Monthly Archives: June 2013

When to Flee Your Church

Woman Jogging OutsideAnother scandal hit the news recently about some pastors resigning over inappropriate sexual and abusive behavior in the church. I’ll spare you the lurid details. It makes me angry when these things happen. Not just because of the betrayal of trust and the often predatory mentality of the pastors who cross that line (they prey on the vulnerable), but because such defrocked pastors too often finagle a return to full-time paid ministry as a pastor. When that happens, it raises serious questions about the hiring policies of some churches. It also makes me question whether the leadership at churches that hire defrocked pastors has a misguided interpretation of forgiveness and restoration so off the rails it puts their congregation at risk.

Here is a valuable tip for all Christians in a denominational or independent church: If your church leaders hire a pastor without doing a thorough background check (including reference checks), or they decide to hire a pastor who has demonstrated inappropriate or predatory sexual behavior in the past–RUN AWAY! That’s right, find another church. There are too many wolves out there these days for congregations to indulge a Pollyanna attitude about safety in their church. The sad truth is that some of those predatory pastors know how to weasel their way back into a church leadership position and often the only thing standing between them and a new congregation is the church search or hiring committee.

Don’t get me wrong, I support forgiveness and second chances with appropriate safeguards, but the process of rebuilding trust takes years. Often it’s better if fallen clergy find another career. There are simply too many damaged and vulnerable people sitting in congregations to expect anything from church hiring committees other than absolute commitment to the safety of God’s sheep over nepotism or misguided ideology.

If your church is in the process of hiring a new pastor, I believe it is appropriate for members of the congregation to ask those responsible for hiring to explain the process they will follow, especially the process of background and reference checks. It is OK to ask how they would handle a negative hit in the background check process. Granted, there are issues of confidentiality in hiring procedures and those responsible for hiring might not be allowed by law to share details about a specific candidate’s application. But congregations have a right to know if church leadership has a thorough screening process that they follow without exception. It is a red flag if the hiring committee is determined to hire a candidate without a background check (or they choose to ignore the results of a background check) simply because the candidate is a dynamic speaker, has years of experience, or is the friend or family member of someone in church leadership. In that case, church leaders may be putting vulnerable people in the congregation at risk. On the other hand, hiring committees may be so focused (with good intentions) on developing a dynamic and growing church that they don’t see a candidate’s glaring red flags. Either way, the congregation is at risk. The fix is for congregations to take a more active role in knowing their church’s hiring process.

A Single Mom on Father’s Day

Father's Day 2013 Super Hero Run in Sacramento, California

Father’s Day 2013 Super Hero Run in Sacramento, California

My daughter and son-in-law organized a Super Hero 5k run for Father’s Day. Over five thousand people attended last Sunday at 8 am. Naturally, as the father of the event organizer, I got conscripted to “volunteer” in the beer garden after the race. (Somehow I don’t think this qualified as a church outreach.) Anyhow, my job was to affix wrist bands on runners after the security officer checked their ID to make sure they were old enough to consume Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for breakfast. (When did Pabst become trendy?)

As runners filed into the beer garden, we gave the dads a ticket for a free beer in honor of Father’s Day. I asked one man if he was a dad. “Yes, several times,” he said. I told him he could only have one free beer no matter how many children he had. This prompted a howl of laughter from both of us. He nodded at a young lady who entered with him and indicated she was one of his kids. She was a cute girl in her early twenties. I jokingly told her: “Sorry, the free beers are only for dads today.”
“I’m a single mom,” she said demurely while shuffling in with her dad.

There was a tone of deep sadness in her response. I felt my heart break for that young mother. I’ve had a couple days to think about it and I’ve come to realize that Father’s Day can be a sad day for some single moms. Clearly, the most common turn of events that propel mothers (and fathers) into the role of single parent is divorce and abandonment.

These days, I hear the voices of many young Christians who believe the ramifications of divorce, and other social ills, are more harmful than the hot issue of same-sex marriage. Whether they are right remains to be seen. Nevertheless, our society has done a poor job assisting widows, orphans, and single parents. Sure, we throw a lot of government services at the problem, and the church helps a little, but the solution to the emotional devastation requires more than money.

I don’t have an absolute solution that will fix this problem. However, I’ve heard my fellow Christians say that Jesus is the answer. I believe that is true but I also know we have a cross to bear in the struggle against the ills of our society. For instance, I see a tremendous amount of immaturity in young adults. As a culture we don’t demand much maturity from our young people. Instead, young adults (especially men) apply the majority of their energy to the acquisition of skills that will earn them good money so they can have a good time. Maturity is much more than work hard play hard. For one thing, it requires you to exert a lot of effort to learn how relationships work while growing your commitment to remain in the trenches when the relationship gets difficult.

