those cases, the church leadership has resorted to the secular court system to defend their position against some members of their congregation.
Without making a judgment about which “side” is right or wrong, if the scripture is the final authority in the conduct of church business, then all parties in each case are wrong. The appearance of dissenting bloggers is a symptom of a dysfunctional church leadership approach. The resorting to the use of the civil court system by the leadership is an inexcuseable error in judgment.
The very size of some of these churches, and the consumer-driven attraction model on which most of them are built, is the root of the problem. The early church, the one we see in the New Testament, gathered in groups small enough to fit into a home, and when a group got too big for one house, they sent a leader and some people to another house and started another church. When the first Jerusalem congregation got too big, God divided it up, and sent it out to the mission field in a dozen different directions.
I don’t think the early church apostles or pastors ever envisoned a church where thousands of people would “sit and listen” and by so doing, call that worship. Nor did they envision a church where 20% of the members did 80% of the work, and 10% of the members gave 90% of the money. The early church wasn’t a place to which you went on Sunday, it was a body to which you belonged, and as a member, compared by Paul to the functioning parts of the human body, you had an active function in every aspect of the church’s ministry, based on your spiritual giftedness.
The problems that have surfaced in these large congregations stem from the fact that too few people are involved in body life ministry, too many are involved in being Sunday morning spectators, the business aspect of the church has become extremely complicated, the salaries are too large and the opportunities to make more money on the side off of the worldly fame and reputation that develops around pastors who lead congregations of thousands is too great a temptation. In order to protect their “ministry,” the idea of the pastor being the “master” has come about, and the idea of congregational polity, essentially the Biblical model of the church operating on consensus achieved from listening to and following the Holy Spirit’s prompting, is dead. As a result, frustrated church members break out blogs and frustrated pastors hire attorneys and file lawsuits. The Bible’s teaching on resolving conflict, and its mandate against brothers going to court against each other, fall by the wayside.
That is the direct result of a church becoming something it was never intended to become.
As one who was raised in a congregation that reached 70 people on its best days, of which 30 were children and youth, you might think my perspective is skewed a bit. Perhaps it is, but there was a time in my life when I was attracted to the megachurch by the preaching, and by the smorgasbord of programs which it offered to meet my needs. And I can tell you, from having both experiences, that there is very little opportunity for a believer to become the spiritually gifted minster of the gospel which the Bible says we are all called to become in a spectator environment where the up front people do their thing, and several thousand members sit on their rear ends and watch.
Discipleship, in that environment, seems to be non existent. Members do not know that there is a Biblical way to resolve differences, and pastors can get away with lawsuits because their members don’t know the scripture well enough to realize that there is a prohibition against doing it.