Recently at The Gospel Coalition Wendy Alsup who was involved in Mars Hill Seattle wrote a post about trusting elders and being honest with them. While I know Wendy has had some challenging years and difficulties there was an issue on my mind that I needed to address. After all sometimes you can do the right things and abuse and questionable activity still happens. Whereas Wendy Alsup has faith in Protestantism, this blogger does not especially when I contemplate the issues being systemic.
“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way.“
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2 NIV
I want to focus on a topic that I see when I write about a scandal or a problem. Here’s what usually happens…a scandal happens. A church is thrust into controversy. People are being abused. The questionable pastor or leadership flees, runs or goes elsewhere. Then the people who were involved say they will address abuse. They write blogs, want to tell their stories, etc… Then what do I see happening? They go into another church or follow another person. In the view of this blog there are many people from Mars Hill Seattle, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Harvest Bible Chapel, Acts 29, etc… who will never learn. Some people are bound to wonder in life drifting from cult to cult or go from autocrat to autocrat.
Wendy Alsup and An Article at The Gospel Coalition
Wendy Alsup has published a number of articles and books over the years. Some of the books that she published include, “The Gospel-Centered Woman“, “Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness” , “Is the Bible Good for Women?: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture” , “Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives” and “By His Wounds You are Healed: How the Message of Ephesians Transforms a Woman’s Identity” Wendy Alsup has also published a number of articles at The Gospel Coalition and she blogs at “Practical Theology for Women.” At Mars Hill Church Wendy Alsup ran the women’s ministry.
Recently Wendy wrote an article at The Gospel Coalition about the need to be honest with your church elders. Wendy writes about her effort to find a new church as she moves to the East Coast. Read what she says below:
A few weeks later, I found the church email address and wrote an honest email to the pastor. My life was in shambles, and I was going to be crash-landing in my hometown. I basically asked, “Can you handle that?” I needed to know if I was going to be too much for their congregation.
After a lifetime of belonging to various churches, I knew that not every church is equal. I had experienced unfaithful and unbiblical leadership in the past, and I knew I wanted to join a church where the elders submitted to Christ and exemplified Christlike leadership. I would not commit to any church where that was not the case.
I felt like I was putting out my fleece. If the elders didn’t run and hide from me, maybe there was a chance this relationship could work. And if they did run, I needed to know before investing in their community.
A week passed with no answer. I’ve made them uncomfortable, I thought. This isn’t the place for me and my boys.
Then, an unexpected reply. The pastor who received the church emails had been on vacation for the week, but his belated response was warm—even hilarious. He was so effusive in his eagerness to welcome me that I pictured him tripping over himself in his haste to open the church door for me and my family. He clearly and repeatedly expressed that the church was glad to hear from me, would welcome me, and would gladly walk with me through the complex situations in my present and future.
My pastor in Seattle also reached out to the elders of that church, calling me afterward to say, “Hey, I think these are good guys you can trust.” My fleece was dry though the ground was wet. No church is perfect, but God was giving me the confidence I needed to move forward with this body of believers.
I haven’t regretted that decision.
And then in the rest of the piece Wendy Alsup explains how elders give wisdom and illustrated by how they spoke during difficult times of her life. Then Wendy went on and said to be honest with your elders. There are four points that she makes.
- Elders can be instrumental in speaking the gospel specifically into your circumstances.
- Elders can pray for you and counsel you as you pick up the pieces of your life.
- Elders can vouch for you with new relationships and new churches.
Elders as Wendy points out can attest for you when you have sin in your past. Top read this piece in full go to, “A Case for Being Honest with Your Elders.”
One Issue Wendy Didn’t Consider and the Terminal Flaw in Protestantism
Up above I wrote about how many people don’t learn the lessons from scandal and abusive churches. And with what I am about to say next I want to be sensitive. This blog knows that Wendy has had a challenging time in life and experienced suffering. The point of what I am going to say is not to belittle but to point out a problem. In some situation you can see the red flags of a questionable church. In other situations it takes time. Let me describe a possibility which could be a problem which challenges Wendy’s claim about trusting elders.
Imagine a following situation. You get involved in a church. You dip your toe in the pool slowly. Over the course of months you slowly wade in further. During all this you get to know the elders of your church. Along the way you slowly get more involved. You get to know the church leadership. You get involved in a small group. You do accountability. And its like this for several years and all is well. You become so happy that you can make smores and sing kumbaya. Everything is going well and you trust the elders. So against all this imagine what happens next. There is an elder board change and someone slips in who is a sociopath or convincing but perhaps has issues. And then you or a couple of other people become on the receiving end of problems. Its hard to wrap your mind around the issue. Sadly that can happen. This blog spoke with people in an EFCA church in New Jersey who dedicated their adult life to a church and then they were thrown out by an autocratic elder who exploited a loophole. One person told me it was like they relived the death of their husband. It was that painful. Sometimes abuse can just happen and you can do all the actions and try to prevent it and it can still happen. Wendy’s description of trusting the elders doesn’t address that kind of situation.
The one difference between Wendy and myself is the following. When I contemplate what she is communicating its clear that Wendy still believes in the American church model. Whereas I do not. I have come to believe that the American church model suffers from a terminal flaw – a lack of accountability by people in power. Honestly I think you can find more accountability and checks and balances in place in businesses, government, and other parts of life. And while Wendy still vows and wears by the system, I am not convinced. My experience was not isolated to just one experience. Instead I consider what I saw in Wisconsin, the Washington, D.C. area and then learned information about my former church in Fresno, California that was hard to stomach. With one problem you can say its an anomaly and abnormal. Two gives you pause. Three or more especially when it happens on a consistent basis tells me its the system of governance. And the problem is systemic. Or let me put it to you in another perspective. There are many questionable elders, people in church leadership or more who create problems for people. These people are like those cops who leaned on George Floyds neck in Minneapolis. But they are doing this spiritually. And it happens over and over and often times you can’t even discuss or deal with the problem. When I consider Wendy’s history at Mars Hill Seattle I find it baffling that she would still hold The Gospel Coalition in high esteem and publish there, especially when you consider how The Gospel Coalition bungled the Mark Driscoll issue at the time. Again I saw this with sensitivity because I know Wendy has had some challenging times in life. But after reading that article I just felt like I had to address what Alsup is saying. Again this is another perspective.