I recently watched a Speak Life discussion between Glen Scrivener and Paul Feesey, on a subject that I’ve been following for weeks, where they discuss the question “Could the recent issues in the church have been avoided if we placed more emphasis on building the church rather than evangelism?” The video is an hour long, but it is good. Check out Glen’s Twitter thread about it too. It is an interesting discussion, but the concern raised misses the mark, in my mind. Here’s why…
The discussion started when a listener emailed Glen in light of the recent fall of some evangelical leaders (Ravi Zacharias & Jonathan Fletcher, there are more too). If you follow the link above you’ll get to the thread on Twitter where Glen shares the email. One line in the email says this…
“Could Christians suffer fewer scandals if they paid less attention to converting others and more to transforming themselves?”
Over the past 3 weeks I’ve watched as this discussion went on, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts. I think the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
My problem with the assumption that scandals come because churches are too focusing on evangelism is that it misses the mark. Evangelism isn’t the problem. The problem in any case of the abuse of power, and every kind of abuse, is the heart and actions of the perpetrator. The above statement, and the rest of the email, seems to suggest that it is impossible to both evangelise and focus on one’s own holiness.
Our response to abuse in the church should be to mourn, to care for the victims, to call for justice and to be witnesses to the rest of the world of how to deal with cases of abuse in a godly way.
Evangelism isn’t the problem at all, because you can care for a church healthily and share the gospel well at the same time. It is not an either / or, but it is a both / and. Evangelism isn’t at fault, but there are other reasons;
Lack of accountability
Too many leaders who fall have not been willing to submit to godly accountability. They’ve been seen as the big dogs who know it all and left alone because of their knowledge or experience. Someone can have all the knowledge in the world, but if the do not humbly submit to the Lord, they are just as susceptible to fall as everyone else. Regardless of the reputation of a speaker, pastor, author or whatever, nobody is above accountability.
Accountability doesn’t mean answering an email or a text on how you’re doing. Accountability means having someone, or a body of people, coming along side you and checking your life out of love. A well-known speaker might be flying around the world, which could be a reason why this doesn’t always happen. But that is no excuse.
We naturally put people on a pedestal. We listen to, we read, we applaud the work of men and women who do great things for the Kingdom. But they are fallen people. The disease of a celebrity culture is alive and within Christianity, if it is not cut out there are devastating consequences. People can and do abuse the stars they have been given. People can and do use their power to bully others into submission because of who they are or what they’ve done. But this doesn’t only go for the people who fly around the world, it applies to conferences, Bible Colleges, etc.
I was once at a conference and everyone was super excited for a big name to come to one night. He came and what he said was ok. But attendance at the conference was far bigger that night, because his name attracted a crowd. I was spiritually fed more by the guy who preached his heart out to an audience of 20 people later that very night, than I was in the big auditorium.
We would do well to remember that fame does not equal faithfulness. We should celebrate people who serve faithfully, but they should not become celebrities, they are normal sinful people, like you and me, who serve a great Saviour.
No person is perfect. Abuse is not caused because people were preoccupied with sharing the gospel, abuse took place because of the sin that had settled in people’s hearts. We’re too quick to make excuses for inappropriate jokes and brush it off as ‘banter’ because of the person who says it. We need to call out sin when we see it, no excuses. Regardless of who the person is, if we see sin or sinful behaviours, we need to call it out. Where sin takes place, and where appropriate, Christians need to take the right legal action and call the police. Sitting on sin is damaging to the survivors or abuse and everyone else. No person should make excuses for the sin of an abuser.
Is evangelism the problem which resulted in abuse? No, that is an oversimplification of the issue. It can be an excuse that means we still see the problem as ‘out there’ rather than in the human heart.