"Sowing Their Own Brand of Discord"
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men,
which are made after the similitude of God.”
Several years ago a well-established family in the Church contacted their pastor concerning their twenty five year old son who had recently stopped attending services. He wasn’t hostile toward the faith just indifferent. Perhaps his involvement in secular life got the better of him—thus distracting him from things that were truly important. During his exile he became troubled over issues in his life including a romantic relationship and his career. Fearing he was going into a deep depression his parents became greatly concerned prompting them to seek their minister’s help. He readily accepted and agreed to meet with their son and offer his wisdom on the matter.
The following week the pastor visited the young man at his home. However, when doing so, his wife remained in their car. This surprised the young man prompting him to inquire about it. He genuinely admired the pastor as well as his wife and simply couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be included in the visit. At this point the pastor explained the role of “trust” when counselling God’s people. He informed the member that everything they discuss would be just between them, even his wife wouldn’t know. At one point he explained that he saw his role in this capacity as a “keeper of secrets.”
During the visit the young man was struck at how much this pastor respected human flaws and weaknesses. He was clearly a man who listened intently without passing judgment—and although the young man never returned to Church, his parents recognized a significant change in him. There was a peace about him that was lacking before. Furthermore, although they never knew what was discussed it was clear to them the meeting was very productive. In the years that followed the young man would often speak with great respect regarding this COG minister and how impressed he was with a man who could keep secrets. He even shared this example with friends and coworkers.
A Painful Reality
Although the example just cited is one that inspires respect it is remarkably rare—almost non-existent. In truth, the secrets shared by members with their minister are almost never protected. Instead they are bantered around like juicy tidbits. Consider just a few examples:
Several years ago a prominent COG pastor invited an unordained member of his fellowship to accompany him as he performed various duties for the Church. The member was well respected among his brethren and the pastor had a high regard for him as well. At one point as they were traveling, the pastor brought up the issue of counseling with various members and began to disclose some extremely personal issues they struggled with. During the course of the discussion the pastor spoke very specifically concerning serious marital problems with some couples and even the sexual appetites of others. His description of these counselings was so specific that he actually identified his congregants by name. What was so appalling about this is that the pastor was revealing intimate secrets in the lives of people the member knew personally. Furthermore, the issues shared by those being counselled with could never have been for the consumption of their brethren. So appalled was the member that he actually was moved to chastise his pastor for sharing such things with him and that everything about it was nothing less than gossip.
“Imagine the things ministers hear when counseling. This is because members see them as Holy Men who will protect their secrets.”
Long standing member
Recently a leader in a prominent COG splinter spoke to a longtime acquaintance in another fellowship about a member in the leader’s group. His words were filled with contempt for the man and he didn’t mince words when vilifying his congregant. He paraded one sin after another even questioning his member’s conversion. What was so surprising was that the accusing pastor was totally unaware that that his acquaintance was a close friend of the man he was eviscerating. Furthermore, his acquaintance was so struck by the contempt displayed by the leader for one of his own sheep that he actually shared what had transpired with the member who was being denigrated. The conversation was heartbreaking. The member, who acknowledged he didn’t get along very well with the leader, was devastated. Shortly after that he quietly left his fellowship—never contacting his pastor. Sadly, his pastor never contacted him.
“At the bottom of every item of gossip someone is getting hurt.”
Several years ago the leader of a prominent COG group was contacted by one of his members concerning an issue with another member. During their meeting his congregant spoke disparagingly about the other member even challenging his integrity. The pastor was close friends with the accusing member while only having a superficial relationship with the accused. As a result he was very sympathetic with the accuser. What was so striking about this was the fact that at no time did this minister consider declining to hear the matter until the accuser addressed it privately with his brother in accordance with Christ’s admonition (Mt 18:15). On the contrary, he judged the matter after hearing only one side—in clear violation of God’s law (see Deuteronomy 19:15 which provides the requirements for a judge to diligently inquire into all matters involving an accusation on sin. This includes hearing the testimony of witnesses.
The Toxic Consequence of Unrighteous Judgment
In the weeks following this meeting word of it swept through the congregation. The accused, who in truth was TOTALLY innocent, was now regarded by many of his brethren as guilty because his accuser made sure they were aware their pastor had judged the matter. When the accused confronted the pastor regarding his absence of fairness in the matter for not hearing both sides, the pastor stated that he is under no obligation to do so.
“Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.”
This is just a small example of how those in power can wreak havoc on the innocent. Sadly, it just might be the most common pastoral abuse in God’s Church. Today ministers welcome tale bearing--encouraging members to literally spy on each other. If you doubt this ask any COG member if they have ever been the victim of gossip by their brethren. The answer will be heartbreaking. With that said, ask yourself the following:
How different would your life be if you
walked away from gossip?
"Leveraging Matthew 18"
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