Every time we turn around, it seems, there’s another scandal. Another impropriety, another accusation, another failure. And it’s clear: the church is not immune. Christians are not invincible and neither are church leaders.
Recently, I have been encouraged by the #MeToo movement and by so many women finally feeling like they can speak out. Praise God for that! At the same time, I’ve been angered and deeply saddened at the reminder of how susceptible all of us are when it comes to temptation and the abuse of power. It shouldn’t be this way!
Andy Crouch recently wrote a haunting blog, It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power. So many celebrities do so many stupid things, and these same failures can easily work their way into churches and the lives and habits of not just celebrities, but ordinary people like us as well.
As he talks about the abuse of power, Crouch writes, “Among the many dark gifts of power is distance—distance from accountability, distance from consequences, distance from the pain we cause others, distance from self-knowledge, distance from friendship, distance from the truth. The palace rooftop, the back entrance…”
So how do we avoid this in our lives and in our church? Of course, we don’t want to be guilty of these things, but we also don’t want to be complicit or indifferent to the brokenness around us and within us.
What About Christ Community?
Going back to Crouch’s article, we are not a celebrity-driven church, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen here. He writes, “We need profound change, and it starts less with our public figures than with ourselves.” Change starts with us!
In order to be proactive, at a recent Christ Community all-staff meeting, we gathered all our pastors and staff from across all campuses to have a frank conversation. We wanted to remind ourselves the importance of creating a safe and healthy work environment for all, as well guarding ourselves from temptation and misconduct. Yes, it was bit awkward, yet we love our staff, we love our church, we love you our congregation, and most of all we love Jesus too much to not talk about it.
Not only is it awkward, it’s personal. Every human is sexually broken, and many of us have regrets, shame, heartache, and disappointment. Sadly, too many of us have been hurt by others.
Even as you read this, if I’m stirring up some of these things for you, please let the church be a place of healing and freedom for you. Talk to a close friend or one of your pastors. Perhaps let us recommend a skilled counselor. We want to help.
10 Principles to Help Us
We also want to make wise decisions. What follows here is the gist of that all-staff conversation, created by a variety of pastors and staff, men and women, married and single, young and old. Now, you may not work for a church and so not everything here may apply to you like it does to me. Nevertheless, we hope these principles help you live wisely and encourage you as you seek to follow Jesus in all of life.
1. Nurture a safe environment
It is everyone’s responsibility to nurture a safe environment, but it is essential to recognize that those with the most power in any organization have the highest responsibility to see to it. Also, recognize that the more power you have, the easier it is to abuse that power.
Now, of course, power isn’t bad, and we all have some measure of power. The question is, are we using whatever power we have to create a safe environment for everyone, even those whom it would be easiest to marginalize? The comments we make, the humor we use, the looks we give—do they foster true flourishing for everyone?
And if you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable, please don’t remain silent. Yes, we want to be full of grace, but we must also take sin seriously. If that ever happens at Christ Community, we will respond appropriately, immediately.
2. Recognize your own capacity for sin
None of us should ever think, This could never happen to me…or to us. We are all broken, and we all face all kinds of temptations. Know your temptations, and do your best to avoid them and overcome them. If it’s the internet, put your computer where it’s always visible and consider a good filtering software. If it’s a certain kind of person, recognize that and be smart.
Even just acknowledge that adultery rarely starts with sex, or even physical attraction. Nobody wakes up and just decides to have an affair or get emotionally involved. It often begins in moments of loneliness and boredom, or when you feel someone’s admiration and affirmation. Just recognize your own capacity for sin and know what grabs your affections.
3. Practice healthy self-care
If you are healthy spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally, it’s a whole lot harder to self-destruct. Self-care is not selfish—it just may protect your soul from heartache, save your family from disintegration, and enhance your life!
Don’t forget the spiritual disciplines; things like prayer, solitude, Bible reading. I need to daily remind myself that Jesus is better than whatever tempts me. Get adequate rest, a real day off every week, and exercise. Discipline in any area helps you be disciplined in every area. Discipline doesn’t earn anything with God, but it can help protect us. These practices help keep our resistance up.
If you’re married, never stop working working on your marriage. Be a lifelong student of your spouse, always pursuing him or her. Seek mentorship or counseling when you need it. If you’re single, keep pressing into community rather than isolation. You also need to avoid the temptation to overwork.
4. Love each other well
It’s easy to begin thinking about these temptations and come to a faulty conclusion: If I’m going to be safe from temptation, I should just completely separate myself emotionally from those of the opposite sex. While, of course, we need wisdom in all our friendships, I am convinced that this attitude can actually do more harm than good.
As Christians, we’re a family. Brothers and sister who love each other. The reality is, it’s harder to objectify or self-destruct with someone you truly love and respect. Instead of avoiding friendships across gender, we need to foster them better. Pray for the people around you. Get to know their spouses and kids. If you’re married, talk positively about your own family with them.
Of course, you have to be wise, and there are certain things you shouldn’t do with friends of the opposite sex. But I am convinced that healthy friendships with the opposite sex can actually be part of the cure. While pornography rewires the brain to objectify, genuine friendship teaches the brain to love and respect.