Until parents start to talk often with their adolescents about maturity and expect it from them, young people will struggle to break out of the make-money-and-have-a-good-time mindset. That mindset DOES NOT work when you enter a serious relationship, get married, and have children. I know because I was deep in that mindset during my twenties and thirties. And others suffered because of my immaturity. I was eventually able to gain a little maturity because of the example and admonitions of my parents, especially my father. So parent’s, don’t give up hope.

Now that I’ve preached at you young adults, here is a word of encouragement: growing up and acquiring maturity is tough but it feels great. It also does not mean you can’t have fun. Don’t expect that maturity will automatically come into your life as you grow older. I’ve known people in their fifties and up who never left the playground, metaphorically. Maturity must be valued and sought. Generally, young women are more mature than young men (except for the girls on Bridezillas). To catch up, I recommend that young men emulate the examples of maturity in the life of Christ and spend time reading the book of Proverbs. With a little more maturity in the minds and hearts of young adults, perhaps there would be fewer sad single moms on Father’s Day.

The Blessed Realm of Suffering and Satisfaction

Tom (not his real name) and I were having tea yesterday (don’t judge us for doing a girly thing). Both in our fifties, we feel the onset of age-related aches and pains. And yet we were both laughing at the insidious assault of time against our bodies and minds. Tom said with a chuckle, “I can see the inevitability ahead.” Nevertheless, even with a serious medical condition that has impacted his lifestyle, Tom seems to age with dignity.

Growing old gracefully doesn’t necessarily happen naturally. It’s like any endeavor for improvement; it requires thoughtfulness, effort, and suffering. Jim Collins, author of Great by Choice, said: “. . . all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer.” Suffering is a necessary ingredient for anything worthwhile.

Aging can make us cranky, bitter, angry, sharp-tongued, and a host of other unpleasant things. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we ask for God’s help, I believe we can push through to that place of satisfaction that comes through suffering. We can become gentle, funny, and wise even as our body aches and our hair turns gray. Without God’s help, we will become whatever the world makes us.

Driving Like an Old Man: Actions vs. Motives

My daughters have always made fun of my driving. They say I drive like an old man, slow and careful. I believe there are advantages to driving like an old man. (No, I don’t get a senior discount at Kragen Auto Parts.) One advantage came into focus after my eldest daughter had our first grandchild. Suddenly, both my daughters realized that I am by far the safest driver in the entire family. They became quite vociferous about the aggressive and nerve-wracking driving habits of other adults in the family. In short, if other family members didn’t repent and change their driving habits, grandpa Grady would be the only one allowed to transport the grandchildren by auto. (Without even trying, I have achieved most-favored-grandparent status . . . unfathomable!)

I believe one of the primary sources of bad driving is the spillover of our frenetic society and its selfishness into our driving ecosystem. There is enough anonymity on the highway to allow us to view other drivers as idiots and jerks. In a way, it’s like posting anonymous snarky comments on internet articles. Even though I drive like an old man, I occasionally get irritated at the driving faux pas of others. But when I drive to church and someone I recognize from the congregation cuts me off or tail gates, I bestow grace and let it go. Not so much when I’m out on the open road vying for the best place in traffic among pagans and strangers. (My hypocrisy remains.)

I have often observed drivers, including Christians, cuss out other drivers for traffic blunders then turn around and make the exact same mistake as the person they cussed out a few minutes earlier. Do as I want not as I do, right? Hypocrisy happens with greater frequency when grace is not extended by the person wronged. (Some call it karma . . . but not me.) And by the way, given the abysmal state of driving etiquette in America, it is not a good idea to put Christian bumper stickers and symbols on our cars (unless we drive like Saint Ignatius behind the wheel).

Another explanation for bad driving is the fact that new drivers get training on the mechanics of driving, laws of the road, and basic courtesy. But a deep sense of courtesy can’t be effectively taught in driver’s education courses because it is a character trait a person has been raised with, or not. Driving courtesy is related to the Biblical imperative that we think of others more highly than we think of ourselves . . . even on the road. Still, it’s hard not to judge others harshly and place them below us.

Recently, I read the most intelligent and insightful observation about our flawed methodology when it comes to judging. I wish I could recall the author’s name, but here is the observation: “We judge others based on their actions, we judge ourselves based on our motives.” I’m just sayin.’