Idols, culture, abuse and scandal

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On Friday I wrote about the source idols of approval, comfort and security quoting this from Tom Wood’s book.

We admit our own striving for wholeness through approval, comfort or security from others, from self-accomplishment, from this world’s offers of life or even our religious successes, as if they are life.

Wood, Dr. Tom. Gospelling Life Together: How Gospel Discipleship Can Change Your Life (p. 69). Sandals in Sand, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Wood’s material provides the basis for the coaching training I attended the other week and so the question of idols is a significant component within the training. As well as seeing how those idols can influence different aspects of our life including our relationships with others and mission, we saw that when our idols are threatened we often use power and manipulation to try and protect our idols.  This can be through bullying and anger, flattery, complaining or even use of force.

At this point, you may well be struck by how those behaviours describe so perfectly the kind of things that we’ve seen and which have been reported in recent abuse scandals within evangelical Christianity.

This is important because if those are the types of behaviours we associate with leaders, especially when things are not going right for them/us, then it helps us to see something of the danger within our church cultures.  We are seeing idolatry at work.

This may also help us in seeking to change the culture because it means we can get back to the root cause, the source idol.  This might help us do three things.

  1. It should help and encourage us to look at the dominant content of our teaching and application. Do we primarily teach people how to gain approval, find comfort and feel secure?
  2. It should help us to think about what to look out for when discerning a potential  Gospel calling. This would include prior to calling someone as a leader within the local church, sending people off for training and/or calling a pastor to your church. I wonder how many interviews include the question “which idols do you most struggle with?”  This should not be about excluding people who are open and honest with their struggles. In fact, I’d rather have someone who is aware of where the temptation comes than someone who is oblivious and in denial.
  3. Similarly, it should help us to look out for each other and keep a watch on our own hearts. This understanding should encourage us to ask searching questions of each other and ourselves. Elders and pastors would benefit from a regular review where such questions are asked.

Finally, it helps us to see what the solution is. I’m all in favour of better safe guarding policies, of transparency. Of processes by which people can raise issues. However, ultimately it isn’t these things that will transform, reform and renew the culture of our churches. Instead it is the Gospel as it calls us away from idols and encourages us to turn to Christ that will bring us back from our idols.

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