Don’t be stupid! But you’re less likely to take advantage of, compromise, or objectify someone you truly love as your brother or sister.
5. Watch out for one another
Don’t spy on each other or live in suspicion. We want to trust. But don’t look the other way either. I have a friend who attended another church when the lead pastor was caught in an adulterous relationship with a colleague. I can only imagine the devastation. The most haunting thing my friend said to me was that everyone looked the other way.
They were silent, not intentionally, but simply because this leader had been so successful and had created such an image. It was only after the fact they realized they should have seen the warning signs. By that point, it was too late. Let that never be us!
One of the women who helped shape our staff conversation said to me—and I don’t think I’ll ever forget this—she said, “If I were ever a victim here—or suspicious of someone on our staff—it would be really hard to speak up because I just love this church so much.” I kept it together when she said that, but believe me, I cried later, imagining anyone in that awful position. Listen, silence only makes it worse!
Do you have a friend or colleague you can talk to? Whom do you have in your life, out of love, keeping an eye on you? And whom are you watching out for?
6. Be aware of how you are perceived
Several years ago, when I was a much younger pastor, I rode to a meeting with a woman on our staff. When we got there, the person we were meeting was outraged that we had ridden alone in a car together, as if something improper was just bound to happen. Now, I look back at that, and while the accusation itself continues to feel absolutely ridiculous, it taught me a really important lesson: You don’t have to do or say something stupid for people to wonder if you’re doing or saying something stupid!
As a result, I’ve regularly asked myself, How might someone who doesn’t know me, perceive me right now? We’re not slaves to the perception of others, yet we also want to recognize that people perceive us differently. Ask someone you trust to help you here, and seek greater self-awareness.
7. Recognize how easy it is to be accused
While I believe false accusations are rare, it’s helpful to remember that you don’t actually have to do anything wrong for your reputation to be destroyed. Obviously, you can’t accuse-proof your life, nor should you even try, but you can be wise. For example, I try to keep good records of all my meetings, and there are others in the organization, as well as my wife, who can view my calendar at any moment.
I avoid any one-on-one meetings in super private places. A window, an open door, a coffee shop can all be places to have meaningful conversations. While as a pastor I want to be accessible to anyone, and I certainly value confidentiality, I also try really hard to avoid situations where I couldn’t defend myself if an accusation came.
Ask yourself periodically, What would prevent someone from spreading nasty rumors about me? There’s an old-fashioned phrase in the Bible, but it’s a good one: above reproach. Live in such a way that even if an accusation came, it couldn’t stick!
8. Create healthy boundaries
Your boundaries might be different from mine, but you have to have them. Boundaries are self-imposed fences in your life meant to protect you and those you care about. What are your boundaries with coworkers and friends? What are your boundaries when you travel for work? This can often be one of the places we’re most susceptible. What will protect you from you?
My wife Kelly helps me with this. She is the most incredible woman. She’s not the jealous type, and she truly understands my vocation. Yet you’d better believe I want my boundaries to reflect her boundaries for me! I regularly ask myself, Is there anything on my schedule that if Kelly found out about it, I’d prefer she heard it from me? I don’t ever want to make her uncomfortable or surprise her. If you’re married, you’ve got to talk about your boundaries together.
9. Talk about it with others
Find someone you can talk with openly about these things. You need someone you can bounce ideas off and to help you live wisely. Pastor Larry Osborne talks about “glass house living.” More than accountability (because we humans tend to be such liars), he recommends we live our lives like it’s a glass house. Let people see you. Know you. Speak into your life. Sin flourishes in the dark, so open the curtains! Let the light in and talk about it with others.
At Christ Community, we trust each other, and we can talk about our struggles and temptations, so that we can flee them and overcome them. We embrace transparency and vulnerability, not so we can all be messed up together, but so we can help each other grow. If you don’t have a relationship like this, let us help. If we can’t do this within the church, where can we do it?
10. Don’t be stupid
Oh, yes, the catch-all for anything we’ve left out. Don’t be stupid! It’s just not worth it. It’s not worth it for your soul. It’s not worth it for your relationships. There is no such thing as a harmless sin. Every sin you commit effects the people around you. It’s not worth it for your family and the endless ramifications. It’s not worth it for what it could do to Christ’s Bride, the Church. Don’t be stupid!
Well, that was a little window into our all-staff conversation. And, yes, it was almost as fun as watching the 5th grade puberty video with my son! Good times, people! But if we can’t talk about it here, where can we talk about it? The church must be different than the culture around us, and as Christians, we ought to lead the way in caring for all people and pursuing propriety.
We know none of this makes us invincible or instantly solves our struggles, but we are striving to live wisely before God and before others. If there’s anything helpful here for your context, we hope you’ll take it. And if you have wisdom that we can learn from, you’d better believe we welcome it.
Finally, remember that we love you. We love our staff. We love our congregation. We love Jesus. If there’s anything we can do to serve you or care for you in this area, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of your pastors. And don’t forget to pray for your church—for your leaders and for all of us. We need God’s help and protection.
God help us! Amen.