Christian Ministries Internship I
Azusa Pacific University
Dr. Dick Pritchard & Dr. Steve Gerali
"CASE STUDY: Answering Cries for Help"
Case Study: "Answering Cries for Help"
(Group 2 – Borgmann,
Buys, Comfort, Cronin, Kappen, Krill, Nation, Werner, and Williams)
Bible Baptist Church is a fairly large church in an upper middle class suburb of a rapidly growing U.S. city. The pastor of the church is the founding pastor. He has been there for about 15 years and has led the church from its newly formed "church-plant" status to a thriving church of over 7000 attendees. This pastor has led this church with an iron fist. He describes his leadership style as being that of an Army General. His staff seems to be fearful of any confrontation with him, yet he claims that he is very approachable and is accountable to his Board of Elders for his actions and directives. He is also an articulate and charismatic figure. This type of leadership has helped this church navigate some difficult situations including a tragic event with a Youth Pastor who engaged in an extra-martial affair with a twenty year old student intern.
Andrew was a junior student at a local Christian College. He had been attending Bible Baptist Church since he started college as a freshman. Andrew is a youth ministry major and began volunteering in the Youth ministry during his sophomore year. The youth pastor has grown to rely on Andrew's talents and commitment to the ministry, giving Andrew a significant role in the working of that ministry. Midway through the first semester of Andrew's junior year, the church decided to put a new application process in place for all volunteer staff. Everyone who worked in any area of ministry was required to fill out an application. Those who were working with minors were additionally required to submit to a police check. While it was mid-semester, the pastor mandated that the application be done anyway.
Andrew filled out the application. One question on the form read, "Have you ever been physically or sexually abused. If so explain?" Andrew had never told anyone that he had been sexually abused by a family member, as a child. He felt greatly uncomfortable with the question because it invaded his privacy if he answered affirmatively or it compromised his integrity He told the truth and briefly explained the situation. Days after the application was turned in, Andrew was called into a meeting with the Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor informed Andrew that he would have to step down from serving in youth ministry under the premise that "people who have been abused often act out as abusers." The rationale was that the church didn't want to take any risks with their minors. Andrew was told that he should no longer come to any youth ministry events, nor should he meet individually with any students. He was also told that the small group of sophomore guys, which he led, would be reassigned to another leader. The senior Pastor informed Andrew that the Youth Pastor would tell students that Andrew was "taking a leave of absence from youth ministry, indefinitely." During the entire time of this meeting the youth pastor did not say a word. Andrew was destroyed because he had a close relationship with the youth pastor. Later the youth pastor informed Andrew that the senior pastor had made this decision and that he would not be challenged on it. Andrew was out no question, no contest. When Andrew's professor from the college confronted the senior pastor he was told that the decision was final and not reversible. Andrew left the church in shame. In addition, he faced shame from friends at school who questioned him about his leaving the ministry. Now Andrew had no choice but to disclose his past abuse. Andrew slipped into a deep depression, even attempting suicide, because he determined that he could no longer be in ministry.
As outsiders to this situation, we are forced to recognize that there are three main parties involved the senior pastor, the youth pastor, and the volunteer college student. The first issue that we are presented with is the concept behind volunteer applications. What we know is that Andrew ministered effectively for almost a year before the new procedure was put in place, with no signs of problems. One must come to first ask the question, what purpose does implementing the applications at this point achieve. In theory, the foundation of ministry is built on relationships, and it appears that for at least a year, Andrew had no problem in his relationship with the youth pastor, or the students. The second issue we are faced with is that of effective executive leadership within the church. It is evident that the Senior Pastor of this church ruled predominately, with little check and balance put in place, which lead to a dictatorship style of leadership. It is unclear at this time, how effective or appropriate this style of leadership is within ministry, but one must at least acknowledge the potential for an unhealthy leadership style within the church. The third issue that surfaced during this case study was the reaction by the youth pastor, who both recognized Andrew's essential role within the ministry, yet at the same time, refused to stick up for him in light of potential leadership iniquities. It isn't clear exactly what was discussed between the youth pastor and senior pastor behind closed doors, but what is clear is that once the decision was made, the youth pastor did not say anything in front of Andrew. Later, outside of the presence of the senior pastor, the youth pastor informed Andrew that this was the senior pastor's decision, but that he could do nothing to veto it. It appears, although we are not absolutely certain, that the youth pastor cowered to the senior pastor's leadership style, and chose to keep his job and not rock the boat by appeasing the situation and releasing Andrew from the ministry.
There are two main theological issues that must be examined given this case: leadership style, and theology of advocacy. The Bible has diverse examples of leadership within the text, and to limit "Biblical leadership" to one or the other would be an injustice to the text. While there are examples of strong leaders that border dictatorships (i.e. Moses, David, Nehemiah), there are also examples of more compassionate leaders (i.e. Ruth, and the concept of the Priesthood of all Believers). However, regardless of leadership style, all, including Moses and David, had to realize that they were ultimately kept in balance by the community of God, and when that wasn't enough, God Himself. While leadership styles can vary, accountability to the flock is not questionable. The other theological issue at hand is the theology of advocacy, or the concept that we are to speak and defend those that are not able to defend themselves. Leviticus 25:35 and James 1:27 speak that as members of the community of God, we should be willing to defend those that are unable to defend themselves. Whether it takes the form of material provision food, shelter, etc... or more abstract concepts giving a voice to those who do not have one advocacy for those in a helpless role is at the heart of God. James believes this so much that he says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this."