Man, I hate church politics.
And I hate it when people spiritualize personal issues, turning their own feelings or disagreements into God-granted mandates to make a ruckus.
Do you know what is happening at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee? This is the church formerly pastored by the late, great Adrian Rogers.
Trevin Wax has a good overview.
There's bad blood and blogging. All in the name of biblical truth, allegedly.
There is a legitimate concern there about the firing of a minister known to have molested children.
There are some legitimate concerns about pastoral accountability.
There are some marginally legitimate concerns about the accessibility of the pastor. (But, wow, this is a 30,000-attendee megachurch. Not everyone can be best friends with the pastor, and it occurs to me that some of these folks may have been very close with Rogers and now resent they do not have the same access and power under the new pastor.)
I don't know Pastor Steve Gaines from Adam, but I'm reading this transcript of his meeting with some of the grudge-holders (posted by the complainants as "proof," I guess of Gaines's disqualification from office), and I feel very badly for the guy. Some of the stuff brought up is ridiculous.
Maybe Gaines really is an egomaniacal lone ranger rejecting all accountability, but the transcript sounds like he's a new guy getting assailed with personality conflicts.
They want to know how much every staff member is making. You could make a good case for that being open, but you can make a good one for it not. In any event, when you start wanting to know how much the pastor makes on books or how much his wife is earning, it starts to sound less like accountability and more like curiosity. With what motive?
They are concerned the pastor saw Walk the Line more than once at the movie theater.
They want the pastor to announce publicly when he's going out of town and where he's going.
They never even mention the handling of the fired minister, so the idea that it is their chief complaint about his unfitness seems hard to prove.
There's lots of "what people are saying"-type junk. In my world we call that gossip, and in my teeny tiny ministry world I'm already dealing with this. "Well, people are saying that you . . ."
Well, let people say that to me, is generally my response. I have tried to commit to never say anything about someone I haven't or won't say to them, and I encourage others to adopt the same policy. I can't adequately respond to what someone might think based on the report of someone else who might just be wanting to cause trouble.
I like this exchange from the transcript (SG is the pastor Steve Gaines):
MS: I can tell you, there’s been … there’s been a lot of … there’s been a lot of folks that have said a lot of things about that. I’ve heard it said, I’ve not talked about it, but I’ve heard it said.
SG: [Garbled]… are you hearing any good things out there?
MS: Oh, yeah.
RE: Yes. However, however…
SG: Heh heh heh
RE: Would we be wrong not to bring what God has laid on our heart?
SG: God gets blamed for a lot of stuff.
Heh. "God gets blamed for a lot of stuff." Love that.
Here is a rather telling exchange also. It demonstrates that facts can rarely match what is "on someone's heart."
SG: Let me say this to you. I’ve been told by the ladies in this office that I’m here 10 times more than Dr. Rogers. Did you, did you guys ever come and talk to Dr. Rogers about that stuff?
RE: Did we ever?
SG: Uh- Huh
RE: Uh, at that, at that time the Pastor was here, I know what you’re saying [unintelligible] but at the time that was not on my heart.
One thing I think this brouhaha is evidencing is the sheer difficulty, if not impossibility, of running a multi-thousand member megachurch like a democratically governed congregation. There are clear conflicts between the lines here between staff trying to run this huge enterprise like a corporation and the concerned laity still wanting to feel like they're in the Baptisty inner circle.
Near the end of the meeting Gaines brings up the notion of instituting a "Presbyterian" governance structure (an elder board) but in the context of saying it wouldn't work.
I wonder if he thinks the present arrangement is working.
The meeting ends with motives showing. It's very personal.
It's about trust, about feelings, about "checks in spirit." Etc.
Oh, and it appears the reason we can read this transcript is because, as this exchange implies, the meeting was tape recorded without Gaines's knowledge.