on ‘abusive’ pastoral leadership

A good deal of recent discussion swirled around the idea of abusive pastors and the ‘suffering’ saints who sat under their leadership [also here]. I wouldn’t say that there have NEVER been manipulative liars in pulpits, it stands to reason that there have been many. But just as with secularistic social workers, I tend to look askance at most claims of abuse. First is the matter of perspective, as some have pointed out. Rebels always think they are being abused. Second is the matter of choice – church membership and involvement is based on voluntary association. Those enduring the alleged abuse do have minds, wills, and feet. They are not ‘trapped’ and can leave. And, again, this is certainly not to say that manipulative leadership does not exist. It is part of the human condition.

Besides these issues, there is something of a matter of social psychology and prevalent moods. The days in which we live are without a doubt much more anti-authoritarian than the days in which I grew up. My childhood years were the 60s, a turbulent anti-authority decade … among the teenagers at the time. Those of us who were children in those days still lived in the culture of the 40s and 50s for the most part. The rebellion and change began to filter down to us as the decade progressed and emerged full blown (but much less radical) in our teenage years, the 1970s. When we were in grade school and even into junior high, a high percentage of us still went to school in buzz cuts … I remember the scorn we felt for those sissy guys who came to school with ‘Beatle haircuts’. Of course, by the 70s, the restraint was long gone and hair was everywhere. (Not on me, though, I stuck to my tapered cut… but I did have long sideburns!)

My point in this little illustration is that the generation that is rising to leadership now is the fruit of an anti-authority generation, whereas my generation is the fruit of an authoritarian generation. Someone gave me a tape yesterday of evangelist Joe Boyd giving his testimony. Boyd is well known in some circles, was an All-American tackle on the 1939 Texas A & M national championship football team, winners of the 1940 Cotton Bowl. He rebelled from his Christian upbringing and went into secular life, by his testimony, a life of business, gambling, and drinking. After a few years, the Lord got hold of Boyd, he went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Theology degree in 1947. He then went into the Lord’s work as a pastor and evangelist. He was close to Jack Hyles and would tend to travel in those circles.

Listening to Boyd talk brings to mind the kind of preacher some folks would like to call abusive. Boyd is strong, rough, domineering in his speech, at least to some ears. One must remember, however the times in which he was reared. He is a product of the Second World War. Tom Brokaw called this generation ‘The Greatest Generation’. The men of this era built the continent. They were coming out of the horse and buggy era into the modern era of automobiles and ‘aeroplanes’. They fought the great fight of the war, or they were prepared to. (My own father was 18 when the war ended – had it lasted longer he could have been called into that struggle.) That generation built the interstate highway system, lived the oil boom, and brought an agrarian society off the farm to transform it into a society of cities. The men (and women) of that generation were strong, resourceful, opinionated, and successful.

Did they go too far? Are some of those preachers stuck in a time warp? I suppose one could say that. But are they entirely wrong? I am not sure about that. I expect that many of those crying ‘pastoral abuse’ today would have a hard time with the apostles. Too rough, too domineering. And what of the Old Testament prophets? Well! Suppose we had Amos for a pastor. How would our 21st century sophisticates hold up under his preaching?

The Scriptures teach that a pastor must not be a brawler, he must lead with love and serve the flock God has given him. But that doesn’t mean that he must be some kind of emotional lightweight who just lets people do what they want and never hear a word of rebuke either. The claims of pastoral abuse are much overdone and are symptomatic of our times. I am struck by some of the comments we are seeing at how much like liberal Democrats and the left of public society they sound like. Are these people for real? Is this the future of fundamentalism? Lord help us!

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Comments

  1. Kent Brandenburg says:

    People cater to those with itching ears to develop the touchy-feely style. I agree with your evaluation.

  2. Ottayan says:

    It is a pecularity of our times. People dont want to be told or rebuked.
    They are reluctant to be guided and all warnings fall on deaf ears.
    If something does not go their way,they will rush to claim negligence and sue.

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