In a previous article I said that we set the tone by recognising that things are not always about us. However, sometimes they are. One of the things that concerned me about early comments during coronavirus was the speed with which some church leaders and prominent speakers and writers were quick to suggest that the pandemic was God’s judgement or at least a form of discipline on the church.
I was concerned because it seemed an easy thing to say if you were not particularly affected by the pandemic, there was a feel of people pronouncing judgement from their ivory towers. However, it also reflected for me a wrong attitude to God’s discipline.
I do believe that God disciplines his people. In that sense we can see God at work to discipline us during coronavirus. It is not that this is a sudden bolt from the blue judgement because of a specific identifiable rebellion against God. Rather, it is that God is constantly disciplining us through the circumstances we experience.
Therefore, my response should be to stop and ask whether God is trying to teach and discipline me. Then and only then can I pastor others by helping them to see what God is saying to them and what he is doing in their lives. Furthermore, this works best when we go to God’s word together and their eyes are opened so that they see for themselves. It works best in the context of pastoral relationships with a congregation. When it is forced on people from a distance, they are less likely to hear it. Rather, it comes across as though the church leaders are cross with the church because everything is the fault of the naughty laity.
Once again, I don’t think that Coronavirus is a specific judgement however, I do think that there are things that we as church leaders should be challenged by and some are very immediate. To settle on one specific example, in recent years, we have seen how prominent men have been allowed to abuse the church through both false teaching and manipulative, bullying, abusive behaviour. Just in the last two years news stories about church leaders have included
- The fall from grace of Bill Hybels due to sexually inappropriate behaviour
- The uncovering of a cover up concerning John Smyth’s abuse of young boys from public schools which was known to the Iwerne camp organisation.
- The investigation into Jonathan Fletcher’s activities
- The removal of Steve Timmis as the CEO of Acts 29 due to allegations of abuse and bullying.
Now, those horrendous things may have slipped a little from our attention over these past few months but we must not allow them to be forgotten about. Further, we need to recognise that these men were able to get away with things despite the fact that suspicions were raised, despite the fact that concerns were reported. Leaders cannot sit in ivory towers and pretend that those things were nothing to do with them. We need leaders who are ready to come forward and say “this happened on my watch.”
If at times we are unhappy with what we see in the church, if we see tribalism, if we seem consumer attitudes, if we see people focusing on their heroes and not on the Lord, if we see churches where there is a lack of discernment of the body, then maybe, just maybe the church has picked those things up from somewhere. Sometimes it is about the leaders. Sometimes it is about us.
“3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
 Matthew 7:3-5.